Very few cruise ships these days restrict dining to only specific times. Most ships have several dining venues so there are alternative venues where you can dine at alternate times. Some ships offer the ability in part of the dining room to dine whenever you want within a set of hours. Also, most ships offer room service throughout the cruise.
Years ago there were specific formal dining times but as the cruise ships have grown to attract a wider passenger audience, we have noted a growth in the number and variety of dining venues on ships. The food experience onboard a ship is something cited as one of the most critical elements of a cruise for many of the guests.
Ultimately when you book a cruise, you tend to pick between a couple dining times where you have an assigned table. The table could be just for your family or for as many as 12 passengers from all over. The ship does try to match your ages and other factors with the other passengers selected for the same table so you may be able to carry on a conversation. It can be hit or miss though.
More recently the advent of anytime or my time dining has come about on many of the ships. This allows you to enjoy the main dining room without herding like cattle into the dining room at one of the set times. Specialty restaurants as well as the buffet offer more alternatives. Then add in grills and pizzerias as well as other cafés around the ships and you now have so many choices from which to choose and most are open extended hours so it is possible to get food pretty much around the clock when you want to eat.
Some cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line offer freestyle dining where you pick where and when you want to eat each night. It is much like saying, honey where do we want to go out to eat tonight? Pick one of the on ship locations head there and get a table.
Of course for those who want to stay put and have their food brought to them, there is always room service. If you are in a full suite on most ships you can get a course by course deliver of your extended menu room service meal. Thus, you do not have to dine just when the cruise ship tells you to dine. Enjoy your abundant dining options while you cruise.
For those who want a really special experience try the “Chef’s Table” dining experience on Royal Caribbean or Princess. I’ve personally done so on Princess and would rate it among the best meals I’ve had at sea.
Ultimately most cruise lines have moved towards more flexible dining options to appeal to a larger cruising public.
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