One of the fun fringe benefits of visiting my folks in West Palm Beach is that they live in a place rife with travelers who have a passion for cruising. Recently, while hunkered down at a local café with a bagel, I eavesdropped on a raucous but good-spirited argument about the relative merit of cruise lines’ Lido buffets. It’s a bit like seeing a thread on Cruise Critic (“Which ship has the best buffets?”) play out in real life.
The debate took me right back to this note we received from Rick Barry: My question regards seating in the Lido dining area. Often there are long lines waiting to get your food. Then when you finally get it you spend a longer amount of time finding a place to sit and eat it. A part of this problem is those who immediately claim a table when they enter the dining area. My thought is that you should not occupy a table until after you have gotten your food. . . . There are also those who think it is acceptable to carry on a leisurely conversation after they have finished their meal with no regard for those seeking a table. . . . This is becoming a bigger problem as the number of passengers on some of these ships increases.
Here’s the thing: Isn’t cruise travel all about eating leisurely if you want? While we’re all for encouraging passengers to be considerate of their fellow cruisers, Rick’s point, while well-taken, is directed at the wrong villain. Point the finger at the cruise lines that spend millions of dollars to refresh older ships, adding swanky cabins. And yet, even as they’re adding capacity, they’re not necessarily expanding fee-free restaurant spaces, like the lido buffets, in which to dine.
In major recent refurbishment projects on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, Carnival’s Evolutions of Fun, Princess’ Grand or even Holland America’s Signatures of Excellence rehab, we have heard a lot about splashy spas, indulgent adult sundecks, trendy cocktail lounges and new suites and lanai staterooms. But did any of ‘em make a big fuss about overhauling the buffet or main dining rooms?
That’s important because the style-of-the-day for lido restaurants on ships designed before the mid-1990s had – and have – a cafeteria setup, in which you wait in a long queue to get a bit of salad, then meat, then pasta, then dessert. (Cunard, inexplicably, is one of the few lines whose new ships still are cafeteria-style). The more radical “station” concept, pioneered by Norwegian Cruise Line to look more like a food court at the mall, means that stuff’s split up – pasta on one side, salad on another. These lidos, which you’ll also see on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity’s newer ships, are an ode to efficiency.
So when cruise lines add capacity to their ships without also adding seats in the lido. . . well, congestion is their responsibility. At the same time, we all have to cruise with each other, right?
One thing that members of the West Palm Beach Visual Cruise Critic Forum agreed on is this: Be considerate of your fellow passengers. Don’t, they advised me, hog seats by the window, commandeer a four-top to play solitaire during mealtime and selfishly dominate a table for 12 when you’re only a two-some.
I’ll add one more buffet pet peeve: If a waiter’s not around to take away your discarded tray, clean up your own mess.
Have a pet peeve you want to see addressed via Sea-Mail? You’ve come to the right place. Send your question to email@example.com.
Check out how we’ve addressed other blood-boiling topics like lounger hogs and bad balcony behavior.
Learn how to indulge without overdoing it in our guide on how to eat healthy on a cruise ship.
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