December Holidays at Sea

Have you ever thought about going away for the holidays? It may seem like too much of a hassle, but a cruise can take away a lot of the burden of organization and planning.

Like the rest of us, cruise lines really get into the holidays, decorating and celebrating once American Thanksgiving is over. You will find trees, holly, Christmas music and other atmospheric features all over cruise ships during the month of December, all put up seemingly overnight (and removed just as quickly come January 1st). The ships’ kitchens will prepare wonderful gingerbread creations (houses, villages, even miniature cruise ships) that will be displayed in the main areas (usually the lobby or atrium). Many cruise lines offer themed activities and entertainments, particularly during the cruises that include the actual holidays. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (it can vary, depending on the port schedule) Santa will pay a visit, greeting any children (or interested adults) onboard. My children once asked me if Santa could find them on a cruise ship. All I had to do was point to the large smokestack: the biggest chimney in the world!

The religious aspects of the holidays are not overlooked, as cruise ships will hold Chanukah and Christmas services for those who wish to participate. Often there is a formal night at Christmas, and everyone will make an extra effort to put on their fancy, festive best for a wonderful Christmas dinner cooked by professionals.

New Year’s Eve is even better on a cruise ship than Christmas. Imagine partying to your heart’s content, enjoying a fabulous dinner in formal wear, then moving from venue to venue to enjoy different kinds of entertainment, without ever having to drive home! Many cruise lines offer additional celebrations on New Year’s Eve, such as big name entertainment, balloon drops, or special champagne celebrations.

Holiday cruises are so much fun that they are usually in high demand. If you are interested in booking such a cruise, you would be smart to do so 8-12 months in advance.

However you are spending your holidays, I hope that you have a wonderful time, surrounded by your loved ones.

I will return with more cruise advice in January!

Eating at Sea – Specialty Dining Options

When you pay your fare and board a cruise ship, that fare includes more food than you could ever hope to eat, in the main dining room, at the buffet, and at other casual eateries (including, in most cases, room service) around the ship. Yet despite all of this variety, eating in the same places for every meal, every day, can get tedious after awhile. Many people crave the variety offered by other restaurants, and sometimes cruise passengers seek a more upscale experience, either for their own personal tastes, or to celebrate a special occasion. These needs are served by onboard specialty restaurants.

Each cruise line has their own slate of specialty restaurants, and such establishments can even vary from ship to ship. Generally, they offer a higher quality experience as compared to the other dining venues aboard, and are accompanied by an additional charge of anywhere from $10 to over $100 per person. These restaurants vary in nature: French, Italian, Asian, Creole or other cuisines, steakhouse, fondue, sushi, grilling or other cooking styles. Whatever you can imagine is likely on a cruise ship somewhere! Celebrity Cruises offers an experience where a professional chef can help you grill your own steak, while on Royal Caribbean, sushi chefs serve you counter-side, and on Norwegian Cruise Lines a chef will grill your entrees before your eyes.

While such restaurant offerings are a step above the norm on a cruise ship, some cruise lines can provide truly memorable dining experiences. Q*Sine, on Celebrity’s newer ships, offers a sharing menu of familiar dishes re-imagined in the most creative ways imaginable (sushi lollipops and a filet mignon painter’s pallet are two of our favorites). Remy’s, on Disney Cruise Line’s newer ships, presents a high quality French cuisine dining experience rivaled only by the most sophisticated land restaurants. Norwegian’s Ocean Blue serves elegantly prepared seafood at indoor and outdoor tables, as well as offering a raw bar. Princess’ Cruises’ Winemaker’s Dinner offers gourmet dishes with sophisticated wine pairings, served inside a private wine cellar.

You can see that the options are many and varied, depending which cruise line and vessel you are sailing. Yes, there is an extra fee for such experiences, but many feel that such fees are well worth the cost. As always, this is an individual choice, and what is right for one passenger may not be for another.

While such dining experiences are not mandatory, you may find that eating at a specialty restaurant during your cruise will be an experience you may never forget. As always, I would encourage you to explore your options, and decide what best fits you and your vacation lifestyle!

Eating at Sea – Casual DIning Options

While most people like to talk about the main dining room on a cruise ship, there are  other places to eat as well. This post looks at some of the casual dining options available on a cruise ship.

The buffet is the obvious alternative to the main dining room. On most cruise ships, the buffet is open 24 hours a day, and offers a variety of foods. Items are often prepared and ready, but sometimes there are also ‘made to order’ stations that can cook pasta, omelets, sandwiches, or other dishes while you wait. Food quality can vary greatly, from cruise line to cruise line, ship to ship, day to day, and even dish to dish. While there is a head chef overseeing all food in the buffet area, it is not unusual for inconsistencies to occur. If you are eating at the buffet and do not like what you have chosen, go back again and try something else. You may find it more to your liking.

The advantage of the buffet is that it is fast and convenient. However, the food can be unexciting, and may not vary much from day to day. Depending on the time of day, you may find the buffet area very crowded, and it can be difficult to locate seating at popular times, particularly during breakfast and lunch. It should be noted that some cruise ships change their buffet areas to tableside service (with a waiter, and occasionally with reservations required) during the dinner hours.

Most cruise lines offer additional casual eateries at the pool area. It is common to see a grill, offering burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and fries, as well as a pizzeria with counter service. These eateries are usually close to the buffet area and can have a lot of ‘spillover’ from buffet guests. Quality of food can vary from mediocre to excellent, depending on the cruise line. Generally, the menus do not change throughout the cruise, with the exception of the pizzerias typically offering a ‘pizza of the day’.

There may be other casual eateries located in the central/atrium area of the ship. For example, Princess Cruises has the International Cafe, which offers panini, soups and salads. Celebrity Cruise Line has Bistro on Five, which offers crepes and other light meals (small additional charge). Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has Johnny Rockets burger franchises (small additional charge). The ‘midship’ eateries can vary wildly, but are usually a step up in quality from the food found in the buffet area.

Occasionally, a cruise will offer special themed lunches or dinners. For example, Princess Cruises has a pub lunch (no additional fee) in their steakhouse on sea days. Look for such events to be listed in the daily activities sheet.

If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, there are also specialty restaurants available. These will be discussed in next week’s blog.