Like it or not, extra-fee restaurants on cruise ships (usually called “specialty dining”) aren’t going anywhere. Cruising old-timers often complain about the cruise lines’ efforts to nickel-and-dime guests with extra charges, but I see the specialty dining as an opportunity to try new meals in new settings – things that the cruise ships likely wouldn’t provide if they weren’t able to make a few extra bucks in doing so.
On our recent Harmony cruise, we dined at two specialty restaurants. Chops Grille is an old favorite – they serve a fantastic steak and a wonderful mushroom soup, among other things, and the atmosphere is always very upscale and makes for a nice evening. We also tried 150 Central Park for the first time, and we were absolutely blown away by both the level of service and the food, as well as the signature Central Park Martini.
There are a few ways to cut down the cost of trying out these specialty experiences (or revisiting the ones you already know and love!):
- Book a “first-night” special ahead of your cruise. Royal Caribbean changes the options on this promotion, and sometimes it’s different on different ships. But if you look in your Cruise Planner before your cruise, you can often find deeply discounted specialty dining for the first one or two nights of your cruise (usually about $15-$20 per person per meal).
- Purchase a multi-day or unlimited dining package. You can buy a 3-, 4-, or 5-day specialty dining package for your cruise, either by going to the online Cruise Planner or by purchasing onboard your cruise ship. The price per person per meal will vary depending on the ship, but the price will usually go down as the number of days in your package goes up. Right now, Royal Caribbean is also offering an unlimited dining package, which includes specialty dining for dinner every night of the cruise as well as for lunch on sea days.
- Look onboard for special offers. You’ll usually see these on the first day, where employees will walk around the ship promoting discounted rates at the specialty restaurants. You can’t count on these, of course, but they might give you the push you’ve been needing to give these extra experiences a try. (I’ve also heard tell that you can sometimes just walk up to a specialty restaurant – especially one that looks, um, rather empty – and ask for a discount. Can’t hurt to try, right?)
If you’re on a tight budget for your cruise, a specialty restaurant might not be in the cards for you – and that’s okay! You’ll have great meals in the dining room, and you can save the specialty splurge for your next cruise. Personally, I like to go to specialty restaurants when I feel like I’ve gotten a good deal on my cruise fare – after all, I’ve saved that money, so why not use it to pay for an extra special meal? 🙂
If you want to learn more about specialty dining on Royal Caribbean, you can find some good info over on the Royal Caribbean Blog.