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Old August 11th, 2002, 11:11 AM
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Default Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Help! The more reviews and commnts I read about free-style dining, the more I get confused. Our travel agent recommended it, so that is what we are booked for. I read that you can go any time, then I read that if you don't make reservations, you may have a long wait. I read that you can have a table for two, then I read that you sit with someone different every night. Then comes the question of tipping. Princess adds $6.50 automatically to your tab to cover all dining room staff, but then I read about tipping the maitre d' to give you a table. What is right?
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old August 11th, 2002, 02:10 PM
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Default Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

First of all, it is not "Free style" dining... that's another cruise line. Princess offers "Personal Choice" dining... a very different undertaking. Basically, it means that you can dine when you want and with whom you want... we're talking dinner here... breakfast and luncheon are traditionally open seating on most ships.

So... just as with a land based restaurant, you come to the restaurant reception area and ask the MD for a table... 2 or 4 or 6 or 8 or whatever you prefer. In a few moments (there is rarely a wait... but occasionally there may be for some minutes, as in a land based restaurant) the MD will escort you to a table meeting your preference. If it is more than a table for 2, you'll be seated with folks who also were just seated, rather than with people having desert. You can dine one night at 6, the next night at 8 or whatever.

Princess adds an extra "wrinkle"... if you meet people you like and wish to continue dining with for the rest of the cruise, or if you are traveling with a group of friends, etc., you can request the MD to seat you at the same table every night... but at a time of your choosing... not when the cruise line dictates... so you can eat every night at the same table, but at 7 or 7:30 or 8 or whenever... not just at the pre-set dinner times of 6:15 or 8:30.

PC offers relief from the chance of your being seated for a whole week with people with whom you have nothing in common... or, being stuck for a week with a waiter/assistant waiter who don't perform well (to be kind). Conversely, when you find people you like and/or a waiter team that you like, you can book them for the rest of the trip every night.
It is really the best of both worlds in my opinion.

Tipping is added to your on board charge with Princess whether you select Personal Choice Dining or not... and the MD is included. There is no need to tip the MD every night... although a bill neatly tucked into his palm on the first night cannot hurt... regardless of what kind of dining you select.

I hope this clears it up a bit. I was predisposed NOT to like Personal Choice. Once I tried it, though, it became the only way for me on Princess.

Post Edited (08-12-02 07:47)
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Old August 11th, 2002, 05:44 PM
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Default Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Thanks! You make it sound simple.
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Old August 11th, 2002, 06:52 PM
Frank
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Default Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

ErnieMCC wrote:

> Princess offers "Personal Choice" dining... a
> very different undertaking. Basically, it means that you can
> dine when you want and with whom you want... we're talking
> dinner here...

Ernie:
If it worked that way it would be great - but I've yet to be on a ship that it does. I have seen a long wait list for traditional dining and many upset passengers that thought they had traditional only to be saddled with PC. I've also seen a lot of annoyed PC dinners when everyone shows up at the same time and there is a long wait - nothing like the few minutes you indicated.

If PC was so great, why does Princess have such a wait list for the traditional? The problem is that they make an entire dining room one way or the other and then can't handle the overflow.

I'm glad it works for you but I won't cruise on any line that won't give me the traditional dining option.
Frank-in-CA
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Old August 11th, 2002, 08:02 PM
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Default Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Linda,

Ernie is right. Norwegian Cruise Line offers "Freestyle Dining" as part of a "Freestyle Cruising" program. Princess offers "Personal Choice Dining" -- and there are some subtle but significant differences. Princess's "Personal Choice Dining" offers a choice of either "Traditional Dining" (with assigned tables at early and main seatings) or "Anytime Dining" (which means you can either make a reservation or simply "walk in," just as you would for a restaurant ashore.

Like Frank, I was very frustrated by my one experience with "Anytime Dining" and my parents also were frustrated with their experience -- so frustrated that my parents came home saying that they will not book a cruise unless Princess can confirm "Traditional Dining" at the time of booking! In my experience, service suffers because you don't have the same waitstaff every night and you also don't get to establish a relationship with your tablemates. My parents also found that, even with a standing reservation for their table, there was a lot more traffic entering due to other passengers and leaving the dining room during the meal, which was disruptive to their dining experience. Still, it's fairly obvious from the posts on this board that there are some folks who prefer the flexibility of the "Anytime Dining" arrangement.

One other major difference between Princess's "Personal Choice Dining" and "Personal Choice Cruising" program and Norwegian Cruise Line's "Freestyle Dining" and "Freestyle Cruising" program is that formal nights reman strictly FORMAL on Princess, whereas Norwegian Cruise Line now advertises "formal optional" for their "dress-up" evenings.

Have a great cruise, whatever you decide.

