We went on a back to back on the Norwegian Jewel, the Italian, Mexican and Blue Lagoon as well as the buffet restaurant and 2 main dining restuarants were all free. There was a supplement for the Chinese, the Japanese, the French and the steak restuarant. We only paid to go into the French restaurant and had an excellent meal there ( worth the extra charge ), the rest of the time we ate in the main restuarants or in the Mexican which was also excellent ( best fajitas I have ever had ). We went to the Italian once, it was ok but have had better at home, we may have just had an off night. The first week we were on board we did not need to book for any of the special restuarants, but the second week the ship was very busy and you needed to book ( we could not get into the Italian one at all on the second week ). You were able to book any of the speciality ones on the day you boarded and if you changed your mind as long as you cancelled the booking before a certain time then there was no charge. So if you are worried, see if they still do this and book them all on your first day.
Bookings were being taken in the main reception area and some of the restauarnts were open just for bookings, also could ring from the cabin phone.
If leaving it until the day, they have computerised boards around the ship telling you how full each restaurant is and how long you may have to wait for a table.
You have to book 24hours in advance to eat in the one
you require, they are quite small and do not hold many
guests, we travelled to Barcelona in February of 2008
from Miami ad was not impressed with the Dining choices.
Some restaurants such as Papa's Italian Kitchen charge a $10 cover charge but it's worth paying as these restaurants are excellent. The free ones include Alizar, Grand Dining Room, Garden Cafe, Blue Lagoon and they are all good. It's best to book to guarantee a table at the time you want though. Cagney's Steakhouse has a cover charge but is excellen.
Free restuarants include the main 2 large ones, can;t remember the smaller one, but GRAND PACIFIC serves the same food, if you're prepared to share a table, you get in almost immediately (except on the first sailing night!)
Mexican, Italian also included in free dining.Very good. Booking required.
Pay for Asian - excellent, I think $10 supplement,
Steak house, (we didn;t use it) Japanese, small and busy,
and French (USA style French food, too rich,creamy, showy.) And expensive. Dine after 8.30 pm, and they are all half price.