Even in the Cruise Critic office, our staff disagrees on which is better: flexible, anytime dining and assigned-seating, traditional dining. Bring up the subject, and the discussion will get heated! In this pair of blogs, two Cruise Critic editors go head to head, debating the two sides of the dining dilemma. To read the opposing argument, click here.
I choose assigned dining because I’m a planner. I love assigned dining because cruising, to me, is about relationships.
As a planner, I outline vacations down to the very last detail because I want to make sure my cruise goes as smoothly as possible with the least amount of effort. I don’t want to settle for a second-choice activity because I didn’t book in advance, and I don’t want to waste precious vacation time stuck in a long line. My brain, taxed to the max from my workday managerial efforts, does not want to put effort into making too many decisions on its week off. (Beer or fruity drink is tough enough.)
So it’s no surprise that assigned dining fits my vacation style perfectly. I don’t have to think about when to eat dinner because it’s the same time every day. I can walk right past the long line of folks waiting for dinner because my table is ready, and the waiters — the same each night — are ready for me (sometimes with my preferred drink prepared without my needing to ask)
But the best part of assigned dining is the rapport my husband and I have built with our waiters and even, yes, our tablemates. Some of my best cruise vacation memories stem from these relationships. On a Celebrity Equinox sailing in 2011, our pal shocked our waiter, Alcan, every night with the amount of food he put away, which led to hilarious jokes and off-menu dining items. Alcan knew what we liked — and what we didn’t — well enough to make awesome dinner suggestions. I love that we have a picture with Alcan in our scrapbook. I also love that I remember the man’s name two years later. When my brother proposed to his girlfriend while on an excursion halfway through a 14-night Royal Caribbean cruise on Jewel of the Seas, our waiters, Jerome and Jose, celebrated with all of us, bringing a huge, whipped cream-covered slice of cake for the table. They were so fun in the way they “snuck” over and surprised the couple. Jerome and Jose are in our scrapbook, too.
While some proponents of flexible dining cringe at the thought of sharing a table with the same people every night, we’ve really learned to love chatting with our tablemates about their experiences. We’ve also rarely had a bad experience or failed to mesh with our fellow diners. Perhaps that’s because we know the relationship will develop over the cruise. The first night, things tend to be a little quieter, with polite conversation regarding the ship, hometowns and previous cruises. But by the end, you’ve made new friends — and you’ve probably gotten some great tips on port activities and ships to try out. That relationship takes time to foster, and repeated dinners together help everyone feel more comfortable.
I’m certain we couldn’t have built the same relationships if we ate at a different table each night.
To the naysayers, I admit my husband and I disagree on the best time to do dinner — I love a late seating, he prefers early. And yes, there are times when it feels like you have to stop in the middle of an activity so you can hustle off to dinner. The tradeoff, though, is well worth it to me. In the end, I love that we’ve formed relationships with new people, even if it is for a short period of time. And I never have to take time out of having fun to think about where I’m having dinner each night.
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