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Freestyle Concept Origin

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I was wondering how NCL was before the Freestyle Concept. Were all cruise lines basically alike with not much differences? When NCL did adapt the Freestyle Concept, were the ships in the fleet revamped or did they have the new builds come out with the new type of cruising and retire their old ships?

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I was wondering how NCL was before the Freestyle Concept. Were all cruise lines basically alike with not much differences? When NCL did adapt the Freestyle Concept, were the ships in the fleet revamped or did they have the new builds come out with the new type of cruising and retire their old ships?

 

We cruised on several other lines before the advent of "Freestyle." All of them were essentially the same when it came to dining..you were assigned a table and a dining time. If you liked meeting people, and if you got along with the others at your table you could have a very enjoyable cruise. If you didn't.......

 

The change to Freestyle didn't really require revamping the ships. It mostly meant new planning methods for the kitchens and wait staff. Since passengers might arrive for meals at any time during the hours the dining rooms were open, the service had to shift to more of a restaurant style staffing and planning. Of course, it was still obvious that certain times would be more popular than others, depending on where the ship was cruising. I suspect that the biggest impact was on the hotel managers and their allocation of staff around the ship.

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The freestyle is mostly with the dinning options. Back in the day, all cruise lines had a traditional dinning with a set dinning time in the dinning room and no specialty dinning .Diner was around 6pm and i think around 8pm. Other cruise lines like Carnival still do this. The trend with freestyle is any time dinning and a selection of specialty dinning. This is why all cruise lines is adapting some kind of any time dinning on other cruise lines (carnival calls it your time dinning, royal is my time dinning, etc) and adding in specialty dinning

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I'm no expert on this, but this was my understanding.

 

Yes, almost all lines previously were very similar with the two seatings for dinner etc. NCL developed freestyle as an alternative, I believe around the turn of the century.

 

My first cruise was in 2003, and we went with NCL because they offered freestyle. Traditional cruising held (and continues to hold) no appeal to us, and someone recommended NCL as an alternative. It was on the Norwegian Dream and freestyle had to work round the ship design. There was an MDR (maybe two), a small buffet, one fee restaurant (Le Bistro I think) and also a free Italian restaurant.

 

On our first night we went to the MDR and were seated with a group. It was OK, but largely confirmed our doubts about having to be seated with others. There weren't tables for two (or very few of them) in the MDR.

 

For most of the rest of the cruise we are in the Italian, which did offer tables for two (and the food was great). One night was something like "captains night" and the same menu was served in all restaurants (although probably now Le Bistro, we never went there). I found that annoying, although as it was the birthday of one of the people we made friends with during the cruise, we ate together then in the MDR. From memory it was just the four of us, so I assume there were tables for four available.

 

Overall, it was a great cruise, although freestyle has developed a lot (and improved hugely in my opinion) since then. We didn't cruise for a few years after that because we had our son and wanted to wait a while before we travelled with him. In the meantime, ships were launched which were designed around the freestyle concept (I remember the Sun being released and all the promo materials made it look huge!

 

The new ships got gradually bigger, through the Jewel class, and then Freestyle took a major step with the launch of the Epic, when the entertainment also came within the concept. Our second ship was on the Epic and we were absolutely hooked. Some people don't like the need for reservations etc, but I see them as an essential by product of the increased options.

 

I honestly would not be cruising if it wasn't for freestyle. I feel for those people who don't like item and are finding their options limited as all lines move towards it, but for us it is a fantastic development.

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The change to Freestyle didn't really require revamping the ships. It mostly meant new planning methods for the kitchens and wait staff.

 

Whilst it didn't require revamping of ships, it did require new ships in order to offer the options that we now have. Back in the early days of freestyle, the lack of options was one of the things which held it back as a concept, as it made more of a difference between freestyle and what others were offering.

 

Of course, that did need new ships, so you are absolutely right that not too much needed to be done with the older ships to offer early freestyle.

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The freestyle is mostly with the dinning options.

 

Dining is often viewed as the focus of freestyle, but these days I'm not sure that it is correct to say that it is mostly about dining. It is about so much more than that in my opinion. It is about different entertainment options on the newer ships, and the encouragement of people to decide what they want to do, rather than wait to be told by the cruise line.

