Cruisers reject complexity in dining, Royal Caribbean finds

Cruisers reject complexity in dining, Royal Caribbean finds

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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