Before I ever stepped foot on my first cruise ship, I put in hours and hours of research. I wanted to know every specific detail and I definitely didn't want to be the person who walks around looking lost the entire trip. I really wanted to make the most of my vacation. For some this is silly, but for others (and you know who you are!), planning is part of the fun of traveling.
One of my biggest focuses was food & beverages. I'm not ashamed to admit that I love to eat (and drink!). For me, it's a big part of the vacation experience.
Over the years I've racked up some tips that may be useful if you're planning your first cruise -- even better, have your first cruise booked. Here's a list of a few food & beverage tips and tricks that I've taken advantage of on one of my favorite cruise lines, Carnival.
Dining room etiquette - If you're a cruise newbie you've probably heard the rumors: You can order as much as you'd like in the dining room! Can't decide between two entrees? (Surf & Turf night gets me every time!) -- go for it! Your server won't bat an eye. That's the beauty of cruising. Now, I'm still mindful of the quantity as I do not encourage waste, but this is the time to try something new if you see a selection that interests you.
Cookies and milk - One of my daughter's favorite cruise routines is ordering cookies and milk from room service before bed. It's completely complimentary (though I would recommended extending a tip) and a great way to wind down after a fun day at sea.
Cheese plate to go - On the dessert menu in the dining room there is a cheese plate featured along with the nightly selection of desserts. I'm often too stuffed after dinner to order dessert (minus the occasional chocolate melting cake!). However, we often ask for cheese plate to go to take back to the stateroom, or another lounge for after-dinner cocktails. So far, the cheese plate has never gone to waste!
Bring a bottle of wine onboard - Carnival Cruise Line allows each adult guest to carry on 1 bottle of wine or champagne during embarkation. My husband and I usually take one bottle of each and have mimosas on our balcony with breakfast (OJ ordered from room service), and we'll share the wine before dinner in the same fashion. FYI, if you bring this wine into the dining room there will be a corkage fee.
Wine packages - Alternately, if you're flying in for your cruise, or don't want the hassle of carrying on bottles of wine, multi-bottle wine packages are available for purchase in advance or during your cruise. One of the greatest advantages of these packages is that you don't need to drink the full bottle each night at dinner. Your server will happily cork the bottle, store it safely, and then bring it to you the next evening.
Drink packages - One of the newer developments at Carnival is the Cheers! bar beverage program. For a flat price, based on the length of cruise, guests can enjoy a variety of wine, beer and spirits, up to a 15-drink maximum per day. If you plan on having multiple beverages a day (at approx. $10 each), the plan can be quite a savings! Packages also include soft drinks.
Free Lemonade & Iced Tea (and water too!) - One of the things I remember wondering before my first cruise was if I there was any complimentary beverages other than water. The good news is there is! Lemonade and Iced Tea flow freely on the Lido Deck and in the dining rooms. If you're feeling extra fancy you can mix both the lemonade and iced tea to make an Arnold Palmer (Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this!). Of course, water is available too and it's perfectly safe to drink. Bring a refillable water bottle to save on trips to the Lido Deck.
Lunch in the dining room - Most cruisers rush to the Lido Deck for a buffet lunch on embarkation day, but a little-known fact is the dining room is also open during lunchtime. When we choose this option, there is usually only a handful of guests dining with us. The best part? Never having to wait for a table.
The Chef's Table - On select Carnival Cruise Line ships there is an option for dinner at The Chef's Table. Now, I haven't had the chance to attend this VIP experience, but it's on my list for a future cruise. The dinner starts with a tour of the galley followed by cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, and then a multi-course feast, prepared by a master chef. The menu is also unique to the experience. I think this would make a fantastic evening to celebrate a special occasion.
Steakhouse selections in the dining room - Carnival's Steakhouse is truly one of the best restaurants at sea. I've dined there at least 10 times and I've never had a bad meal. My husband and I have often joked that we would eat there every night if we could -- well, now we feasibly could with Steakhouse Selections in the dining room. For a $20 surcharge, anyone can upgrade their meal to include a 9-ounce filet mignon, a 1.5-pound Maine lobster, a 14-ounce New York strip steak, or surf and turf. This is a great option for families or when you're craving something different than what's on the menu.
