We have done 5 cruises and we always choose first. I don't thing there is any difference in crowds or quality at all. It's all about what your life-stye is. We like to eat early, take in a show, then a night-cap and call it a night.
We always eat early because I don't like eating the leftovers. Also by eating early you have the chance to pig out at the later on in the night.
The first cruise we went on we decided to eat at the second setting because we thought that this would give us more time in the ports. It really didn't matter. The ship usually departs before dinner and the formal nights are usually on sea days. The other is you can be a little late within reason, 10 minutes max. We have found that the later time was just too late. It is best to have dinner at your normal time. It is also easier to change to the late one from the early one.
I have went on four cruises... two I had late seating..the last two was early..
It is just a matter of choice....If you hit a lot of Islands sometimes it is better to have late seating because you have more time to get back on board and clean up for your late dinner.. we felt pretty rushed a few times getting there on time...but I never felt rushed in the dining area.... always had plenty of time to eat and relax before the late seating started...
I like early seating because by time dinner was served on late seating I had either already ate somewhere before going down and was not hungry or was starving...
And as someone on here said....by eatting earlier you were ready for your midnight snack or room service which I enjoy..
This is a subject of which you are going to get very differing opinions. I love to dine late! I am never rushed to get back to port, can enjoy getting ready for the evening leisurely and meet freinds for pre-dinner cocktails. Then dinner seems to go at a very leisuely pace (much to my liking). I have dined early, but my opinion may be somewhat schewed as it was always when I was with my daughter during a school break. During school holidays, there is a vast larger number of children at the first seating than the late seating. I can never say that any youth that have ever been seated with me have been anything less than stellar companions, but I do notice overall that there was a louder din in the dining room when it was packed with yourger cruisers.
I have also heard that there are more kids in the early seating, since the cruises tell parents that the kids should eat at the earlier ones, before they fall asleep (we always do the early seatings, since that's when we like to eat and we don't have any kids). I have never found any issues in the early seatings with being rushed or too many kids or anything.
Star Princess - December 2006
Adventure of the Seas - April 2005
Caribbean Princess - July 2004
Golden Princess - March 2003
Disney Magic - October 1998