At the beginning of 2020 cruise holidays were booming in popularity, with statistics from ABTA showing the industry was growing year-on-year. Even now, in the midst of an unprecedented travel ban and global pandemic, some statistics show cruise enthusiast continue to book their next holidays, eagerly anticipating getting back out to sea.
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Thanks to a global uptick in cruising, more options are available than ever before, with luxury promises almost across the board.
The promise of global sights, entertainment and boutique-hotel levels of comfort are more than enough to lure in hungry holidaymakers.
However, the luxury doesn’t stop there, with many cruise lines now adding an elevation to its dining offering.
What once saw cruisers gathering for every meal in a singular buffet-style dining restaurant, has now exploded into an offering of multiple eateries ranging from steakhouses to sports bars, family-friendly burger joints to adults-only lounges.
However, with many of these new dining options comes an added cost, with some even boasting an exclusive guest list.
Adam Coulter, UK Managing Editor at Cruise Critic spoke to Express.co.uk to explain what kind of options are out there and whether sailors should really be handing over their cash for the experience.
“Although mostly all today’s cruise lines include at least one main restaurant and buffet option in the cost of your cruise, the demand for additional onboard venues offering included and additional-fee dining options have increased over the years and cruise lines have responded with a wider variety of new dining options,” he explains.
While a huge chunk of these new dining options remain free of additional charges, including stand-alone pizza and burger stations, small cafes, snack bars and even ice cream parlours, others do not.
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“As a result, cruise lines have invested in strong partnerships with celebrity chefs and award-winning land-based restaurants, to offer superlative dining experiences that ultimately enhance their reputation for onboard cuisine in general, to give them an edge over their competitors,” continues Adam.
“Food is, after all, an important part of the onboard cruise experience, and a lot of thought is put into this to make passengers stay loyal to the brand and come back for more.”
Partnerships include some big names in the industry and promise what can sometimes be a once-in-a-lifetime dining affair.
“Partnerships with renowned chefs such as Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Jamie Oliver and Nobu have become common, and even in-house culinary teams are turning out novel cruise ship fare,” says Adam.
Indeed, P&O Cruises has teamed up with Marco Pierre White, the youngest British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, to develop mouth-watering dishes Gala Dinners and The Cookery Club on its ship Britannia.
Crystal Cruises offers Umi Uma and Sushi Bar, both developed by famous sushi-chef, Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa who owns a number of acclaimed restaurants across the world.
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“One of the most expensive speciality restaurants at sea is Disney Cruises’ restaurant, Remy, on select Disney ships, with dishes conceived by chef Arnaud Lallement of French, Michelin three-starred restaurant, l’Assiette Champenoise,” reveals Adam.
Though these dining experiences certainly promise something above the norm, they unsurprisingly all wave a price tag that some cruisers might not factor into their budget.
“Fees for speciality restaurants vary greatly from anywhere between £5 to £25 per person for a casual venue to over £85 for a more elegant experience,” explains Adam.
These prices can skyrocket if cruise guests are hoping to rub shoulders with a star.
“A chef’s table experience or a degustation menu can cost considerably more – £279 for a chef’s table on Celebrity, for example,” Adam continues.
“Most top cruise dining venues have a flat-fee surcharge, the base-price of which is usually between £25 to £50. Drinks are generally not included in the flat fee. You can also go a la carte, if you prefer.”
Though some may shudder at the thought of handing over more cash, Adam points out these dining experiences offer more than just specially designed menus and celebrity chef experiences.
“Unlike in the main dining room, you generally do not have to share a table with strangers in the smaller restaurants onboard.
“You simply make your reservation for the size of your party, and you’ll be seated accordingly,” says Adam.
Furthermore, cruise brands expand the detail of the menu and inject it into the entire event.
“The spaces of these dining venues can often be beautifully designed, and offer a more sophisticated ambience than other onboard dining areas,” Adam says.
“They also tend to offer a superlative service table service that can often be much better than some of the best restaurants you would normally splurge on for a special occasion, at home.”
So how can travellers determine if cruises are really worth the price?
“Speciality dining options come at a price, but if you’re an avid foodie, a couple looking for a romantic splurge, or you want to celebrate a special occasion in style, then the extra fees are often worth it,” explains Adam.
“These dining venues tend to offer the best food on the ship and the additional cost goes towards high-end ingredients, such as foie gras, that you are unlikely to find in the main dining rooms.
“If you haven’t tried certain high-end restaurants at home or the menus of certain world-renowned award-winning chefs, then these restaurants can often provide the best chance to do this, at a pretty reasonable price.”
Plus, budget-craving cruisers might be in luck when it comes to nifty saving tips.
“Free speciality dining is often included as a perk when those are offered as part of your cruise purchase,” advises Adam.
“Speciality dining packages allow you to pay a reduced rate for multiple restaurant reservations on a cruise. Choices typically range from three-restaurant packages up to unlimited dining.”
The time of day you choose to visit could also see costs slashed.
“You can also save on speciality restaurants that are open for lunch,” he adds.
“Most people dine in the main dining room or buffet on the first night of a cruise to acquaint themselves with their table companions and waiting staff, so If you book an alternative dining venue for the first night of the cruise, you might get a discount on select lines or have an easier time getting a reservation for a popular venue.
“Some lines also offer a free bottle of wine for first-night passengers.”
Adam does serve a warning, though. These restaurants prove popular, especially those with celebrity names attached.
“For restaurants that do take reservations, it’s always recommended that you book your dining times in advance,” he suggests.
“Most will accept walk-ins, but the more popular venues will fill up, and you might have a hard time getting a table.”
Its clear speciality dining offers a unique experience, but cruisers on a budget can still rest assured in today’s industry offering that good grub will be on offer throughout the ship.
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