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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


 Is shipboard dining really as good as it sounds?
    
 What dining options are available onboard cruise ships?
    
 For traditional-style dining, which is better, early or late dining?
    
 What if the dining time I requested is not what they confirm to me?
    
 With traditional-style dining, how are the tables assigned?
    
 How can I make sure that I’m seated with relatives, or a specific group of friends?
    
 Can we get a table just for two?
    
 What's a "specialty restaurant"?
    


 Is shipboard dining really as good as it sounds?
    
      Yes. But unless you're dining aboard a luxury cruise line or perhaps enjoying dinner in an extra-cost, "specialty" restaurant aboard a mainstream cruise line, your cuisine can not fairly be labeled "5-star gourmet."

Choose a "Mainstream" or "Premium" cruise line and you'll have a variety of restaurants and menus to choose from. Main dining room food is tasty, plentiful (order more if you'd like!) and equal to what you'd enjoy in a good restaurant back home. "Themed Nights" are generally the rule whereby cuisine from one country or region are featured each night. The dining atmosphere is very comfortable, often elegant. No-extra-cost "Alternative" restaurants offer regional cuisine or an always-casual atmosphere (Italian, TexMex, Bistro/Buffet, etc.) for added onboard choice. Extra-cost "Specialty" restaurants may offer more cooked-to-order meals and usually feature distinct, regional cuisines with matching ambiance.

Choose a "Luxury" or "Ultra-Luxury" cruise line and your menus - typically crafted by renown master chefs - feature highly creative dishes prepared with superior quality ingredients served on elegant porcelain china and accompanied with crystal stemware and fine linens. A highly-trainined waitstaff ensure each meal throughout the ship is a "5-star" event. Specialty" restaurants aboard these lines are usually complimentary and most do not charge for house or standard wines and spirits in the dining rooms.

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 What dining options are available onboard cruise ships?
    
      All cruise lines have loosened up their evening dining arrangements to greater or lesser degrees. Here's what's out there:
  • Total Flexibility. Pioneered by Norwegian (and still the only line to go this route), this arrangement offers lots of restaurants - up to 10 on their largest ships - and totally open seating throughout those restaurants. If you plan to dine at the smaller, more intimate "alternative restaurants" (or any of the upscale, extra-cost "specialty" venues), then reservations are recommended. Of course, you may dine "traditional-style" simply by making reservations each night in the same restaurant at the same table and with the same wait staff.
  • Flexible and Traditional. Currently, Princess is the only line that embraces this approach. When you place your cruise reservation, you may opt for either the flexible plan or the traditional plan. Their ships generally offer up to 5 restaurants to choose from, including the main dining rooms and "alternative restaurants." "Specialty," upscale, extra-cost restaurants are available for all passengers.
  • Traditional with a Twist. Carnival and Holland America have chosen this route. Simply stated, instead of two seating times, there are four: two "early" seatings (typically at 5:45pm and 6:15pm) and two "later" seatings (typically at 7:45pm and 8:15pm). You choose between early and late; the cruise line takes it from there. Still, you dine at the same table each night with the same wait staff. Alternative and upscale, extra-cost "specialty" restaurants are available to all passengers, too.
  • Traditional. When making your cruise reservation you choose between two seating times (usually around 6pm or 8pm). You dine at an assigned table served by the same wait staff each night. Alternative and upscale, extra-cost "specialty" restaurants may also be available. Among the major lines, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard (standard stateroom passengers) and Royal Caribbean offer this arrangement.
  • Rotational. Leave it to Disney to come up with this novel program! As in Traditional Dining, you choose early or late seating. But you, your tablemates, your wait staff and everyone else in your dining time, rotate among three, totally different restaurants. There's also a "specialty," upscale, extra-cost restaurant. Aboard the Disney Wonder, they employ the "Rotational" program along with staggered dining times (similar to "Traditional with a Twist") with 5:45pm, 6:00pm or 6:15 Main Seating times; 8:00pm, 8:15pm or 8:30pm Second Seating times.
  • Open-Seating. Cunard (suite and penthouse passengers only), Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea and Windstar offer open-seating in their main restaurants. There are also alternative restaurants and no-cost "specialty restuarants" to choose from. This arrangement is offered only by luxury and ultra-luxury-level cruise lines.
Keep in mind that all cruise lines offer a casual, buffet or bistro-style, open-seating alternative restaurants. Most also offer pizza parlors, ice-cream parlors, pastry parlors, late-night buffets and room service!