What cruising food & beverage tips do you have?
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This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.
A great tip for port of call days is to take a sack lunch. Order room service sandwiches, chips, cookies, fruit, and bottled water and pack them up to take with you. This is great for beach days with kids. It can really save you money since you won't be paying for overpriced, not so great, tourist marketed food. Then you can go into town for a nice sit-down, authentic dinner!
Even though a lot of people do take food off the ship, technically you are not allowed to as it is against the laws of the US and all the ports you visit. You can carry manufacturer pre-packaged food off the ship - unopened bags of chips, unopened prepackaged crackers, protein or cereal bars, things like that. You can bring them from home, or you can purchase some snacks in the funshops onboard. You might be able to grab a cereal box from the breakfast buffet. It is against the rules to carry off sandwiches, fruit, things like that.
I was going to say the same thing. Please do not take sandwiches and fresh foods off the ship. It is against the rules.
This is true. We usually just take small, sealed boxes of cereal from the buffet to snack on.
We also packed lunches to taken off the boat. There is hardly anything disposable to take off of the boat though. The napkins are all cloth, utensils are all metal.
On our first cruise we were using the paper bags provided for feminine hygiene products to bring calzones and sandwiches off of the boat.
The next time we brought zip lock bags 😉
It is against US laws and also of the ports you visit to take sandwiches, fruit, or other opened items off the ship... even though many people do. You can be made to throw the items away. Only items unopened items are allowed.
Go to the Sea Day Brunch in the dining room. It's a nice break to get out of the sun and avoid the buffet lines. There are fun breakfast options and yummy lunch options. I remember getting bacon mac and cheese last year. Yum!
Just a small addition, the "lemonade" is actually just lemon cordial for those in Australia who consider "lemonade" to be fizzy. But still and all - good. There is also orange juice at breakfast.
When we went you could get cappuccinos, expressos and hot chocolates free from those machines in the buffet, I was able to mix hot chocolates and caps to get a mocha 🙂
Professionally made coffee is also available for a fee from the Cafe.
For those who are Gluten Free, they also have a lovely Gluten Free bread available in the buffet. This was really great for my fussy 7 year old who only ate the bread and chips for most of the cruise - the previous taster cruise on another line didn't have GF bread and he got sick because he only ate the wheat bread rolls. I took on a loaf on Carnival but was pleased to find the GF bread available at the buffet.
QGood to know about the "lemonade", thanks
By all means, do the chef's table next time. You will not be disappointed! We would have done it again, but the menu was the same as our previous cruise on a different ship. We love the steak house as well.
MADELINE AN ALBACH
M,ANY NEW IDEAS, I LEARNED. THANK YOU.
Can anyone suggest what shore excursion is the best one in Key West, Florida? I am looking at the three (3) Hop on Hop off tours, but not sure which one to take. Any suggestions?
Also want to take a survey to see which are the best drinks to order on the cruise ship.
Mel Fisher's museum, butterfly house, aquarium, key lime pie factory
Go to Ernest Hemingway's house. It was great!
The Conch Train is a nice hop on, hop off. If you want a fun place for lunch, check out Garbos Food cart. It's one of the highest rated places in KW. Fantastic fish tacos and that sort of thing. There's also a place called DJs Clam shack on Duvall. I spent 2 weeks in New England and ate about half a dozen lobster rolls, I honestly think the lobster rolls at DJs are better.
Another tip that I discovered too late.. Don't be in such a hurry to buy the "Cheers" drink cards. They were $250 each x 2=500.00. But, while in port (Miami) we were charged another $73.00 tax. Wait until out of port to avoid this additional tax expense.
This is a GREAT tip! I ALWAYS forget about sales tax on drinks/services while in US port.
We never had that issue when we cruised out of New Orleans, we had the auto gratuity added. But no tax, but they did add tax on any drinks we drank before we reached international waters.
If you spent $500 and they added $73, it sure sounds like the gratuity to me. I doubt tax would be 15%.