 

An example is the move away from what used to be "dress up or not night". I always thought that was very un-freestyle, as it seemed like they were saying that this is the night to dress up if you want to. Freestyle means that it is up to the individual to decide what night they want to dress up, and I think that the change to "Norwegian Night Out" is a deliberate move in this direction (not far enough in my opinion), as it doesn't focus on dressing up. It is down to the individual to decide not just if, but when, they dress up.

Edited by KeithJenner

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I completely agree with you, and the old style of cruising has no appeal to me, and that is why I never went. The thought of sitting to eat dinner every night with strangers stresses me out. After reading about freestyle and taking a few Norwegian cruises, I'm hooked. As far as the Entertainment, I love how NCL does it too, one or two great quality shows (seriously Priscilla, Burn the Floor, Rock of Ages have all been so good), rather than typical cheesy cruise shows I have seen videos of. When I read about how MSC does it, basically a new show every night with many of the same performers just dressed up in a different theme, it turns me off. But others might like a "different" show, without the quality, every night. So glad there are different lines offering differing products to fit everyone's needs. For my family, NCL fits the bill.

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The NORWAY was to have been the only ship that would remain with the traditional manner. We never really got to see how she'd do as the years went on because she blew up the week after we sailed her.

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If it wasn't for Freestyle we would never have taken 1 cruise let alone 20+.

 

The whole idea of eating when we are told to, with who we are told to and formal nights is anathema to us.

 

Count us in as 2 more people who Freestyle converted to cruising.

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Our first NCL cruise was 1991 on the MS Seaward. at the time, they had 2 seatings in the Main dining room 6:30 and 8:00. But they also had a specialty restaurant that required an upcharge and reservations. I believe this was the beginning of NCL Freestyle Dining.

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Not everybody loves Freestyle Dining! We just had our first NCL cruise and we did not enjoy Freestyle Dining much at all. We found it to be a hassle. BUT, in our 25 cruises on other lines, we've never had a problem getting the table size we wanted for traditional dining (or My Time Dining) - we've had 2 tops, 4 tops, 6 tops, 8 tops, and once a 12 top, depending on the size of our group. Actually we found it much easier to get the size table we wanted with traditional dining. Thus, we have never experienced the problems others have reported here about being forced to eat with strangers. We just always request our table size when we book, or add it as a preference. On NCL we were not able to specify our preferred table size. We had to wait for a table almost every night - we ate in the MDR 10 out of 14 nights. Twice we were seated immediately, but on 8 of those nights, we were given a pager and told how long the wait would be for a table. The shortest wait was 17 minutes, and the longest wait was 70 minutes. Our average wait was about 25-30 minutes. We figured out that approximately 4 hours of our cruise was spent waiting for a table. This did not endear us to Freestyle Dining!

 

The only comparison we had to the NCL wait time we experienced was when we used My Time Dining on Allure of the Seas for our party of 6 several years ago and we had to wait for a table twice. We had reservations for 4 nights, on which we were immediately seated, but not for the other 3 nights. We walked up when we wanted to eat on those nights, and we did have a 10 minute wait twice. Once there was no wait when we walked up. With NCL our wait was longer.

 

We also missed having the same team of waiters each night in the MDR. With Freestyle it's a whole new world every day. We have a member of our group who is lactose intolerant. With traditional dining, the waiters become familiar with you after Day 1 and they will advise the person with dietary restrictions and point out the menu items with no dairy each night. On NCL, the waiters we had did not know the menu well enough to assist and delays occurred in bringing a Maitre D' or somebody else who knew ingredients in menu items to our table. So with Freestyle Dining, you seem to be a bit out of luck if you have dietary needs other than Vegetarian or Gluten Free. (Those two are noted on the menu.) Our lactose intolerant person had even notified the NCL Special Needs people of his dietary needs prior to the cruise, but the information apparently went nowhere as it was a struggle every night to identify menu choices prepared with no butter or other dairy products.

 

We have used My Time Dining on other lines and successfully had the same wait staff each night as we were able to make reservations and specify where we wanted to be seated. Not so on NCL. We did try to make reservations for the MDR, but it never worked. We always ended up with the pager, hanging out and waiting. And we never had the same waiters.

 

Since formal nights became optional many years ago on all the lines we've sailed, dressing up, or not wanting to dress up, has never been a problem on any cruise line we've ever sailed. We saw absolutely no difference in how people dress for dinner on NCL compared to other lines. People who want to dress up do so, and people who don't want to dress up don't.

