For the expansive array of alternative and specialty dining options available on most major cruise ships around the world, the relative comfort, familiarity and ease of access that comes with the main dining room continues to position them as an endearing and nearly universally popular venue for cruise passengers to visit between one and three times each day.

Carnival Spirit is no different to many ships in that its main dining room is included in your cruise fare – it’s a table service offering with no bill at the end. It’s also easy to develop an emotional bond not just with the warm and homely feeling the Empire Dining Room exudes, but with the unique personalities among the wait staff tasked with looking after you.

Located at the rear of the ship on Decks 2 and 3, appropriately above the Galley, the two-level, 1,500-seat Empire Dining Room operates 24 hours per day, welcoming guests for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For the latter two meal times, parts of the menu change every day, meaning you can select your meal from a number of items available anytime, or from a Menu of the Day with items specially crafted for that particular time slot or themed event, which is often backed by wait crew dressed for the occasion.

Separately, there is a menu of “Wine Finds” which may be discounted for a particular meal serving or may particularly suit the items on the menu on that particular day or may simply be featured as a focus wine. This small menu complements an extensive list of another 80 different bottles on an everyday wine list. These can be served by the glass or full bottles.

Wines available to serve come from regions including Champagne, France; Hunter Valley, Mudgee, Port Macquarie and New England, NSW; Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley and Coonawarra, SA; Pemberton and Margaret River, WA; Kings Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley, VIC; Tamar Valley, Tas and from the Eden Valley and Marlborough in New Zealand. It’s an extensive list and each carries a different price which is billed to your onboard account.

The breakfast menu offers plenty from which to choose and again, all included in your cruise fare, so there’s no expectation that you have to gorge yourself to get your money’s worth (although you certainly can have more than one dish if you so choose). Items include all the hot cafe options you’d find on land including bacon and eggs however you like them, eggs benedict and fluffy pancakes, served with maple syrup and whipped cream.

Dinner time is when the Empire Dining Room comes into its own and is at its busiest, with more than 135 wait staff moving between 45 stations. Guests choose from an entree, a main course and a dessert, with Carnival’s Warm Chocolate Melting Cake always popular.

Evenings see the main dining room abuzz with activity from open to close but the whole operation runs with military precision. Nobody is ignored or forgotten and service is renowned for being outstanding across the board, and all overseen by Desi, the famed Carnival Spirit Maitre’D who has been a mainstay on the ship for many years.

Depending on the seating time you have selected, whether Traditional or Anytime Dining, you will be served either on the lower or upper level. The Empire Dining Room operates just like similar operations on other major ships, with guests either dining with the same people every night or having the ability to reserve a smaller table for their own party on the upper level anytime they wish to eat during seating times.