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I was looking into getting reserving a cruise and was asked to choose between as you wish dining and second seating.
As you wish dining makes it sound like you can eat whenever you want to, whereas second seating makes it seem like you have to be seated at a specific time.

So why would you ever want to choose an option that gives you less flexibility when they're both pretty much free?

The cruise line is Holland America.

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This is a very contentious topic on some other boards. However, given the way you ask the question, you should probably choose As You Wish.

Up until a few years ago, practically all Main Dining Room service was based on First and Second Seating. You would sit at the same table, same table mates, same wait staff and same time every night. Some people loved this, others like me, considered it rigid, inflexible, restrictive and silly.

With the addition of multiple dining venues and upcharge locations, where you pay additional beyond the cruise fare, the lines realized they had to make flexible options in every venue, including the Main Dining Rooms. Royal Caribbean calls it My Time Dining while Norwegian has abandoned Seatings altogether.

Cruising on Norwegian and Royal, I've never had a problem getting a table in a Dining Room as a walk-up. You can make reservations, but it's not really required.

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The benefit really depends on your desires. Second seating (or any other set seating) gives you a set time to eat, a guaranteed place to sit at that time and usually the same waiter throughout the sailing who learns your dining preferences.

The As You Wish lets you choose your dining time each day, but like any other restaurant there is no guarantee that they can accommodate you at the time you choose.

A lot of travelers choose cruises because they can unpack once and they deal with the same people for the full trip (room stewards, waiters, activity folks). And things are planned out for them. It is a comfort factor for many.

Other travelers like more independence in their choices, hence why some cruise lines are adding the As You Like type options.

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As you wish dining allows for more flexibility for when you want to eat. The main difference being who you are being served by.

Flexible dining (As you wish) allows you to eat as early as the dining room opens, to later in the evening.

Depending on different factors, you may prefer one over the other. Here's some pros/cons.

Flexible/As You Wish

  • Especially useful if you like to take advantage of the many shows etc. the cruise has available. You'll likely want to eat earlier to make sure you get to that 7:30 showing, then another event at 9.

  • If you have kids (like me) you'll find that the set time just doesn't always work, so it's nice to have that flexibility to eat earlier or later. We once had an excursion where lunch was served at 3pm, so we didn't end up eating dinner until pretty late. Flexible dining came in handy then!

  • Are you an introvert? Don't do well meeting new people. If you are a small group (2 people) you may get sat with others. I've been sat with people who didn't speak English and it was quite the awkward meal.

Assigned (1st/2nd seating)

  • You get the same waitstaff every night. This means that as you sit down, they are already bringing you the diet coke that you always want, and your wife gets the two glasses of waters she ends up requesting (with sliced lemons of course). What I mean by this - they anticipate what you want and really make the dining experience quite amazing. it feels like you are a regular customer. Have kids? They would bring a PB & J as we sat down for my youngest and made it quite a pleasure.

  • You can plan around dinner... this can be a plus or minus, but you always know when dinner is, and so it's convenient to always know you can meet up with your party at dinner time. It's very hard to keep in touch on a ship (cell phones are cumbersome on the boat and you have to use the wifi and apps to communicate).

  • You meet new people. We went on our honeymoon once, and we were at a table with 3 other couples who were all within 3 years of us and on their honeymoon. Needless to say, it was fun and we were able to have some great conversations with people. This can definitely be a negative if you aren't into the whole talking to strangers.

To sum up - we only choose the as you wish dining, but we request the same waiter once we are happy with one (usually the first time - they're all really good). We've been really happy with this, and it's nice to have the flexibility from the timing.

  • What's weird is that "First Dining" wasn't presented as an option to me. Maybe it was sold out? And even if it was available... what times would first and second dinning be? Expedia didn't present me with any of this info. – neubert Jul 24 '16 at 13:18
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    First and Second dining times most definitely would vary between cruise lines, and probably depends on the destination as well. I vaguely recall them being 2:30 apart; maybe 5:30 and 8:00 for example (so, showing up at 7:00 with the "as you wish" plan generally meant you had plenty of open tables, but also the extra noise of the staff cleaning up after the first seating) – Kent Jul 25 '16 at 5:26
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    Additional benefit of assigned seating: you are (most likely) seated with people from the same country so there is no awkwardness due to not being able to communicate in the same language (which of course does not exclude potential awkwardness due to the fact that you have no connection with them at all and have nothing to talk about after night two). – CompuChip Jul 25 '16 at 11:02

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