5 ways to outsmart cruise ship dining

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Cruise ship dining—the brochure/website photos show blissfully relaxed buffets brimming with the freshest foods, and relaxed restaurants with (usually) a straight couple enjoying a romantic meal.

Share by Curtis Stone was a hipster-feeling highlight on Ruby Princess. We ate there twice! Photo: Randall Shirley

Share by Curtis Stone was a hipster-feeling highlight on Ruby Princess. We ate there twice! Photo: Randall Shirley

The truth about cruise ship dining usually differs a great deal from those photos. But follow the tips below, and dining on your next cruise can come close to replicating the images (and more importantly, the experiences).

My true number one suggestion

Add $150-200/person to your cruise budget so you can splurge on better shipboard dining. It’s probably cheaper than a cabin upgrade, and those extra foodie dollars can totally upgrade the overall experience. That extra money will allow you to have a few meals in specialty restaurants. My husband and I generally would prefer to spend money on great dining than bad shore excursions (see this cool new shore excursion option).

Breakfast tips

Breakfast in bed. Start your day in a sinfully decadent way: enjoy breakfast, or at least your coffee, in bed or on your veranda. Many cruise lines still offer included room service.

Breakfast at the buffet: If you do want to go to the buffet, get up early and be there before the rush, which in my experience is likely to be about an hour before the gangway opens for shore days. And for better quality eggs, the omelette station chef will make you fresh eggs any way you like—no need to take the ones that have been mass scrambled!

Breakfast in the dining room: While the hordes surround the omelette station in the buffet, you can order all the custom omelettes and all the other goodies you want in the main dining room, usually at no additional cost! You’re welcome.

 

Breakfast on the veranda of our Azamara stateroom was a daily treat whilst sailing around Italy. Photo: Randall Shirley

Breakfast on the veranda of our Azamara stateroom was a daily treat whilst sailing around Italy. Photo: Randall Shirley

Specialty Restaurants

Consider these dining options your onboard food saviors and use them smartly! Even on very busy ships, my husband and I have had blissfully romantic, quiet meals in specialty restaurants, plus celebrated some special occasions in them.

If your cruise line allows it, book these restaurants ahead of time. If they don’t have a pre-booking option, have a dining plan prepared before you board the ship and head straight for the reservations desk—book your entire cruise dining at that point.

Look at your itinerary, and be aware of ports where you might stay later on shore—that will help you select your reservation times.

Use specialty restaurants for dinner on embarkation day. Because things can be a bit chaotic during departure, lines at the main dining room are often ridiculous. If you’ve booked a specialty restaurant, congrats—you skip lines and have a relaxed, usually great meal!

Embarkation day dining in Silk Road speciality restaurant inn Celebrity Equinox allowed us to enjoy great food while avoiding the dining room chaos. Photo: Randall Shirley

Embarkation day dining in Silk Road speciaity restaurant inn Celebrity Equinox allowed us to enjoy great food while avoiding the dining room chaos. Photo: Randall Shirley

Stay healthy at the buffet 

Wash your hands AFTER going through the buffet line up. No matter how many times you get the Purell treatment, you’ll stay healthier if you wash your hands. So do the Purell before getting your food, then take your food to your table. Then go to the nearest bathroom and wash your hands properly. Then eat. Thank me later.

Watch other guests around the food stations—if they are touching food, using their hands, etc., alert the staff. This is NOT ok, no matter how privileged the guests think they are.

Other suggestions
  • Ask for it FRESH. Ask for a freshly baked pizza, fresh burger/fries, or similar, at the pool-deck eateries. The pizza maker will likely put a fresh pie in the oven if you ask, and since it’s a cruise ship they’ll also probably give you the whole thing.
    The pizza maker on Celebrity Equinox was always happy to make us our own individual pizzas, and always with a smile. Photo: Randall Shirley

    The pizza maker on Celebrity Equinox was always happy to make us our own individual pizzas, and always with a smile. Photo: Randall Shirley

    At the very least, ask them which pie came out of the oven most recently, and if that’s not to your liking, ask them what’s in the oven now. The same goes for burgers—if the burger bar is not busy and they’ve got a few already-cooked burgers (or worse, a pile of fries) sitting there, ask them to grill you a fresh burger or put down fresh fries.

  • Making better/healthier choices. In these Instagram days of where it seems every gay man is supposed to have six-pack abs (if you care about such things), look for the healthier choice buffet or cafe, often near the spa. At the main buffet, eat a salad before even taking the lasagna or pot roast to your table. In the restaurant, give the healthy choice menu a chance—if you don’t like it your server will gladly bring you something else. In the main restaurants, the servers will customize anything they can—order two proteins and no starches, extra broccoli; such requests should be no problem and can help you en route to those abs…

Happy cruising, and bon appetit!

Do you have cruise dining suggestions? Add them in the comments below.


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