Contributor, Tore Berger

Contributor, Tore Berger

I am often asked about what goes into the menu choices for a cruise, and what are some of the factors for a ship (or company) in deciding the ship’s menus. The answer is of course divided, but here are some experiences from a hospitality management side:

  • Season on the sites
  • Season of year
  • Logistical challenges on the sites
  • Storage challenges on board
  • Prices
  • And of course the most important factor, Guests’ demands and requests, based on historical data.

While these are some of the factors, the companies (cruise lines) also have their own reasons and systems on the menu making.

Food cost on a cruise ship is essential for the business itself. Big buffets, for instance, may very well support the fine dining (or Gourmet) when it comes to cost. Then these can upgrade their menus, use more expensive basics, and take a cover charge (like the specialty restaurants on ships) for balancing it all.

A la carte, where you choose from a set menu, is always the tricky one. Concept, seasons, prices of season, and guest segment is then the set factor. The buffet can have everything, and it will often use all the kitchen and store room “left-overs.”  The buffets will often vary from day to day.

The menu in the a la carte is essential. Having something for everybody is impossible! And, having something for most of us is difficult, so the menu must be taken seriously. Some of the cruise companies today make new menus everyday. That gives a surprise factor, it reaches more guests, and it is something the guests talk about. Most cruise companies also have a season-based menu, to be changed four times a year, and with ingredients to mirror the season itself. Meat lovers, fish eaters, chicken fans, religions, allergies, vegetarians, vegans, children, nation segments… all of these and more are to be considered. Then it’s the job of the Chef, the suppliers, the restaurant manager, and the logistic manager on board to set it.

Going on a cruise? Not happy with the menu on Your last cruise? Special needs? Special demands? Contact Your cruise company. Also remember to fill in Your wishes and menu tips on Your final evaluation cards on Your next cruise. It is the guests who are the strongest and best consultant!

“A good waiter can save a bad meal, but a good meal can’t save a bad waiter…”

Ship greetings from: Tore Berger. Maitre`d.

Between Facebook, LinkedIn and face-to-face conversations (yes, you read correctly), nearly 80% said they only give cruise lines one (1) “chance” before saying “they would never come back” after negative experiences.  It was a very informal question posed; I didn’t get into the food, the service, the entertainment or even the friendliness of the staff.  I kept it basic, and the answer, by a wide margin, was one.

With one person in particular, I followed up by asking if she would return to her FAVORITE restaurant after a bad experience.  I did not ask the same follow-up question with regards to her favorite cruise line.  But, I venture to guess that her answer would have been the same as the restaurant…”Yes.”  Tomorrow, I am going to pose the restaurant and cruise line follow-up questions, because now I am curious.

I realize the investments are not the same, and that is a HUGE factor.  Take even a date night at your favorite upscale steak-house, where the average bill for two will be around $120-$150.  If you had a bad steak one night, realizing typically good restaurants may have a bad night once in a while, you may be pissed, but you are more likely to return. Why? The $120-$150 investment is not as steep as a cruise vacation for two; or a trip to a hugely popular resort in Central Florida!  I have many thoughts as to why the number was nearly 80%, even for a “glass-half-full” type of guy like myself:

  • A bad night out didn’t cost you vacation time, or even one-day lost at work…but a cruise on the other hand will cost more money in addition to the vacay and work time, as well as potential travel expenses getting to the ship
  • If it is your FIRST cruise with a particular line, you have no basis for comparison…only hearsay from others
  • The cruiser may already have loyalty “points” built up with another line, therefore will not chance it again on the negative experience
  • The cruiser may have gone with a new line (for him/herself) with preconceived notions, so a nice time was NOT going to be had regardless.

I’m sure there are many more reasons.  But now, what about negative experiences on what is currently your FAVORITE cruise line?  After spending  money on airfare, the cruise itself, shore excursions and other on-board expenses, using vacation time and having to get caught up at work…would you again sail with your favorite cruise line after a negative experience?  With regards to this question, I’m sure people think about some of the items mentioned above, such as perks and loyalty programs as well as past positive experiences (heck, they just had a bad week…).

