Basically what it means is that you decide how you want to dine. You can show up any time and take any table. You can request a private table. You can reserve the same table, waiter, and time for the entire cruise. You can eat at whatever time you wish - whenever you are hungry. You can eat at any of the restaurants that are included in your fare. You can eat at any of the handful of reservations only/extra surcharge venues. Or you can do any combination of the above. If you meet people you like during the cruise, you can say to them 'let's meet for dinner tonight.' You never have to eat with people you don't particularly like.
The downside is that unless you request the same waiter every night, the waitstaff never learns that you like extra lemons in your Iced Tea. You'll have to ask for it every time. Without regular tablemates, you won't develop that sense of community that an assigned table provides - dinner becomes less of the event that it usually is.
Freestyle also means that you can keep your cabin until it is time to disembark. They don't kick you out of your cabin early and you don't have to sit around in a lounge until your luggage color is called. You simply walk off the ship when you are ready to.
It also means that the recommended gratuities are added daily to your cabin account. You can adjust them up or down, or eliminate them entirely and tip traditionally in cash.
We never waited more than 2 minutes to be seated. We avoided the peak time window of 7:30-8pm and had no problems whatsoever. And if there was a line, we simply walked to another restaurant and discovered no lines at all.
You may have to get used to the concept. Most cruise lines are adopting it in some fashion.
Avoiding the peak dining times seems to contradict, to some degree at least, the bit about eating when you want. I guess you still can dine during that period as long as you are prepared to wait, but they don't seem to mention the possible wait involved in their promotions. Not that I blame them. Princess offers a variation on freestyle called personal choice, which might appeal to those who like traditional seatings, but, on occasion, might want to dine at a different time or with different tablemates.
Had freestyle the first time last Spring on Princess to Alaska. Comments are about right. I hope as bugs get worked out and cruisers get used to it the waits will not be as long. The main thing is the lack of being able to develop some friends 'around the table'. And even though we are not used to the wait on a cruise, in many good places to eat around my town it can take a considerable time to get in if you hit the peak hours. But as said, try another restaurant. Happy Cruisin'
We were on our first freestyle cruise last spring on the Dream. Ours was the first freestyle cruise for that crew and ship.
Even so, over 12 nights we waited twice...once for 5 minutes, the other time for 15 minutes. I believe we were told once that the wait would be 25 minutes, so we went to another restaurant and walked right in.
We sometimes ate alone, sometimes with a group of people. It was a nice change from traditional cruising. We met a lot more people on this cruise than on cruises past just because of the flexibility in seating.
With traditional cruising, I always hated having to rush back from shore in order to be on time for our dinner seating. It was much nicer to have the flexibility to go when it made the most sense for us.
The last think I'll say is that we had our 6 year old with us. He's not all that happy about sitting through an hour and a half dinner. With Freestyle, we were able to order room service for him, take him to Kid's Crew for their evening activities, and go have ADULT dinner! The other programs on Celebrity and Disney didn't have them coincide with dinner times so he always had to suffer through dinner with us. We were all happy with NCL freestyle!
My husband and I honeymooned on the NCL Sky in October of 200. We absolutely adored the freestyle cruising. So much that we sent my parents on a cruise on the Sea a few months later.
As with any cruise, I think there are good points and bad points, but the overall opinion of my family and I is that we really like it. I really enjoyed the flexibility. Sometimes if we were in port until 500, we would get back to the ship and be exhausted. We were able to take a nap and then go eat later after we woke. We didn't have to worry about sleeping through our sitting or being rushed to be there on time for our sitting. Or some days we were hungry earlier, so we ate earlier. My parents ate very early every night (530-600) on their cruise because my dad has medication he has to take early with food. I cannot remember a time that we waited or that my parents told me that they had to wait either. I had never been on a cruise before my honeymoon, and because we enjoyed the flexibility so much, we wouldn't cruise on cruise line that didn't offer some kind of choice. As a matter of fact, we have recently booked a new cruise on the NCL Sun for September.
Again, there are some bad things, I am sure, but the overall experience for us was positive and I really couldn't tell you what I thought was bad at the time. I know the complaint of some people aboard our ship was that the rooms were too small. We had an outside room with a balcony that we thought was adequate for us. But again, we have nothing to bench mark it against.
We got to know our room steward very well and had a fun time with him, but no we did not get to know the waiters. We did get to know our wine stewardess very well. Our service was very good wherever we went though. And we did meet another couple on board. We just asked to be seated with someone at lunch the one day. We aren't very big into meeting alot of people and plus it was our honeymoon, so not sitting with people was not a big deal to us. We would have probably requested a table for two if it had been traditional cruising. We met alot of people around the pool and on excursions. I think its up to you. If you enjoy meeting people, they will happily put you at a table with other likewise people. In away, maybe that works better because you know you are seated with people that want to meet other people.
We just returned from a cruise on the Sky. We had a party of 12 and never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes for a table, even at peak times. You can also still make a reservation for a time if you like but we never did or had to. Loved Freestyle