Hi my lovely readers!
Eating in the main dining room is always something I look forward to when I book a cruise. It is one of the many dining venues on board and one of the many eating options.
For me, eating in the main dining room gives me a reason and good excuse to dress up a little for dinner and get my nice dresses out that normally just collect dust in the back of my closet.
Dining in the main dining room for me is like going to a restaurant and the food is mostly superb. I only had one cruise where I was not so fond of the food, but all the other once I have been on served excellent dishes. The food on board is very important and one of the reasons I book a cruise actually.
The main dining room is also not just for dinner, but is also open often for breakfast and lunch, which I only found out during my third cruise. This is great for anyone who likes to take it a bit slower and really savour the dining and eating experience.
Here are my 14 tips for eating in the main dining room on a cruise.
1. ORDER AS MUCH AS YOU WANT FROM THE MENU
When you eat in the main dining room you will be presented with a menu. You can choose anything from the menu just like in a restaurant. The first plus though compared to a restaurant is that you can order as much as you want and as many dishes as you want from that menu. Of course be sensible and think about food wastage, please.
Let’s say you are not really hungry. Instead of ordering a starter, a main course and a dessert you could order three starters and a dessert. Or maybe you are torn between a steak and the spare ribs for the main course. You could ask for both if you want to or ask for another slice of cake if you really want seconds, because you can.
2. FORMAL NIGHTS
Most cruises will have a formal night or even several, depending on how many cruise nights you have booked, the length of your cruise.
Therefore, it is recommended that you pack for this occasion accordingly as the majority of cruisers will dress up. For men this means packing a tux or at least a suit. Woman can wear a nice dress, a blouse and skirt, anything that looks a bit more elegant and fancy. Here are some ideas of what I normally wear on formal nights.
3. ANYTIME DINING
When you book your cruise, you are normally being asked about your dining time preference for dinner. There is anytime dining, also called your time dining and fixed time dining.
Anytime dining, as the name suggests, means that you can have dinner in the main restaurant at any time when it is open. This could be between 5.30 pm and 10 pm for example. You can show up at 6 pm one day and the next day eat at 8.23 pm.
This allows for flexibility. One day you might be hungry really early as you only had a light lunch and the next day you might have had too many nibbles during the day and want to have dinner a bit later. I personally prefer any time dining, but that is just me.
4. FIXED TIME DINING
The other choice for dinner is fixed time dining. You can already guess it, this means that you will have the same allocated dinner dining time every day of your cruise.
Some people who like routine prefer this option. You will always know when you will have dinner, you will not have to wait to be seated as this can be the case sometime when you chose any time dining and if you prefer to be seated with other people, you will also know who your dining companions will be. Many people like this social aspect of fixed time dining.
Think about what dining option suits your needs best. If you like any time dining I would recommend to book a cruise early as this dining option can become unavailable once the capacity has been reached. Just a little FYI.
5. SWITCHING BETWEEN MAIN DINING ROOMS
Some cruise lines will only have one big main dining room spreading over several floors and others might have several main dining rooms, such as you can find on the Sapphire Princess.
If this is the case I would encourage everyone to try them all out. You do not have to eat in the same dining room if you have several to try out. They might offer the same food, but I always find it nice to eat somewhere else and see different decor. Once you have eaten in all, you can go back to the one you enjoyed eating in the most or maybe go to the one that had the least queue if time is important to you.
Check if some might require a reservation. Some luxury cruise line require this such as Silversea to manage capacity.
6. BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER
I already hinted at this at the beginning, but often people think the main dining room is only open for dinner. I did at first, but now I know better.
The main dining room is often open for breakfast and dinner and some cruise lines also have it open for lunch. I must say I never had lunch in the main dining room as I prefer to go to the buffet, but I always have at least breakfast once in the main dining room.
The experience is different as you get served at the table and often they will have items on the breakfast menu that you cannot find in the buffet such as salmon on bagel or eggs benedict, which are one of my favourites. Of course it takes a bit longer than going to the buffet as you will be served by a waiter and food will be freshly prepared for you, but you have all the time in the world. You are on holiday!
