When Norwegian Cruise Line implemented “Freestyle Dining” it was a pretty radical concept. Dining when you want, where you want, and with whom you want was so not the norm! For years the other cruise lines sat back and watched. Would this open seating dining concept be a boom or a bust? Clearly it’s a boon, because every other cruise line now offers a version of it. So is this the beginning of the end for the traditional assigned dining times? I hope not since some of my best cruising memories revolve around it!
My husband and I took our first cruise together on a Carnival ship. We had “late” seating and found ourselves dining each night with another couple close to our age. To say we “hit it off” with them would be a gross understatement. By the second evening we felt like we were best friends forever. Our sea days were spent hanging out with them at the pool, after dinner we’d go dancing late into the night and we even booked all our shore excursions together! Fast-forward twenty something years and we’re still exchanging Christmas cards. It will always remain one of my most favorite vacations ever.
Cruising has been my family’s vacation of choice over the years and since my son is an only child we’ve often requested “early seating” and a large table for dinner. Time and time again we have been seated with another family with kids close in age to my son. It’s amazing how some patient dining coordinator is looking over a long manifest of passengers playing “matchmaker”! While my son hasn’t made any friendships that stood the test of time and distance, for that one week he had a buddy to chat with at dinner and head off to the “kids club” with. As for my husband and me, we have enjoyed lively dinner conversation with wonderful people from all parts of the country.
Every cruise photo album I have has a page or two dedicated to our dinner time waiter and assistant waiter! Is that crazy? Chit-chatting with the same wait staff each night is something I’ve always looked forward to on a cruise (I can only think of one cruise in which I didn’t like the servers assigned to our table). They are almost always warm, affable, and interesting to talk to! Once on a European cruise, our Croatian waitress offered to show us around Dubrovnik since she was off the afternoon we were in port! While we didn’t take her up on the offer, her language lessons at dinner each night taught us words like “please” “thank you” and “good day”.
Now to be fair, we have also tried and thoroughly enjoyed Royal Caribbean’s “My Time” dining on several trips. Often in our busy lives, our cruise vacations are much needed family bonding time and we want to dine at a table for three at a time that is convenient for us. It’s nice having that option and it seems that many other people feel the same way. So what does that mean for the future of traditional cruise dining? I’m not sure, but if it was ever to be discontinued, I for one would mourn its demise."