Open Seating, My Time Dining, Anytime Dining. They are all names for a concept that has been growing in the cruise business. Traditionally when you booked a cruise, you would be asked if you wanted early or late seating. Early seating meant you had to be at your assigned table usually between 6 and 6:15 p.m. If you dined late the time was 8 to 8:15 p.m. If you booked late, you may not have been able to get your preferred choice. That happened once to us and we spent the cruise eating way too late for our comfort.
A few years ago the concept of passengers being able to choose their own time to dine like you would in a regular restaurant was introduced. It got a slow start but if you have cruised lately, you can see that its popularity has grown. At first, there was a small designated area for the any time diners. Now, on our last cruise, we noticed that the larger portion of the dining room was used for any time or open seating diners and a much smaller area for traditional diners.
Each ship/cruise line handles it a little differently and some better than others. Some prefer that you make a reservation each day for the time you would like to eat. Others are happy to have you walk-in and they will find a spot for you. Once in a while there will be a backup if too many show up at the same time without a reservation. This is handled the same way a restaurant would by taking names and handing out beepers. Tip: If you find that you consistently have to wait at the times you normally want to dine, use the reservation procedure. It saves time and nerves.
What's the advantage to open seating? Aside from not having to tie yourself to a set dinner time and work your activities around that, it is a great way to get to know more people if you opt to share a table. This cruise we met people from all over the States, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany. Backgrounds and occupations (retired or not) were as varied and always great conversation starters.
Meeting new people each night may not seem your cup of tea but we enjoy it. We've had a few problems in the past with traditional dining where we were assigned a table and didn't mesh well with the other personalities. In that case you can always opt to have your table changed but that's not always an available option if the dining room is full.
Another advantage was not having to share a table when I didn't feel well a couple of nights.It was nice to not have to make conversation when I wasn't up to it.
You may have to exercise a bit more patience some nights. Having a different waiter most every night means he won't get used to the way you like things. (Although I know some people who have made reservations and requested a favorite waiter each night). Some are a little slower than others and special requests made by diners can some times slow things down.
Again, as I've always said in the past, your enjoyment is based mostly on where you set your expectations and how you fine tune your attitude. We met one lady who sat with us during breakfast on two occasions and made us wonder why she cruised at all. Nothing was right or done to her satisfaction. I can't help but wonder what she had expected.
Of course open seating or traditional dining aside it is all about the food, isn't it?