Oceans of Opportunity

Disney Palo

The cruise line industry is growing, and adding full-service restaurants onboard—from casual franchises like Johnny Rockets to upscale steakhouses and fine-dining enclaves.

Dining on a ship today has sailed far beyond the Love Boat years, when traditional dinner service was the only option and passengers arrived en masse to the dining room for pre-assigned early or late seating. These days, cruise lines offer multiple dining venues and specialty restaurants, from pizza and tapas to authentic Italian cuisine and steakhouses.

While romance, adventure, and escape may all be perks to vacationing on a cruise ship, food—and fine dining in particular—are among the biggest attractions. In fact, according to a 2011 study by Cruise Lines International Association (clia), 56 percent of repeat cruise vacationers say that fine dining is the No. 1 attribute of a trip aboard an ocean liner.

One reason the industry is growing—and the passenger growth rate is up 7 percent per annum since 1980—is that people who go on a cruise are very likely to go on multiple cruises in their lifetime—10.5 cruises per person to be exact, according to CLIA. And these are the people who say food and fine dining matter.

Catering to their desires, cruise lines are expanding their full-service restaurant options beyond the onboard meals and all-you-can-eat buffets that are included with the cruise package. Increasingly, passengers can also choose to spend a few dollars above and beyond the all-inclusive fare to eat in a variety of restaurant venues from contemporary casual concepts to elegant, full-service settings.

Add-On Options Make Waves

Almost without exception, every major cruise line offers a steakhouse dining option, and the additional surcharge for guests usually runs $25–$35. That per-person cost covers the three- or four-course meal, including tip, although all beverage expenses are extra.

The surcharge apparently doesn’t deter passengers, as most dining rooms are filled each evening and many travelers book reservations—often for multiple restaurants—to eat in the special dining venues.


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