Book in advance to ensure early dinner

travel q&a cruise dining

March 15, 2009|By Catharine Hamm | Catharine Hamm,Los Angeles Times

I have been on five cruises with two ship companies, and I have asked as soon as I've made the reservation for early seating for dinner. The request was honored on only one cruise. The others were for the late seating. (I didn't know this until I received my tickets.) What would you suggest to ensure an early dining time on my next cruise?

Fellow cruisers, you can take a stand on seating. Because Americans tend to dine a bit earlier than their European counterparts, the early seating on a cruise, usually at 6 or 6:30, often proves more popular than the second, which is 8 or 8:30.

So there's frequently a stampede to eat at the first, partly because many of the shows start immediately after early chow and partly because people, um, of a certain age tend to eat earlier and often are the crowd the more formal cruises attract.

The easiest way to eat when you want is to choose a ship with open seating - that is, you can choose when you want to eat and with whom, as in Norwegian Cruise Line's "freestyle" cruising.

But there are downsides to that. For one, your waiter doesn't get to know you and your preferences. At a fixed seating, you can develop friendships when you dine with a group.

For some cruisers, those are huge pluses, so consider these ideas:

* Book early, says Tom Baker, president of, which specializes in ship trips. The frustrated letter writer says he's made his dining request as soon as he's made his reservation, but savvy cruisers intent on a certain seating know they have to book far in advance. How far? "Six months to a year," Baker says. Just make sure you buy insurance (and not from the cruise line) to cover you.

* Use a cruise-connected travel agent. Baker says an agent who knows the cruise industry sometimes can call in a favor for a client.

* Hold the cruise ship company's money hostage. OK, that sounds a little extreme, but Douglas Ward, the author of Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2009 and Insight Guides Cruising: All Questions Answered, says that after you book with the specialist cruise agency, you should "insist that final payment ... not be made unless a written confirmation of first seating is provided by the cruise line." Ward adds, however, that the cruise line has no legal obligation to comply, but it can be a good bargaining chip for the consumer.

Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times

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