Editor's note: This is the last part of a three-part series describing a typical day at sea.
Previously, I wrote about a typical morning and afternoon on a cruise ship.
Finally, here, I describe the wonderful happenings a shipboard evening can bring. You can imagine that pre-dinner cocktail time is a shipboard ritual and you should really try to experience this magical time.
Nowadays, hot hors d'oeuvres are rare, while "munchies" such as chips, peanuts, etc., is the norm in the bars and lounges. Of course, you pay for the drinks; the munchies are free. At the captain's cocktail parties, small cocktail sandwiches are often served, while champagne and small pre-mixed cocktails are free.
Dinner is served in the main dining rooms in two seatings. The early seating starts around 6 p.m. and the late seating around 8:30 p.m. You dine at an assigned table. When reserving your cruise you may ask your travel agent to be seated with friends. This can usually be accommodated, but if you're alone you may request, but aren't guaranteed, seating at any particular time or sized table.
At check-in time, your "sea" pass will indicate the dining room name, time and table number. If any of this is not to your liking, you're told to see the maitre d' for resolution and usually he is able to satisfy you.
Your meal is served by a waiter/waitress and his/her assistant. Bar service (at extra cost) is provided by another person.
Nowadays, on most ships, wine is ordered from the waiter otherwise, a wine steward (sommelier) serves this function.
Most ships have an alternative to the main dining room where meals are served in a self-serve, buffet restaurant between 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. On most ships, the same meals, as in the dining room are offered. Bar service is available.
On some ships, I much prefer the alternative dining because the atmosphere is leisurely and casual. I feel much more relaxed in shorts, which are allowed here but are a "no-no" at dinner in the main dining room.
Specialty restaurants, such as David's (with a full sized replica of Michelangelo's statue of David, in all his naked glory), La Tratorria, Chops, etc., are becoming a common choice for dinner. These restaurants are usually located on a top deck, with a great view, a chic ambience, serving premium seafood, meats, wines and desserts. This is reservation only dining, and "proper" attire is expected. You pay extra for this. You are charged a fixed price of $20 to $30 per person and a 20 percent or more tip is the norm.
Cocktails, wines and some specialty appetizers and desserts cost extra. The premium entrée, done to perfection, is usually accompanied by freshly baked breads, an appetizer or soup, a choice of salads and desserts.
As you would expect, the service is individual and, usually, impeccable. This type of dining is great to celebrate a special occasion or just "because."
I've done both, and enjoy being treated like "royalty."
After dinner, it can be as exciting or sedate as you'd like. There's always bingo where you can be a winner or loser. Then, it's show time in the main theater consisting of Las Vegas-type shows, magicians, jugglers, comedians, singers, acrobats, etc.
Later, there are audience participation shows in which you can be a star and/or make a fool of yourself. These are often hilarious both live and the next day when televised on the cabin TV.
All the lounges and bars are open and cater to the after-dinner crowd. The casino has been open for hours and is now packed. Some lounges have dance music playing "ballroom dancers" are in seventh heaven.
I try to find the lounge where the jazz trio holds court and hang out foot tapping till they break. For me, I call it a day and stroll to my cabin to read or watch some TV before turning in. The night birds are shaking it up in the disco 'til the wee hours and the chowhounds are checking out the buffet for late night eats.
Tomorrow will be a different type of day. We're in port where most passengers go ashore on excursions for which they've signed up and paid for.
The mornings and afternoons are much quieter aboard. The casino is closed, it's not crowded poolside and most bars are closed, but some are never closed!
I usually relax, use the gym, because it's deserted, read in a cool, breezy spot on deck and wait for the gang to return aboard. The ship, usually, "slips her lines" or "weighs anchor" around 5 p.m. and we're off again for another evening of fun and games, on our way to the next port of call.
Until we meet again, it's happy cruising and bon voyage to all you cruisers.
Eric Mascarenhas is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel in Sebastian. Call him at (772) 589-0633. Gadabout also has an office in Melbourne, (321) 253-3674.