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WHAT'S FOR DINNER!

One thing that won't happen on a cruise ship - you won't go hungry. You probably won't lose any weight either. Not that you'll be trying. And guess what? It's all included in the price. So now is your chance to try all those foods you never tasted before. Here's what to expect on a cruise....

You wake up at 7am, slip on your jogging suit and jog (or walk) up to the Lido deck. You have a leisurely cup of coffee and donut waiting for the buffet to open. The buffet opens at 7:30 and you fill your plate with lox and cream cheese, bagels, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, cereal, juices, and a danish to top it off.

Then the dining room opens for breakfast at 8. Down you go for eggs benedict and fresh, hot, croissants.

The buffet shuts down while switching over to lunch. Oh my goodness, from 10 to 11:00 there's no food!!!

At 11:30 you have a big decision - have lunch in the Lido buffet or have hot dogs and hamburgers or maybe the taco bar at poolside. Heck, why not both. Then at 12:00 the dining room opens for a more formal luncheon.

The last food services closes at 2:30 until high tea starts at 3:30. Then you'll be on your own until the appetizers come out in the bars at 4:45 and & 7:00.

Your dinner seating may be early or late (about 5 pm or 8 pm) although some ships now have freestyle dining where you are not assigned to a specific time (pros & cons later here).

Think that's it for the day? Nope, you forgot the late night buffet which is usually around 11:30 so it's not really the "midnight" buffet anymore. Oh and did I forget to mention the ice cream parlor and on some ships there is a patisserie and/or a pizza bar? These are open at various times throughout the day. And one last thing. There is also room service.

All of this food is delicious and beautifully presented. Ice sculptures and crafted vegetables abound.

Ships vary but your dining choices are:

Coffee, tea and usually iced tea are available all day in the Lido area or poolside.

Cocktails, sodas and bottled water are available in the dining room and the many lounges around the ship, as well as from the waiter who visits you around the pool. On most ships they are not free and are charged to your shipboard account. Sometimes you can get a prepaid "soda card" for the kids.

Some ships can accommodate special dietary requirements if you let them know in advance. Be sure to do this in writing at least 60 days before your cruise.

Smoking is allowed in certain sections of the ship. Most are switching to non-smoking dining rooms. Bars usually are non-smoking. There are completely Non-Smoking ships and they mean business. You can be thrown off if caught, even if you're in your own cabin.

When you book your cruise, your travel agent will ask you the following questions to reserve your preferences:

Freestyle Vs Reserved

Everyone has their own preference. We used to prefer reserved because we like to be pampered (the waiter gets to know your likes & drink orders). But here are some of the pros and cons to each as objectively as I can state them:

Freestyle - Pro - You can eat when you want, and sometimes you can eat with whomever you want. You can request a table along or with others. Con - You have different waiters who might not necessarily try for the best service. They don't get to know your preferences. It's like going to a different restaurant every night. (Note: some people have told me they have requested a specific waiter and sometimes they do get him.). If you don't come with a group, you will get different tablemates each night although this might be a pro for some people.

Reserved - Pro - You have the same waiter/assistant waiter/head waiter every night. They get to know you and your preferences. We come to our table and the drinks we like are already there. They know how we like our coffee. Many even learn your name. You have the same tablemates and you get to know them better. Con - You are limited to a specific meal time. If you don't like your assigned table companions you have to see the maitre D and ask to change tables. (Note: Even with Reserved seating you can go to the Alternative Restaurants whenever you want.)

If anyone reading this has more pros or cons to add, please let me know.