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Royal Caribbean introduces third dining time to give cruise ship passengers more choice when they eat dinner

28 Feb 2024
Matt Hochberg

How do you make dinner on a cruise ship even better? Give passengers more choice in when they can dine.

Main dining room family

Traditionally, Royal Caribbean has offered two traditional dinner times on its ships, where guests are seated at around 5pm or 8pm. The set dinner times have been a crowd pleaser, but for some people it has always felt either too early or too late.

Royal Caribbean wants to fix this by adding a third dinner time. It may seem like a simple change, but the cruise line thinks it will greatly improve the guest experience for anyone in the dining room, even if you don't select this time.

Royal Caribbean Blog got an exclusive update that coming this year, there will be a third dining time that will be added in-between the first two times.

Royal Caribbean main dining room

Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage Linken D'Souza thinks the addition of a middle dining time will give guests, "more choice and variety and flexibility for their vacation."

"We're just trying to create more convenience, variety and options for our guests."

The exact time for the new seating will depend on the ship and itinerary.  It could start around 6:45pm - 7:30pm, depending on what the guest feedback is from early testing.

Main Dining Room

Mr. D'Souza said they've tested it out already on Wonder of the Seas and Icon of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean is methodically rolling it out across the fleet. There isn't a set schedule yet, but Mr. D'Souza believes by the end of the year all the ships will have the additional dining time. It won't be done all at once, instead, the new option gets rolled out ship by ship.

More choices and a better cruise

Family in dining room

At the heart of the decision to add a third dining time is the drive to improve the guest experience. Mr. D'Souza was adamant how much his team focuses on making dining better.

This idea seems to have born out of guest feedback Royal Caribbean received where traditional dining times weren't ideal, but switching to My Time Dining didn't work either.

My Time Dining offers flexible dining times, but many cruisers enjoy having the same wait staff and table assignment every night. 

Main dining room

"Guests who dine in the dining room love to have the same server, love to have the same table," Mr. D'Souza explained. "And a lot of people want to be able to choose that time, but they're not able to because the traditional dining times are taken. So they end up in My Time Dining."

Read more: My Time Dining versus Traditional Dining

Based on early testing, guest satisfaction is higher as a result of the change, "The people who are now in this new third seating, they are rating us higher than any of the other experiences that we had, whether it was early, late or My Time."

"So we're actually seeing the highest ratings for these guests out of anybody who is dining in the dining room."

Table for two

There's no menu change, no alterations to dinner on a cruise ship other than adding a new time.

"This is purely about improving the experience...None of it is impacting the guest, there's no structural changes. There's no menu changes. It's all about operational."

Evolution of dinner on a cruise

Main Dining Room on Icon of the Seas

In considering the changes Royal Caribbean has made over the past few years, there's a definitive path the cruise line has taken in gradually improving dinner on a cruise.

When Royal Caribbean revisited the dining room menus in late 2022, they wanted to improve dinner by making it more predictable and not a two hour affair.

In December 2022, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said that a top complaint from passengers had been how long dinner can take some times. 

odyssey of the seas main dining room

Mr. D'Souza said at a land-based restaurant, customers want dinner to take about 60-65 minutes, and since a cruise is vacation, that number would skew a bit longer.

The result was a concerted effort to make dinner speedier so that it would regularly come in at around 75 minutes.

With a more efficient Main Dining Room, there was now an opportunity that did not exist before to insert an additional middle dining time.

Should you choose My Time Dining or traditional dining?

odyssey of the seas main dining room

There are good reasons to choose a set dining time or a flexible dining time for dinner in the Main Dining Room, and it all depends on your preferences.

Both options are included in your cruise fare, so the key is to understand how each works to determine which fits with your habits.

You will select a dining preference when you book a cruise. It's one of the early decisions to make as part of the booking process.

Main Dining Room

Traditional dining will have the same table number, wait staff, and table mates every night of your cruise. With this new choice, there will be three dining times to pick from:

  • Early
  • Middle
  • Late

When you arrive for your cruise, your table number and deck will be marked on your SeaPass card so you know your dining time and location.

Each evening, you'll go to the Main Dining Room at the assigned time and head directly to your table. 

Main dining room

You could be seated with other passengers at traditional dinner. It depends on how big your travel party is, and which table they assign you.  Yes, you can request to have a table just for yourselves, but there's no guarantee it will be granted.  In my experience, the staff is usually good about accommodating such requests.

As Mr. D'Souza alluded to, the reason why some people prefer traditional dining is because they enjoy getting to know their waiters (and the waiters getting to know your preferences), as well as not having to worry about getting a reservation for dinner. Your table will be waiting for you each evening.

Alternatively, you can select My Time Dining, which offers the choice of what time you eat dinner.

The appeal of My Time Dining is you can choose a different dinner time depending on the schedule. If you have a shore excursion on day three, you could select a later dinner time so you have sufficient time to shower, rest, and get dressed before dinner. Then the next day, you could eat earlier.

With My Time, there's the choice of either showing up and waiting for the first available table or making a reservation in advance. It's a lot like going to a restaurant on land. 

Breakfast in mdr

Usually there are two lines for My Time Dining: those with a reservation, and those without. People with a reservation get priority for the next available table. Anyone without a reservation will still be seated, but they may wait longer if the dining room is busy.

How do the menus differ between My Time Dining and Traditional Dining, if at all?

The menus for My Time Dining and Traditional Dining are the same, offering the same dishes each evening. You don't have to worry about missing out on any dishes because you select either of the seatings.

Can guests switch between My Time Dining and Traditional Dining during their cruise?

Guests can request to switch between My Time Dining and Traditional Dining, but this is subject to availability and may not always be possible. 

If the dining choice you want is unavailable, be sure to ask to be put on the waiting list. If you're on the ship already, ask to speak to the head waiter to see what they can do to accommodate the change.

Are there any differences in the dress code requirements for My Time Dining compared to Traditional Dining?

The dress code for both dining options is the same, adhering to the ship's overall dress code for the evening, which can range from casual to formal depending on the night. 

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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