Spirit offers round-the-clock dining options. There are two main dining rooms: Lido Restaurant, aft on Broadway Deck 5; with Compass Rose midships Main Deck 4. The Lido self-service buffet restaurant is open for continental breakfast (6 a.m. - 7 a.m.), full breakfast (7 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.), afternoon tea (3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.), dinner and late night buffet (6 p.m. - 1 a.m.). A buffet or waiter service breakfast is offered in Compass Rose (7:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.), waiter service lunch (12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.), waiter service dinner (6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.). The timings sometimes vary slightly according to the ship's schedule. Both these restaurants offer open-plan seating, although at lunch and dinner waiters in the Compass Rose fill up the tables (which seat from two to eight) one by one as diners arrive, so unless you request a specific table you will be automatically seated with other passengers. Clearly this system helps the waiters with meal service, but some were reluctant to seat passengers elsewhere if they asked for a different spot in the dining room. However, a refreshing feature is the lack of the early or late sitting so passengers can choose to dine at any time during the restaurant opening hours.
Other dining areas are the al fresco Lido Pool Grill (11:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.), situated outside the Lido, and a la carte Sirocco's (6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.), a separate dining room next to the Compass Rose.
As you'd expect, breakfast in the Lido is a full English affair with bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms and more, although Marmite fans may need to take their own. There are omelette and waffle stations, a selection of pastries and muffins and a healthy section with cereals, fresh fruit and yoghurt.
Moving seamlessly on through lunch, tea and dinner, the Lido caters for the masses with hot dishes that invariably include British favourites such as shepherd's pie, steak pie, toad in the hole and puddings such as fruit crumble with custard. There is always a choice of meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian dishes and lots of salads and accompaniments. At peak times it resembles a busy, cavernous canteen with a non-stop bustle of passengers going back and forth and waiters efficiently and cheerfully clearing up in their wake. Two identical main buffets, with separate stations for desserts, fruits and tea and coffee help with the flow of the inevitable queues that build up at busy times. International theme nights are held twice a week.
Outside, by the main pool, the Lido Pool Grill has a salad buffet and serves pizza, hot dogs, baked potatoes and barbecue dishes. The main seating area is under an awning that protects from the sun and also makes it possible to sit out on colder and -- if you bag a table near the back -- rainy days. (A pile of blankets is thoughtfully available for passengers to use).
The quieter dining choice, particularly for breakfast and lunch, is Compass Rose, which has the air of a grand old dining room with its dark wood, deep red chairs and matching window blinds. The breakfast buffet is a pared down version of the Lido and aside from the ubiquitous full English, items to order from the menu include Eggs Benedict, various omelettes and a rather novel and tasty vegetarian breakfast, Poori Bhaji -- thin flour crisps served with spiced potato and pickles. Lunch and dinner menus feature a selection of at least three appetizers, two soups, a salad course, three mains and choice of puddings and cheese. If you need help making up your mind, the executive chef's choice of complementary courses is listed at the start. There is always a vegetarian option and, at lunch, 'always available' items include pizza, pasta, cheeseburger, hot dog and toasted sandwich. In the evening there are additional speciality made-to-order items, available for a supplement, including a 13oz T-bone steak and marinated skewered prawns. Generally very good rather than gourmet, the food was consistently tasty and well presented with generous portion sizes.
At gala dinner nights expect the menu to err on the side of classic dishes, such as French onion soup, flambeed sirloin steak, duck a l'orange and baked Alaska which, in keeping with tradition, is paraded around the dining room by the waiters.
For a really special dining experience it is well worth paying the £19 per person supplement (or £16.95 for the earlybird 6 p.m. sitting) to dine in the intimate surroundings of Sirocco's. With its contemporary table settings, starboard sea views from each table, imaginative menu and attentive service, the 32-seater restaurant has a stylish and sophisticated atmosphere.
Sirocco's seven-course menu stays the same throughout the cruise. For instance, starters include exotic fruits in a splash of Curacao, baked escargot or wild mushroom soup served inside a crusted sour dough loaf. There is a choice of salads and a refreshing sorbet. Mains include wild salmon strudel, oven baked lamb shank and roast duck breast. Vegetarian options include a Garden Vegetable Mille-feuille -- layers of puff pastry filled with grilled vegetables in a blue cheese sauce. Crepes suzette are prepared with theatrical panache, and there is coffee followed by petits fours. Service is superb throughout.
A pleasant surprise on Spirit is the cost of drinks. Bottles of house wine start at a very reasonable £14.50, a decent Pouilly Fume costs £20.95 and, aside from Champagne, the most expensive wine on the list is a £29.95 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. There's a daily cocktail of the day for £3.95 and even a cocktail of the hour -- available during a one-hour window of opportunity at lunchtime -- for £2.30.
All-inclusive drinks packages are also available, with prices varying depending on the length of the cruise and when you buy them (they can be pre-paid at the time of booking and sometimes there are offers). They include a full drinks package -- with a supplement for certain premium drinks -- a beer and wine package, soft drinks package and even a freshly squeezed juice package. Couples need to weigh up the value if one person doesn't drink much (as with all cruise ships, both passengers sharing a cabin have to buy a package each), but if you enjoy a tipple then it's probably the way to go. However, some passengers may find it annoying that the drinks packages are so energetically promoted on the first day of the cruise.
A 24-hour good value room service menu is available with a menu that includes full English breakfast for £5.95, pizza for £4.95 and club sandwich for £3.60. Tea and coffee both cost £2, although these, along with water, are available complimentary during opening hours at the Lido restaurant. Special occasion treats, such as Champagne and strawberries (£45), Champagne breakfast (£69) and a celebration cake presented in the restaurant (£12) can also be ordered.