I did the chefs table on a recent cruise and it was one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. If you're a foodie, it's worth the extra bucks. We made this our excursion for the week.
How much was it extra?
Thank you for the tips. Never knew about the carry on wine.
If you take wine, don't forget to pack a corkscrew. I had to call room service to open mine. Cost a $3.00 tip.
And a wine stopper of course.
Its worth the Chef Table if you have kiddos? How much it is? Thanks in adva
I did the chef's table on the Carnival Pride and it was the highlight of the cruise. Absolutely fantastic. One of the couple was from Washington DC; they are total foods and eat at the highest of high end restaurants. They said the meal was on par with those they had paid well over $200 per person for. So not only was it fantastic, it was a bargain if you are a foodie.
As for kids, it depends on the kid. Young kids, probably not. Teens, perhaps, if they are foodies. My kids are teens and would have loved it, but my wife and I wanted a date. They ae huge fans of Q-sine on Celebrity.
We have reservations for the Captain's dinner on our upcoming cruise in December. We were told by Carnival representatives that we had to wait until we were on board but it turns out that you can email customer service and they will make reservations for you that you have to pay for when you board.
You can get espresso and cappuccino in the dining room after dinner without an additional charge. Some ships have cooking demonstrations as well where samples are given out. Great fun for all to watch and to snack.
Also, Carnival upgraded their "Cheers" program. Now you have an option for a drink pass @ about 50.00 a day and yes, you have to pay for the entire number of days for your cruise. Limits are the same. No sharing. You also have the option for Cruise Bar Cash where you can pay way ahead of time and the credit is there when you board. The caveat is that you can only use the Bar Cash on items from the bar including drinks, sodas & coffees. You can NOT use it at the Liquor store or to buy anything else. AND if you don't use it all, you do NOT get a refund. I'm the only one who imbibes about 1-2 drinks a day so I've already bought what I will need. You just go to the Shop area on Carnival and there it is. Makes a great gift to give and to receive.
A new thing for us this year is that you can no longer bring bottled drinks on board. You can bring 12 cans of canned drinks on board per person. Which we will most likely do. However, Carnival is selling the water pretty cheap if you order and pay before your cruise. I forget but it's like $2.25 for 6 or 12.
Speaking of Cruise Cash, I just want to mention that you can also do photo and general where you can spend it on anything you want. $500 limit for each type.
" Carnival upgraded their “Cheers” program. Now you have an option for a drink pass @ about 50.00 a day" - can you explain how this works. I have a cruise in Feb. and would like to know the new "Cheers" program instead of paying $344.66/person for a week. Thanks!!
We are going on a panama cruise in March, anything we should know or land tours we should take
The "Cheers" package is still $50 pppd but every person in your room must also get that package. My girlfriends just booked a Bahamas trip and one doesn't drink so we couldn't get the package because we might share. We will have to pay al la cart.
I always bring a couple of big plastic tumblers and load up on the OJ and Guava breakfast juices and make some in room cocktails in the afternoon.
I'm getting anxiety just reading about all these fees...lol Some sites say your allowed water, others say your not allowed to carry on water? All I want to take is 3 20 oz bottles for my meds... we prepaid our gratuity and pray we do OK at tipping be studing... our trip😣
Don't worry, Irma— You're going to have a great cruise! I was not allowed to take bottled water on my last cruise by we ordered a case to our cabin and it was REALLY cheap at around $4.50. The best part was not having to carry it on the ship, and it was waiting for us when we arrived in our cabin. Alternatively, there is free filtered water on the Lido deck. We drink this and use the bottled water just when we're in our room.
My husband and myself my sister and brother in law are going on carnival legend tour Hawaii to Sydney in October and we were told we could not buy a drink package is this true
I was told we could not buy a drinks package is this true
I wanted to do the cheer drink package but it says I would have to buy it also for my husband to. Only problem is he doesn’t drink alcohol, so it would be a waste of money $$. I was hoping to get him the pop package and myself the cheer package. On Norwegian Cruise we were able to do it. And rules are you can only get one drink each time so why can’t you get just one each of the packages., so disappointed. Otherwise we have a Awesome this is our 5 cruise.