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4 Tips for Choosing Early or Late Cruise Dining

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Selecting the perfect cruise dining option can be a slippery slope if you don’t know the pros and cons of each option.

When you book your cruise, you’ll be asked which dinner seating you want: early or late. If you’ve never taken a cruise before, this question has absolutely no context and is nearly impossible to answer. Even avid cruisers often flounder, since each cruise dining option comes with its own advantages…and disadvantages. Try these four tips to help you decide which cruise dining option is right for you.

cruise dining

1. When do you usually eat?

If you like to have dinner on the table the minute you get home from work, stick to your regular routine. Choose the early dinner seating—it usually starts around 6 p.m. But if you like to lounge around a while or hit the gym after work, you might prefer a later setting, which typically starts at 8:30 p.m.

I get up at the crack of dawn, which means I eat breakfast early. As a result, I usually have lunch around 11 a.m., so the thought of eating dinner any later than 6 p.m. makes me cringe. But if you like to sleep in, the later seating might be just what you need.

2. What activities are you taking part in?

If you like to dance the night away, a late dinner is a great option. You’ll have more energy and all the sustenance you need to soak up any spirits you might be imbibing. And you can sleep in a little longer the next morning before your stomach starts grumbling. But if you plan on turning in early, choose the earlier seating. No one wants to go to bed on a full stomach.

Evening activities are not the only things you need to consider when selecting the best cruise dining option. Check your cruise itinerary to see how long your ship will be in port each day, and consider what you plan to do once you’re ashore.

If you’re not leaving the port until early evening, you may not want to rush back to the ship in time for an early dinner. If this is the case, stick with a late seating. The same thing goes if you want to take advantage of the hot afternoon sun on your days at sea. If you choose an early seating, you’ll need to cut the afternoon short in order to give yourself enough time to get cleaned up for dinner.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to show up at all for your dinner seating. There is always a buffet or 24-hour eatery you can head to instead. This is a great alternative if your shore excursion does run late and you miss your assigned seating.

3. Who is in your party?

If you’ve got children or seniors in your group, an early seating is probably better for you. But if you’re on a romantic vacation with your better half or a group getaway with a circle of friends, a late seating is the ideal choice. There are fewer children and families at this seating, lending to a more mature atmosphere.

4. Are you spontaneous?

If you still can’t decide which cruise dining experience is right for you, maybe you don’t need to choose at all. Many ships offer an anytime dining option. On NCL, you can simply show up at the dining room whenever you want, and you’ll be seated at the next available table. Carnival has a similar program—you simply show up at a designated area and wait to be assigned to a table in the main dining room.

Pro Tip: Don’t worry if you have second thoughts about the cruise dining option you’ve selected. You can always change your seating later. When you board the ship, simply head to the dining room and ask for a table at the opposite seating. The ship can usually accommodate your request.

Hopefully, now you have a better handle on how to choose the best cruise dining time for your next adventure. If you have other ideas, we’d love to hear about them on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook page.

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