There has been more changes in dining on Anthem of the Seas in a relatively brief space of time than on any other cruise ship. The ship started out with an innovative but controversial dining system. That system was modified at various points and then finally dropped just before New Years 2017. We spoke with Food and Beverage Director Nithin Ramash about the dining options on Anthem today.
The rise and fall of Dynamic Dining
The Quantum class ships were conceived of as being a “quantum leap” beyond anything that Royal Caribbean had done before. The ships would be different not only in their physical layout and technology but throughout the ship touching on everything from accommodations, amenities and entertainment.
“It was a completely different leap in thinking.”
As part of this, Royal Caribbean re-thought the dining aspect of cruising. Throughout the cruise industry the number of guests who opt for traditional dining with its fixed times and assigned tables had been declining for years. More and more guests were choosing flexible dining options in which they are able to decide when to dine and with whom to dine each night. Accordingly, most of the major cruise lines were devoting more space to their flexible dining programs. Indeed, Norwegian Cruise Line had abandoned traditional dining altogether.
Another trend was that the number of guests going to specialty restaurants on cruise ships was growing. Guests liked the variety of going to different venues and trying non-traditional menus during the course of their vacations.
Therefore, Royal Caribbean decided to dispense with traditional dining and go over entirely to a flexible program in which guests could decide for themselves when and where to dine every night. In addition, the Quantum class ships would not have a single main dining room but four dining rooms. Each would have a different décor and a different menu. It would be like going to a different specialty restaurant each night except that it was complimentary. The new dining program was dubbed Dynamic Dining.
The fact that the Quantum class ships were developed originally with the New York market very much in mind also played a part in shaping the new program.
“New York has that discerning traveler who has been probably to the best and finest establishments because of its being the hub of business all over the world. The concept of Dynamic Dining was to raise ourselves to that level of expectation.”
When Dynamic Dining premiered on Quantum of the Seas, however, it was not warmly embraced by guests, particularly the line's repeat customers.
“We have a lot of Crown and Anchor guests. They preferred traditional main dining because of they really enjoyed having the same waiter [each night] and the connection that they used to establish with the same waiter. When they get to know that person, the cruise experience becomes a bit more personal. One of the key factors that has made Royal Caribbean significant is the service and the crew itself. ”
In addition, “people like to come back to the same table, meet people at the same table and talk about their experiences of the day. That part was missing when it came to Dynamic Dining.”
Royal Caribbean sought to adjust the program, first on Quantum and then on Anthem but was never able to satisfy its critics. Plans to roll out Dynamic Dining to other ships in the fleet were discarded and in late 2016, Dynamic Dining was terminated on Anthem of the Seas.
The main dining rooms now.
The main dining program on Anthem of the Seas now is essentially the same program as on other ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet. Two of the dining rooms are allocated to traditional dining where each guest is assigned to a specific table at one of two seatings throughout the cruise. The other two dining rooms follow the flexible My Time Dining system in which guests can come whenever the dining rooms are open but there is no guarantee that they will be seated at the same table each evening.
Guests select either traditional dining or My Time Dining when they book the cruise. Sometimes it is possible to switch from one system to the other once the guests are aboard. It depends on whether space is available in the desired system.
In a typical cruise from New York, “the first seating is busier than the late seating.” This is because people in North America generally prefer to eat earlier. “It depends upon the demographics.”
For the same reason, My Time dining is usually busier early in the evening. “Six o'clock to 7:30 is usually the peak time.”
My Time Dining guests are strongly encouraged to make reservations for the time that they would like to dine.
“On the Royal Caribbean website, we really promote having a reservation done in advance. You can come without a reservation but then your wait time will be a bit longer. What we do is by the end of the dinner, we request the guest to make reservations for the following night.”
Mindful of the criticism of Dynamic Dining, Anthem also tries to accommodate those My Time Dining guests who want to have the same waiter each night.
“We cannot guarantee a particular table or a particular waiter in the My Time dining. However, we do take reservations with the guests' requests. We suggest to guests that if you want to have Mr. John as your waiter that you make a reservation. We always try and take their requests.”
Each of the four dining rooms uses the same menus. “We are not using Dynamic Dining menus. We are actually working out of new menus. We really wanted to develop new menus to shocase our strength and to have it feel more fresh. The success of any restaurant in the world depends upon how well they rotate the menus.”
“The current offering is refreshing, very nouvelle in concept. It is very intentional - - a lot of French, Italian and contemporary American cuisine. There is a lot of variety. We give the option to our guests to taste the different cuisines. It is not only one type of menu. At the same time, we have kept a few classics. Royal Caribbean classics that the guests have always preferred.”
The changeover to a more conventional dining system has also required changes in other aspects of the ship. For example, the times for the shows and other activities had to be adjusted.
“At the end of the day, the success of a cruise ship is how well you lay out the passenger flow. We design our event flow so that we can actually balance it out, balance the flow of guests to the main dining rooms. We need to make sure that all of our guests get an opportunity to view the shows as well as to enjoy the dining experience. There have been a lot of changes in the show times compared to how it was previously done.”
The demise of Dynamic Dining has also required a change in the concept for the Coastal Kitchen. In the original thinking for the Quantum class ships, the Coastal Kitchen was just going to be an additional main dining option open to suite guests. Since it was envisioned that these guests would also be trying the other main dining room venues, Coastal Kitchen only had one menu inspired by California cooking that remained the same for length of the cruise. Now, this venue has essentially evolved into a modern version of what would have been called the first class dining room in the days of the ocean liners.
“Coastal Kitchen is nominally for the suites and the Pinnacle level guests, it is basically by invitation. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The menus are not the same as in the other dining rooms. “Since it is for the suite guests and the Pinnacle guests who have been traveling with us for so many years, it was important that we have one of the finest menus aboard. The menus change all [through] the cruise.”
Service is also very important. “A great bunch of people who take good care of the guests. By good care I mean they know the preferences of the guests.”
Next we look at the specialty restaurants and casual dining options
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Cruise ship inside interviews - Royal Caribbean International - Anthem of the Seas - Food and Beverage - page one