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

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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 the cruise ship dining choice.

cruise ship dining

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For those that are still undecided on the cruise ship dining debate, I offer you some pros and cons for each opposing viewpoint.

 Fixed Time Dining:
Fixed time dining means that you have a reserved seat at a specific table each night.  It does not mean that you are required to eat there every night, as cruise ships now have a dizzying array of alternative dining options that you might wish to explore.

There are usually two seatings for fixed time dining on most cruise ships, one earlier and one later that correspond with the times of the main evening entertainment.


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  • You make deeper connections with your dinner mates resulting in friendships that might last long beyond the cruise.
  • There is never a wait, as you have a reserved place waiting for you.
  • 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!
  • Being a little late is ok, but it is generally frowned upon to shop up half ways through the service, as everything is done in a particular order and it can disrupt the flow of service for you servers who are already working very hard to serve the tables that they have in a timely manner.


Any Time Dining:

Any time dining means that you can come to the dining room when it works best for you.  You will be seated in the first available table.  I have heard that on some ships, there can be waits during peak times.

  • 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?

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

4 Responses

  1. 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.

    James Rogers December 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm #
    • Hmmm, I never considered that perhaps if you met people that you enjoyed, you could always arrange to eat together again!

      Shanna December 31, 2012 at 3:39 pm #
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