Australians are passionate about cruising. The cruise industry is phenomenally popular in Australia with 4.2% of the population jumping on board a cruise ship during 2016. Passenger numbers are increasing year on year and Australia is now the world’s fourth-largest market for cruise holidays. The South Pacific is a popular destination for Australians, but the Caribbean is catching up fast.
With cruise ships based in Queensland and New South Wales all year round, it is hardly surprising that so many Australians are hot for cruising. Cruising is fun and accessible, with a huge range of different itineraries available for guests. Modern cruise ships offer quality accommodation, fantastic entertainment, and of course fabulous dining facilities.
Once on board, you can dine in the ship’s main dining room, check out the specialty dining areas, order some snacks poolside, or even request room service. Cruise ships offer all kinds of delicious dining options, ranging from ethnic foods to gourmet a la carte cuisine prepared by Michelin-starred chefs.
Irrespective of where you eat, here are some basic rules and courtesies advised for all guests while onboard to make every cruise the best it can be.
The days of tuxedos and ball gowns are long gone. It is no longer necessary to treat every evening meal on board as a black tie event, but you must show a certain level of decorum when you dine in the main restaurants.
The usual dress code on board is “smart/casual”. This is subjective, but in general, it means not showing up to eat in a bikini top and a pair of Bermuda shorts. If you prefer to dine “casually” then give the main dining room a miss and head straight to the buffet restaurant. These tend to be more casual and are perfect for anyone who would rather jump overboard than wear a button down shirt.
Check whether you need to make a table reservation before you pitch up for dinner and discover the restaurant is fully booked for the next three hours.
Most cruise ships offer a choice of dining times. Early sittings are usually ideal for families with young children whereas later sittings are more for adults who are happy to eat a bit later. The ship’s restaurants will have peak dining times, so bear this in mind and don’t expect waiters to seat you if you show up without a reservation.
If you do make a reservation, make sure you arrive on time. It’s bad manners to expect waiters to hold your reservation if the restaurant is packed to capacity and diners are queuing out the door. It is also bad manners if you are sharing a table with other guests and they are forced to wait for you to arrive before they can order.
Good manners cost nothing. Cruise ship dining requires a degree of decorum and good table manners (just like your mum taught you!). Spraying food over your fellow diners each time you laugh with your mouth full of food. Belching, burping or eating with your fingers. Remember, some people pay a lot of money for a cruise ship holiday, so they don’t particularly want to share their dining table with a guest who lacks basic table manners. Or you may find yourself sitting alone!
Etiquette also applies to the conversation around the dining table. Be polite and pay at least some attention to your fellow guests. Dominating the conversation, telling everyone how much you paid for the cruise can be a conversation killer, and no matter how annoying you find another guest’s point of view, definitely keep your opinions to yourself.
Try and stick to neutral conversational topics, i.e. anything but politics and religion. Best to focus on destinations you are visiting (or those you have been to/would like to go to), current cruise or past travel experiences, even snapshots of your family and career (within reason). If needed, try to include everyone at the table within the conversation, especially the quieter guests who may be feeling left out.
Lastly, pay a little attention to body language. Just because you find one of your dining companions attractive or completely obnoxious, it does not mean your interest or opinion is reciprocated or shared by the entire group.
Good manners should extend to the servers who tirelessly work in the ship’s dining rooms. They are paid to be polite and friendly. This doesn’t give you an excuse to hit on them or give them a lot of verbal abuse if you are not happy with your dining experience.
Cruise ships can be tough places to work. The hours are very long and it’s not easy being polite and friendly for 18-hours a day. Most waiting staff are very hard working and their sole aim is to make sure passengers are happy and well fed. Despite their professionalism, mistakes do happen and orders get mixed up, especially during busy times.
If someone messes up your order or the dish is not to your satisfaction, bring it to the attention of your server in a polite manner. The nicer you are, the more likely it is that the issue will be fixed quickly and to your satisfaction. Getting angry and being abusive will get you nowhere fast, apart from a one-way ticket home at the next available opportunity.
Mr and Mrs Greedy
Buffet restaurants on board are self-service. You are free to select from a range of dishes to suit your appetite and palate. It’s very flexible and ideal for guests who prefer a more informal dining experience. However, this doesn’t give you carte blanche to test the “eat all you can” philosophy. Nobody wants to see a fellow guest making umpteen trips to the buffet in a bid to set a world record for eating their weight in food.
The same applies to alcohol. Taking a holiday is a great excuse to indulge in fine wine, beer, and spirits, but drinking to excess in a public restaurant is not recommended. If you want to get blotto, do it in the privacy of your own cabin, not roaming around the ship. Trying to do a table dance after fifteen vodkas and three bottles of Merlot will lead to more than a bad hangover. It’s all about a little moderation.
Most cruise liners are pretty switched on these days and your server will be able to advise you on which dishes are gluten free, dairy free, etc. And if there isn’t anything that suits, the chef will be happy to prepare a dish you can eat. Best to advise your travel agent ahead of time, and that way it can be all sorted in advance.
However, if you are a gluten-free vegan with a nut and shellfish allergy, don’t make a huge fuss if there is nothing suitable in the menu. Instead, have a quiet word with the restaurant manager in advance so the chef is well prepared. It makes life easier for everyone, not least you.
Kids are welcome on board a cruise ship, but some restaurants will be adults-only. Check the guidelines before you make a table reservation and if you dine with your kids, consider eating at an earlier sitting with other families. Don’t forget to keep your kids under control, too. Nobody wants to share a table with feral toddlers and overindulgent parents who don’t know the meaning of the word “no”.
Check out your ship and the onboard restaurants before you sail, so you know what to expect. Happy sailing!