Cruise lines offer dining options, for a price

If there is one thing cruise lines are it’s responsive to giving passengers what they want. A big part of the cruise experience has always been the food and these days there are more options than ever before. It’s been an evolution as cruise lines look for just the right mix of dining options to be everything to everyone. For the most part, cruise line dining options have been evolving well but not without moving a bit farther away from the all-inclusive nature cruise vacations are known for.

It wasn’t all that long ago that everybody on a cruise ship piled into the main dining room for dinner. They may have chosen an early or late dining time but that was about it in the way of options. Still, considering the all-inclusive nature of a cruise, it made sense and everyone was happy for the most part. Dancing waiters in the dining room and top-notch banquet-style service pleased pretty much everyone.

Then cruise lines started adding what were called “alternative dining options” to ships. Initially they were a single restaurant in addition to the main dining room where one might go for a super extra special occasion, pay a little more and get even better service and even better food than the already great stuff in main dining room.

I remember sailing on Carnival Legend when this concept first came out. We paid $20 extra for a steak that would have been called a roast back home able to feed a family of four along with a dining experience like no other. In the small venue there was live entertainment, waiters always within arms reach and they did a really good job in a different way than the main dining room. It made sense. It was worth the nominal fee and quite an experience. Not that the main dining room wasn’t, this was different and obviously something they couldn’t just throw in for everyone as part of the deal.

Fast forward to now and Allure of the Seas, Norwegian Epic or any one of a number of other ships where the main dining room experience is almost secondary and not the star of the show as it once was. Today there are more options than ever before for dining at any time of the day or night, for a price.

%Gallery-112282%”Oasis of the Seas features 24 distinct dining experiences, ranging from an exclusive signature restaurant, to neighborhood-specific themed venues, and new twists on Royal Caribbean’s traditional dining areas.” says cruise expert Linda Garrison.

Of those 24 dining options, 12 included in the price and 12 cost more, but prices are reasonable starting at $4.95 for Johnny Rockets, fun and casual indoor/outdoor diner to $35 for 150 Central Park, the ships premiere dining venue.

Other cruise lines and ships have up to a 50/50 split between complementary and extra charge dining options too. Norwegian Cruise Lines new Norwegian Epic has 9 complementary options and 10 extra charge choices.

A number of long-time cruise vacation fans recoil at the mere thought of paying a cover charge for, in their minds, what used to be included in the price. Surely, long ago when these options did not exist, that was true. But now pretty much all major cruise lines have dining options and doing so is consistent with what a cruise is all about

On a cruise, as opposed to other packaged vacation options, we can easily customize the experience to be pretty much what ever we want it to be. This is good news for travelers who are becoming more and more all about custom vacation options rather than a boiler-plate same experience for everyone.

Yes, you can still book a cruise, and have a good time without spending one penny more than the price of the cruise. The lines are well aware that it was the all-inclusive nature and extraordinary value of a cruise compared with other options, that got them where they are today. They are not going to turn their back on that.

Attractive dining options, at an extra charge, allow those who want more than the standard fare to get just that.

In 2011 and beyond, look for this trend to continue as cruise lines as well as other vacation options allow more customization. Those who want to debate the topic need to wake up and smell the coffee, this is not going away.