What is Speciality Dining?

If you’re new to cruising you’ve likely never heard the term “speciality dining” before and if you’ve just booked your cruise your inbox is likely full of emails about it – but what is it?

Smoked duck and asparagus salad, a featured starter in Royal Caribbean’s Chops Grille.

So, just what is special about Speciality Dining?

Speciality Dining is any dining option that isn’t included in the price of your standard cruise fare.

Aboard most cruise lines your cruise fare, the price you paid per person for your cruise, will entitle you to eat at the Main Dining Rooms (often referred to as MDR), the buffet, and on some ships the cafe & room service.

Separate from those options most cruise lines these days offer what the industry has dubbed “Speciality Restaurants”, which are higher end restaurants which you either pay a flat fee to access, or pay the a la carte menu pricing.

The most ubiquitous genre of Specialty Dining restaurant is the American steakhouse. Royal Caribbean call it ‘Chops Grille’, NCL call it ‘Cagney’s Steakhouse’, and Princess call theirs ‘Sterling Steakhouse’.

It’s hard to beat a good T-bone steak, just leave room for the sides.

Other options include Italian, Mexican, Brazilian, Chinese, French, seafood, sushi, molecular gastronomy, dinner theatre – and even chocolate restaurants. The world really is your oyster… or your praline.

For the most part speciality restaurants incur a flat fee up-charge of around $20-$40 per person for whatever you order off the menu, although some of the pricier cuisines such as sushi & seafood often follow the a la carte pricing model.

Are they worth it? Are they worth more on top of what we’ve already paid?

Teppanyaki aboard NCL’s Norwegian Jade.

If you go on a cruise and decide to eat every meal in the included restaurants and buffets it’s very unlikely you’ll go home disappointed. These ships with their massive galleys have got the art of catering a three-course dinner, for 4,000 people, down to a fine art.

But therein lies the problem – they’re trying to serve a menu that’ll please all 4,000 people. When you’re trying to please that many people at once sacrifices have to be made on spice, on flexibility of special requests, on the exoticness and cost of ingredients used.

Many cruisers choose to cruise to celebrate a special occasion, perhaps an anniversary or birthday – and these are the perfect times to opt for a specialty restaurant.

For your flat fee of $20-40 you can have a private table, next to a window, in a beautifully decorated and quiet restaurant. The staff will bend over backwards to ensure you enjoy yourself, and you’ll be served the finest cuts of meat, the freshest sushi and the most ridiculous cakes.

Your food will come prepared and cooked just as you like it thanks to attentive waiting staff and a smaller flexible kitchen, and the choice of side dishes leaves no-one wanting.

Garlic grilled asparagus and Gruyere mac’n’cheese

OK, so you’ve sold me and now I’m hungry – but how can I get a good deal on Speciality Dining?

Whilst most Speciality Dining restaurants have their prices fixed fleet-wide by the cruise lines there are still some ways to grab a bargain on their fancy fare.

  1. Book before you sail. Once you’ve booked your cruise, log into the cruise line’s ‘Cruise Planner’ portal. From there you can manage any upgrades and extras for your cruise. Some cruise lines will offer a discount for advanced restaurant bookings.
  2. Buy a Dining Package. A number of cruise lines offer ‘Dining Packages’ where they’ll sell you several Speciality Dining visits at once for a lower price. For example instead of paying $40 x 3 for three restaurant visits, it might cost you just $90 – saving you a potential $30. You can find details of dining packages on your cruise line’s ‘Cruise Planner’ portal.
  3. Be flexible when you dine. Now I appreciate that this tip might not work if you’re choosing a Speciality Restaurant for an anniversary or such, but if you’re just dying to try that tempura you can get a bargain if you’re flexible on when you dine. Many lines offer vastly reduced prices at Speciality Restaurants on the first night of the cruise, or if you dine at lunchtime rather than evening. Look out for these offers in your onboard daily cruise planner.

My recommendation

With my partner, Jimmy, in Chops Grille aboard Independence of The Seas

If you’re celebrating something special on your cruise, or you’re a fan of the finer things in life, I’d strongly recommend trying at least one Speciality Dining restaurant on your cruise.

Book it in advance, get yourself a good deal, don’t eat too much at lunch – and save room for the soufflé.

There’s something for everyone onboard – so pick up a fork and don’t stop until you find it.

If this was interesting to you consider sharing it using the buttons below. Have you sailed on What’s your favourite Specialty Restaurant? Do you prefer the Main Dining Room? Got a question I haven’t answered here? Feel free to leave a comment, or contact me on twitter at @CruisingWithTom or Instagram at @TomLovesCruising

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