Most cruise ship dining is done indoors, but you’ll find some wonderful opportunities for dining outdoors. Watching the sun set over the water and admiring the moon and stars are experiences worth seeking, even if you go to the buffet and take your selections to a table outside.
If your ship is visiting a port of call, you may be treated to even more scenic views — the volcanic peaks of Bora-Bora, for instance, or the magnificent hilltop casino and fancy yachts in Monte Carlo.
Part of the attraction of outdoor dining on cruise ships is that even if everyone indoors is in his or her finery, the dress code in the open air usually is casual.
Here are some of the best spots for dining outdoors on cruise ships.
Don't let the word "buffet" scare you. On the six 684- to 1,250-passenger ships of Oceania Cruises, the dinner spread at the Terrace Cafe has freshly made sushi and sashimi, pasta prepared to order and chefs grilling all-you-can-eat lobster tails, steaks and lamb chops.
Fill your plate and head to one of the shaded teak tables outside to watch the sun set. The cafe is also the venue for lavish buffets based on the destination, such as grape leaves and roasted lamb on a Greek isles sailing. Opa!
Dinner for two
On most ships you can order room service and eat on your balcony, if you have one. On the 672- to 3,560-passenger ships of Princess Cruises, for $100 you can enjoy a romantic Ultimate Balcony Dining complete with Champagne and a selection of surf ’n’ turf.
Small-ship line SeaDream Yacht Club takes a different tack. On the yachtlike 112-passenger SeaDream I and SeaDream II you can request a table to be set up anywhere you want on the open deck.
Dinner menus feature fine, often locally sourced ingredients and include raw food options so you can sub, say, New Zealand lamb chops for lasagna "noodles" made of spinach leaves and coconut.
Candles, a pop-up restaurant, is open for dinner (reservations required) on all six of the small motor yachts and sailing ships of Windstar Cruises.
On the 148- to 310-passenger sailing ships, Candles is by the pool with views of the sails, or at least the masts; on the 212-passenger motor ships, the restaurant is on the stern.
In both cases, white tablecloths are romantically illuminated with twinkling artificial candles. The menu includes filet mignon, veal chops and fresh seafood; don't miss the luscious red velvet cake for two.
Cook your own meal
Take a break from fancy gourmet cuisine with dinner at the Grill on any of the nine luxury cruise or expedition ships of Silversea Cruises.
This casual spot (reservations required) is set up by the pool at night, and the fun here is that you do some of the cooking, sizzling filet mignon, prawns or tofu steak on a volcanic rock that's been heated to 400 degrees.
The food is relatively light and healthful; and there's a bonus: All drinks are complimentary on the 100- to 596-passenger ships.
At the World Café on L.A.-based Viking Ocean Cruises’ three nearly identical 930-passenger ships, you can watch the ship's wake from an alfresco table on adjacent Aquavit Terrace while chowing down on crab legs and shrimp.
A cold seafood spread is part of a nightly bountiful buffet that includes sushi, a carving station and hot dishes that change daily and are made to order.
Norwegian salmon is always available (a source of pride for the line's Norwegian owner). Accompany your meal with complimentary wine or beer, and save room for the selection of homemade gelato.
Dinner and a movie
A Taste of Film is for movie-loving foodies, a unique option on select Celebrity Cruises megaships, which carry 2,100 or more passengers.
The event takes place on an upper deck. For $20 a person (reservations required), you are served a small-bites menu that complements what's taking place on a large outdoor screen. For instance, French and Indian dishes are served while you watch “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a film about competing French and Indian chefs.
There's also a menu to match the movie "Chef." In both cases, the experience is like going to a drive-in movie with sea views — and really good snacks.
Given that it sails mostly in French Polynesia, Paul Gauguin Cruises wisely offers several outdoor dinner venues on its 332-passenger ship.
The casual Le Grill is popular at dinnertime (complimentary, but make reservations as soon as you board), with such dishes as pumpkin bisque, tuna tartare, fresh local seafood and steak.
For a fancier meal La Veranda has 12 outdoor tables, serving degustation by Jean-Pierre Vigato, chef propriétaire of Paris’ Michelin-rated Restaurant Apicius.
For a private tête-à-tête, consider splurging on a meal ($250 for two) served at water’s edge in the ship's marina, on itineraries that overnight in Bora-Bora. Wine is included in all cases.