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My wife and I have just returned from the March 27th Diamond Princess cruise, our third long cruise but our first experience with personal choice dining. We had read the published information on the traditional and personal choice options and had a difficult time deciding which way to go. I hope our experience will provide some information to those who are in a similar dilemma. We chose to go with the traditional, late seating because we enjoy meeting new people, like getting to know the waiters over the week, and didn't want to have to make reservations for every day. To me, not having to do much thinking or planning is one of the nice things about cruising. The option of being able to sample a PC dining room if we chose, was the key to the decision. For us, it turned out to be the right choice.
I was not impressed with the variety of the menu items in the 4 PC restaurants when reading them outside the dining rooms. I thought they would be changed daily, as the traditional is, but wrong, same food every day. I also was unaware that on 4 of the cruise nights, the menu from one of the PC restaurants was presented along with the traditional menu for the night. You can mix and match or pick anything from each menu. You get to eat the food in each of the 4 just as if you were there. To be fair, in the PC restaurants, you also receive the menu from the traditional for that night so you have the same food options no matter where you dine. We decided to try one of the PC restaurants just to see what it was like. We called a day in advance and had no trouble getting a table for 2 at 8pm, a time we like to dine. The seating was slightly more intimate but not what you would consider private. The way they have the 2 person tables arranged allows them to quickly put additional tables for 2, 4, 6, 8 etc into service as demanded. You are so close together, you make new friends whether you want to or not. The service was attentive but, to us, noticeably inferior to the traditional. One table is on the salad while another is on soup and a third on dessert. This is normal in a land restaurant, but the servers we had on the one night seemed to forget where we were in the process. Good servers but slow and forgotten requests. Maybe the opportunity of an extra gratuity provided some of the incentive for the outstanding attention we received in the traditional seating, but there is nothing wrong with that.
Another thing that one may want to consider, is that if you go with the PC dining, you are not allowed to change to traditional, while if you are in the traditional, you can opt out from time to time and return. We had a permanent drop out at our table and were joined one night by new friends of one party at our table. They told us that they were allowed to join us only because of the drop outs and because there were always 2 empty seats at our table. All in all on our next cruise, we will pick traditional seating again as we saw nothing to gain by picking the PC option. I guess if flexibility is most important, then traditional limits you somewhat but not enough to make a difference to us.
One bone I have to pick with Princess, is that the 'anytime' options on the traditional menu were disappointing to me. On our first Princess cruise last summer, they had a nice steak fillet that I could get anytime I didn't like the traditional menu choices. I picked that twice and the steaks were out of this world. Imagine my surprise when there was no fillet on this menu. I fact, there was no fillet on the Sterling steakhouse menu where we dined the one night. I don't know why Princess can have steaks loaded in Copenhagen, but not in L.A.
If there are any other questions about our cruise that I can answer, I'll try when I get the chance.
We made a reservation over the phone one day in advance, told the person our traditional table number and how many days we would be gone. They have caller id so they new who we were when we called. No questions asked. We were also told this was the policy by Julie one of the assistant cruise directors who we knew from our previous trip. If we were cut some slack on the rules, no one told us.
Here's a section from my Diamond Princess review (submitted but not yet posted) relating to our PC dining experience.
