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The Changing Face of Cruise Ship Dining

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During the last half decade the nature of cruise ship dining has changed. With the introduction of ship’s offering a variety of alternate dining venues the eating patterns of passengers has, not surprisingly changed.

Yet, within those changing patterns there are a few areas that are somewhat surprising to me.

The culinary experience used to be one of the mainstay attractions to many cruisers, at least in their expectations. At least a large part of the discussions on our message boards used to somehow be related to food… that harkens back to the days of the lavish midnight buffets that used to be held nightly on almost every ship.

Initially the alternate dining venues focused on an experience more upscale from that offered in the dining room, along with an extra cost to dine there. As ships grew larger, offering more spaces to experiment with, a movement began to change that. Norweigan Cruise Line expanded the alternate dining options, offering 10 or more different restaurants for guests to choose from; some requiring an extra cost, but also including about half the restaurants in the passenger’s basic cruise fare.

The same hot restaurant themes becomiing popular on land began finding their way on to cruise ships, and that pattern continues to grow. One part of that movement was the increased visibility and popularity of the “celebrity chef”. And today most every ship has one venue onboard designed and overseen by one “celebrity chef” or another.

But there was also a move to add more casual dining alternatives, and not just designed to attract passengers for breakfast or lunch, but also dinner. Fast food has become a mainstay, particularly in the North American foodplace market, and that too has been finding its way onto cruise ships. Lately one of the fastest growing trends on land has been the “gourment burger”. “Gourmet burger” outlets have been racing to open cities everywhere. And that trend too is now making its way to way, with Carnival Cruise Line’s  latest introduction of Guy Fieri’s Gourment Burgers . In perhaps an unusual move (that I like)  Guy’s burgers are being offered free of a surcharge.

Of late a growing trend onboard has been a move to more relaxed dress codes; a move to allow much more casual dress onboard than what passengers used to expect. Again, I believe it was a movement on land that cruise lines have been accepting as something their passengers prefer.

In my view there is a correlation between people dressing more casually, and their desire to dine more casually as well. Not nearly as many people are interested in dressing up, and spending two hours over their dinner meal, though lord knows why, since no one is pressed for time on a cruise. But it seems the fast paced lives people live at home, including fast meals, is a habit they are taking with them when they head to sea.

I am however surprised to see a growing trend of many people posting on our message boards, saying that the majority of their dinners onboard are eaten at the ship’s buffets. And even more surprising, is those people who do are more likely to praise the food quality than not.

It seems those of us who enjoy getting seated with strangers at dinner (which was to me an experience unique to cruising, and created interesting social interactions) are a bit of dying breed. While I think there are still plenty amongst us that are willing to invest in, and enjoy, the more upscale alternate restaurants  onboard, where the dining experience can take up 3 hrs. , the real movement seems to be toward the quick and casual alternatives.

I’d be interested in your preferences. Which way do your preferences lines up… the full slow paced dining experience, or the casual in, eat and out alternatives?

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 16, 2011 at 6:41 am

My quick, casual dining experiences are on the fly, usually at 5 Guys or Jasons Deli before an exhaustive weekly, YES ENJOYABLE, visit to Costco. That is about it.

I think the standard of taste and dress are regional, as many prospective and actual passengers may not have grwon up in geographic areas that wre not conducive nor expective of a more than casual lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with that, not at all.

I do not eat (I will not use the coveted word “dine” to embellish any meal at any of the chains. As for the fast food joints, no, I have never had a burger from McD’s, not one – hard to believe.

What I will say is this. For the price of the so called meal in most of the chains and fast food joints, and that includes the the food court at the mall, one can actually get a real meal, in a real restaurant, and pay the same. Doubters? Get a life. The world does not revolve around stretch pants and hoodies, grease in a paper wrapper and high fructose corn syrup, presenting the hopes of diabetes and gout, and if one is real lucky, heart disease.

I have worked earning a salary since I was 14, albeit, at that age, after school. I did not grow up with sugars, sodas, candy and junk food. As a family unit we ate a real restaurants, and enjoyed them, something I have followed through with with my son, and he with his son. My daughter in law has a similar family history of dining.

Over the years a lot has happened on cruise ships with dining and entertainment, ship design – you name it. Today the contemporary cruiser only knows what there is as that is what is offered. I do not knock that, I actually embrace it,and why you ask?

