Thursday, May 07, 2009

Royal Caribbean “My Time Dining” Review

Traditionally, dinner on a cruise ship has been served at two specific seating times. Early dining is around 6 pm, while late dining is closer to 8:30 pm. Then, Norwegian Cruise Line decided to shake things up a bit with “freestyle dining”, an innovation that allows guests to eat dinner anytime between 5:30 pm and 10 pm. This relaxed option proved so popular that it’s been hard for other cruise lines to ignore it; and since imitation is the best form of flattery, many cruise lines have recently adopted their own version. So, when Royal Caribbean announced “My Time Dining”, I knew I would have to test it out on my cruise!

Unable to pre-book this alternative dining option, (although very soon you will be able to do so), I signed up with the maitre d’ at the podium outside of the dining room on embarkation day. Guests that select MTD are required to pre-pay their gratuities. I was then asked if I want to dine at 6:30, 7:30, or later. Wait a second… I thought this was my time dining! Maybe I want to eat at 7 tonight, but 8:45 tomorrow. Of course you can, I was assured. But if I sign you up for your preferential time, we can have your table ready and waiting when you arrive. Hmm...Sounds reasonable. So we settle on 7:30 and I tell him we’ll call if we want to switch things around.

For my sailing, 72 seats were reserved in one section of the dining room for those that opted for this alternative. As the demand for MTD grows, more space will be allocated. Families and groups coming in together were seated at their own table. In the future, they hope to be able to give people the option of being seated with others, the same way breakfast and lunch in the dining room is handled.

The first six nights of our cruise we arrived at the dining room at our 7:30 pm time slot, give or take 10 minutes. Each evening we were greeted by the maitre d’ by name and showed to the same table. We enjoyed having the same waiter every night, and although he was always friendly and efficient, it seemed he did not have the time to linger for casual banter, as we were accustomed to on previous cruises. Since all his tables were at different points in their meal, he was always moving from table to table. Those that enjoy the interaction with their waiters may see this as a negative. Along those same lines, if you enjoy the songs and parades of the wait staff on those special evenings, your choice of dining time may prevent you from enjoying those antics.

On the last night of our vacation, without calling ahead, we arrived at the dining room at 6:15. The maitre de apologized that we would be unable to have our regular table, or waiter (which of course we understood). But as it turned out, we were seated within our waiter’s section after all, and if he was surprised to see us so early, he did not indicate it. My remaining bottle of wine from the previous evening was even poured for me just minutes after we were seated.

According to the dining room staff, the feedback regarding “My Time Dining” has been very positive. How nice to be able to go to dinner whenever you please. No more rushing back to the ship or giving up your lounge by the pool earlier than necessary. My family enjoyed the extra flexibility so much that we have already selected it for our next cruise!

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