One of the reasons we chose this cruise line was for the â€śAnytime Diningâ€ť option. For maximum relaxation I did not want to have to be anywhere at a set time each night for dinner! For the most part, this worked well for us, although if you want to eat at a popular time and not wait, you would be best served by making reservations for dinner every night of the cruise as soon as you board. Our experience worked like this: the first night (Saturday) we showed up at the Asian theme dining room (Pacific Moon) at 6:35 pm and were told there were no tables until 7:30 pm. We simply went to the atrium and listened to the musicians playing there until we could eat. On the other hand, we witnessed several other groups of passengers who were displeased that they could not just walk up and get a table â€“ the maitre deâ€™s were really scrambling (there may also still be some bugs to work out of this system â€“ as far as I am aware, this is the first Princess ship to have four different themed dining room rather than two large similar ones). By the way, each of the four Personal Choice (PC) dining rooms served the regular shipâ€™s menu (which changed nightly) as well as a set of options which fit the theme of the room (which is the same throughout the cruise). For the second night I attempted to make reservations in the early afternoon and was told that the earliest opening for any of the dining rooms was 7:30 pm. Rather than taking such a late time, we decided just to show up. So that night (Sunday) we went to the Mexican theme dining room (Santa Fe) and were seated immediately at a table with another couple. The third night (Monday), we showed up at the Sterling Steak House at 6:20 pm, were told that the earliest available time was 7:30, so walked over to the Italian theme dining room (Vivaldi) and got seated immediately at a table for two. The fourth night (Tuesday) we tried the Sterling again at 6:20 pm. They were again full through 7:30 so went to the Santa Fe dining room and were immediately seated with another family of four. Fifth night (Wednesday), tried the Sterling at 7:00 pm, they are booked until 8:30, so we went back to the Pacific Moon and were immediately seated at a table for two. So, Iâ€™ve figured out by now that the Sterling is the most popular eating venue and determine to make reservations for the next night so we can try it. When I called the next day my options were 5:30 or 7:30 or later. We took the 5:30 pm reservation and enjoyed our dinner there that night (Thursday). In the end I was happy with our dining experiences â€“ it was nice to spend time together but also nice to eat with others occasionally. Since there is no penalty for not showing up for reservations (and we could see tables sitting empty because of this) Iâ€™m not sure this is the most efficient way to run the PC dining system, but maybe they will make some improvements once they get a feeling for which venues are most popular. I also understand that traditional dining passengers are free to make reservations in the PC dining rooms, so this may be adding to the congestion.
You can be the judge as to whether this works for you or whether traditional fixed seating is best.
Thank you Gayle. One clarification please: the dinning rooms all offer the same menu, right? They are themed differently, but it's the same food everywhere, correct? Many thanks, I hope your review gets posted soon!
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I think the terminology used by the first poster is confusing. There is a traditional dining room and then there are 1 or 2 personal choice dining rooms, depending on the ship's size (also called anytime dining). Then, thirdly, there are alternative restaurants. The traditional and personal choice/anytime dining rooms all have the same menus and they change every night. To my knowledge, the alternative restaurants have the same menu every night. These alternative restaurants are the Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini's. I've not dined at the Steakhouse but Sabatini's is a 6 course Italian meal with a very large variety of courses to choose from. Also, the alternative restaurants charge an extra fee. I believe Sabatini's is $15pp and worth every penny. Traditional and personal choice dining is included in your cruise fee. We choose personal choice/anytime dining because we like to eat whenever we feel like it and we like to sit at a table for 2. We never felt like we were too close to anyone and we never had faulty service. Personal choice is not for everyone, but it certainly is for us. I'm sure that's why Princess successfully offers all of the above choices so each and every one of us can be happy.
Aquarian, the original poster sailed on Diamond Princess. Diamond and Sapphire are unique in offering a new concept for those who choose Anytime Dining. Instead restaurants similar to the traditional dining room, those with Anytime Dining nightly choose among four themed restaurants each serving its own menu in addition to the nightly traditional menu.
Gayle, The reason you could find tables available when the reservations were "sold out" was that each dining room holds 10-20% of their space for walk-ups. The empty tables you saw weren't no-shows; they were for upcoming reservations. If you arrived at 7:00 and the table was reserved for 7:30, they aren't going to give it away, since they allot and hour and forty minutes for each party, and they wouldn't have anything for the people with a 7:30 reservation, so it sits empty until 7:30. The computer keeps close control of no-shows and makes the table available for anyone who hasn't checked in 10-15 minutes after their reserved time.
HUCC, Traditional Diners can go to Anytime Dining, but if there's a wait, Anytime Diners are seated ahead of them.
tdf799, People in Traditional Dining can switch to Anytime, and Anytime can switch to Traditional, but there have to be seats available in Traditional. As you saw at your table, when someone switched, there was someone on the list waiting to come into Traditional.
The fillet is on the menu in the Sterling every night, and you can order off that menu from any of the restaurants, including the traditional dining room. It's not advertised, but all you have to do is ask.
We published an article about the new options on Diamond last week in CND. It's on the Cruise News Daily website, but due to CC rules, I can't post the link.
