Cruise Ship Dining Options: Fixed Time Dining VS. Anytime Dining

The debate over whether fixed time dining or anytime dining are better is a continual debate on cruise forums.  One quickly finds out that most people are firmly on one side or the other when it comes to this monumental issue.

For those that are still undecided, I offer you some pros and cons for each opposing viewpoint.

The Main dining room on Holland America

Photo Credit: (Creative Commons Licensed)


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For sake of definition, fixed time dining on a cruise ship means that you are assigned a specific table and a specific time for dinner for the duration of your cruise.  You eat at the same time with the same people every night.

Anytime dining is a newer option.  It generally means that you can come to eat whenever you please, within a certain range of time.  You have different dining mates each evening.

 Attributes of Fixed Time Dining:

  • You make deeper connections with your dinner mates resulting in friendships that might last long beyond the cruise.
  • You have the same wait staff each and every night.  When you come to dinner, they greet you by name.  They remember your preferences, so if you like a cup of mint tea every night after dinner, they will bring it to you each night.
  • Dinner is a relaxed affair that proceeds at an easy pace that provides time to enjoy each course as well as stimulating conversation with your table mates.
  • Fixed time dining provides an anchor point in your day. You have something specific to look forward to each evening as you look forward to coming together to find out what your new friends did during the day!

Attributes of Any Time Dining:

  • Flexibility to eat whenever it fits into your schedule.  Wanna eat earlier because there is a cooking class that you want to attend?  No problem. Maybe you had a late lunch and want to eat later.  That is fine, too!
  • A faster dining experience (especially during non peak dining times): If you do not like to spend more than an hour eating dinner each night, but you don’t want to each in the buffet every night, fixed time dining might be for you.   During anytime dining, diners are not all starting their meal at the same time (as they are for fixed time dining). The bonus of this is that your courses tend to come out faster, making meal time less of a time commitment each evening.
  • Meeting a variety of different people

My Vote?

I have tried to present to you an unbiased viewpoint on the subject up until now, but I have to tell you that I am a big fan of fixed time dining.  Call me old fashioned, but eating a long, leisurely dinner every night while enjoying lively conversation, lingering leisurely over coffee and dessert at the end is what cruising is all about to me.

We tried one night of anytime dining on our Holland America Norway/Baltic cruise and instantaneously knew that it just wasn’t for us. The meal felt rushed, and I didn’t like the fact that we would probably never see our one time dinner mates again (some people might like this…I guess it depends on how much you like the people that you are dining with!)

What is your preference for cruise ship dining? Do you lean strongly one way or the other?

About Shanna

Shanna is a travel professional in the airline and hotel industries. She lives in Lonsdale, MN and there enjoys cooking and gardening. Her favorite places to travel are Scotland and France. Shanna writes about travel in the Midwestern part of the United States at her blog A Midwest Travel Companion More About Shanna Google


4 Responses to Cruise Ship Dining Options: Fixed Time Dining VS. Anytime Dining

  1. James Rogers December 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    We have done 4 cruises with HAL, twice we were traveling with friends and used fixed dining and twice we were traveling as a couple with free dining. In the case of traveling with friends I like fixed dining but when traveling as a couple the free dining worked well for us. We met some interesting and some not so interesting people. After a few days we were able to arrange to meet certain couples or more for dining many evenings.

    • Shanna December 31, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

      Hmmm, I never considered that perhaps if you met people that you enjoyed, you could always arrange to eat together again!


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