Cruise Tip Tuesday | Check Food Availability Hours

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Crown Princess Buffet
photo credit: tsuacctnt

Cruise ships have a variety of restaurant choices. The daily program guide that arrives in your room each evening at turn-down will list the hours and restaurant options for the next day. Hours can change based on what time the ship is in port.

There will always be a buffet option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  For breakfast and lunch, usually only one of the typical two main dining rooms will be open as most passengers will eat at the buffet for those meals.  There might be additional meal options such as a barbeque on the pool deck that might not be offered each day or a hamburger grill spot.  The buffet is typically crowded at peak lunch times, and alternate dining choices might be a better option.

Many ships have an afternoon tea time with snacks, cookies, and other desserts.  Ice cream might be available from a soft serve machine or an ice cream counter at certain hours in the afternoon as well.  Most cruises will have at least one late night dessert buffet or snacks in the casino once the main buffet is closed.  Some ships will even have food available almost 24 hours a day at one location.

Children can be hungry at odd times especially if they are used to having snacks available anytime at home.  Knowing what is available is key to keeping your children happy with plenty of energy to play.  We usually eat breakfast at the buffet, one or two lunches in the dining room with the rest at the buffet, and most if not all dinners in the dining room. We will sometimes feed the children at the buffet before our dining room meal time and then drop them off at the children’s play room so that we can have a more peaceful dinner and they get more time to play.  My kids will usually get ice cream in the afternoon, cookies at tea time, and something before bed after their evening play time.

Cruise Tip Tuesday | Free Beverages

Iced Tea Marie Catrib's 7-8-09 3

Most cruise lines offer a limited choice of free beverages.  The free beverages available 24 hours a day are of course tap water, iced tea, hot tea (lots of choices), and plain coffee with a variety of sweeteners.  Hot chocolate packets are usually available as well.  For breakfast you can usually get a few juices such as apple, orange, and cranberry as well as milk.  You can fill your children’s sippy cups or water bottles with juice, and it could last until lunch at the very least. 

For lunch and dinner, iced tea is usually available in both the buffet and dining rooms. There will not be a decaffeinated iced tea option, but you could make your own with hot water, tea bags, and then ice.  You could also make your own iced coffee.  First get your coffee, and sweeten it with sugar or sweetener and cream or milk.  Then fill a cup with ice and dump your coffee in and mix.  Children can usually get juice or milk in the dining rooms for lunch and dinner for free, but it is not easily available at the buffet.

If you or your children “need” some flavor in their water, consider bringing some individual packets of products like Crystal Light or MiO. Lemon slices are also often out at the buffet by the iced tea.

I am personally not a big water drinker at home, except after dinner or while exercising.  On past cruises, I actually got used to drinking water more than I do at home.  At dinner the waiters always filled my glass with water, and I was able to save some of my calories for desserts!  The free “tap” water tasted great to me, but maybe the warm weather simply increased my thirst.

If you need your soda fix, consider getting some soda in port.  Please be very careful and clean the top of cans and bottles and use a straw if you can.  It is best to avoid soda from a bar or restaurant that could be mixed with local water.  You definitely do not want to ruin your cruise by getting sick.

Most cruises also offer some sort of unlimited soda card for the entire cruise.  They are technically for one person or child.  Unless you drink a lot of soda, you will not get your money’s worth compared to regular 2 Liter prices or 12 packs.  For example, Norwegian Cruise Line charges $6.25 per adult per day (must purchase for entire cruise) for unlimited soda and includes a free souvenir mug.  Children are $4.00 per day.  Tax and 15% gratuity are additional.  Disney Cruise Line offers free soda at designated beverage centers, but they are not free in bars and lounges. 

We have never bought a soda card or even a beverage on a cruise, so consider some of the tips above and save your money for the excursions.  If you drink alcohol, take a look at “Alcohol On A Cruise”.  I included a few tips in that post on how to get free alcohol.

photo credit: stevendepolo

Cruise Tip Tuesday | Picking Dinner Time

Cascade Dining Room Lunch Time

On many cruise lines, you have to pick a dinner seating time when you book the cruise.  Usually there are two options called “early” seating and “late” seating.  Early seating would be sometime during the 6 o’clock hour in most cases.  Late seating would be during the 8 o’clock hour.  If you have early seating, you will usually go to the evening show after dinner.  If you choose late seating for dinner, you will go to the show before dinner. 

