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What’s In a Name – The Dining Dilemma

Written by: Jan Shaughnessy

by Jan Shaughnessy – In 1981 when I took my first cruise the dining options were simple.  The main dining room offered early or late dining for all meals.  The Lido deck buffet was open for breakfast and lunch only.  If you wanted 24-hour coffee you had to march way up to the Lido deck.  There was no 24-hour pizza,  deli, or pâtisserie.   They did however have a midnight buffet every night.  It came complete with food and ice sculptures and yes, it was held at midnight.

Today there is a plethora of dining options.  Some are complimentary and some for a charge.  In 2000, Norwegian Cruise Lines revolutionized the dining experience with Freestyle Dining.  The concept being you could dine whenever, wherever, and with whomever.  Many cruisers were aghast that Norwegian would make such a bold move against the traditional way of dining.  Others embraced the move and other cruise lines soon followed.

Here’s where the name game starts.  Princess was the next cruise line to come out with their version of Freestyle dining.  They named it “Anytime Dining”.  Not wanting to be one-upped, Holland America went with “As You Wish”.  Carnival Cruise Lines thought they would just keep it simple with “Your Time Dining”.  Rival company Royal Caribbean International said they couldn’t stand for that and raised Carnival one, and called them on that play with “My Time Dining.”  Well, sister company Celebrity being the premium product, elegantly went with “Celebrity Select Dining”.

Now if the names of the main dining options weren’t enough to make you dizzy, what about the “reservations only” restaurants?  Are they Steakhouses, Supper Clubs, Le Bistros, or Club Restaurants?  Disney likes to call them “Adult Exclusive Dining”.  Holland America describes their reservation only Pinnacle Grill experience as “Intimate, luxurious, with fine china, linens, and stemware”.  Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “grill”, I think of hamburgers and hotdogs.

When it comes to the buffet dining (or is it  called quick dining, or casual dining?), you can almost be certain to find it up on the Lido deck.  But then again, some cruise lines might call it the Resort deck or just number the deck, or get real creative and call it the Siren deck.  It doesn’t matter to me, if it has a pool and a buffet,  then I’m calling it the Lido deck.  I also don’t care if they call the buffet the “Grand Buffet, Garden Cafe, Horizon Court, Ocean Cafe, or the Windjammer Cafe”.

I remember when NCL first came out with the Freestyle cruising.  Their commercials showed people sitting around looking at their watches all the time.  They were trying to say that with their competitors you were under a regimental schedule, always having to look at your watch to be on time.  But with Freestyle you didn’t have to worry about watches and were free to do as you pleased.  They also touted the Freestyle would allow you to stay ashore longer and not have to hurry back for an early dining time.  Here’s the truth as I see it.  All the cruise lines highly recommend you make a reservation for their open dining.  If you don’t make a reservation you could be waiting for a table just as you would at a restaurant back home.  It’s possible you wouldn’t need a reservation if you came very early or real late.  But if you come during peak time it’s best to have a reservation.

So if you have to make a reservation how is that really Freestyle?  Aren’t you looking at your watch to make sure you meet your reservation on time?  If you don’t make a reservation and rush back from your shore excursion to beat the crowds, is that allowing you more time than rushing back for the fixed early dining time?  The pros and cons of not having to sit with bad table mates, and not having the same waiter each night is an another whole topic.  I’m interested in your experiences and comments on the open dining plan.  Do you like it? Hate it? Prefer the fixed dining times?  They can call it Freestyle, My Time Dining, or As you Wish.  As long as they don’t call me late to Supper.  Or is that dinner?

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Comments

Comment from Odds711
Time September 7, 2010 at 9:15 pm

We consistently cruise with NCL, mainly because of the Freestyle dining and no requirement for formal wear. Of the 12-13 specialty restaurants, reservations are only necessary for the 3-4 most popular, and we’ve even gotten away with just showing up for those. You missed one important aspect: the two main dining rooms. They are run like fine restaurants. Elegant decor and settings. A host greets you at the door and escorts you to your seat. Tables for two line the walls next to the windows. Moving in towards the center are rows of tables for four, then six, and then a few large tables in the middle of the room. No reservations, no up-charges, and you order excellent selections off of menus. Drop in anytime between 5-10 for dinner, similar time spans for breakfast and lunch. We like it.

Comment from John
Time September 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

After taking two 12 night NCL cruises on the Sun this year we have never had to wait for seating at the MDR. You just have to be smart about when you go. The only time I have seen a line was immediately after the early show got out or those people waiting for the restaurant to open for dinner. As for the specialty restaurants, they act like you need a reservation to create an appearance of exclusivity but we have been able to walk up to all of these (with the exception of the one table Teppanyaki) and get a table on demand.

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Time February 9, 2011 at 12:02 am

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