14 Cruise Dining Mistakes You’re Probably Making, According To An Experienced Traveler

Embarking on a cruise brings with it a unique dining experience, quite different from on-land restaurants.

On a cruise, the end of a meal doesn’t involve settling a bill – you simply enjoy your food, say thank you, and leave, with most dining costs included in your cruise fare.

Only in specialty restaurants or for premium items in the Main Dining Room will there be additional charges.

Whether you’re a cruising newbie or a seasoned voyager, it’s important to be aware of certain dining etiquette. Here are 14 common dining mistakes to avoid for a seamless cruise experience.

Cruise Dining Mistakes

Not Reserving Specialty Dining In Advance

Forgetting to reserve specialty dining in advance can be a common oversight for many cruisers.

While your cruise ticket includes access to great dining venues like the buffet and main dining room, booking a table at a specialty restaurant can significantly enhance your eating experience.

These exclusive spots offer a taste of luxury with top-notch ingredients and an ambiance that mirrors the sophistication of fine land-based restaurants. The smaller, more intimate setting of these restaurants ensures a relaxed and enjoyable meal.

To make the most of these culinary gems, here are a few key tips: Book early, as these sought-after dining experiences fill up fast, especially during peak meal times. Keep an eye out for pre-cruise sales on these dining options, which can lead to a better deal.

Utilize the Cruise Planner to check availability and secure your reservation well before you set sail.

Popular choices, like teppanyaki tables, may be fully booked if you delay, so locking in your reservation early is crucial to enjoy these memorable meals at sea without the last-minute rush or additional costs.

Assuming Everything in the Main Dining Room Is Included

When dining in the Main Dining Room aboard a cruise ship, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that every dish on the menu is included in your cruise fare. However, it’s important to be aware that this isn’t always the case.

Some of the more upscale options come with an additional charge, which can catch unwary diners by surprise.

For example, on Royal Caribbean cruises, indulging in a luxurious Maine lobster tail will add an extra $16.99 to your bill.

If you opt for the sumptuous Chops Grille filet, be prepared to pay an additional $19.99, and for the grand surf & turf, the price is $34.99.

Similarly, Carnival Cruise Line offers an array of tempting entrees, but if you find yourself wanting a third serving of their delicious dishes, there’s a modest $5 fee for each additional plate.

This practice highlights the importance of reviewing your choices carefully, especially if you’re intent on sticking to the all-inclusive aspect of your cruise dining experience.

While the menu is indeed extensive and offers a wide variety of choices, being mindful of these extra charges can help you manage your dining budget effectively and avoid any unexpected expenses.

Choosing the Wrong Dining Option

Selecting your dining option on a cruise is more than just a matter of what you’ll eat; it’s about how and when you’ll enjoy your meals, playing a significant role in your overall cruise experience.

Traditional dining is an option that lets you delve into the classic cruise experience, where you dine at the same time each evening with the same table companions and wait staff.

This consistency can add a sense of camaraderie and familiarity to your journey.

You usually have two choices: Early Seating, which is typically between 5:30pm and 6:00pm, and Late Seating, often scheduled from 7:45pm to 8:30pm.

On the other hand, if you prefer flexibility and spontaneity, many cruise lines offer what’s known as flexible dining. Each line might brand this option differently, such as “My Time Dining” on Royal Caribbean or “Anytime Dining” on Carnival.

This approach allows you to dine at varying times each night, without a fixed schedule. You can show up when you feel hungry and enjoy different table settings and companions each evening.

Some cruise lines with flexible dining options also allow advance reservations, while others operate purely on a walk-in basis.

When deciding between traditional and flexible dining, consider what’s most important for your cruise experience.

Do you value the comfort and predictability of a pre-set dining time and familiar faces, or do you prefer the freedom and variety that comes with dining on a whim? Your choice will significantly influence your cruising pleasure, shaping your meals into memorable parts of your sea adventure.

Not Taking Advantage Of Room Service Breakfast

Main Dining Room on ROyal Caribbean,, Breakfast French Toast
Source: @slurrpybites

A lot of cruise lines still offer a complimentary Continental breakfast through room service. This often overlooked perk can add a touch of comfort and convenience to your morning routine.

The variety offered for a free room service breakfast might not be extensive, but it’s perfect for those mornings when you prefer a quiet start.

Imagine sipping coffee and enjoying a simple breakfast of fruit or a croissant on your balcony, watching the sunrise over the ocean – it’s a serene experience that’s hard to match.

Later in the day, you’re always free to indulge in a more substantial meal at one of the ship’s many dining venues.

Room service breakfast can also be a lifesaver for families. It’s a convenient way to appease kids with cheerios and muffins while the rest of the family gets ready for the day.

Additionally, you can order small boxes of cereal to keep as handy afternoon snacks.

This thoughtful use of the complimentary room service options not only saves money but also adds an element of ease and flexibility to your cruising experience.

Skipping The Extra-Fee Restaurants

Understanding budget constraints is key when planning a cruise, as many of us, myself included, often find ourselves making careful choices about how we allocate our vacation funds.