(Same thing happens with Pirate Night on Disney - some people dress up like pirates and some don't. Disney does not force people to dress like pirates just like other cruise lines don't force people to dress formally.;))

 

So everybody has different experiences and preferences. Many of you love the Freestyle experience, and some of us don't. I personally enjoy having the choice of Traditional or My Time, which NCL does not offer. And when I choose My Time Dining, I prefer to have the option of a reservation time for my group that's honored, or a short wait (15 min or less) if we just walk up when we want to eat. NCL's Freestyle Dining did not deliver that to us 80% of the time. But fortunately we all can find cruise lines that match our preferences and choices and we can tailor our dining choices to meet our needs.

Judy

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I like to vacation with Friends/Family...I do not like the idea of having to eat every meal with them at the same place, day after day after day.

 

I think Celebrity asks you the time you would like to dine when reservations are made...Who in the world knows that?

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Yes, I think things like any time dining mean that the other lines are now more appealing to those of us who don’t want traditional cruising, but the point that some of us are making is that a few years back (about 15 for me) it was freestyle which drew us in. My understanding is that back then, almost all other lines didn’t offer any option other than traditional.

 

Of course many people don’t like freestyle. It really is a matter of preference. I think that it also depends on what sort of things people do, and their timescales.

 

For example, I don’t doubt the 70 minute waiting time quoted above, but that is significantly longer than I have waited for a table in total over about 20 NCL cruises. When we tend to go there are no queues. I have never had to wait for more than a couple of minutes for the MDR. On a couple of occasions I have been given a beeper when I went to the Asian restaurant (about 15 minutes wait each time). I take that into account of eating at that restaurant and happily wait at a nearby bar. I am fine with that, but if you aren’t then freestyle may not be ideal especially if you tend to eat at peak times.

 

I’m also pretty sure that having the same waiters is a big advantage if you have particular requirements (like the dietary issues above). However, as we don’t have any such issues, changing waiters is absolutely fine. We get to meet more people that way. It isn’t something that I am too fussed about either way.

 

So, choice is good. As I understand it, freestyle is a major driving force between us having that choice. The fact that some people like it and some people don’t only demonstrates how important that choice is.

 

 

 

 

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I like to vacation with Friends/Family...I do not like the idea of having to eat every meal with them at the same place, day after day after day.

 

I agree! Happily, with traditional dining there is no requirement that everybody choose to show up for dinner in the MDR. Your table is available for you and your group every night, but you can use it or not as you choose.

 

I think Celebrity asks you the time you would like to dine when reservations are made...Who in the world knows that?

 

Both Celebrity and RCL allow you to specify a reservation time for My Time Dining at the time of booking if you wish. Most of us don't do that, but rather do it on the cruise.

 

Disney has a very interesting approach. There are 3 MDRs and you rotate, along with your waiters, among the three dining rooms, each with a different menu.

Judy

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When Freestyle started, you were asked if you wished to share/be seated with others. No longer is that offered. You arrive with 2 people, you are seated at a table for 2. Fine if you are married, not so good if you are only friends. Unless you find other passengers on board and get along well enough to be willing to share a table, whoever you come with is who you will be eating dinner with for the entire sailing. Great for a group/family, not so if you are sailing solo.

 

Understand quite well that cruise lines have relaxed their dress codes and some passengers only board with shorts and t-shirts in carryons. So Free Style suits them perfectly since no need to dress for diners.

 

Much perfer having same wait staff since my sailing companions tend to have special diet requirements. Waiter finds this out night one and automatically advises each night following what foods will be acceptable to them.

 

Free Style does not work for everyone nor is it their preference. We only sail on NCL if the ship is going to a location we want or if no other line is sailing at the time we wish to sail. Definitely not our first choice even though I am Platinum level.

 

MARAPRINCE

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When I went on my first cruise back in the early 80's and saw the same thing as late as mid 2000's they had the two dinner seatings. While group a was eating group B was in the theater. The during the late seating group B ate while group A was at the show.

