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When it comes to dining at sea, the options are many. So when you’re adding up the advantages of purchasing a dining package, is it worth it compared to paying as you go?

When a handful of the larger cruise lines offer up to 15 (and sometimes more) different dining venues at sea, they want you to experience as many as possible. But when you add this up, especially if you prefer gourmet dining, this can be a sizeable expense at the end of your holiday.

Cruises are attempting to make it more affordable, and more enticing for you to dine in style, minus the hefty price tag.

One answer: Dining packages. They come in different sizes, depending on how many nights you’re at sea – and can reduce the average cost of your gourmet dining experiences.

So unless you’re on a luxury cruise line that has all-inclusive fine dining, a dining package can be an excellent option for those wanting to experience multiple specialty dining venues at an affordable rate.

Cruise Passenger gives you the low down across the main lines offering dining packages, as well as some of the most popular specialty dining options now on offer at sea.

Celebrity Cruises:

Celebrity Infinity bartender

Celebrity Cruises

What you get:

Dining packages range from $109 per person for up to three meals, and go up to $336 per person for 14 meals across a sailing. Celebrity’s specialty dining packages are based on the length of your cruise and start from three nights to two weeks.

On a day to day breakdown, this averages at $36.33 per person per day for the three-meal package and $24 per person per day for the 14 meal package.

For a comparison – a Food and Wine Pairing dinner at the exclusive Murano Restaurant is $89. This means a dining package would save you $53 on the three meal plan or $65 on the 14 night meal package.

You’ll still pay for:

Extra packages are available with wine pairings but the base price does not include alcohol.

Norwegian Cruise Lines:

Norwegian Bliss, Teppanyaki

NCL Teppanyaki

What you get:

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Specialty Dining Package (SDP) starts at $69 per person for three specialty meals and goes up to $199 per person for 14 meals. This is available in all restaurants on all ships right across the fleet.

On average, this saves you $10 per person (when booked in advance.) So, in comparison to the pay as you go option, which would be $20 cover charge plus an additional $10 for particular meal options in restaurants like Le Bistro, the package would on average save you $7 per day for the three meal option, or $16 per day for the 14 meal option.

Restaurants covered by the package include Le Bistro and La Cucina, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, Los Lobos, Q Texas Smokehouse, Margaritaville at Sea and Teppanyaki.

You’ll still pay for:

Dinner theatre dining and Ocean Blue and Bayamo aren’t included.

However, if you have purchased the SDP, you can upgrade for a small extra fee. For example, dinner theatre shows start at an extra $10 per person, Ocean Blue is just $15 a head, Sushi, tapas and the raw bar are all just $7 each.

A 20 percent gratuity and a service charge are not included in the package. Drinks are extra, as well as certain specialty dishes in Le Bistro or Cagney’s.

MSC Cruises:

MSC Seaview

MSC chefs

What you get:

There are a handful of different dining packages available with MSC Cruises and are based on a percentage-style discount, rather than being based on how many days you are at sea.

Prices can include a 45 percent discount on a single meal at a restaurant like Sushi Festival on MSC Poesia. When you pre-book, restaurants with a la carte menus offer a fixed price for your dining – from $23 per person for Bistrot La Boheme to $50 for Ocean Cay. If you’re at Ocean Cay and want to choose from the a la carte menu, you can at half price.

The Trilogy package for example is made up of three distinct dining experiences. The package lets you dine across the best of L’Atelier Bistrot, first-class sushi, sashimi and tempura at Kaito and steakhouse Butcher’s Cut. Passengers can save up to 60% on these packages when booked in advance, when compared with the full-fare price.

You’ll still pay for:

While there’s choice in the meals and packages – once you’ve paid, you’re locked in. The ability to book dining online is more about saving time and a little bit of money as opposed to the freedom to dine anywhere for a set amount of nights, like many other cruise dining packages. Drinks are not included.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines:

Royal Caribbean

Vegan options on Royal Caribbean

What you get:

Packages range from three to five specialty restaurant reservations, and up to an Unlimited Dining Package that allows for one extra-fee meal per night (and lunch on sea days).

The three-meal package starts at $75 per person or pay $90 for four meals. Then there’s the $105 package for five meals, plus $10 more per package (available on a Quantum or Oasis-class ship.)

Unlimited Dining gives you a meal at an alternative restaurant every night of your seven-night sailing for a flat rate of $24 per person per day. For one low price, you can enjoy multiple entrees and visit multiple specialty restaurants every night of your sailing. As an added perk, this unlimited package also applies to lunch at specialty restaurants on sea days. Plus, enjoy a discount of 40% off bottles of wine under $100 and 20% off bottles above $100 while dining in specialty restaurants.