Which one's best? Each have their advantages and disadvantages. It's all up to you and your cruising lifestyle!

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 For traditional-style dining, which is better, early or late dining?
    
      Early seating is usually scheduled between 5:45pm - 6:30pm, while late diners usually are seated between 7:45pm - 8:30pm. Request the seating that bests suits your eating habits and your preferences for dinner companions (see below). Keep in mind that these hours apply only to dinner; breakfast and lunch are typically open-seating.
  • Early Dining: If you are traveling with children, or you prefer to go to bed early, or want to be hungry for the midnight buffet (!), the first seating may suit you best. Another reason to choose early seating is if you plan on getting an early start on shore excursions at each of the ports on your itinerary.
  • Late Seating: If you’re semi-nocturnal, hate rushing, prefer fewer children in the dining room, enjoy late meals, love to hit the disco at night and sleep later the next morning, then maybe second seating suits you best.
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 What if the dining time I requested is not what they confirm to me?
    
      Cruise lines do their best to accommodate your preferences. Unfortunately, dining room availability is often limited. Sometimes, if the cruise line is unable to confirm your requested time, they'll place you on a waitlist. If you did not receive your requested seating time prior to your sailing date, you should check with the Maitre d’ as soon as possible after boarding. Possibly a last-minute cancellation or change will allow confirmation of your original request.
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 With traditional-style dining, how are the tables assigned?
    
      Your cruise line will try to seat you with compatible guests, factoring in, where possible, age, marital status, and family size. For example, if you're traveling with children, there's a good chance you'll be seated at a table with another family with children. If you are traveling as a couple, you will most likely dine with other couples. However, some maitre d's like to "mix it up" a bit and, in fact, achieving that perfect mix of tablemates can be considered an art!

Most cruise lines accept requests for specific age groups or table locations. In most cases you will not receive a table number confirmation prior to embarkation date; table numbers are either available by notice in your stateroom, or upon arrival at dinner the first night of the cruise.

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 How can I make sure that I’m seated with relatives, or a specific group of friends?
    
      Arrangements can almost always be made to assure that you're seated with relatives or friends. Certainly, couples, "travel-withs," and immediate family members will be seated together as long as their cruise bookings are properly referenced. For very large groups, several tables may be required and every effort to secure adjacent tables for your group will be made.
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 Can we get a table just for two?
    
      More and more ships are featuring more and more tables for two. But such tables can be a rare commodity on some ships and advance confirmation may be difficult. However, at the alternative (and sometimes extra-cost) dining venues offered by most cruise lines, your table size request, if available, is always honored.
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 What's a "specialty restaurant"?
    
      “Specialty restaurants” are typically the upscale, reservation-required restaurants which provide a decidedly intimate, and often more sophisticated ambiance than those of the "main" dining rooms or "alternative" restaurants. Most often the cuisine is a regional fare, such as Italian, Southwest, Japanese, or "Steakhouse." Dishes are usually prepared to order and the dining pace is leisurely.

Among mainstream and premium cruise lines, there's usually a moderate, per person fee for these specialty restaurants, typically in the $10 to $30 range. Some offer a la carte menus, as well. Among the luxury-level cruise lines, there generally is no charge for dining in specialty restaurants.

Cruise Note: In general, the cruise industry (and 7 Blue Seas) defines "Specialty restaurants" as those offering distinctly upscale, cooked-to-order, top-quality (usually 5-star level) cuisine in a decidely intimate atmosphere. ("Alternative restaurants," though often exceptional, are more geared to offering a themed choice, such as Italian, TexMex, "Malt Shop," "English Pub," etc.; food quality is generally on par with the ship's main dining rooms. Alternative restaurants never incur an extra cost, regardless of the cruise line.)

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