RCI's long-expected announcement is nothing novel in itself. Following in NCL's footsteps, just about every other line in the industry already features an open-seating choice or has announced that it will (Celebrity Cruises is basically the last remaining holdout).
Here's how RCI's program works: In addition to the traditional early and late seating options, RCI passengers can now select My Time Dining and be able to make daily reservations for specific seating times or simply walk in when they're hungry. Passengers can be seated with the party they arrive with, request to be seated with other guests or dine alone. No additional guests will be seated at a table once dinner service has begun.
Those opting for My Time Dining rather than set-seating dining can sign up onboard, online in advance or through the cruise line's reservations department. There is one quirk to the new program: My Time Dining guests must pre-pay gratuities (Royal Caribbean does not automatically add gratuities to your final bill if you've elected set-seating). A spokesman from the line tells us that this is to assure a fair tip spread for the wait staff.
More intriguing than the fleetwide expansion of flex-dining is the new "My Family Time Dining" program and a "Dine in Delights" menu featuring expanded room service offerings. Introduced in March, My Family Time Dining will offer an expedited 40-minute dinner experience during the first seating in the main dining room for kids ages 3 - 11 who are enrolled in the Adventure Ocean youth program. For more on this dining option, check out our piece on RCI's newly expanded family options.
The for-fee Dine In Delights menu is an addition to the complimentary full breakfast, lunch and dinner room service menus. Beyond the traditional room service items, passengers can now order a Johnny Rockets hamburger, a slice of Eli's Cheesecake Company's cheesecake, Ben & Jerry's Half-Baked and Cherry Garcia ice cream bars, and a Ghirardelli chocolate-chip cookie with milk. The menu is available 24 hours a day, but items require an additional charge. For instance, the ice cream bars will run you $2.95 each. Add that to the late-night room service charge of $3.95 -- a surcharge for all in-room deliveries during the hours between midnight and 5 a.m. -- and you better really savor your $7 Cherry Garcia bar.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor