Before your cruise, one of the most important choices you can make is how you will be seated in the main dining room.
Dinner with an ocean view in a luxurious dining room can be the highlight of your vacation. But if you don’t pay attention to your options ahead of time, your dining room experience can be a real disappointment.
If you have booked through a travel agent or cruise consultant, ask for guidance in selecting your dining room options in advance. If you are not working with a travel agent, be sure to check your options during online check-in.
Most standard cruise ships offer both traditional and flexible seating in the main dining room.
In a traditional seating, you will eat at the same table at the same time each evening, during either the “Early” or “Late” seating. The same servers will wait on your table throughout your cruise. Your party may sit alone, or you may share a larger table with other passengers.
In a flexible seating, you can show up for dinner anytime during a certain interval each evening. You will check in with a host in a designated place in the main dining room, where an area has been set aside for “Open” seating. The servers and tables in the Open seating area can change every night. You may choose to sit alone with your party, or to share a table with other passengers.
It’s important to preselect Early, Late, or Open dining room seating when you book your cruise.
Your dining room seating selection will be preprinted on your stateroom keycard. It’s easier to choose your seating in advance than it is to change it once you’re already onboard.
If you’re traveling with friends or family and you want to eat together, make sure to coordinate your dining room seating selections. You can request a nightly shared table for your group at either the Early or Late seating, even if the other passengers are not part of your reservation.
If you want to stay flexible, the Open seating option is perfect for you. The Open seating area shares the same menu and kitchen with the main dining room, but it operates more like a standalone restaurant. On some ships, you can even call ahead from your cabin to reserve a table in the Open seating area at a specific time. Or, you can simply show up when you’re ready and the host will seat you at the next available table.
You can’t go back and forth between traditional and flexible seating during your cruise.
Open seating in the main dining room is limited, and it is designed to be available only to passengers who have preselected it. If you’ve been assigned Early or Late seating, you won’t be seated promptly if you show up to the Open seating area. Passengers who have preselected Open seating will be preferred before you.
Likewise, if you’ve selected Open seating, there won’t be a table waiting for you at either the Early or Late seating. You will probably be referred to the host in the designated Open seating area.
If you are not happy with your seating or your dining room experience, make a change.
You can speak with the host, headwaiter, or maître d to ask for help if you are not happy with your seating for any reason.
At the beginning of a cruise, some of the ship’s officers may even be designated to address requests for changes to seating arrangements. If these officers post hours during which they will be available, show up at the appointed time to discuss your options.
It may take a few days and some trial and error to find the table and the time that works best for your party. If you are polite and patient, the dining room staff will bend over backwards to make you happy.