 

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and the longest wait was 70 minutes. Our average wait was about 25-30 minutes. [/Quote]

Why didn't you just go to see how long the wait would have been at the other restaurant? It seems silly to wait for over an hour at one dining room when the other one might have had less of a wait.

after Day 1 and they will advise the person with dietary restrictions and point out the menu items with no dairy each night. On NCL, the waiters we had did not know the menu well enough to assist and delays occurred in bringing a Maitre D' or somebody else who knew ingredients in menu items to our table. Our lactose intolerant person had even notified the NCL Special Needs people of his dietary needs prior to the cruise, but the information apparently went nowhere as it was a struggle every night to identify menu choices prepared with no butter or other dairy products. [/Quote]

 

The person here should have met with the Maitre 'd the day prior to choose menu items, not wait until dinner to figure out what would be acceptable. The kitchen would have probably made special items if they had enough warning. .

 

Disney has a very interesting approach. There are 3 MDRs and you rotate, along with your waiters, among the three dining rooms, each with a different menu.

Judy[/Quote]

Yes, but you are still stuck with the same tablemates and set dining times.

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Why didn't you just go to see how long the wait would have been at the other restaurant? It seems silly to wait for over an hour at one dining room when the other one might have had less of a wait.

Of course that would be silly, and of course we checked! The wait in both MDRs was pretty much the same that night at 7:00pm - one told us 60 min, the other 65. We went with the 60 minute one, but it morphed into 70 min. The pager finally went off at 8:40. :(

 

The person here should have met with the Maitre 'd the day prior to choose menu items, not wait until dinner to figure out what would be acceptable. The kitchen would have probably made special items if they had enough warning.

Yeah, it seems like that would work, but unfortunately it did not. And the only special items offered were (ironically!) from Le Bistro on the night we ate there. (Ironic in the sense that the French style of cooking involves lots of dairy, but Le Bistro was the one place that truly accommodated and actually took the time to go over the menu in advance, despite the fact that every restaurant/MDR was (supposedly) given prior notice of the dietary restrictions from NCL Special Needs and the Exec Chef.)

 

Our lactose intolerant person, who is actually a chef himself in real life, met with the ship's Executive Chef on Day 1. (He played his chef card. Maybe he should have played his Maitre D' card.) Promises were made to have an annotated menu for MDR lunch and dinner that identified all non-dairy preparation choices sent to his suite daily, but it never happened. The concierge did give him daily lunch and dinner menus, but they were not annotated and items prepared with butter or other dairy were not identified. Only vegetarian and gluten free items were identified.

 

We all thought the best solution would be for NCL to simply designate dishes with no dairy on the daily menu in print for lactose intolerant people (like other cruise lines do.) This is not a small group, after all! NCL menus already designate Vegetarian and Gluten Free dishes, so surely it wouldn't be that hard to designate the items with no dairy. They wouldn't even have to reprint - you could do a few menus in each MDR with a Sharpie to be available for LI people. Training of the wait staff would also be helpful.

 

Yes, but you are still stuck with the same tablemates and set dining times.

Stuck with the same tablemates? We were a family group of 12 on Disney, and no strangers were invited to our table. You tell Disney what size table you want when you book, and that's what you get. The traditional dining times are consistent on Disney, of course, but our tablemates actually did vary daily as various people in our family group chose to eat in specialty restaurants, the buffet, or in-room-dining every night of the cruise except the first one. Having a reserved table, the exact right size to accommodate the whole family group if needed, was nice and gave all of us choices every night. It was there for those of us who wanted to eat in the MDR, and there was no waiting for a table. Ever. (We didn't look at our extended family cruise as being 'stuck' with each other at dinner - we requested the right size table for our group because we actually enjoy our annual cruises together and most of us always wanted to meet up for MDR dinner! Of course, your mileage with your family group may vary...:D)

 

I really wish it had been different on NCL! There were so many things about the cruise and the ship that I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, freestyle dining was not one of them and will probably be the deal breaker in the future since NCL has no traditional dining option. I much prefer cruise lines that give me choices - traditional or my time, ability to make reservations if I want, I just love having a choice - and NCL just doesn't offer me the dining choices I've enjoyed on other cruise lines.

(But I loved/loved/loved O'Sheehan's - outstanding 24/7 food! Better than any other cruise line for anytime meals and late night snacks! - and the little fishies in the carpet were super cool...:))

Judy

Edited by foxgoodrich

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In the old days, same table, table mates and waitstaff for all meals at fixed times wasn't too bad. After the first day or two, table mates became friends and things generally went well. (one cruise not so much but usually it was okay)

 

We always enjoyed having the same waitstaff and the last time we cruised Royal, we had My Time Dining and were able to have a table for 2 with the same staff BUT........... that was only for dinner. Breakfast and lunch was open seating and it was very difficult to get a table for 2 at breakfast or lunch in the MDR. A few times we were turned away and if they chose to accommodate us, we were sent off to the side for 10 - 15 minutes before being seated. We assumed that was "punishment" for not conforming.

