This is second of two parts on trends in cruise ship dining.
With cruise lines adding more choices to their dining programs, travel agents may face a dilemma: What do you advise your clients?
While some agents welcome the changes in cruise dining options, others mourn the demise of the main dining room. Not all cruise passengers are willing to pay extra for onboard dining, they say.
Royal’s ‘Dynamic Dining’
Royal Caribbean’s "Dynamic Dining," to debut on Quantum of the Seas in November, brings a choice of 18 eateries, seven for a fee, none a main dining room. Passengers – or their agents – will be encouraged to make plans on where to dine, though drop-ins will also be allowed based on availability.
An online booking system for Quantum's dining, which goes public May 15, will be user-friendly, and even feature guest reviews (once passengers sample the venues). Smart technology for making reservations will also be featured on the ship, officials said.
Much hinges on the success of the reservations aspect, said Rudi Sodamin, Holland America Line's consulting Master Chef.
"You don't want to be in a situation where you are always turning passengers away," Sodamin told Travel Market Report. "They say it will work itself out, but if I want a steak I want to get in there and get my steak."
Not for everyone
Not everyone is going to like the new dining setup, said Chuck Flagg of The Flagg Agency (Cruise Holidays) in Canton, Georgia.
"Some people will think, 'I'm on vacation, I don't want to think about where to eat,'" Flagg said.
Should agents assist?
A conundrum for agents will be whether to assist passengers in making dining reservations, or have them go it alone.
Flagg, who charges a consultation fee for his services, said he would make advance reservations for clients – so they are assured a place to dine each night. The reservations can be changed onboard, if clients desire.
"It's a little more work, and for someone who is commission-based, they may have to put it on their clients to do more work," Flagg said.
Paying for food
Cruisers have shown a willingness to pay for specialty dining, which is now available in one form or another on mainstream and premium lines and as an over-the-top extra on some upscale and luxury lines as well.
A key to Royal's strategy will be dispersing the crowd between the free and specialty dining venues, observers said.
Flagg doesn't think this will be an issue. Passengers have gotten used to and shown a wiliness to pay for a good dining experience. In fact, he said, for some travelers specialty dining is a key selling point.
"People don't mind paying extra if the service and cuisine is worth the price," Flagg said. "I just got off Oasis of the Seas and absolutely loved the experience at the Chef's Table."
A money grab?
Pauline Power, director of Cruises, Eastern Region for Altour International, said some might perceive the cruise lines' increase in for-a-fee dining as a "money grab."
But the cruise lines need to be creative in catering to a new generation of food-educated cruisers who aren't necessarily into long, multi-course meals in a traditional cruise ship dining room.
"They are moving away from the formal concept of dining. It's a pity," Power said. "The whole world is changing and I think the cruise market is moving with it."
Royal is being bold, but may be going too far, said Stewart Chiron, of The Cruise Guy.
"Cruise lines will always tell you they are reacting to the needs of the passengers, but a lot of times they don't know what the customers want," Chiron said. "Quantum – it's off the deep end by not offering a main dining room, really for the first time. It's cutting the umbilical cord."
If cruise lines continue to move more and more into the fee-based dining realm, there could be a backlash, Chiron said.
"The fees being charged are short-term thinking. People do want to enjoy various options, but don't want to have to be charged for it," he opined.
"I think it's just gone off the deep end. I wouldn't spend $45 per person for the Lawn Club Grill (on Celebrity Silhouette and Reflection). That's $180 for a family of four. Some people can become resentful."
Is the Cruise Ship Dining Room Passe