Savings are calculated on average to add up to 40 percent. But an Unlimited Dining Package can save you $36 for a dinner at specialty restaurant Chops Grille.

But, be sure to book dining reservations in advance of your sailing for your choice of venue. Kids ages 6 to 12 can dine in specialty restaurants for $10 (5 years and younger dine free).

You’ll still pay for:

Be aware that you need to book well in advance if you really want specific menus and days and times for dining, as this gets busy. Once you board, you need to organise your dining preferences so you don’t miss out.

Cunard:

Cunard dining

While a majority of dining options onboard a Cunard cruise are included, for specialty dining, the prices are still very attractive, considering the standard of cuisine. For example, if you opt to dine in the specialty dining venue The Verandah, for just $30 (called an additional supplement) you can choose between the following dishes:

The ‘Cunarder Burger’ with an 8oz Prime Darragh O’Shea’s Beef Patty, Isle of Wight Blue Cheese, Double Maple Bacon Caramelised Onions, Brioche Bun, Bone Marrow Mayonnaise and Homemade Ketchup. Or, you may prefer the Australian Grass-fed Wagyu Beef – Marble Score 9 (gf) 7oz Sirloin.

And, for just $20 you can choose from the following: Grand Platter Fruit de Mer for Two (seafood platter) with Maine Lobster, Rope-grown Irish Mussels, Scottish Langoustines, Alaskan King Crab Leg, Ceviche of Grand Bank Scallops, Jumbo Mediterranean Carabinero Prawns, Served with Bloody Mary Dip, Garlic Aioli and Red Wine Shallot Vinegar.

So while there are no set dining packages, the supplement for additional specialty dining experiences definitely give value for money.

Crystal Cruises:

Dining with Crystal Cruises

All dining onboard Crystal ships is included – with the exception of three specialty restaurants, Prego and Umi Uma Sushi Bar and Silk Kitchen & Bar.

For sailings of 14 days or less, the first dining experience at these three restaurants is complimentary – and then a nominal fee of $30 per person, per dining experience applies for additional reservations afterwards.

For sailings longer than 14 days, the first two dining experiences is included and then the nominal fee of $30 applies afterwards for these three specialty dining venues.

There are also plenty of options on where and when to eat, as Crystal Cruises has an option of Perfect Choice Dining where you can choose an early or late seating, or you can choose to make reservations and eat at whatever time you’d like and with whomever you like.

Prior to departure, Crystal guests are invited to make their reservations in each specialty restaurant, per booking, via the Crystal Priority Check-in and Planning Center (PCPC).

Additional reservations can be made once on board for the nominal $30 per person fee, (but this is subject to availability at the time of request).

Guests on back-to-back voyages are entitled to additional complimentary Specialty Restaurant dining experiences, requested on board, depending on the total length of the cruise. All additional reservations or visits (i.e. walk-in dining) are confirmed onboard, depending on availability.

Virgin Voyages:

Virgin Voyages vegetarian restaurant Razzle Dazzle

Vegetarian option Razzle Dazzle

Virgin Voyages is due to debut their maiden ship the Scarlet Lady from Miami in April this year.

In keeping with their “rebellious luxe” brand, Virgin Voyages has abandoned the traditional cruise dining rules. There’s no buffet, no main dining room, no forced formal wear, no assigned seating, and no set dining times.

There are 20 different dining options available on board the Virgin Scarlet Lady and each has a unique look and feel… and menu. And every single dining option is complimentary.

And with more than 10 different international themed eateries (also all included), food is made fresh to order. From steakhouses and Korean BBQ to drag brunches and an international food market, all also have a bar in every dining location.

There’s the Razzle Dazzle vegetarian friendly option, The Wake for steak and seafood, The Test Kitchen – designed like a laboratory, Lick me Til Ice Cream scoop shop, Extra Virgin Italian dining and many more.

World-class chefs Brad Farmerie, and Sohui Kim are a few of the names behind Virgin’s menus.

All dining onboard the ship is available 24 hours a day.

Princess Cruises:

Curtis Stone with Princess Cruises

While Princess Cruises don’t offer a Dining Package, they do have one of the largest offerings of dining venues at sea. Some are all-inclusive in your cruise fare, while others are specialty dining options… but still with a competitive price tag.

The following restaurants and dining options are available across the Princess fleet.

Chef Curtis Stone is an award-winning chef and restaurateur and his on board restaurant SHARE features a menu with charcuterie, salads, handmade pastas, high quality meats and desserts.

A cover charge of $29 per person includes one selection from each option across a six course degustation menu, not including drinks.

Guests sailing on certain Princess ships can also access dishes designed by Chef Stone in the Main Dining Room.

