River-Cruise Dining: What to Expect
Are My Meals Included on a River Cruise?
In general, you can expect that all meals onboard will be included. In addition, if you are on a shore excursion that takes place during a regular mealtime, i.e. lunch, that meal is typically included, as well.
What About Drinks?
Most upscale river cruise lines will serve unlimited, complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. There are certain operators, including Uniworld, that offer an all-inclusive open bar (premium-brand spirits and Champagne may incur an additional fee). Typically, you can expect coffee and tea stations available throughout the ship around the clock. Breakfast usually means unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juice. Many European ships will include tea time and perhaps a daily cocktail hour with complimentary wine, beer and spirits. Some cruise lines will offer beverage packages that include alcoholic and soft drinks - the value of such packages really depends on how much you care to indulge.
What Kind of Cuisine Can I Expect?
Upscale European river-cruising fleets, especially, pride themselves on serving traditional and regionally inspired cuisine that showcases your destination. Expert chefs prepare locally sourced meals with the freshest ingredients. Expect expansive breakfast buffets with hot and cold, as well as made-to-order, items. Lunch is usually a three-course affair, and dinner four courses. If there’s a captain’s dinner or some other specialty meal, you can expect up to six courses.
Some fleets, including AmaWaterways in Europe, take the culinary experience up a notch - each of their Europe ships is a member of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs – a prestigious international culinary society. If you’re sailing with AmaWaterways and consider yourself a foodie, don’t miss the exclusive Chef’s Table specialty restaurant (included in your fare), where you can witness the chef preparing your exquisite multi-course meal.
What Are the Dining Options and Are There Multiple Seatings?
Unlike the mega, ocean-going ships, on a European river-cruise vessel, most meals are one seating, due to the smaller number of passengers and a smaller chef team creating multiple courses in a tight galley.
There is typically one main restaurant onboard, where breakfast and lunch are served (most likely buffet-style), as well as a wait-staffed dinner. If you prefer a light option for lunch or dinner, some ships offer a lounge setting with a smaller menu.
Take your time in the morning if you wish - breakfast is typically available starting as early as 6 am with light early-bird offerings until the main dining room opens. Once open, breakfast is served for about two hours. Sometimes the breakfast and lunch time frames are shifted earlier to accommodate shore excursion departures. Expect lunch from noon to 2 pm and dinner from about 7 pm to 9 pm. It is appreciated if you arrive on time and plan to place your full order for all courses at the start of the meal.
Where Do I Sit When Dining on a River Cruise?
River-cruise dining rooms offer free seating, so you’re not hemmed in by table assignments. Dine with new friends and old, as you wish. Tables for two are a bit harder to come by, so you can expect to be seated with four, six or eight other diners. Of course, as the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, all lines will have their own physical-distancing protocols in place, so this may affect with whom and where you sit. When the weather is pleasant, some vessels offer alfresco dining areas on the open decks.
What If I Have Dietary Restrictions?
Speak up! Mention your dietary requirements at the time you reserve your river cruise and we’ll ensure that it is noted. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes on the menus and at the buffets and most menus are marked to show which dishes contain allergens such as gluten, nuts and dairy. If you are vegan, no-salt, fat-free, low-carb, just let me know.
Hungry yet? Rest assured, you will dine amply and well on a European river cruise. Let’s chat.
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