Not everybody wants to dine at the same table every night on their cruise, with the same people, or at the same time. Enter Freedom Dining, P&O Cruises’ solution for passengers who want more flexibility and the option to have dinner where they like, when they like and with whom they like.
What is it?
All seven of P&O Cruises’ existing ships have multiple main restaurants, in which dining is included in your cruise fare. Some are dedicated to Club Dining, for passengers who have opted for fixed sittings and an allocated table, while on each ship, one or more is allocated to Freedom Dining.
This is how it works: At the time of booking, you opt for either first sitting, at 6.30 p.m.; second sitting, at 8.30 p.m.; or Freedom Dining. With Freedom Dining, you can turn up any time between 6 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. The exception is the new Iona, launching in May 2020, on which all the main dining rooms will offer Freedom Dining, with no more assigned tables or sittings.
Freedom Dining only applies to evenings; the main restaurants are open seating for breakfast and lunch. The menu in all the restaurants is exactly the same, regardless of where you sit – five courses, or six on Gala nights, with menus on these nights designed by Marco Pierre White.
What table will you be on?
There are no guarantees at all what table you will be on with Freedom Dining; it’s first come, first served and the more specific your request, for example, a table for two by the window, the longer you may have to wait. Inevitably, a lot of people request tables for two, so you’ll take your place in the queue but you don’t have to hang around; the maitre d’ will give you a pager. The best thing to do then is sit in the nearest bar, enjoy a cocktail and wait till it bleeps. If you don’t mind sharing, or if you arrive in a group of four, six or eight, there’s a better chance you will get a table sooner.
What some cruisers don’t realise about Freedom Dining is that because you’ll be on a different table every night, you won’t develop the rapport and banter with your waiter that diners in Club Dining grow to enjoy. What’s no longer an issue, though, is the thorny topic of tipping. P&O Cruises now includes all tips in its fares, so your waiter will receive a gratuity whether they’ve served you once or 14 times during your cruise.
How can you make Freedom Dining work for you?
Learning to work the system may take a day or two as you figure out which are the busiest times for Freedom Dining. Plan your evening, though, especially if you want to see a show in the theatre. Showtimes are usually 8.45 p.m. and 10.45 p.m. so if you want to catch the early performance, don’t turn up at the Freedom Dining restaurant at 8 p.m. You need to factor in possible waiting times. Busy times for Freedom Dining tend to be early, as people are hungry at 6 p.m. and want to get their evening started, all the more so on P&O Cruises’ family friendly ships (Azura, Britannia, Oceana, Ventura and, from 2020, Iona). Or around 8 p.m., normal dinner time for a lot of people. And while you can in theory turn up at 9.30 p.m., it’s not advisable; the waiters will be winding down for the evening and you’ll probably feel rushed.
All P&O Cruises ships offer Freedom Dining, as follows:
- Arcadia, on the upper tier of the Meridian restaurant.
- Aurora, in the Medina restaurant.
- Azura, in the Meridian restaurant.
- Britannia, in the Meridian and Peninsular restaurants.
- Oceana, in the Ligurian restaurant.
- Oriana (leaving the fleet in 2019) in the Peninsular restaurant.
- Ventura, in the Cinammon and Saffron restaurants.
- Iona (from May 2020) in all main restaurants.