It's official: Beginning in September, Celebrity Cruises -- one of the last mainstream strongholds of traditional dining -- will test out "Celebrity Select," a new flexible dining program. The rumor was confirmed this past weekend at a Q&A session onboard the line's soon-to-launch Celebrity Equinox.
The line is still working on some of the logistics -- hence the test -- and does not yet know which ships will be participating. To that end, details on exactly how Celebrity Select will work are also a bit vague at this time. Here's what we know so far:
Passengers who opt for the plan will be able to reserve dining times either ahead of their cruises or once onboard, and can either request the same dining times each night or change it up each day.
One caveat, though: Because the dining room was designed for more communal style repasts, tables for two are fairly limited. Therefore, they will not be guaranteed ahead of time. Passengers will be asked to direct those requests to the maitre d'.
While flexible-plan diners may be seated at a table with other passengers, they will never be asked to join a table mid-meal. Dinner service for everyone at a given table will start at the same time.
Traditionalists will still be able to choose a set-seating plan of assigned tables at early or late dinner times. Celebrity expects passengers will be split evenly between Celebrity Select and assigned dining.
If successful, Celebrity hopes to roll out the flexible dining plan fleetwide in the months that follow.
The cruise line has long balked at the industry's roaring trend of offering passengers more flexible options at dinner. Traditionally, cruise lines offered only a set-time, assigned table scenario for supper. Norwegian Cruise Line was the pioneer in responding to passenger requests for more options with its "Freestyle Dining" program, in which onboard eateries operate more like restaurants than banquet halls.
Numerous other lines have followed suit, with Princess Cruises and Holland America also successful in incorporating both styles onboard their ships. Royal Caribbean has recently rolled out its own flexible program, and Carnival Cruise Lines is in the process of adding the option fleetwide.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
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Celebrity Cruises Confirms Flexible Dining is Coming
June 23, 2009