Norm.
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Old August 12th, 2002, 07:54 AM
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Default Re: Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Frank... sure, occasionally there are waits longer than a few minutes... I've waited for nearly an hour at some upscale land based restaurants on occasion. On average though, it does work well. As for being surprised at not having confirmed early or late dining, I suspect it is "feined" surprise on the part of many. Princess' documents clearly indicate whether or not one is confirmed and in what seating. Further, ALL fax and on line confirmations to the t/a show not only if a booking is waitlisted for the requested seating but the # of people ahead of the client on the waitlist... waitlist position. On Grand class ships, two of the three restaurants are assigned to Personal Choice... as this is how the demand runs. You don't imagine that Princess would consciously offend 1/3rd or so of the passengers on its ships if this was not the case?
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Old August 12th, 2002, 02:06 PM
Frank
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Default Re: Re: Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

ErnieMCC wrote:

> On Grand
> class ships, two of the three restaurants are assigned to
> Personal Choice... as this is how the demand runs. You don't
> imagine that Princess would consciously offend 1/3rd or so of
> the passengers on its ships if this was not the case?

Ernie:
I would think that Princess would be wise enough not to offend so many of their clients but I saw a lot of them and they were not happy cruisers. I don't know what the answer is but I feel Princess is not listening to their current cruise base but is trying for the next generation and is pushing this option. And it seems that they've asked TA's to do the same. JMO.
Frank
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Old August 12th, 2002, 02:10 PM
Frank
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Default Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Norm wrote:

> One other major difference between Princess's "Personal
> Choice Dining" and "Personal Choice Cruising" program and
> Norwegian Cruise Line's "Freestyle Dining" and "Freestyle
> Cruising" program is that formal nights reman strictly FORMAL
> on Princess, whereas Norwegian Cruise Line now advertises
> "formal optional" for their "dress-up" evenings.
>
Norm:
Another thing I observed on Princess was that they've been overly lenient about "smart casual" even though it is pretty clearly defined. I know Alaskan cruises are less formal than others but we had two very nice formal nights and the remaining eight were "smart casual". Even so, they allowed T shirts and jeans in the dining room. I hope this is not spreading to other routes that Princess sails.
Frank
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Old August 12th, 2002, 09:08 PM
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Default Re: Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Frank,

Another thing I observed on Princess was that they've been overly lenient about "smart casual" even though it is pretty clearly defined. I know Alaskan cruises are less formal than others but we had two very nice formal nights and the remaining eight were "smart casual". Even so, they allowed T shirts and jeans in the dining room. I hope this is not spreading to other routes that Princess sails.

I hope that you registered a complaint about this laxity in the "comments" section of your cruise evaluation. My observation over ten cruises is that enforcement of dress codes is not consistent from one ship to another -- some ships are pretty strict and others are deficient in this area. Even so, unenforced rules are dangerous in so far as they breed an attitude that the rules don't matter that could lead to serious problems if, for example, some passengers decide that they really don't have to go to or remain at their muster stations in an emergency. A cruise line should either enforce all rules tactfully but firmly or abolish any rules that it is not going to enforce.

Norm.
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Old August 12th, 2002, 11:47 PM
BoozeBabe
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Default Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

What if you sign up for say the early seating in the traditional seating arrangement and dicide to eat in the Personnal Choice dining room? On many cruises we have had tablemates show up on the first night and not the next 2 nights then show up again the next night. They could have been having dinner somewhere else.

I'm thinking I'll sign up for my favorite seating and on days I don't want to be rushed I'll just go to Personnal Choice.

Ant reason that's NOT possible?? Maybe that's why there's a wait at times in the PC dining rooms.
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Old August 13th, 2002, 07:53 AM
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Default Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

Frank... again... the t/a knows the passengers exact standing on the waitlist... if any. And, it is printed on the client's documents as well. It should not come as a surprise to the guest... not that that helps the guest, but a visit to the MD might.

Post Edited (08-13-02 07:53)
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Old August 13th, 2002, 01:18 PM
GlamGirl
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Default Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

I was pleasantly surprised by Personal Choice Dining. We could make our arrangements early in the morning and only had to wait once for our favorite wait staff and only sat once with others besides our party of four. I loved it. I do not like conformity but we loved our waiters and so was able to get them 5 out of the 7 nights, one night we ate at LaScala, the pizzeria and another night we could not get them. This was disappointing but the service we got was impeccable anyway. I have not tried traditional as that was our first cruise, but I really liked the ability to set our own schedule...one night we ate as late as 9 pm! I do not know if I'd like trad, but I loved the flexibility of PC. It really was the best of both worlds I think.

Peggy
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Old August 23rd, 2002, 01:26 PM
Lisa A.
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Default Re: Free-style dining - I'm confused!

We loved PC dining and didn't have any issues. One night we waited about 15 minutes and enjoyed a cocktail in the lounge.
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