As we reported back in May, Carnival Cruise Lines -- one of the last holdouts for the traditional dining system -- decided to test out flexible dining by offering the option on a trial basis aboard just one ship. Well, the pilot was rolled out on Carnival Legend just two weeks ago -- and is proving so popular, Carnival has already announced it will implement a flexible dining option on a second ship: Carnival Liberty. Starting November 1, 2008, Carnival Liberty cruisers can choose to forego assigned tables and preset dining times and chow down onboard when and with whom they want.
Passengers who select flexible dining on either ship may arrive in the designated seating area during scheduled dinner hours and request a table. The lines aren't long according to industry news outlet cruise-community.com -- the average wait for a table is under 10 minutes. Cruisers who go for flexible dining may also make a reservation. Once the flexible dining program is selected, it is in effect for the duration of the cruise and cannot be changed.
So will Carnival implement flexible dining fleetwide? We don't know for sure -- Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen tells us that Carnival is still testing out the program and no final, far-reaching decisions have been made as of yet -- but we'll keep you posted.
Flexible dining, which exists in some form on lines including Royal Caribbean, NCL, Holland America and Princess, is a controversial topic among cruisers. Some suggest that diners who select flexible dining options sacrifice service for a system that isn't all that "flexible" -- after all, you often have to wait for a table and you must arrive within a pre-set time frame. Others welcome the chance to avoid adhering to a rigid schedule or mingling with strange tablemates. What do you think? Take our poll and join the discussion on our boards!