One very important aspect of your cruise vacation is the food experience on board.  We all are aware of  the main dining room and the buffet on the pool deck but why pay extra for specialty dining on cruise ships?

It all started 10 years ago when one cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Lines introduced the whole “freestyle dining” experience.  Instead of everyone gathering in one big dining room, Norwegian introduced ships with multiple theme-based dining venues.  Each evening the passenger would look on a screen and choose from Italian, French, Asian, Steak, Mexican and others to choose from.

The big difference now is if you are interested in dining in one specific restaurant, you have to pay from ten dollars right up to 45 dollars per person on average… or more.

But wait.  Didn’t you once get all this fancy food for free in the main dining room?  That is becoming a thing of the past especially with mass-market cruises. The cruise lines discovered a new revenue stream and began re-branding the dining experience on board.  Oddly enough, most passengers seem to be okay with the optional up charge.

This new concept has helped many cruise lines keep the upfront base fare cost to a  minimal while increasing your overall spend during the course of your cruise.  Now, pretty much all the cruise lines have multiple restaurants and bars on board and when they send their older ships into dry dock they are adding more specialty dining venues.  You can still get an inclusive dinner in the main dining room but my recent experience is that the food experience is not the “WOW” that it used to be.

CEL_SL_Murano_275So what are the most popular specialty dining restaurants on board?  Here are a few of my recommended specialty dining restaurants to consider on some of the popular brands today.

Royal Caribbean – “Chops” is a great place for steaks and you have to try their mushroom soup.

Celebrity Cruises – Murano or Qsine are both wonderful.  Or, consider booking a “Aqua Class” stateroom that includes exclusive dining at “Blue” each night with great healthy food and personal service.

NCL – The Teppanyaki restaurant is authentic Japanese Hibachi food prepared right in front of you and the chef entertains at the same time.  Passengers seem to really enjoy this and you have book early to get in.

Holland America – Pinacle Grill is wonderful with many great dishes to choose from.  They offer lunch and dinner menus.  The service is exquisite.

Disney Cruise Lines – Palo is a Northern Italian Cuisine and children are not allowed so this is a great spot to get away from the masses of kids everywhere.

Princess Cruise Lines – Sabatini’s is an authentic Italian restaurant with daily fresh pasta specials and a delightful antipasti.  Great selections can be found here  be prepared to spend at least two hours to get through all the courses.

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Oceania – Food is great everywhere on their ships and one of the best rated for food. Red Ginger, Asian-inspired dishes feature contemporary twists, with everything from Miso Glazed Seabass to Lobster Pad Thai. Yum

Regent – Prime 7 is renowned for their great steaks and service.

So, if you are a foodie, you will find lots of choices on cruise ships, but be prepared to shell out a few extra dollars each day to enjoy great specialty dining experiences.

Over Eating On Your Next Cruise Is No Longer a Given:  Healthy options now the norm.

rClass-Polo-GrillFor those of you who remember the days when cruise lines had the reputation for serving massive amounts of food resulting in over eating and waste I have some very good news.

Cruises used to be the automatic catalyst to start a diet to lose the 10 pounds or more as a result of your vacation. Food is still plentiful but has changed significantly Gone are the days of massive midnight buffets and extravaganzas. You used to be able to order every dish on the menu if you liked, and the waiter would happily bring it to you. Gone!

No more free espresso’s or cappuccino’s after dinner! Cruise hotel managers from all lines are having their food budget slashed each year so they are looking for ways to conserve without losing the “wow.” Is this possible? Absolutely, but with great creativity.

Another area that cruise managers are facing is the need to create new revenue streams around dining. Cruise lines across the board are refurbishing their old ships and adding more specialty restaurants with theme restaurants demanding a surcharge. New ships are now designed to offer multiply theme type restaurants and bars. The weak economy has forced cruise lines to maintain affordable base prices, but have had to resort to extra charges for meals that were once standard in the main dining room.

NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) introduced Freestyle dining almost ten years ago. This allows passengers to choose their table, and basically can eat any time between 5:00 PM and 10:00PM. It also offers up to 18 different dining choices on board to choose from.

P1030189You can make a reservation in advance (French Bistro, Cagney’s Steak house and Teppanyaki (photo to right) usually need reservations).  Some restaurants are free of charge, but most charge from $10 to $30 per passenger. NCL has been very successful with the freestyle concept especially where there are no mandatory formal nights. Most if not all the cruise lines have followed with their own version of Freestyle because of it’s success.

CEL_EQ_Blu_RoseWall_032Another cool concept is from Celebrity Cruises.   They have introduced on all their ships, AquaClass staterooms with an exclusive dinning room “Blu” (photo to left) that features a “clean cuisine” and anytime dining.  My clients have been raving about the delicious healthy food to enjoy and worth the premium price tag attached to it.

I personally still prefer a set dining time and table each night for the most part.   The fewer decisions I have to make while on vacation the better.  I also enjoy getting to know my wait staff and he gets to know me.  After the first few days of my cruise we usually on a first name basis, and my personal preferences are attended to while a fun relationship ensues.

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