Cruisers reject complexity in dining, Royal Caribbean finds

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Silk, one of the four main dining restaurants on Anthem of the Seas.
Silk, one of the four main dining restaurants on Anthem of the Seas.

For diners and travel agents, Royal Caribbean’s elimination of Dynamic Dining means no longer having to wrangle dining reservations for each night of the cruise. Royal Caribbean found that among guests, the benefits of Dynamic Dining were outweighed by the perceived hassle of making reservations.

“The general feeling was that it added a complexity to the cruise vacation, and they really preferred it just to be easy,” said Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of hotel operations.

In North America, the demise of Dynamic Dining affects only one ship, the New York-based Anthem of the Seas. Under the name Cosmopolitan Dining, the concept has also been deployed on the Ovation of the Seas, but it will be dropped on Nov. 23 when that ship transitions from China to Australia for the winter.

When it was introduced with plenty of fanfare on the Quantum of the Seas in late 2014, Dynamic Dining appeared to be the beginning of the end for the classic main dining-room routine in place at Royal Caribbean since the 1970s.

The experiment, which involved breaking up the main dining room into four smaller, themed restaurants, will conclude on Nov. 27, when the Anthem of the Seas reverts to the dining format used on other Royal Caribbean ships.

Each of the restaurants, which include Grande, Chic, Silk and American Icon, will retain its distinctive decor but will share a common menu, which will change nightly. Two of them will now offer traditional early and late seatings, while two will adopt Royal’s flexible My Time Dining.

A major impetus for Dynamic Dining was the growing size of Royal Caribbean’s ships, including the 5,400-passenger Oasis-class vessels. To accommodate those crowds, the main dining room had become too huge.

Royal Caribbean was also launching the Quantum as a high-tech ship and thought that with its new Cruise Planner app, guests would sit at home and be able to easily make reservations for shipboard activities.

Once onboard, guests could also use the Royal IQ screen stations around the ship to plan activities or download Royal IQ to their smartphones.

By managing the demand ahead of time, Royal Caribbean also figured it could do away with fixed seating times entirely, as some of its competitors had done more than a decade ago.

A less cavernous venue and more relaxed dining rules were seen as attractive to younger travelers in particular, including the much-targeted millennials, and to first-time cruisers who are not steeped in the cruise dining format.

The Quantum was designed with Dynamic Dining in mind, so it had a quartet of 430-seat restaurants on Decks 3 and 4. But even before the Quantum’s debut, Royal Caribbean began planning to carve up the three-story dining room on the Oasis of the Seas into separate restaurants for each deck.

Dynamic Dining got off to a shaky start on the Quantum. Some pre-cruise reservations were dropped when the shoreside computer system didn’t interface with the shipboard technology.

The more enduring problem was getting reservations for the right restaurant at the right time on the right night. Reservations opened as much as a year in advance, and some dining times were fully booked quickly in the relatively small restaurants.

Diners often book ahead at Royal Caribbean’s fee-extra alternative restaurants such as Chops, but Tamis said it’s a different equation.

“Our guests make a distinction between a night out in one of the specialty dining venues versus the inclusive dining program,” Tamis said. “So when they’re making that choice for their general dining each night, they want to make that easy. And if there are one or two special nights for them … they feel fine to go ahead and make that reservation for that one special night.”

Royal Caribbean had also geared the entertainment on the Quantum to mesh with Dynamic Dining, so the time for when clients made dining reservations had a bearing on when they could see a show, and vice versa.

Fans of the traditional cruise-dining format panned the concept. So when the Anthem of the Seas debuted in April, Royal Caribbean created “Dynamic Dining Classic,” which had early and late fixed seatings.

In Classic, diners rotated through the four restaurants and the wait staff traveled with them.

“We really want to make this concept work,” Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley told a group of travel agents at the time, “and we’re very close to making it successful.”

Nevertheless, after altering the main dining room on the Oasis, Royal Caribbean decided not to implement the full Dynamic Dining program on that ship.

It also removed Dynamic Dining from the Quantum when it went to China.

The arrival of Dynamic Dining also had eliminated formal nights on the ships using it because one of the four restaurants, Grande, was designed as a formal experience every night.

Tamis said the Anthem will now revert to the standard arrangement of one formal night in all the restaurants, or two on cruises of seven nights or longer. New menus first developed for the Empress of the Seas will also be rolled out when the Anthem switches formats on Nov. 27.

Guests who had booked Dynamic Dining on cruises after Nov. 27 will be moved to My Time Dining, in which they can eat any time between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in American Icon or Silk. Any Classic-level bookings will move to Chic or Grande.

In guest surveys, there was some support for Dynamic Dining from younger travelers, Tamis said, but not enough to offset the high responses for the idea of convenience and ease in planning.

“This idea of having this easy, great vacation, that definitely resonated in all age groups,” he said.

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