To understand cruising, you have to understand food and drink on board.
The experience offered is as different as there are ships on the sea. Every cruise line has its own ethos from packed, fast food self-service buffets to Celebrity Chef fine dining restaurants. The mass market ships, on the whole, tend to have unfussy, fairly low-key dining arrangements, with open dining times. You get hungry, you go to a food outlet, you get a seat, eat and onwards.
The high-end ships will have a choice of restaurants. Your designated restaurant, dependant on your cabin grade and other speciality dining experiences, which will cost extra. You may or may not have a designated table and the same waiting staff serving you for the whole cruise. My favoured cruises, for the more elderly demographic, tend to have set dinning in the Main Dining Rooms (MDR). A set time, a set table and the same staff serving you.
If you are fond of watching and taking part in a blood bath then all you have to do is go online, join a Facebook cruise group and start a thread on “Dress Codes”. Then get out the popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show. Many people really enjoy dressing up in the evening. Others not so much and all of them have very strong views. I once saw a man walk in to the MDR still wearing his swimming shorts, 50 pairs of disapproving eyes tracked his progress across the room till the staff politely asked him to go and get changed.
On the cruise lines, I favour a typical day could run as follows:
The first decision has to be made the night before: room service or dining room. If you are having room service you need to order overnight.
Breakfast in the room can be a treat, especially if it is a special day and you get the celebration meal. I have enjoyed a fruit platter, cereal, eggs benedict, cheeses and pastries, with coffee and OJ. Otherwise you can go to the MDR and have a full breakfast served to you. Alternatively, there will be a self-service buffet restaurant.
10 o’clock coffee and biscuits are usually served somewhere.
Then from around 11:30 lunch is served. Multiple outlets, serving multi-course meals, either to your table or from an ever-changing buffet.
Afternoon poolside snacks
Just go and sit near the pool, sipping a long cold drink as the sun toasts the bronzed old dears on the loungers and you will be offered a variety of foods from burgers to mini fish and chips.
4 o’clock tea. Oh god! My stomach hurts just to remember this. In the self-service restaurant they now serve coffee, tea, sandwiches and more cakes than you could shake a sticky finger at. (There is also a white glove served version of this, in one of the bars for an extra cost).
Occasionally, I have a grade of cabin which means these are delivered to your room at around 5.00pm, just in case you need something to keep you going until dinner
In the run up to dinner, it is usual to go for a pre dinner cocktail. You will be quietly sat there and your waiter will sidle up to you and whisper in your ear, like a drug dealer offering a quick hit, “would you like some nibbles sir? Peanuts, twiglets?” Then to the main event. Dinner itself.
This consists of up to five courses, a starter, a soup, a salad, a main course followed by a desert. Occasionally there will be little chocolates with the coffee. A typical menu would have a choice of up to three of each course. An example of a meal I have managed to eat on board would be Seared Scallops, followed by Lobster Bisque then a Caesar Salad. For the main I had Pan Fried Breast of Pheasant with a port jus. After that I was only able to cope with the Sundae for desert.
It is now time to stagger off to see what is on in the show lounge, trying to recover enough appetite to face ….
The midnight buffet
I am not kidding, they really do re-open the self-service buffet from 11:30pm to 12.30am for hot meals, and people really go there and eat.
Oh, and don’t forget, there is 24hr room service available for light meals and snacks.
On my first cruise, I witnessed an incredible sight. At 11.30am, on one of the mid-sea days of this cruise, when – believe me no one could possibly be hungry – we went to see a cookery demonstration in the ship’s theatre. The Head Chef gave a master class on cooking a couple of dishes. He was good, the food looked great, but I could see he was nervously looking at the large audience he had attracted. Then, as he served up the dishes on to a side table, he suggested that as there was only enough samples of the food for a couple of servings that we remained in our seats and did not rush to grab the food. He was almost mobbed, as a crowd of elderly passengers charged the stage, lashing out with their mobility aids, as they strove to get their share.
Next time: life on board…
Roger will continue to share his adventures at sea in this special cruise ship diaries series. These will be published here on the blog every Tuesday into the New Year.
And if Roger’s nautical tales has you in the mood to escape these chilly English climes, check out our upcoming travel event: A LIVE tour of Spain’s La Mancha with Damian from the Calambur Experience tour company!