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Table for Two ( Image: Pixabay)

Mention the word “cruise” to a newbie and you may as well have said – not “romance”, not “adventure”, and not even “fun”… but “food”! I have been asked countless times,

“Can’t you eat twenty four hours a day on a cruise?”

“The food is all free, right?”

Now I won’t deny that the Kow and I purposely lose weight before each cruise because we know that we will gain a few pounds on board, hard as we try not to, but the last reason for which we would choose to cruise is for the food. Well, maybe not the last reason but the food, quantity or quality, does not rank up there in importance for us. (For shame ! I can hear some avid cruisers protesting our lack of gastronomic appreciation.)

Yes, it certainly helps if the food is edible especially if, for most meals, you are held captive to the fare presented on board but, really, the majority of cruise lines have excellent cuisine and options galore for dining, be it Italian, Oriental, healthy choice, grills and so on. What makes or breaks a dining experience, in my opinion, are the dining companions or your tablemates, whichever term you prefer.

One of the most rewarding aspects of cruising is the people that you meet. And where do you establish these new friendships most times? At your table in the main restaurant. Good food is nothing without interesting and stimulating conversation: chit chat is the best seasoning in my cruise recipe book.

“Your time” dining is becoming more prevalent an option on many lines but the Kow and I will stay with the early dining seating. (In my world I have to have dinner then theatre, not the other way round. This has provided some embarrassing moments when, after a fantastically satisfying meal, I snore and wake myself up at the theatre – no reflection on the entertainment, just the results of a four or five course meal .) Perhaps you may meet more fellow passengers with the newer mode of dining but it smacks of speed dating.

The best tables we have enjoyed have been eight settings. This allows enough people that everyone finds a kindred spirit or two, and civility can be maintained even with the few that would never be your first choice as dinner companions. But everyone generally is interesting and the conversation can be as sparkling as the wine you are drinking (or not, as in my case, alas). Over seven or more days you look forward to meeting your new friends at the evening meal and discussing the day’s events. By the end of the cruise, you are exchanging e mail addresses.

The Kow and I have tried a table for four – not advised due to the bad experience we had. We sat with a brother and sister combo in their 60’s who did nothing but complain over all and sundry, and who tried to put on airs as intellectual snobs. You do meet this type from time to time  but it is worse if you are assigned to sit with them. Complainers do have a nasty habit of ruining any situation – not what you wish on a vacation. Amusingly enough, when Kow asked the maitre d’ about switching tables after the first night, he found our dinner companions ( we would never be their  ” tablemates– how common” ) had requested the same thing! Guess we were not high brow enough. It is a good thing that was in the pre Kow and Cha Cha days or I suspect they may have fainted to know they were sharing a meal with a bovine and a sexy Latin dance.

And we have tried a table for two as well – once. Old married couples rarely talk over a meal at home so why should it be any different on a cruise? We were so bummed with this arrangement that we took to eating in the alternative restaurants after a couple of nights watching the “big” tables having all the fun. We missed the camaraderie and vowed from then on always to sit at a table of six at the very least.

By the way the answers to the commonly asked questions of the curious mentioned at the beginning of this recounting are “Yes”and “Yes – with exceptions”. And for those seasoned cruisers who have to sail Holland America Line® mainly because of the bread pudding, I dare you to try the cold strawberry soup on Disney Magic® -what a conundrum you will be in!          

Who says you go on a cruise for the food …

Feature photos of an equine ice sculpture courtesy of  the author.