 

NCL Freestyle has eliminated the stress and allows us to have our meals alone which is our preference. We'll strike up a conversation just about anywhere with anyone but neither of us want to dine with strangers.

 

Add to that, dress up, or not, and photographers set up most evenings for photos and NCL has all the bases covered!

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I remember that before Free Style NCL was the only ship that would guarantee you a table for 2 at your seating and shortly thereafter it went to Free Style. Its the reason I switched from Royal to NCL.

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NCL changed the entire industry, before it was all the same. Eat with strangers at a specific time, hungry or not.

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NCL changed the entire industry, before it was all the same. Eat with strangers at a specific time, hungry or not.

 

Yes. NCL often touts itself as the innovative cruise line that goes against the grain.

 

That's what the one little fish swimming in the opposite direction of all the others in the carpet on many NCL ships represents: independent, not going with the herd.

 

In case anyone doesn't know, that little fish has a name. He's called the "Rebellious Fish." From which the popular onboard drink was named.

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The person here should have met with the Maitre 'd the day prior to choose menu items, not wait until dinner to figure out what would be acceptable. The kitchen would have probably made special items if they had enough warning.

 

We have had several NCL cruises where our friends had special dietary requirements. They picked their meals out the day before and simply told the waiter there was a meal for them.

 

I can't imagine ever having a 60 minute wait on an NCL ship. We had a group of 7, and never waited more than 10 or 15 minutes for a table, even at peak times (we ate every dinner in one of the MDRs). I don't think the person who posted that mentioned the ship; we have been on the Epic but not the newer ships in the Breakaway class. Perhaps the person who posted that was on a mega ship and somehow, over the last few years, none of the regulars here have mentioned the problem. I think it is more likely that the staff forgot they were supposed to make a table for his or her party, and then remembered ten or fifteen minutes before they were called. Or they are mistaken or exaggerating for effect.

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If you have a large group, the set dining times that other lines have could be fine as often your group are the only ones at the table. I travel both with others and solo, and I really disliked my recent dining experience on Carnival as a solo the first night. My seat was at a table for 4, but only 3 people had been assigned. The other 2 people never showed up the first night or any night after. That is of course, their right, but it made me feel awkward as initially I tried to wait for them that first night. After that, I just brought my kindle and enjoyed my dining experience alone as I would at any restaurant locally if I went solo. I will say that my waitstaff was amazing! For going solo, I really prefer the freestyle method as I can either eat by myself or with friends I've made depending on what I feel like doing each night.

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I can't imagine ever having a 60 minute wait on an NCL ship. We had a group of 7, and never waited more than 10 or 15 minutes for a table, even at peak times (we ate every dinner in one of the MDRs). I don't think the person who posted that mentioned the ship; we have been on the Epic but not the newer ships in the Breakaway class. Perhaps the person who posted that was on a mega ship and somehow, over the last few years, none of the regulars here have mentioned the problem. I think it is more likely that the staff forgot they were supposed to make a table for his or her party, and then remembered ten or fifteen minutes before they were called. Or they are mistaken or exaggerating for effect.

 

 

Looking at their posting history, it seems to be the Star.

 

I certainly wouldn’t question anyone else’s experience, as I wasn’t there to see, but the wait times quoted do look very long, and much longer than you generally see people report (or than I have encountered personally).

 

I never had to wait at all on the Star for the MDR, but we are a smaller group and tend to eat fairly early, before the rooms have filled up. Having said that, 70 minutes is far longer than I ever recall having heard of people waiting (30 minutes would be notable).

 

Maybe there was a specific issue with that cruise.

 

I would however say that larger groups and freestyle often don’t seem to go together as well as you would hope. Arranging meals seems to be more of a struggle, as can be seen by the number of discussions on here started by people arranging such trips.

 

If there is a larger group who all want to eat together then NCL may not be the best choice. Just getting an allocated table does sound a lot easier than having to arrange it all in advance.

 

A group of 2-4 are unlikely to encounter the issues stated above. We certainly haven’t in any of our cruises.

 

 

 

 

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