I like the late seating because there is less kids and it seems (To me anyways) to be a little more formal. I think that it really depends on wheather you are the kind of person you does stay up later on vacation. I watch the ship pull away from port (my favorite part of cruising)then I take a nap (While my wife gets ready) and then get ready for the show and then dinner. We will usually have a drink or two (Sometimes three) before hand then go. We will also stay up later in the evening. However if you don't like to stay up late you will find yourself finishing dinnner, doing a lap around the ship and by then it is 10:30 and bedtime on a full tummy. We prefer the later one just because we tend to stay up later and still have a full day in port. One quick thing to remember about that. If you are in the earlier seating on formal nights you will have to head back to the ship by 3pm. By the time you get on board, your wife picks out her attire and gets ready it is already 5:00-5:30 and then a few quick pictures because after your tummies will be full of three courses of lobsters and a bottle of wine.
We've always done the earlier seating and never had a problem getting back in time. We eat around 6 pm at home, so it made sense for us. As everyone else has said, it's all up to your personal preferences!
Booked on Carnival Freedom, Feb. 2012 (Cozumel, Costa Rica, Panama)
NCL Gem, Sept. 2011
NCL Jewel, Feb. 2011
NCL Dawn, Sept. 2010
NCL Spirit, Feb. 2010
NCL Gem, March 2009
RCCL Explorer of the Seas, Feb. 2008
Carnival Miracle, May 2007
Carnival Conquest, April 2006
Caribbean Princess, Feb. 2005
We prefer the later seating,never even tried the early seating. By the time we get back on the ship, rest for a while, shower and change,it would be too much of a rushed situation. With the late seating, we take our time,still catch the early show and do it all at our leisure. After all, that's what cruisin is all about, isn't it.
We also like the later seating ourselves. Our assignment was changed to 8:30p from an earlier time and at first, I was disappointed, however, it worked out great. You have more time in the afternoon to do activities, eat (of course) and things are less crowded when the early dinner crowd is leaving to eat. Also, a later dining time gives you plenty of time to shower and get ready without rushing. We will always request a later time, but it is up to you! There are pros and cons to both times!
I have always preferred second seating for exactly the same reasons as llev80: it's the nicest time of day around the pools and there are fewer children at second seating, and it never seems rushed. We like to linger after a wonderful meal with coffee and maybe a cognac, and sometimes at early seating I feel like they can't wait for me to leave. Of course I understand they have a lot to do between seatings--so I just avoid the problem and go to second seating.
And I hate having to rush back from a shore excursion to be ready for dinner by 6:00. I know there are other choices for diner but I really prefer the main dining room.
I like late seating, I'm a night owl. I did early last cruise because my parents joined me and they eat early and go to bed early. I always felt rushed to get ready in time. If you get back from port and want a little time to relax before the clean up, dress up for dinner, there's just not as much time. Even though they may be adorable when they're happy, a dining room with lots of babies and todlers is not my favorite to enjoy a relaxing evening meal if they're not all happy campers. Early dining is the choice of most traveling with little ones.
I have crashed the early seating a few times to dine with friends. We did have our friends ask their waiter if it was ok first. I noticed alot more kids, and I have to agree, it did seem quite rushed compared to the late seating.
My husband and I are exactly your ages! We chose late seating for many of the already mentioned reasons. We really liked not having to rush back from our port stops to hurry up and try to make it to dinner. We also typically were still enjoying the sunshine until about 4 or 5 p.m. on sea days. On our ship, they had a sushi bar that opened from 5:30 to 7:30 and was the perfect "pre dinner" snack to tie us over for the late seating. We are typically the type to get to bed early, but hey, you're on a cruise, so enjoy every minute!