Monday, October 15, 2012

How Cruising Has Changed

My parents just got back from their 50th Anniversary New England/Canada cruise. My dad took his laptop and I really enjoyed getting daily email updates about their adventures. It got me thinking about how cruising has changed since our first cruise in 1991, especially in the area of dining.

Back then there was only one option for dinner – the Main Dining Room (MDR). Everyone was assigned either to early seating (6:30) or late seating (8:30). For the length of the cruise, you sat at the same table every night and had the same wait staff. The waiters quickly got to know your preferences and would soon start bringing you things without you even having to ask. I remember one cruise, Daddy asked for lemon for his tea and after the first night, the waiter brought him “lemon cocktails” - sliced lemons placed around the edge of a glass like shrimp in a shrimp cocktail. Dining was elegant and service was amazing.

Jewel of the Seas main dining room
Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas

Somewhere along the way, things started to change. People wanted more flexibility and more choices. They didn’t want to have to dress up every night on vacation. They didn’t want to miss the sunset or wait till 8:30 if they were hungry at 7:30.

Then there was the issue of table-mates. Since most tables were for 8 to 10 people, you would most likely be sharing your dinners with people you’d never met. We’ve been mostly lucky with our table mates. On our honeymoon cruise we were seated at a table with four other newlywed couples, and it was fun exchanging wedding stories. None of us were used to the formal table settings and since we were at a round table, we couldn’t tell if our bread plate was on our left or right. We voted on right (which was wrong) and ended up confusing our poor waiter all week.

A lot of people became lifelong friends with their table-mates. But personally, I don’t go on vacation to make new lifelong friends. I want a romantic dinner with the one I already have. And what happens if you’re assigned a table with people you really don’t like? If you want some interesting reading, check out this recent thread on Cruise Critic about the table mates from hell:

Cruise lines have listened and are giving people more options. Most, if not all, cruise lines now offer some kind of flexible dining times. Royal Caribbean calls it My Time Dining, Celebrity calls it Celebrity Select, Norwegian Cruise Line calls it Freestyle Dining. Instead of a set dining time, you go to dinner when you’re ready to eat. There are more small tables so you can usually get a table for two, although if you like, you can ask to be seated with others. The main disadvantage is that you don’t necessarily get the same wait staff every night so you lose some of the exceptional, personalized service that you get with “traditional” dining.

Norwegian Jewel French restaurant
French Restaurant on Norwegian Cruise Line's Jewel

Another change in cruise dining is the addition of specialty restaurants. These are smaller restaurants that specialize in a type of food, like French, Italian, Japanese or steak, and usually charge a surcharge. The newer, larger ships can have 6 or 7 different specialty restaurants. Some people see this as just another way for cruise lines to grab more of your money, making you feel like if you to pay extra if you want the best food and service. But I think it’s nice to have options.

Dress codes have gotten more casual over the years too, but almost all cruise lines still require men to wear long pants in the MDR and specialty restaurants. For the people who don’t want to get out of their shorts, there’s always the buffet. A lot of ships have the same food at their buffets as the MDR and even provide limited wait service during dinner. My parents ended up eating most of their dinners at the buffet, because it was quicker and more relaxing after a day of touring.

And then there are the pizza, sushi and ice cream shops, 24-hour room service, late-night barbecues and chocolate buffets (mmmm, chocolate buffets).  That’s one thing that has not changed about cruising – you will not go hungry.

cruise dining in 1994
Cruise Dining circa 1994

No comments:

Post a Comment