Sabatini’s specialty Italian restaurant comes with handmade pasta dishes from Chef Angelo Auriana. You can also enjoy authentic family recipes from Italian chefs, plus Italian wines to match.

Premium steak and seafood are cooked to your liking at the Crown Grill.

Salty Dog: A gastropub in partnership with Ernesto Uchimura, a founding chef of the original Umami Burger. Try a savoury rib eye burger crafted exclusively for Princess by Chef Uchimura.

Harmony: Harmony features award winning Chef Richard Chen. He is known as the “Duck Master” for his ability to create modern dishes using duck.

Bistro Sur La Mer: Created by French award winning chef, Emmanuel Renaut, this is a casual French style dining option. Chef Renaut provides a menu based on traditional French dishes, recreated with his own flair.

Bistro Sur La Mer

Sterling Steakhouse: If you’re after the highest quality cuts of beef, including New York strip steak, Porterhouse and Filet Mignon then this one’s for you. Top quality seafood is also on the menu, including grilled shrimp and lobster.

The Chef’s Table is a treat. Guests are taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley while being served Champagne and canapés, followed by a multi-course dinner created and hosted by the executive chef.

Kai Sushi. A traditional sushi bar, serving up sushi and sashimi prepared in front of the guests. You can dine up close at the sushi bar or sit back in the restaurant.

Bayou Cafe: A New Orleans-inspired specialty restaurant, offering fresh Cajun and Creole cuisine, N’Awlins crawfish “mud bug” bisque and more.

Ultimate Balcony Dining:  Choose a chilled out breakfast from within your room or a romantic dinner on your balcony with a four-course meal. You can order this onboard via room service or pre-purchase it as a special service item.

Regent Seven Seas:

Compass Rose

Regent Seven Seas doesn’t offer a dining package. They don’t need to, because all dining on board their fleet is all-inclusive with the cruise fare. And the standard of dining is very high, with plenty of variety.

The fleet has two main restaurants, Compass Rose and La Veranda/Sette Mari, which are open to passengers for as many dinners as they wish, as well as three included specialty restaurants, where passengers can dine at least once per venue.

Whilst the dining is included, reservations are required for the specialty restaurants.

Compass Rose: The ship’s main dining room decorated with an ocean theme. Dining is open, with no set seats or dining times; so you can eat any time the restaurant is open.

At night, Compass Rose serves a multi-course dinner, with a menu offering huge variety.

Th Executive Chef’s Menu Degustation, (tasting menu) is available each night and includes a six-course menu.

The Cafe: The Cafe is a small, casual space, with a bar that serves a variety of teas and coffees. The cafe serves continental breakfast and snacks during the day. It’s a popular spot, especially on sea days.

Pacific Rim: The restaurant is only open for dinner, and it serves Asian dishes and includes items include Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Vietnamese selections.

Chartreuse: Inspired by a Parisian cafe, Chartreuse serves modern French food. The restaurant has bigger tables for up to eight people, but most tables seat two to four, and banquette seating. Chartreuse is open for lunch every day; the menu is the same each day, with the addition of several daily specials.

Prime 7: The line’s signature steakhouse decor is inspired by a traditional gentleman’s club. Seating in the restaurant is mostly tables for two or four; only a couple of tables are available for larger parties. The restaurant also features banquette seating, including for couples.

Prime 7

Dinner at Prime 7 is known as one of the best chop houses at sea. In general, beef is the top order but seafood is also popular.

Located behind Prime 7 is a private dining area, available for dinner by reservation for passengers booked in top suites. You can choose from either the Prime 7 or Chartreuse menu.

La Veranda/Sette Mari: La Veranda is the ship’s buffet, serving breakfast and lunch each day. At night, it transforms into Sette Mari, a combination buffet and order-from-the-menu restaurant. It also offers alfresco dining, with a large seating space behind the service area.

Pool Grill: The Pool Grill serves breakfast and lunch each day. At lunch passengers are offered to regional specialties.

The Pool Grill also features a set menu for lunch, including burgers, pizza, a Cuban sandwich and more.

Observation Lounge Afternoon Tea: High Tea is offered every day at 4 p.m. in the Observation Lounge. Enjoy finger sandwiches, pastries and scones with jam and cream. On sea days, a themed dessert is offered, such as cupcakes, cheesecake or crepes.

Pool Deck Party Barbecue: One night during your cruise, a nighttime pool deck barbecue kicks off. It’s a seafood and meat event. Jumbo shrimp, mussels, king crab legs and lobster are served, along with big beef ribs. Enjoy live music and entertainment.

Room Service:  You can order from a set menu 24 hours a day including breakfast.

You can even spoil yourself by ordering a multi-course room service dinner from Compass Rose and a waiter will serve you in your cabin, one course at a time, either on your balcony or inside table.

Regent room service

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