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Dinner on Royal Caribbean: Early Dinner vs. Late Dinner

29 May 2023
Elizabeth Wright

When you book your Royal Caribbean cruise, you will be asked to select between three dining options: early, late, and my time dining. 

Main Dining Room

Whatever option you select will be when you dine in the Main Dining Room for the entire duration of your cruise, so it is important that you weigh the pros and cons to each traditional dining time and choose which is best for you and your travel party.

You can, of course, skip the Main Dining Room and go to a specialty restaurant or Windjammer. Even if that is your plan, you will be required to make a selection during the booking process. 

RelatedThe Ultimate Guide to Royal Caribbean's Unlimited Dining Package

Here is a comparison of early dinner and late dinner on Royal Caribbean cruises. 

What is the Main Dining Room?

Women eating in main dining room

The Main Dining Room is Royal Caribbean’s traditional sit-down restaurant that serves three-course meals every night of your cruise. It is also largest dining venue on any Royal Caribbean ship and spans multiple decks, even on the oldest ships. 

Each night, you will be presented with a menu that contains different appetizers, main courses, and desserts. The best part? You are not limited to one of anything, and everything is complimentary, aside from a few premium options listed at the bottom of the menu! If you want to try two appetizers and two desserts, you can order both. 

The dining times (i.e., early, late, and My Time) only apply to the dinner service, as breakfast is first come, first serve. You can also dine here for lunch but only on sea days. 

Menu at an angle

When it comes to the menus themselves, there will be a new one each evening that is centered around a specific theme, such as Mexican and Italian night. If your cruise if over 10-nights, you may see repeated menus. Those who are unsure of what to order will appreciate the chef's recommendations at the top of the menu. 

Related21 Tips for the Best Cruise Ship Main Dining Room Experience

Early seating

Waiter serving a family

The first seating in the Main Dining Room usually takes place around 5:30pm or 6:00pm; the exact time varies based on itinerary. With this seating, you will be able to free up your evenings for shows and other activities taking place around the ship, even if it is just listening to live music in the pub! 

The early seating usually appeals to families with children and those who like to retire early. With this seating, you can easily be in bed by 9:30pm, meaning that you will be well-rested for the next day. 

If you are worried that you will be hungry later on, you will be able to find late-night snacks available at select venues, such as Sorrento's and Cafe Promenade. 

Royal Caribbean main dining room

For passengers wanting to dine around fewer children, it is best to skip the early seating. Of course, you could be seated next to a larger family if you select the late seating; nothing is ever guaranteed! 

Likewise, if you are wanting to enjoy the evening entertainment, you may find yourself sleepy after indulging in a three-course meal, especially later in the cruise. Some may prefer to see the earlier shows and eat dinner later!

Finally, the early seating tends to overlap with sail away on the first night, meaning that you will have to skip the Main Dining Room or select a later time if you want to go on embarkation day and attend all of the sail away festivities. 

Note that this tends to be the most popular dining option, so if you want to dine during the first seating, make sure you book your cruise as early as possible! 

Related7 cruise ship main dining room rules to follow — Plus 1 to break

Late seating

Family in dining room

The late seating commences after the early seating has concluded, and the wait staff has been able to reset all of the tables, meaning that it usually begins around 8:00pm. For many, this might be too late to eat every night; however, there are some pros to selecting this dining time!

For starters, you will not feel rushed in the afternoon. You can spend more time by the pool or exploring the ports before returning to your cabin to get ready. Those with an early seating will need to ensure that their excursions end with enough time for them to freshen up for dinner, meaning that they could lose an hour or two extra in port! 

Late seatings also allow for more pre-dinner activities, whether that is a drink or early show. 

Food in main dining room

And often, the service is more relaxed, as the wait staff is not worried about setting up for another seating afterwards. 

Of course, one of the biggest cons is that you will be staying up late each evening for dinner. It is important that you take into consideration your sleep schedule. Will you want to do other things after eating? If so, will that impact your energy level the next day? You do not want to feel groggy during the day!

RelatedYour really dumb cruise ship dining questions answered

My Time Dining

Are you torn between early and late dining? You may want to consider My Time Dining, Royal Caribbean's flexible dining option that allows passengers to make reservations during specific hours for the Main Dining Room ahead of time or show up when they are ready to eat. 

This will allow you to eat at 6:00pm one day and 8:00pm the next, if you so wish. Otherwise, you can try to dine around the same time, say 7:30pm, each night of the cruise. It is meant to be an option that allows you to schedule dinner around the rest of your onshore and onboard plans.

My Time Dining, however, is not considered traditional dining. You will not have the same table mates and wait staff each night, as you are seated wherever there is an open table. Many cruisers enjoy getting to know their servers and having them learn their preferences, which is why traditional dining is still so popular! 

RelatedWhat you need to know about Royal Caribbean's My Time Dining

Early dinner vs. late dinner on Royal Caribbean: which is best for you?

Symphony of the Seas main dining room

The early seating is best for families with younger children or those who want to retire to their cabin earlier in the evening. Likewise, it is also the preferred seating for those who enjoy evening entertainment, as you will be finished with your meal by the time the ship is livening up! 

On the other hand, if you prioritize daytime activities, whether that be excursions or lounging by the pool with a cocktail in hand, you will enjoy having time in the evening to get ready, instead of having to cut the afternoon short.

This option will also enable you to attend sail away without compromising on the Main Dining Room experience on embarkation day. 

Main dining room

There is always My Time Dining, too, if you are unable to make up your mind. Just note that your overall dining experience will be a little bit different than if you selected a traditional seating-- you will neither be seated at the same table each evening nor have the same wait staff.

My Time Dining also requires you to plan ahead a little bit, as you could be faced with lengthy wait times if you fail to make reservations ahead of time!

Do not forget that you do not have to eat in the Main Dining Room every night, either. You can always forego the lengthy meal and head up for a quick bite at the Windjammer or opt to indulge in a more intimate specialty dining experience one night!

Both of these options, so long as you make your specialty reservation ahead of time, will provide you with more flexibility in regard to dining time. 

Elizabeth graduated from New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute with her M.A. in Journalism in May 2023. Growing up, she had the privilege of traveling frequently with her family and fell in love with cruising after sailing on the Oasis of the Seas her freshman year of high school. She wanted to pursue a career that highlighted her passion for travel and strengths as a writer. 

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