Julie Peasgood is a travel expert, TV presenter and Contributing Editor for Cruise International

couple dining al fresco on board a cruise ship being served by a crew member

Q. We would like to go on a cruise but are put off by the idea that you have to sit with the same people for dinner every night – what if you don’t all get on?

A. This shouldn’t be a problem as many cruise lines operate an open-seating policy, meaning you can have dinner whenever you want and, most importantly for you, with whoever you want, including tables for two. And all cruise ships (even if they have traditional set seating in the evening with first and second sittings) still have open seating at breakfast and lunch. 

However, the trend in recent years has been towards Anytime, Freestyle or Freedom dining (it’s known by different names depending on the cruise line). 

This option gives more flexibility as you’re free to arrive for dinner any time between 6pm and 9.30pm, and if a table isn’t available you’ll be handed a pager that will bleep when your table is ready. 

But if the cruise line you choose still operates the classic two sittings with allocated tables, and you find that you don’t like your fellow diners, there are several ways round it. You can either see the maitre d’ as soon as possible after you board the ship and request a table for two (second sitting at 8–8.30pm is generally less busy than the first sitting at 5.30-6pm), or you can eat in the more informal buffet (which a lot of passengers do), try room service, or opt for one of the ship’s speciality restaurants. These usually require a modest supplement, but will still work out considerably cheaper than on land for fine dining.
Julie Peasgood

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