PHOTO: A dish from Remy on Disney Fantasy. (Photo by Jason Leppert)
Several colleagues and I recently contributed to a list of ways to save money, time and effort when dining at sea for Cruise 1st Australia. The result is nine suggestions listed and analyzed below.
Don’t Be Afraid to Just Ask
Marian Krueger of Travel Shop Girl says, “I always try to get to know both my waiter and assistant waiter by name early on into the cruise. This way when I ask for something special, which inevitably happens, I don’t look like someone who is demanding this or that.”
Even if you have anytime dining, where you rotate to different available tables each evening or only occasionally, the waitstaff are open to taking special requests or bringing an extra dish or two to try.
That’s the beauty of included main dining rooms.
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Take Advantage of Onboard Packages
Danielle Fear of CruiseMiss suggests, “I always take out a drinks package if one is offered. I know some people would say that they don’t drink enough alcohol to warrant a package. However, fruit juices, coffees and soft drinks can be equally as expensive depending on the cruise line, so I’d still recommend that you take a look at what is on offer before you sail – you could end up saving a small fortune!”
Matt Hochberg of the (unofficial) Royal Caribbean Blog adds, “Royal Caribbean’s unlimited alcohol package has been extremely popular since they debuted a few years ago. And the key to saving at least 20% on an unlimited drink package is to pre-purchase the drink package online.”
An alternative to this approach is to simply book an all-inclusive luxury cruise if you can afford it: Drinks are included in the price to begin with. If that’s outside your price range, packages are certainly a good idea, but do the math to ensure you’ll take advantage of it enough.
READ MORE: 8 Cruise Lines For Dining With Celebrity Chefs
Book in Advance
Luxury cruise expert, Andrea M. Rotondo, recommends, “When it comes to cruise ship dining, plan ahead whenever you can. Once you’ve booked your voyage, hop online to make dining reservations. Tables at popular restaurants—like Silversea’s Le Champagne or Disney Cruise Line’s Remy—often sell out before the ship even sets sail.”
This is a crucial one: There’s nothing worse than getting on board and realizing that your preferred specialty restaurant is fully booked for the length of the cruise. Higher loyalty levels sometimes let you book earlier than others, so always be on the lookout to make reservations sooner than later.
Go Off Menu
Chris Dikmen of CruiseReport says, “We have learned that you are not limited to what is on the cruise line menus. Most cruise lines will prepare a ‘special’ meal if you request it in advance. You will be amazed at what cruise lines will do if you only ask.”
Another thing to consider: Asking for a favorite dish you may have discovered on one night previously on another one as long as you make your request ahead of time. (Thankfully, Carnival Cruise Line’s decadent warm chocolate melting cake is already available nightly.)
Add Perks at the Booking Stage
Doug Parker, from Cruise Radio suggests, “To provide more value, a lot of lines are throwing in extra perks such as dining packages, free wifi, select shore excursions, unlimited drinks, pre-paid gratuities and onboard credit.”
If food is important to you, it is indeed a good idea to keep an eye out for cruise specials that may bundle specialty dining with any bonuses. Some of these even begin to approach all-inclusive experiences.
READ MORE: Cruise Cuisine: Who Has The Best Food at Sea?
Look Out for First Night Offers
While not quoted on the topic, both Doug Parker and Andrea M. Rotondo recommend the same thing: Inquiring about embarkation night specials upon boarding.
Most first-time cruisers will initially flock to the main dining room or buffet on the first night of the cruise, lightening the reservations in specialty restaurants. In order, to encourage guests to dine, cruise lines may offer reduced cover charges, making the first night one of the best for starting a culinary journey.
Make the Most of the Main Dining Room
My own personal advice?
With so much emphasis on specialty restaurants, main dining rooms are often bypassed, but they should not be forgotten. There’s still great food to be had there, and in some cases, the experience is far better than you’d expect.
Plus, Sherry Laskin, Cruise Maven, add that the main restaurant is ideal for solo travelers who can avoid trying to find a table while carrying buffet food back.
Explore Speciality Dining
John Shallo of Cruise Addicts, says, “Once your cruise is booked, check your online cruise planner for coupons such as a Buy One, Get One Free at the onboard specialty restaurants.” He also adds, “Order Take Out! Just explore the menu and pay the $15 per person fee and enjoy [an] amazing meal to go.”
In fact, some cruise lines are even featuring specialty dining options in their room service offerings to make things even easier. By paying a surcharge, anything from premium seafood to steaks can be brought right to your cabin.
Make Use of the Amenities
Johanna Castro of Lifestyle Fifty suggests, “Take a couple of items of fruit from the breakfast buffet and pop them into your day bag so that you have a healthy snack handy when you’re on shore excursions.”
This is only a good idea as long as it is allowed.
Be sure that any port in question permits this first. (Some may confiscate anything agriculturally-related to protect their local farming.)