While it’s entirely possible to enjoy a cruise without spending extra on dining, if your budget allows, consider trying out some of the extra-fee restaurants on board.

These specialty venues offer a welcome variety to your onboard dining experience and often provide exceptional value compared to similar land-based restaurants.

The ambiance in these extra-fee restaurants tends to be quieter and more intimate than the main dining room, which can sometimes be loud and bustling.

This change of scenery can be particularly refreshing if you’re looking for a more relaxed and personal dining experience. The quality of the food in these specialty venues is often a highlight of the cruise.

Personal favorites include Jamie’s Italian and Giovanni’s Table on Royal Caribbean, Sabatini Italian Trattoria on Princess Cruise Line, the Pinnacle Grill on Holland America, Palo on Disney Cruise Line, Cucina Del Capitano on Carnival, and the Eden Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises.

Additionally, some of the specialty dining experiences, like teppanyaki venues and churrascarias available on various cruise lines, offer more than just a meal; they provide an entertaining and interactive dining experience.

These options can be particularly enjoyable, bringing an element of fun and uniqueness to your dining experience that goes beyond the standard sit-down meal.

Whether you’re a dedicated foodie or just someone who enjoys good food, the specialty restaurants on cruise ships are worth exploring for a memorable culinary experience.

Not Allotting Enough Time for Dinner

Cruise ship dinners, especially in the Main Dining Room, are crafted to be more than just a meal; they’re an upscale dining experience meant to be savored.

This leisurely pace is a key part of the cruise dining ethos, allowing you to fully enjoy each course and spend quality time with your travel companions.

Understanding this, it’s important to allot adequate time for dinner, rather than expecting a quick dine-and-dash experience. Anticipate spending more than just thirty minutes for your meal.

If you have plans for evening entertainment, like an 8:00pm show, it’s unrealistic to arrive at the dining room around 7:15pm and expect to make it on time. Dining on a cruise is not designed for such tight schedules.

If you find yourself running late, a more practical option might be to opt for the buffet instead, where dining is quicker and more flexible.

While the waitstaff in the Main Dining Room will always do their best to accommodate your needs, it’s essential to give yourself sufficient time not only for the meal but also to navigate from the dining room to your next activity.

This includes considering time for unexpected delays, like a quick stop at the restroom or slow-moving crowds.

By allowing ample time for dinner, you can ensure a relaxed and enjoyable dining experience, keeping in step with the unhurried pace of life at sea.

Always Eating As A Group

When you’re planning a family cruise, it’s often suggested that while everyone does their own thing during the day, you all come together for dinner in the evening.

This tradition works wonderfully for families with older children or teenagers, but with younger kids, it might require a rethink.

Let’s consider a couple of scenarios to illustrate how adapting your dining plan can enhance everyone’s cruise experience.

Imagine you’re cruising with your young son, who isn’t keen on long, seated dinners. His ideal meal is a quick visit to the buffet where he can choose what he likes, eat quickly, and then be off to his next adventure.

For him, the formal dining room experience might feel like a chore rather than a pleasure.

On the other hand, your daughter, a picky eater, might not be thrilled about the exotic options at a specialty seafood restaurant. And it wouldn’t be practical to pay extra when she’s likely to eat very little.

In these situations, flexibility is key. You could take the kids to the buffet or a casual dining spot early in the evening.

This way, they eat food they enjoy without the formality of a prolonged meal. Later, after dropping them off at the kids’ club, you and your partner can relish a peaceful dinner in the main dining room or treat yourselves to a specialty restaurant.

This approach ensures that everyone’s dining preferences are catered to.

Another option is to utilize room service, especially on cruise lines like Holland America, where it’s complimentary.

For instance, you could order simple, kid-friendly meals to your cabin for the children.

This way, they’re fed and happy, and you’re free to enjoy a more upscale dining experience, perhaps at a French restaurant or a steakhouse onboard.

Not Trying Local Cuisine

When cruising to new destinations, delving into the local cuisine is a highlight that shouldn’t be missed.

For instance, the experience of sampling street food in a Sicilian market or trying a new dish in The Bahamas can significantly enrich your travel experience.

However, enjoying these culinary delights doesn’t have to strain your budget. An excellent way to do this is through guided street food tours, which offer a blend of delicious local flavors and cultural insights at a reasonable cost.

These tours can lead you to hidden culinary gems, enhancing your understanding and enjoyment of the local culture.

For solo travelers or those with specific dining preferences, many restaurants at cruise destinations are adaptable, offering solo portions or shared dining options.

This flexibility allows you to sample traditional dishes like Valencia’s paella without the commitment of a large group meal.

Also, while embracing local exotic foods can be exciting, you don’t have to try everything.

Sometimes, the joy of travel lies in simply observing the preparation and presentation of unique local dishes.

Engaging with the local food scene in this way allows you to experience the essence of each destination you visit, adding a rich and affordable dimension to your cruising adventure.

Not Buying A Drink Package Ahead Of Time

One common mistake made by cruisers is not purchasing a drink package before embarking on their journey.

