With innovative creations, fresh regional cuisine, and Michelin-inspired restaurants; cruise dining has come a long way. In addition to the advances in culinary convections, there is also more flexibility as to where and when you dine. While having options is good, choosing seating and restaurants can sometimes get overwhelming. We are here to help! Here’s a breakdown of the difference between set dining and open dining to help you make an informed decision for your next cruise.

Set Dining

When you think of the storied cruise ship dining, brimming with sparkling chandeliers in elegant dining rooms, it’s set (or traditional) dining that you are envisioning. With set dining, you have two options: an early seating or a late seating. Each evening your time, place, server and tablemates will remain the same.  There are several benefits to set seating:

Predictability. Knowing what time dinner is each evening makes planning the week and the excursions more convenient. You always know when and where you will be dining, so there is no uncertainty.

Personalized Service: Having the same wait staff each night allows your server to become familiar with your preferences, meaning, if you drink soft drinks without ice, chances are the next time you sit down to dinner, a soft drink without ice will be waiting for you.

Forming Friendships: Dining with the same tablemates each night creates an opportunity to forge lasting friendships.

If after reading this, having a set time and place for dinner nightly is appealing, you now need to choose between the early (generally between 5:45 P.M. – 6:15 P.M) or late (7:45 P.M. – 8:15 P.M.) seating.

Credit: Shutterstock

Open seating

For those who like more flexibility while traveling, open seating is a great choice as you are not locked into a set dinner time each night. You have the ability to dine at your convenience.  However, be aware that you may have to wait for a seat if one is not readily available. You will also have a different server and tablemates, which on the upside presents the opportunity to meet new friends. There’s even a chance for a romantic dinner for two if the restaurant can accommodate that request.

In addition to the traditional and open dining options, cruise lines also offer specialty restaurants. It’s best to make reservations at these venues, as they fill up quickly. There is also an additional fee to dine at premium venues, but they are definitely worth it!

We hope this helps you navigate through cruise ship dining and makes the planning a bit more manageable!