Friday, 23 July 2010 12:00 AM
Dining on a cruise holiday can be surprisingly confusing, especially for first timers, and from wine selection to identifying the right cutlery to use, a cruise offers fine dining and can be one of the most delicious experiences on a holiday you will ever experience. Whilst each cruise line's dining options can vary, they mostly stick to certain similar formats, and add their own individual twist.
Most cruise lines offer two main dining formats - traditional fixed seating or open seating. Traditional seating means you are assigned to a specific table at a fixed dining time. Your table may accommodate as few as two people, or as many as ten and, if travelling as a couple you could be assigned a table for two or you might be seated with others at a larger table. The assignment of table sizes and dining companions are up to the cruise line, who try to group people together with something in common such as age and nationality, although other than that, selection is generally random. If you prefer to dine alone, the maitre'd onboard will do their utmost to accommodate all requests although meeting new people is part of the cruise experience not to be missed. You can request your dining time in advance of early or late seating and again, the cruise line will try and ensure all guests requests are satisfied.
The advantages of traditional dining include having the same waiting staff for every meal and during your holiday they will quickly learn your likes, dislikes, and special preferences and ensure that every meal is a delight, bringing you your favourite topping, extra bread rolls or sauces on the side without being asked twice. The disadvantage of fixed or traditional seating is that you are committed to the same dining time which can put restrictions on how you spend your day or evening. Also, you will be sitting with the same people every night and if you are incompatible this can be a problem. The maitre d' will always be available however to try and arrange a table reassignment and there are generally always empty tables where you can sit instead, or you can eat at alternative dining venues.
The second dining format which can be found on some cruise lines is open seating or flexible dining. It is also called "anytime" dining or "my time" dining and an increasing number of ships are implementing this option as it grows in popularity. This style of dining means that you are not allocated a particular dining time and can dine when and with whom you choose.
Most ships also have at least one casual dining venue, generally with buffet service which is popular for lunch or breakfast and a great option for nights when you just want to relax. In the evenings many cruise ships will kick the service up a notch in these venues with table linen, intimate lighting and waiting staff to carry your tray and take drinks orders.
The majority of cruise lines also offer speciality or premium dining venues with gourmet cuisine and attentive service in beautifully designed restaurants. These are often themed to a particular type of food or country such as melt in the mouth steaks, Italian cuisine, New Orleans fare, French-inspired entrees, Japanese sushi or Brazilian BBQs. Specialty dining venues generally incur an additional charge, usually between £10 and £30 per person but serve food of a standard which is more than worth the extra cost.