Often, buying a drink package in advance can lead to significant savings compared to purchasing drinks individually on board.

This is particularly beneficial for those who plan to indulge in multiple beverages throughout the day, whether it’s coffee, soda, cocktails, or wine.

Additionally, having a drink package can add a level of convenience to your cruise experience, allowing you to enjoy a wide range of drinks without worrying about accumulating a large tab.

It’s worth noting, however, that the value of a drink package varies based on individual drinking habits, so it’s important to assess whether it aligns with your personal preferences and consumption patterns.

Expecting Every Meal To Be Amazing

On a cruise, it’s natural to have high expectations for your dining experiences, anticipating every meal to be a culinary highlight.

However, it’s important to remember that not every dining experience on board may live up to these lofty expectations.

Cruise ships, with their wide array of eateries, strive to cater to diverse tastes and preferences, but this doesn’t guarantee that every meal will be exceptional.

To enhance your chances of culinary bliss, a bit of preparation is advisable before embarking on your journey.

Doing some research on the ship’s dining options can be incredibly helpful. Take time to explore the variety of restaurants available on your cruise ship, considering what each has to offer.

If you have a penchant for unique cuisine, check in advance if these specialty options are available and align with your taste preferences.

Booking ahead is also a wise move, especially for popular venues that are in high demand. Securing your spot at these sought-after restaurants before the cruise ensures that you won’t miss out on potentially amazing dining experiences.

Keep in mind that while not every meal might be a standout, thoughtful planning can significantly increase the likelihood of enjoyable and memorable dining experiences during your cruise.

Eating Too Early (Or Late)

Navigating dining times on a cruise ship can sometimes be a bit tricky, especially if you prefer set-seating dining. Often, you’ll find that dinner times are either quite early, around 5:30 p.m., or relatively late, closer to 8 p.m.

This can be less than ideal if your preferred dining time is around 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. For instance, opting for an early dinner might lead you to a late-night snacking spree, with limited options like pizza and ice cream.

On the other hand, a late dinner could have you searching for a pre-dinner snack, like a burger, around 5 p.m.

To avoid this dilemma, one strategy is to choose a cruise ship’s anytime dining plan. This option gives you more flexibility and control over your dining times.

To make the most of this, you might need to navigate the system a bit. This could involve sharing a table with other guests, making reservations in advance, or requesting a table a bit earlier than your actual desired dining time.

Furthermore, booking specialty restaurants as early as possible is a great way to secure more favorable dining times. If you’re flexible with your schedule, another approach is to dine where the wait times are shortest.

For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line ships often have real-time displays showing the wait times at different dining venues, allowing you to choose a spot with a shorter queue.

Not Knowing Your Cruise Line’s Dress Code

Overlooking the dress code of your cruise line can lead to uncomfortable situations or even prevent you from participating in certain events onboard.

Most cruise lines have specific attire guidelines for dining rooms and special events, ranging from casual to formal wear.

Understanding these requirements before you pack can enhance your cruise experience, ensuring you’re appropriately dressed for every occasion, whether it’s a casual buffet dinner or an elegant captain’s gala.

It’s always a good idea to check your cruise line’s website or contact customer service for detailed information on dress codes to avoid any fashion faux pas during your voyage.

Putting More On Your Plate Than You Can Eat

Food waste on cruise ships is a significant issue, often highlighted by the startling amount of half-eaten meals and discarded snacks.

On my last cruise, the sight of numerous half-eaten room service dinners and abandoned pizza crusts was particularly striking, especially considering the high quality of the food.

This issue underscores the importance of striking a balance between the excitement of trying new things and the responsibility of reducing food waste.

At the buffet, where the temptation to sample a bit of everything is strong, it’s wise to start with small portions.

This approach allows you to taste various dishes without overloading your plate. When it comes to desserts, consider choosing one item to start with.

If you find it irresistible, you can always go back for more. This strategy is better than piling your plate with multiple desserts, only to find that you can’t or don’t want to finish them all.

It’s also a good idea for each person at your table to select their own dessert rather than bringing back a collection of sweets that might go uneaten.

For items like pizza, request just one slice to begin with, and be cautious with the soft-serve machine to avoid ending up with more ice cream than you can enjoy.

When it comes to room service, avoid ordering food unnecessarily, such as accepting side dishes like fries that you don’t intend to eat.

If you’re someone who eats smaller portions, don’t hesitate to ask for less, or consider sharing a dish with a friend.

Not Asking Your Waiter for Food Recommendations

Neglecting to ask your waiter for food recommendations is a missed opportunity during your cruise dining experience.

Waiters on cruise ships are typically well-versed in the menu and can provide valuable insights into the best dishes, accommodating your personal tastes and dietary requirements.

Their recommendations can enhance your meal, introducing you to dishes you might not have considered.

This simple interaction not only personalizes your dining experience but also can lead to discovering the culinary highlights of your cruise.

Therefore, taking a moment to seek your waiter’s advice can turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary dining adventure.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *