Updated January 8, 2020
Traditional, set-seating dining on a cruise ship isn't for everyone. Assigned dinner times and tablemates are not what all cruisers prefer on their vacation. Yet some people are so used to the traditional system, they forget they can opt for flexible dining, and show up at any point during service hours and be seated with different folks or perhaps snag a coveted table for two. If you often find that your set seating dining experience doesn't go quite so smoothly, the universe might be telling you it's time to ditch assigned seating for the cruise line's more flexible option.
Here are a few signs to watch out for.
1. You're asking the maitre d' to switch you to early dining -- again.
It happens every cruise; you never get the assigned time slot you want. When you want early, they give you late. When you finally decide you'll plan around late dining, they give you early. You can't count the minutes you've spent arguing, begging and cajoling the maitre d' to switch your dining slot when you could have been enjoying your vacation.
2. That afternoon nap just feels so good.
You love a good late afternoon nap and you have no desire to cut it short with an alarm, all because you want a nice sit-down meal when you eventually get out of bed. Better to let your body tell you when it's time to get up rather than wake in a panic and rush to the dining room.
3. This is not the first cruise you've had to request a new table.
You've got the worst luck when it comes to assigned tablemates, and you've had to request a new dining room table on numerous cruises. With flexible dining, if you get stuck with incompatible tablemates one evening, you know you won't have to sit with them again the next night.
4. You spend half your evenings in the specialty restaurants.
It's the last night of your cruise and you show up to your table for a final dinner in the main dining room. But you've spent most of your evenings trying out the alternative restaurants and sampling the buffet, so your waiter doesn't recognize you. Your tablemates also make it clear they didn't enjoy the regularly empty seats at the table either. If you're never going to show up, perhaps you should give up your assigned seat for someone who will.
5. You're still looking for your kid's left shoe and early seating started five minutes ago.
Getting your kids ready for a 6 p.m. dining slot means starting preparations at 4:30, and -- even then -- your kids like to drag their feet. Much easier to know you can show up whenever your brood is finally washed up, dressed and ready to go.
6. Your pre-dinner cocktail turns into two … most nights!
Your nightly ritual always includes a drink at the bar before dinner. And, hey, you can't help it, you're a friendly person who enjoys chatting with others. Before you know it, you're on your second cocktail and an hour has passed chatting amiably. You can't go to the dining room now, but you're not in the mood for the buffet. With flexible dining, a lengthy cocktail "hour" is no problem.
7. You're looking at your watch instead of the scenery as your tour heads back to the ship.
You're near the end of an afternoon tour and you're spending more time worrying about getting back to the ship, showered and ready to make your dinner time slot than enjoying the afterglow of a great time onshore. Sure, you could have chosen the late dining time slot, but you don't want to be forced into a late dinner every night. You know if you could just show up whenever you want, you'd be able to relax.
8. Dinner has turned into second dinner.
Hobbits might enjoy first and second breakfasts but you much prefer to eat each meal just once. But 8:30 is so long to wait for dinner, you have to eat something around 7. (Yes, you know there's an earlier time slot, but you're never hungry at 6!) So now, when it's your actual meal time, you're onto a second dinner. And who can stick to their diet with eating habits like that?
9. You like to eat when you're actually hungry.
Just because you like to eat when you're actually hungry, doesn't mean you want to eat in the buffet every night. Need we say more?