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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Perry

Dining Tips for First-Time Cruisers

One of our favorite things about taking a cruise vacation is not worrying about keeping our dining on budget, because it’s included in our cruise fare. Dining on a cruise can be a little confusing for first-time cruisers, so here are some answers to common questions about cruise dining.

Dinner Seating Times

Most cruise lines have a traditional dining set-up for dinner, meaning that guests are assigned a dining time and assigned seats in the ship’s main dining room. There are usually two seatings, one around 6pm and one around 8pm. If you’re a smaller party, you may be seated with other guests, though parties of 2 can request tables for 2. Not all cruise lines have this set up – Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, offers Freestyle Dining, where guests can show up for dinner whenever they’d like.

Dress Codes

The main dining rooms and specialty restaurants on cruise lines will have dress codes. These vary by cruise line and by evening – many cruises have one or more formal nights. How these dress codes are enforced also vary by cruise line (we didn’t dress particularly formal on the formal night of our last Royal Caribbean cruise, and had no problems). In general, the dining rooms do not allow tank tops, shorts, T-shirts, or swimsuits. There are also other casual dining options available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Formal Nights

Cruises generally have at least one formal night where guests are encouraged to dress in evening wear (though as I said, this is not usually required). There are almost always photographers available at each dinner, but the formal nights will feature many photographers with different backdrops for guests to have professional-quality photos taken.

What Isn’t Included

There are some items that are typically not included with the cruise fare, such as alcoholic drinks, soft drinks (on some cruise lines), and dining at specialty restaurants. Special packages are often available for guests to purchase that include alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, or specialty restaurants. This will vary by cruise line, so check for your cruise line’s specific policy or ask your travel agent.

What Is Included

Included with your cruise fare is all dining in the main dining room, casual buffet, some non-alcoholic drinks, and room service. (Room service may have fees between midnight and 5am). For Bahamian and Caribbean cruises that stop at the cruise line’s private island, such as Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay, dining on the island is also included in the cruise fare.


Tips are automatically added to your stateroom’s account as a set rate per person, per day. This tip amount will include your waiter (in traditional dining set-ups, you have the same waiter every night), your dining room’s head waiter, and your stateroom attendant. Depending on the type of dining your cruise line offers, guests can also pre-pay their gratuities. If you feel that the service you received warrants more than the standard amount, envelopes are provided at the end of the cruise for you to leave an additional gratuity. Keep in mind that gratuity is often included in the price of items not included in the cruise fare, such as alcoholic drinks.

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