Dinner for two? Or four, six, eight or twelve? When booking a cruise, other than selecting a stateroom by type and location, the most important questions you may be asked are regarding dinner preferences. Do you want the early or late seating (on most ships) ; would you like a large or small table?
Years ago, my answer was: a table of no more than six or eight and for late seating. We thought it would be fun to meet people who shared our love of travel. Eating late meant more time ashore in ports with time to rest back on the ship before dinner.
Back then our cruises were seven to ten days, we were younger, and that plan worked well, meeting interesting people most times, until…..!
Three table changes on a weeklong cruise to Bermuda (still my personal favorite cruise destination if one only has seven days) convinced us to reevaluate our dining options. Twenty years later, I still remember that week. . The first evening, we sat at a table for six. Unfortunately, the other four were a family travelling together who never spoke to us after an initial hello. So the maitre’d moved us.
Second night, we were placed at a table with a couple who spent most of the time arguing with one another. And when they weren’t arguing, they felt the need to tell us in exquisite detail about every cruise they had ever taken—which in turn led to more arguing over dates and locations of these cruises.
The third night we sat at a table with three other couples who were pleasant enough, but in order to talk to one another, my husband and I had to shout across the table. (The people who arrive at dinner first often determine who sits where as later diners arrive.)
The fourth night, the maître d’ suggested a table for two, something new for us, and we have never looked back.
We are far from anti-social. Some of our closest friends started out as shipboard acquaintances. But we met them originally at breakfast or lunch, playing Trivia, or sitting out on deck. We met them on shore excursions, playing bridge, and at cocktail parties. But not at dinner.
It turns out that we love to eat at a table for two. Dinner is our time to relax after a long day, talk about what we have done separately or together, and perhaps plan for the next one. Sometimes, it is nice just to sit quietly. We don’t have to wait until everyone has arrived for a waiter to take our order, or try and focus on what someone else wants to discuss when we are not particularly interested. And if we don’t feel like eating in the dining room one night, we do not need to explain our absence. It works well for us.
But our choice isn’t right for everyone. We have friends who prefer sitting at the largest tables. For them, dinner is the time to meet people, laugh and tell stories over several bottle of wine, and enjoy the camaraderie of being with new people. Which is, of course, why ships offer so many options at dinnertime.
There is always a casual dining venue or even dinner delivered to your stateroom. Open seating allows passengers to choose to eat alone or with others on any given night at a time of one’s choosing. We often opt for that rather than a set dinner time.
And then there are the specialty restaurants. While there is always a main dining room, the new larger ships may have ten our more dining venues, and an equal number of bars and lounges. Even older ships have been converting space into small specialty restaurants to offer passengers more choices in dining experiences.
Sometimes the smaller restaurants are free, and others have varying prices as would happen at land-based restaurants. One can dine on sushi one night, Italian the next, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, French, American steakhouse and vegetarian. There are even ship-based branches of land-based restaurants, and guest chefs contribute recipes that are served some nights in the dining rooms. And my personal favorite is not exactly a dinner option—it’s the little gelato stands that have begun popping up on ships.
When you board a ship and look at the little card propped up on the desk in your stateroom or suite, it shows your table seating for the cruise. Take a stroll to the dining room, check out the location and size of the table, and if you aren’t pleased, join the queue of other passengers waiting to change their tables to something more to their liking. You are paying for the cruise, and you have the right to have your meals in a manner you choose.
I am not afraid to laugh at myself. One time, long ago, I was not happy with our table placement—I wanted to be near a window. A friend had advised tipping the maître d’ in advance as a method of ascertaining what one wanted. When my turn came, I stepped up to the counter, said what I wanted and handed over an envelope with some money. The man pocketed the envelope, studied the chart, and said “I will add your name to the list for the maître d’ when he comes later.” Oops!
While you are digesting (poor pun) these dining suggestions, it all assumes you are travelling without friends or family. What happens on those occasions are the topic of the next installment. In the meantime, grab a glass of wine or a bowl of gelato, and sit down with a cruise brochure to think about where you want to travel next—and then call Ken to help you make it a reality.