Cruise Dining:
Early or Late Seating?

Cruise lines usually make you select your preferred time when you book.

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Whether To Book
Early or Late Seating


When you book a cruise, you normally have to select your dinner seating, whether you want first (early) or second (late) seating. You may also have a third option called "open seating" with no set reservation time and no assigned seating. Most people prefer to know which dining table is reserved for them and so opt for assigned seating.

This is big contrast to breakfast and lunch where you can choose to eat buffet style or have your meal served in the dining room by the wait staff according to your schedule.

Buffet dinner seating remains flexible where the main dining room operates by a strict seating schedule. Evening meals are always more elaborate, requiring smooth coordination and prompt service so that your the dining experience is all it should be.

Dinner seatings are divided into either early or late, or first and second seatings. The early seating is between can be as early as 5:15 or 5:30. Late seating may start or 7 or 8 p.m. depending on the size of the ship.

Your ship's departure schedule from different ports should determine the seating you choose. Go over the itinerary carefully before making this decision. If your ship regularly stays in several ports until 6 or 7 p.m., you do not want the early seating. If the ship always departs by 5 p.m., then you have to make a decision.

In selecting a seating time, consider what the evening show is offered. And whether it is presented once or twice.

If you have children, they will probably influence your seating time, and it's likely to be the earlier one.

However, depending on your ship, you can forget this kind of scheduling and eat in the buffet dining room every evening at the hour that's most convenient to you. This also is a way to avoid the formal dress nights, should you choose to opt out.

Buffets often contain some items from the main dining room menus. Some cruise lines do a much better job than others in stocking their buffets.

Of course, there is always room service. Some cruise lines have a limited room service menu. Others allow you or order from the daily dinner menu posted outside the main dining room. Select what you want in advance and call in your order at the end of the first seating for the most prompt service.

And don't forget to tip, even just a little, if you decide to dine-in regularly. Your meal will probably arrive faster and warmer if you tip.

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