Early or Late? Which Dinner Seating Should I Choose? Over 12 Pros and Cons to Consider

If you are traveling on a big ship, it’s likely you will be asked to choose a dinner seating. Traditionally this has been the first seating at 6:00 PM or the second seating at 8:30 PM. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The Early Seating:  6 Pros, 3 Cons

The first seating starts at 6:00 PM and you are out of the dining room before 8:30 PM when the second seating starts.


  1. Early risers. Back home, you are up with the chickens and ready for bed by 9:00 PM. Starting dinner 30 minutes before your regular bedtime (the second seating) would not work well.
  2. Party hearty. You love the shipboard nightlife. You want to catch a show, find a bar with lively music and dance. You want to fit in everything. Finishing dinner shortly after 8:00 means you are at the first show, then on the dance floor.
  3. Casino gambling. Has James Bond ever frequented a casino in the afternoon? I don’t think so. It’s usually dark. If dinner ends after 8:00, it’s an ideal time to find a seat at the blackjack or roulette tables.
  4. Will they run out? There’s a great entrée on the menu. You are convinced they might run out because everyone at the first seating will order it, leaving none for the second seating. You don’t want to take a chance. (This won’t happen, they’ve got these menus figured out and statistically know how much to prepare of every dish.)
  5. You enjoy quiet evenings. Not everyone who takes a cruise is a party animal. After dinner at home, you like to curl up with a good book. First seating aligns with your lifestyle.
  6. You brought young children. The plan is for them to eat early, turning in at a bedtime similar to their schedule at home. First seating works.


  1. No lingering. There’s no sitting at the table enjoying multiple cups of coffee after dessert. They need everyone out, to get setup for the second seating. They won’t refuse you a coffee refill, but finding your server may be tougher than you imagined. They are busy setting up.
  2. Short time between lunch and dinner. If you have lunch around 1:00 PM or so and linger, because the food is so good, you may find yourself saying: “Is it time to eat again!” at 6:00 PM.
  3. Dressing for dinner. It can feel a little weird getting suited up for dinner when the sun is still bright and half the ship is walking around in shorts and sandals.

The Late Seating: 5 Pros, 3 Cons

Traditionally the late seating was the preferred choice because lots of the evening entertainment was aligned to the schedule of the second group of diners.


  1. Leaving port. The ship often pulls away about 6:00 PM. You can be out on deck, watching the port city disappear. You see the boats and harbor sights are the ship heads into open water.
  2. Enjoying port. You are having a great time exploring and shopping. The ship is docked overnight because it’s a great city. You don’t have to run back mid-afternoon to get ready for first seating dinner at 6:00 PM.
  3. Enjoying the sunset. The days are longer in the summer months. You like standing on your balcony watching the sunset.
  4. Cocktail culture. You have friends who enjoy a few cocktails before dinner. You prefer the ease of finding a seat in your favorite lounge at 6:00 PM, once the first seating folks have headed into the dining room.
  5. Trivia. You play often in one of the bars. It’s one of your favorite activities. They do a session somewhere between 6:00 and 8:00 PM. You won’t miss it with second seating.


  1. Late afternoon slump. There’s not a lot going on between 4:00 to 8:00 PM because half the ship is being fed. You need to make your own fun.
  2. Late night schedule. If you sit down to dinner at 8:30 PM, you aren’t out before 10:00, maybe later. Do you have the energy to keep partying? Many people don’t. You pop into the gala, say “OK, we’ve seen the gala” and head off to bed.
  3. Time changes. If you are heading east and losing an hour occasionally, your body thinks those days are starting earlier and ending later. You get tired during dinner.

What If I Made the Wrong Choice?

Relax. You have plenty of options. Making a reservation for one of the specialty restaurants lets you set your own dinner schedule. Visiting the buffet restaurant gives you similar options. Opening the desk drawer in your cabin should reveal the room, service menu. You can enjoy dinner without leaving your stateroom.

Cover photo: Grand Princess Crown Grill ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Editor’s Note: CruiseCompete travel agents can provide details and advice about which ships have open dining options and what seating to reserve in advance – at https://www.cruisecompete.com/

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