For cruisers who sail with the traditional cruise lines that still have two set dinner times, they need to be ready to decide which dining time they want when they book their cruise. Years ago, this was usually done upon embarkation, but in today’s computerized information world the cruise lines like to have dining times and table assignments taken care of prior to sailing. This means that when cruisers book their cruise, they select their preferred dining time upon making their reservation. On some sailings, the first seating is more in demand, particularly if the ship tends to have older passengers who like to dine early and go to bed early. On other cruises, especially European departures from Spain or Italy where the locals usually dine as late as 8 or 9 pm on a regular basis, the second seating can be more in demand. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to either seating. Here are a few worth mentioning.
Pros: It is usually around 6:00 or 6:15, generally about the same time as many Americans eat dinner. Often this is the preferred time for families as they can eat with the kids and still have the option to send them off to enjoy part of the evening in the kids program. The after dinner show is also over early allowing the guest to enjoy another entertainment venue or turn in early to bed.
Cons: The early time is usually about 1 hour after departure. If you like to enjoy the sail away party on deck and still want to attend dinner dressed properly, then you must get dressed for dinner before heading out to the on deck festivities. Depending on the amount of time required for your dressing and grooming, this might mean starting to get ready as early as 4:00. If you have kids that need to dress for dinner they must leave the kids program in time to shower, change, fix hair or whatever. We have often felt rushed to get back to the ship for first seating. When we’ve all been to the beach or swimming, then we have to rush to get us all showered and ready in time. Basically, first seating means that you are just more rushed to get ready for your evening activities. Servers will also need diners to clear out more hastily as they have to prepare the tables for the next set of diners.
Pros: The main plus with the second seating is that your evening activities don’t start until 7:00 or as late as 8:30. When the ship’s show is before dinner they usually have start around 7:00. This means that even if you plan to attend an early show, you don’t have to be dressed and ready until much later than if you have dinner at 6:00. We love the sail away festivities each night that we depart from a port. With the second seating, we don’t have to miss them or rush to be ready for dinner. The second pro is that passengers are not rushed to finish dinner and can linger a bit longer in conversation after their meal. The late seating can also work well for couples who want to have dining time without their kids. They can take their kids to eat at the buffet or casual dining venue earlier, send them off to the kids program, and then enjoy their own meal as a couple.
Cons: If you want to dine with your children and they are not accustomed to eating this late they might become cranky or find it difficult to wait this long for dinner. This problem can usually be solved by a quick trip to one of the other food venues for a light snack around 5:00. Also, with the earlier seating kids can often enjoy dinner with their family and enjoy the kids program activities after dinner. With second seating they may not have this option as the evening activities may end right after the second seating dinner, but this depends on the line and how they schedule their kids program. Those with medical conditions like acid reflux that might require a waiting period after dining to allow the stomach acid to settle before they can lie down would probably not want the late seating. The other main con is the late show on some evenings. Sometimes the ship has the second seating show after dinner at around10:30 or 11:00. In these cases, those not accustomed to late evening might be ready for bed before the show even starts. This also limits choices for additional evening entertainment after the show. Some of the activities might be wrapped up by the time the show lets out.
When I cruised as a kid with my family, my Dad always choose the late seating because he didn’t like to be rushed either in getting ready or during his meal. My sister and I never had a problem with the late dinner time, and it didn’t keep us away from the kids program because there was none. My husband and I always choose the late seating when we cruised alone, but have opted for the early seating for the last three cruises with the kids. On their first cruise they were just 7 and 9, and we felt the late seating might push them too much. We were willing to try late seating for our recent Alaska cruise with the kids, but my husbands extended family was cruising with us and they prefer the early seating. For our upcoming transatlantic cruise we have requested the late seating. We kind of figured that after an overseas flight to Barcelona, the kids clocks will be so off that we just have to start with the late evenings in Barcelona so we’ll be on that schedule when we board the ship.