IT GETS PEOPLE ON THE SHIPS. Period! If fast type food is what is the current and future trend, so be it. Let the passengers have what they want. This is not a problem for me.

Celebrity chefs – why not. Or, not “why”, I suppose.

My son and his wife adore Princess Cruises. They are of the age when Carnival or NCL or RCI might entice them, but, my son grew up with Princess, and for him, that is just what he wants, and they deliver the product to him as he expects each time.

There are many products to pick from. I remember back in the early 1990’s predictions that there would be 4 cruise lines, all cheap, and all not worth sailing. Well, look at what is avilable today. Kinda nice, huh?

Comment from Paul Herbig
Time November 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

I am one of those who predominantly use the buffets instead of the main dining room. Two main reasons.
1) Since all cruisers are prone to overeating and the portions and number of courses are many for us. We enjoy going to the buffet and sampling the food and then if we like it going back for more. We can more easily control food intake
2) I for one do not like sitting with total strangers for 2 hours making small talk while waiting for our meal; people we will never see again. On our last cruise Breakfast and Dinner were multihour affairs and although as you say, time is plentiful on a cruiseship, there are other activities to enjoy besides eating.
3) I do like the specialty restaurants and we partake of them every cruise.
Paul herbig

Comment from Pat
Time November 16, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I enjoy eating good food while on vacation with table service. I do not, however, want to dress up. I fail to see how my choice of attire (I would prefer jeans or shorts) affects another’s enjoyment of the meal. I also do not want to eat at a table full of strangers. There should definitely be more tables for two.

Comment from Beverly Clark
Time November 17, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I can understand the feelings of those people that have commented on more formal dining. I for one like the formal evenings because it’s the one time that we can get dressed up since society in general has become so casual. I do believe that the cruise lines make the portions too large and I have commented on this in the past … I usually ask for a smaller amount and ordinarily that’s what I get … although sometimes not. I believe that a lot of big eaters do enjoy the buffets and I think that’s why we have so many overweight people! I also agree with those people that mentioned about having to make small talk with strangers at the table and that can be a problem, especially when you have a couple of couples that know each other and then you’re like the fifth wheels. I just hate to see this last vestige of the old way of cruising go by the wayside.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 18, 2011 at 4:47 am

I get a smile, often a smirk, when I read about the needs, tastes, requirements and so forth from loyal cruisers, loyal to their cruise ship or cruise line, as though it were the one built just for them – well, it was!

Over the years little really has changed, it just appears that way. The dining and lack of on some sailing products, is really not at all dissimilar from what I knew back in the 1970’s, it is just more “out there” and in your face. Here are some expamples.

On the SAGAFJORD, the staunch dowager of staid elegance, they installed a buffet and salad bar in the MDR, for those wishing more casual dining. Horrors! Well, it caught on. Paquet had two dining rooms, a sort of class system, the better cabins at at the Cafe de la Paix, the rest of us, the MDR.

Cunard has and hopefully, this is real tradition here, had three dining venues for dinner on the QE2, The Grill, Columbia – these two were renamed Queens and Princess Grill, and the oft renamed Maurentannia The Main DR). Today, the Grills are noted on the three reigning sea queens, with alternates like Todd English and the Verandahand the Golden Lion Pubs, real English pubs at sea. Other radical, in their day, changes affected other cruise lines. One real shock, the casual night, no jacket – no tie – even on Cunard way back in the 1970’s. I thiought that was the end of cruising – and boy did I love NOT wearing a tie on many an evening.

Oceania and many others have alternate venues as well. I for one appplaud the new dining venues, whatever they may be, on all ships that have them, be they cost additional or free.

I think, my own thought, what gets many a passenger up in arms, is the dress code coupled with the dining choices. I think it mainly boils down to dress fit the dining venue. For me, I know what I like and dislike, and I sail accordingly. All should sail in an environment that is compatible to their personal needs.

Forget about tux, suit, gown, jeans, – it is the ships and the passengers sole happiness that makes the cruise the best experience at sea, and better than a lot on land, I might ad.

Look at the brochure, NO read every line of it, search for clues in the pictures, go the lines web site, for Petes sake, call the line – e-mail-tweet whatever, and get to know exactly what the dress and food options are.

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