Understanding Cruise Ship Dining

With traditional cruise ship dining, the time, table, guests and wait staff are the same each evening.

Generally, breakfast and lunch are served in the main dining room under a more relaxed open seating policy.

On larger ships with traditional set dinner times the dining rooms have been designed to accommodate passengers in two seating’s. Early seating typically begins between 6 pm and 6:30 pm and the late seating usually falls between 8:15 pm to 8:45 pm. You’ll be asked to choose your preferred dining time and table size when you make your reservation. When you arrive onboard you’ll receive confirmation of your seating request and your pre-assigned table which will remain the same throughout your cruise.

Whether one seating is better over the other is a matter of personal choice. Early dining is preferred by families and seniors and is often less crowded. You may feel a slight sense of urgency in the level of service received as the staff must remain on schedule for the late seating that follows. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the ship’s night life, the featured show right after dinner, the music throughout the various lounges and the casino.

Late seating definitely equates into more time to relax. After a busy day in port you can take a nap, enjoy the sail away festivities as the ship departs or delight in a late afternoon spa appointment. With no dinner seating scheduled after you, dinner is not rushed at all. You can linger as long as you like or head off to the late show.

In Alaska, you may find the late seating more favorable; you’ll be on the go most of the time while both in port and at sea and the extra down time will re-energize you.

Table size

Do you like to socialize? One of the highlights of cruise ship dining for many guests is the opportunity to meet new people from around the world. Most cruise ships offer tables arranged for two to eight people providing you with the opportunity to make new friends. You can choose to sit on your own or join a table of four, six or eight. Two families of four could choose to join each other at a table for eight or keep it in the family and reserve a table for four.

When you make your reservation you’ll request your preference. If you change your mind once onboard, speak with the maitre d’ and he’ll make every effort to accommodate your request.

Open seating

One of the benefits of cruise ship dining is having plenty of options. If you prefer more spontaneity, dine when you want, where you want and with whom you want with personal choice dining. All you need to do is show up within the restaurant’s open hours. Norwegian Cruise Lines introduced the concept, Princess and Holland America offer a variation allowing guests to choose between traditional or personal choice and other cruise lines are testing similar programs.

Depending on your mood for the night you could choose to take meals in your room, go to a buffet style dinner, or enjoy a more formal dinner in the main dining room or one of specialty restaurants.

Special diet concerns

All the cruise lines can accommodate vegetarian, low-fat, low-salt, sugar-free or other diet preferences. Some lines offer kosher menus. Just be sure to inform the cruise line of your dietary requirements when you make your cruise ship dining reservation.


Today, virtually all of the ships feature smoke-free dining rooms.

Besides all of the dining options you have you’ll find a varied selection of entrees, appetizers, salads, soups, sides and desserts every time you sit down. And there’s virtually no limit on what or how much you can order. The cruise lines will keep you happy and well fed.

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