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9 Things Not to Do in a Cruise Ship Main Dining Room

9 Things Not to Do in a Cruise Ship Main Dining Room (Photo: Holland America Line)
9 Things Not to Do in a Cruise Ship Main Dining Room (Photo: Holland America Line)

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Updated January 8, 2020

Although cruising is markedly less formal now than it was decades ago -- allowing for jeans at dinner, fewer set dining times, no tablecloths -- you'll still want to maintain a certain level of decorum when you're dining onboard. Check out these nine things not to do in a cruise ship main dining room, and please keep them in mind on your next sailing. If you do, we can almost guarantee a more pleasant meal for you and those at your table.

1. Don't Show Up Late or at the Wrong Time

If your ship doesn't offer a "dine when you want" option, or if you didn't sign up for it, be sure you know the time at which you're scheduled to show up for dinner. The dining room on your ship can't accommodate everybody simultaneously, so cruisers are usually divided into two seatings (early and late). If you show up at the wrong time, you might not have a seat. Similarly, if you're scheduled for a specific seating in the MDR, don't show up late. Not only does it delay ordering for others at your table if you're sharing one, but it also forces your waiters to rush you through your meal in order to get you in and out within the allotted timeframe.

2. Don't Ignore the Dress Code

Some people like to dress up to eat, while others would rather walk the plank than put on a suit or cocktail dress. Regardless of your stance, it's rude to flagrantly ignore the stated dress code. If you'd rather wear cutoffs and a tank top to dinner, your best bet is to hit up the buffet. We acknowledge that this is a personal and touchy subject, but overall, it's about having respect for the caliber of the venue in which you're dining. You really should not sit down to dinner dressed like you're headed to bed or to the pool.

3. Don't Be Rude to Your Waiter

Be considerate. Your waiters have likely already worked a 10-hour day by the time you sit down for dinner. They do their best to take dozens of orders and juggle heaping plates of food, all while remembering your name, asking you about your day and remaining cheerful. If you have an issue, be sure to take it up with the correct party: If you're not happy with something on your plate, ask your waiter nicely if it can be fixed. If you have a problem with your dining time or table assignment, seek out the maitre d' to request a change. Above all, you're more likely to end up with a suitable solution if you're polite than if you're rude.  

4. Don't Drink Too Much

We know you're on vacation, and all the better if you've purchased an alcohol package. But keep in mind that overdoing it during dinner is generally considered bad form, especially if you're sharing a table with people who aren't your travel companions. We all know alcohol can cloud your judgement, and the last thing you'll want to remember (or not remember) from your cruise is that time you had one too many and made a spectacle of yourself in front of hundreds of strangers.

5. Don't Bring Up Controversial Topics

Religion and politics: Few subjects polarize people as much as these two. Avoid these topics of conversation at dinnertime, especially if you're dining with people you don't know well. Imagine the tense discussion, impassioned debate and potentially awkward silence that could follow. Stick to conversation that centers on the trip -- what you did in port, how you liked last night's show, etc. -- or general pleasantries like where people live or where they've traveled.

6. Don't Brag

Cruisers who boast about how little they paid for their sailing, repeatedly tell you how many cruises they've taken or find a way to mention their loyalty status at every turn, tend to be the biggest bores and often come off as arrogant. Don't let yourself be one of them. It's great if you've had the chance to sail frequently, and you absolutely have a right to enjoy the hard-earned perks that come with it, but you don't need to brag.

7. Don't Order More Than You Think You Can Eat

If you find yourself torn between two different dishes, go ahead and order both -- unless, of course, you don't think you can actually finish both. Just because it's not costing you anything doesn't mean you should be wasteful. Additionally, don't let your waiter (or tablemates) pressure you into ordering something you don't want. If you're too full for dessert, simply say so, and be firm.

8. Don't Forget Your Table Manners

Although there's no need to pretend you've just graduated from charm school, it's a good idea to maintain a certain level of dignity as you dine. General rules of etiquette: Don't eat with your hands, don't talk with your mouth full and don't twirl your napkin. (We know that last one is a hot-button topic among many cruisers, but seriously, nobody wants someone else's crumbs flying into his or her food.)

9. Don't Overstay Your Welcome

There's often nothing nicer at the end of a long day than a leisurely dinner. Take your time, and savor your food, but know when to say when. If you're lingering over your coffee while all of your fellow cruisers have vacated the dining room, it's probably time for you to leave. Be conscientious of the fact that the waiters have to clean up your table, either in time for the late seating (if you're assigned an early dining time) or for breakfast the next morning.

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