I would LOVE to have more of your thoughts here on the blog and on our Facebook page; especially from those who said they would only give a cruise line one chance!  Does this include your FAVORITE cruise line?

The Oasis of the Seas dwarfs everything as she exits from Port Everglades.

The Oasis of the Seas dwarfs everything as she exits from Port Everglades.

Did you know that at Double Occupancy, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships hold 5,400 passengers? How about 6,296 at MAXIMUM capacity?  Now, add 2,394 crew (as of July 2012) and we have a potential grand total of 8,690 people on board!  Currently, at a popular, large-scale community in South Florida (where I am part of the Management Team) the population hovers around 8,500, which also happens to be about a quarter of the city’s population!

Now, we all have different takes on what constitutes a good, great and/or outstanding cruise experience.  From my perspective, I had an outstanding experience on the Allure of the Seas in September of 2011.  A couple of minor issues, like watered down coffee and a very curt instructor on the surf rider, but nothing that took away from my experience.  My biggest concern heading in was the crowded feeling I was “sure to endure” on the Allure…but it never happened!

It never happened at the port (we were on board in ten minutes) and it never felt crowded on board.  The worst it ever got was during the flash mob class in the Promenade, but even then, Allure’s midsection was wide enough to get through if you chose.  Buffet Lines?  Never a problem, and I thought it was only because that there were SO MANY dining options that it spread everybody to different areas.  While this was true, there was another reason.

SHAPE RECOGNITION CAMERAS.  According to an article on “seasiteblog.com“, passengers never have to wait to be seated at ANY of the 24 dining areas, thanks to BIOMETRICS.  The Oasis-class ships employ shape-recognition cameras, all of which count and analyze foot traffic.  Then, this information is sent in, REAL-TIME, to some 300 interactive boards throughout the ship.

In addition, the showtime reservations, and scanning processes, for all of the shows (and certain activities) are extremely civilized, assuring everyone that there will be a seat available for them as long as they show up before the shows/events begin.  Then, crew will allow the stand-by line to enter, and fill the open seats.

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I like variety.  I like my beers to be flavorful, hearty (like a porter) in cooler weather, and I particularly enjoy IPAs and almost anything from Belgium.  Up until recently, a nice selection of beer was a missing piece of my cruise experience.

Up until the late 2000’s, cruise ships’ beer selections were comprised of mostly staple beers; similar to what you may find at your local stadiums and arenas; rarely carrying more exotic imports or crafts brews.  My wife and I cruised the Norwegian Sky in 2008 (or 2009) and to our surprise, the Sports Bar had a very nice selection of beers from around the world.  We were thrilled, because we are not fans of the beers typically available on ships.  In fact, the Sky’s Sports Bar EVEN SERVED COMFORT FOODS, like fritters, wings, burgers and more.  Now, most ships have sports bars, but this was the first time we encountered a cruise ship sports bar as a dining option.  It was great, and we felt like it was our little secret!

Back to the beer…USA Today reported that more than half of Royal Caribbean’s customers will come from outside of North America this year, and that they will be likely to find at least one familiar beer from home on the menu!  That’s a plus for folks who reside in the United States and Canada.  Imports on about half of the Royal Caribbean fleet now include Foster’s (Australia), Kirin (Japan), Peroni (Italy), Carlsberg (Denmark), Spaten (Germany) and Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic).  From the United Kingdom and Ireland, beers include Bass Ale, Boddingtons Pub Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale, Guinness Draught, Murphy’s Stout and Harp Lager.  Other beers carried include Widmer Brothers (Oregon), Red Hook (Washington), Sierra Nevada (California) and more, including a personal favorite, Chimay, from Belgium!!

Although I understand distributorships will have a say, I would like to see the cruise lines offering beers from home ports, as well as those available at ports of call.  During our Alaskan Cruise on Princess, we found a few varieties of Alaskan Brewery Beer on board!  It just went together so well with the Alaskan experience of the cruise.

Wine may be fine and liquor may quicker, but I for one am going to enjoy my cruising experiences even more with a variety of beers on board!