If your cruise line requires you to choose, how do you decide which one?  Here are some things to consider:

  • If you tend to call it a night fairly early, go with the early seating.
  • If your ship will be in port 1 or more times during the early seating dining, you might want late seating so that you have as much time in port as possible.  Though, you could always go to the buffet that night for dinner if you miss your main dining room seating time.
  • If you have young children and plan to take them to the dining room with you most nights, definitely go with early seating.
  • If you have children that want to play in the children’s program as much as possible and do not care about seeing the shows, go with early seating.  You can then feed them and drop them off at the kids playroom so that you will have the show and much of the evening to yourselves.
  • If you are a late riser and eat all of your meals later than normal then consider the late seating.
  • If you are an early riser and usually eat all of your meals on the early side, go with the early seating.

We personally as a family with young children pick early dining when we must choose.

If your cruise offers a “freestyle” dining option, such as NCL offers fleetwide, then you can go to the dining room any time it is open.  The dining room (or rooms) will be open from around 5:30pm to 10:00pm or so.  If you do not want to have to wait to be seated, the best times to go would be early and late.  Getting to the dining room before 6pm was what was best for us on the NCL Spirit in January of this year.  By the time we were done with dinner (usually around 7pm), there was a line out the door.  Even though it felt early, it was nice to not have to wait to be seated.  Mykids were also able to go play most of the evening.  There are other food options available later besides the main dining rooms, so if we did not eat a lot at dinner we would not have to go to bed hungry. 

photo credit: prayitno

Cruise Tip Tuesday | Alcohol On A Cruise

stay THIRSTY, my friend !

Alcoholic beverages are very expensive on a cruise ship.  Alcohol will be available in the dining rooms, the casino, by the pools, before the shows (often but not always), in the lounges, and of course at all of the bars.  There will be menus on the tables in the lounges and bars.  You simply need your cruise card (also room key) to charge the alcohol to your onboard account.  A tip of approximately 15% for the waiter will be automatically added to your bill.

If you drink, look for specials printed in the daily schedule that is left in your room each night at turndown.  We personally do not drink alcohol, but my parents were able to get 2 for 1 martini’s on our last cruise on the Norwegian Spirit by simply looking at the Daily program and visiting a bar or lounge at the right time.  I have heard, though that not all cruises offer specials.

If you visit the pool and lounges you will probably be asked multiple times if you would like to purchase a drink.  To avoid being asked to order, try not to make eye contact with the bar personnel.  They will often be carrying a tray and wearing a different colored vest or uniform from the regular waitstaff.  Sometimes it just can not be avoided.  A polite “no thank you” will probably keep that person from coming back again as they usually remember us especially when we have our kids with us.

If you do drink, definitely go to the Captain’s cocktail party and the art auctions that offer free champagne.

If the cruise ship drink prices are too expensive for you but you still want a drink, consider getting a drink in port.  You need to be very careful in certain locales as water is not always safe to drink.  Their water could be used to spray the tops of beer bottles and cans.  Ice could be made with local water.  You definitely do not want to ruin your cruise with Montezuma’s Revenge.

Update:  I forgot to mention that you can often bring your own alcohol on board, but the cruise line does x-ray your luggage.  If they find it, they will usually hold your luggage and make you go to a room to retrieve it.  Then they will either hold your alcohol until the end of the cruise or will often charge you a corkage fee of approximately $15 per bottle. 

photo credit: prayitno

Cruise Tip Tuesday: Check the Menu Before Dinner


P1030591 - lamb veggies and mash

If you have picky eaters or supertasters in your family, especially adults, you might find it important to check the dinner menu before getting all dressed up.  The dinner menu will often be displayed outside of the main dining rooms each afternoon.  

The kids menus do not usually change and will most likely have something that your kids will enjoy.  The dinner menu could be a problem for a picky adult.  Usually there are several options for appetizers, main course, and dessert but some could have a problem with there not being something on the menu that sounds appetizing.  A cruise line will usually have a list of items that are always available, such as grilled chicken breast and caesar salad, but why wait over an hour to eat a meal when there are other quicker options? 

So what to do if a family member can’t find anything desirable on the menu?  They can go to the buffet or other quick service restaurant and order pizza, burgers, french fries, etc. without having to sit through the three plus course dinner.  If you have young children eager to go to the children’s program that evening, the picky adult could feed them at the buffet as well.  You do not have to go to the main dining room every evening for dinner.  If you prefer you could actually go to the buffet every night and never have to dress up (rules for dress vary by cruise line).

Another advantage of checking the menu ahead of time?  You will be ready to order once you are seated.  This could really speed things up for your family especially if you have young children who have trouble sitting through long dinners.  Of course you could also follow some of my tips on keeping the kids entertained at dinner.

photo credit: Ambernectar 13

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