(4:45 p.m. EDT) -- With more ships announcing flexible dining options and the launch of Norwegian Epic, NCL's new cruise ship with all-freestyle dining (and no main dining rooms), it's interesting to note that Princess Cruises has quietly added a third traditional-style set seating on most of its ships.
The new dining plan was tested in May on Golden Princess, and then rolled out to most Princess ships by early June. The line's smallest ships (Ocean Princess, Pacific Princess, Royal Princess) and Australia-based ships (Dawn Princess, Sun Princess) will continue to offer just two traditional seating times. On all Grand- and Diamond-class ships, passengers can opt for set seatings at 5:30, 6 or 8:15 p.m. -- as well as flexible, Anytime Dining. On Coral, Island and Sea Princess, set seating are 5:15, 6 or 8:15 p.m., plus the flexible option. Although no formal announcement was made, travel agents and passengers on sailings where the new dining times have been added were notified of the change.
Princess spokeswoman Susanne Ferrull told Cruise Critic that the new 5:15 or 5:30 p.m. seatings will take place in one of the dining rooms used for Anytime Dining. She says that often one of the Anytime Dining rooms opens later than the others, so that venue would open early to accommodate the traditional diners. The move to offer a third seating comes in response to high demand for Traditional Dining onboard Princess ships.
Cruise Critic members confirm it's been difficult to snag a spot in the popular early seatings. Member Coral writes, "On my last cruise, I was waitlisted in the 700's for First Traditional dining. And this was on a port intensive trip." Member spongerob thinks the new plan will alleviate dining room congestion, posting, "They are a mess (partly) because so many people want to eat early, go to the early show, and go to bed. They couldn't get early seating so they piled up in Anytime around 6 PM, making it tough for those who want anytime but eat later. Now they'll get in and out just that little bit quicker, and the galley staff will be able to prepare for the onslaught."
Other members don't understand why the change is necessary. "I don't know why Princess would need to use one of the anytime dining rooms for traditional seating. The 6:00 traditional seating on the Emerald always had empty tables so I'm not sure why additional time and dining room space is needed," posts vab1224. AlaskaGolden worries, " This may cause some issues for those of us who like Anytime Dining and usually like to eat early (5:30 to 6:30 PM) IF Princess uses one of the Anytime Dining Rooms for the new 5:15/5:30 Traditional Seatings. Less tables available for those of us eating early!"
Have you tried this new dining time or been on a ship that offered the three seatings? Did it smooth out the dining process, or create longer lines and wait times? Join the discussion here.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
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Are Princess Cruise Passengers Bucking the Flexible Dining Trend?
June 28, 2010