Alan, thanks for the clarifications on some of my observations from my original post. I should have thought to ask about a fillet. I guess the old adage about it never hurts to ask applies in my case. As to the menus on the 4 themed restaurants, I didn't check each one every night but when I did walk by and look, and when they were presented in the traditional dining room, they were always the same. Maybe on the ships with 2 PC restaurants they have more menu changes because of the fewer themed choices. As to switching to the traditional dining room, there must have not been many requests to switch, because the seats around me that were vacant stayed vacant all week. It would be nice if Princess would publish the exact rules and norms for these options, but then we wouldn't be able to discuss our great trips here
Can you order from the dining room menu, if you eat in the Horizon court?We may choose to eat there every night, since there will be 2 toddlers traveling. What about the filet? can it be ordered in the Buffett area?
There are no menus in the Horizon court, what is on the buffet is what your choices are. However we found that the food choices were many, different each day, varied for each meal time of the day and the quality in our opinion outstanding.
tdf77, The specialy restaurants' menus don't change, because most people only eat in each once or twice, preferring to try them all, and the traditional menu, which does change nightly, is offered in all the specialty restaurants. From what I understand, few people - at least in the first two weeks - were ordering all from one menu. Most are mixing courses between the specialty menu and the traditional, so they essentially have a change each night.
Since Personal Choice's inception, more people have wanted traditional than they have had space for, and there is always a list of people waiting to switch in. (They can and do, however, emulate it in any of the Anytime Dining Rooms by making a standing reservation for the same time and table each night.) BUT... by the middle of the week, they have a steady stream of people switching out of traditional.
The reason they don't publish a list of the options is because it would be overwhelming. Personal Choice is all about choices and options and what you personally want. If you ask, chances are they can do it.
Sandymc, like tdf799 said, what you see in the Horizon Court is what you get, however, something Princess has started doing over the last couple of months (but not advertising), is at dinner in the Horizon Court, they are putting the premium choices from the traditional dining room menu on the buffet, especially on formal nights. So now if you don't want to dress up on formal night, you can usually still have your lobster.
gayleermer....it was nice to read your post and get an idea of how your PC dining exprience went. But, I do have to say it sounds like an awful lot of work and back and forth waiting to get dinner. I just personally, like some others, prefer traditional as I don't have to do a whole lot of scramming to eat. I can go the same time and enjoy. Sounds like PC worked for ya'll, but whew...not sure that it's for me. Thanks for the informative post.
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Kim, it doesn't have to be quite that complex. Gayle didn't take advantage of the one of the options the computers on Diamond, Sapphire and Caribbean offer. If Sterling, for example, doesn't have anything available when you walk in, the head waiter at the door can look at each of the other restaurants to see where something is immediately available (including the traditional dining room), then hold the table for you so someone else doesn't take it while you walk down there.
Personally, I like the system, but then again, there is a whole dining room full of people who prefer traditional.
I too just got off the 3/27 Diamond Princess cruise and had to comment regarding the whole "Anytime/Alternative Dining" thing. I was traveling with my husband and two small children as well as a few other family members and friends. My opinion/advice is this...if anyone is traveling with young children it would be best to either consider traditional dining (where you can do the early seating) or go with anytime dining and make your reservations AS SOON AS you get on board. We continually had problems getting reservations for 6:00/6:30 or even 7:00. It has been my experience that most children (and even many adults) do not want to or can not wait until 9:00 pm to eat dinner. The soonest we could get a table for 4 or 6 people most evenings was 8:15 or later. In those situations we had to go to the buffet which is perfectly fine but when I'm on vacation I like the idea of having my dinner meal served to me in a restaurant atmosphere (and not have to battle some of the vulture-like people in the buffet line).
My final thought on this whole "Anytime" vs. Traditional dining issue is this...those people that are anytime diners should be allowed to eat in the traditional dining room if space is available. I mean there has to be if they allow traditional diners to cross over to anytime dining (thereby opening up space in the traditional dining room) and I am certain that there are also traditional diners who decide to forgo dinner on a certain evening because they ate in port/ate a late lunch/slept through dinner and decided to go to the buffet.
In any case (with or without children), if you go with "Anytime Dining" make reservations ASAP unless you want to eat really late in the evening.
zurmolly, If you are going to the Horizon Court where they don't check you in, yes, it's nice to tell them so they know the seats are available, but if you go anywhere else or make a reservation anywhere else, they know immediately that you won't be in the traditional dining room. The new system is fantastic for keeping tabs on where they have or will have seats open at any given time.