7. TABLE FOR TWO
If you do not like sharing a table with strangers or are on your honeymoon and would like a table for two to share a private moment, request one in advance.
Often cruise lines will want to seat as many people as possible, hence they have plenty of four seaters and some tables for bigger families and parties. Tables for two exist, but are more rare and go quickly. Therefore, request one in advance.
Personally, I never had a problem getting a table for two. I sometimes had to wait a few minutes for one to become available, but I do not mind having to wait a few minutes. I would either stroll around the shops to kill some time or just go to the bar and get a drink.
8. EAT DINNER IN THE MAIN DINING ROOM AT LEAST ONCE
I know a few people that took a cruise and did not have dinner even once in the main dining room, my parents… Go and have dinner in the main dining room at least once.
It is like a free restaurant experience and often you will find really good, different and interesting dishes that you have not tried before, do not make very often at home or do not make at all. You can find steaks, different fish dishes, I had arancini and a very delicious cold strawberry soup that I am still dreaming about to this day and my partner tried lobster tail and escargot.
Again, you will not find these dishes by going to the buffet or Pirate Pizza. You need to go to the main dining room and why wouldn’t you?
9. BE BRAVE AND TRY NEW DISHES
Eating in the main dining room gives you the perfect opportunity to try out new foods and dishes.
I am a perfect example. I am not a fish eater really, but everyone keeps on telling me that fish is good for me and I should eat more of it. I normally do not order fish when I go to the restaurant as I am always thinking – If I do not like it, I will not eat it. I will have wasted money as I still need to pay for it.
But when you are on a a cruise, you will have paid for it already and if you do not like the food you can ask for something else instead.
I tried seabass once and it was actually alright. I prefer tuna, but at least I can say now that it is not horrible and eating in the main dining room gave me that opportunity to try something that I otherwise would have not.
10. LIGHTER FOOD OPTIONS
If you want to look after your waistline a little, some cruise lines offer low calorie or healthy menus nowadays. Those will indicate with symbols which dishes are on the lighter side so you can easily identify them and be able to choose them.
Another tip is to ask for the vegetarian menu. If you want to eat more veggies, this might be a great option, too.
Moreover, do not be afraid to ask for some amendments to your dish. For example, if the main course comes with chips, ask if you could have boiled potatoes instead with it. Ask for the sauce on the side in a separate container so you can control how much you want to eat instead of having it on your plate and eating it all.
There are all these small tips that you should feel free to implement and ask for.
11. PREPARE TO WAIT
When you chose any time dining, you need to prepare yourself having to wait from time to time before you get seated.
There are certain times when the dining room gets really busy, when the majority of people turn up to eat dinner. This is normally around 6 pm I found. The entire eating experience from being seated to finishing your dessert with coffee can take anything between one and two hours. People often eat around 6 pm as they want to finish dinner and then go directly to the evening show.
If the restaurant is full, you will most likely be given a pager that will vibrate or beep when a table is ready. Sometimes you wait 5 min, sometimes you might wait 15 min. Just go to the bar and grab a drink and wait to be called. That is my advice.
If you do not want to wait, you will need to book fixed time dining or go to the buffet.
If you have allergies you need to tell the cruise line at the point of booking and let them know. This is really important. If you do not tell them, how are they supposed to accommodate your needs?
I would also check with the waiters in advance just in case when you order food, especially if you have a life threatening allergy. Remember, they are serving thousands of people every day. They normally have records of what you cannot eat, but it cannot hurt.
13. LEAVE ENOUGH TIME
Eating in the main dining room is supposed to be an experience and cannot be rushed. As mentioned above, the whole dinner experience takes time and is supposed to be enjoyed.
If you need to eat quickly as you are late for the show, better go and eat that night at the buffet or skip dessert if you are prepared to do so. I would never skip dessert as these are the best and always, always delicious and very often to die for. Goodbye healthy eating intention.
14. EATING LATER
Another great tip to avoid waiting to get into the main dining room and not being surrounded by too many people is to go for dinner a bit later, preferably while the rest of the ship is watching the evening show. This way, food is served a bit quicker, too.
You could for example watch the first evening show and then go for dinner afterwards instead of going for dinner and then watching the show like the most of us to, including me.