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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why Your Best Dinner Could be at the Buffet

Dinner on our first cruise was an affair to remember. All that silverware glinting in the chandelier’s light. A five-course spread, dished out by chatty waiters in tuxes. Our plates, the picture of food magazines. It was a blast.
Over the years, as budgets tightened and crew sizes shrunk, the dinner hour has become the dinner hour and a half—or more. Waiters are so harried; they no longer feel like chewing the fat. Courses have gone from five to four. Diners dress down more than ever.
Satisfy your sweet tooth in the Windjammer...
With these changes, along with some of the upsides of the buffet experience, we’re finding ourselves there quite a lot. Here are a few reasons why your best dinner could be at the buffet and not in the main dining room (MDR):         
Go when you want, come as you are. Working around your assigned MDR time can be a pain, particularly after a long day at port. Or, maybe you were up late the night before and then had your lunch at 3. How do you have dinner at 6? With the buffet, you eat when you feel like it.
And you don’t have to rush back to your stateroom and change for dinner. You can come as you are and keep that relaxed vibe right into the night.

...or have shrimp crackers there for the first time.
Pace yourself. Some of our MDR meals have taken close to two hours. That’s a long time to give up on a cruise evening, especially when there are shows to make, slot machines waiting for your money and a piano player anxious to sing to you. The buffet allows you to linger as long as you like—or wolf it down to go on to whatever’s next. 

 You can be choosy. In the old days, when MDR meals didn’t take so long, if you didn’t like your dish, you could ask for another. Today, the prospect of waiting for that other dish isn’t so appealing. What the buffets offer is choice. Your plate can become a virtual tourist with an Italian breadstick here, German sausage there and American fried chicken in the middle. And if you don’t like any of it, you can go back for something else.

Be a virtual tourist with landjager in Horizon Court...
Food for thought, tasting and testing. The buffet is where you’ll find some of the more interesting and pricey foods, like spicy Asian dishes and shrimp crackers in Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer, blue cheese in Celebrity’s Oceanview Café, and landjäger and Black Forest ham in Princess’ Horizon Court. It’s a great chance to try something you’ve never had before.

MDR chow without the MDR. Sometimes, the same entrees from the main dining room show up in the buffet. Granted, they’re not sitting as pretty in a warming tray as sprinkled with parsley on a porcelain plate. But at least you know what it looks like before you choose it .

Make it your way. It may be counter-intuitive, but some buffets will do it your way. In Celebrity’s Oceanview Café, you can point to a steak, salmon or chicken and someone will grill it for you. A stir-fry guy will put in what veggies, meat and level of heat you desire. And the pasta person will toss some up just the way you like it.

...and enjoy your dinner there in peace.
It’s quieter there. One of the biggest reasons I find myself in the buffet at night is that most people are somewhere else. Imagine that: a meal that’s relaxing. The buffet at dinner may just be the cruise industry’s biggest secret. So let’s keep it between the two of us…
Musing’s Top Tip: Celebrity and Royal Caribbean serve full dinners until 9 p.m. in their buffets; Princess, until 11.