Specialty Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas

In:
15Sep2016

Many of us know that Sabor Modern Mexican on Royal Caribbean cruise ships is one of the best-dept dining secrets in all of cruising.  But these days, it is become less of a secret, and more of an established must-eat!

Frankly, if your list of specialty restaurant reservations does not include Sabor, then you are missing out.

Having had an opportunity to cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, we could not resist dining at Sabor Modern Mexican on a few different occasions.

Atmosphere

One goal Royal Caribbean had with Sabor was to create a restaurant experience that was not just another typical American-Mexican restaurant. When you walk into Sabor, there is very little that would remind you of a typical Mexican restaurant.

The decor of Sabor features lots of blues, reds and yellows and the restaurant evokes a very bright mood with its festive, yet not over-the-top, design.

Seating in Sabor is functional and comfortable.  Much of the seating are tables that have booth and chair options, with a few smaller tables that have just chairs.  

Unlike Chops Grille or Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas, Sabor has no windows and is also considerably smaller in size. A view is always nice, but with the kind of food offered in Sabor, you will not want to look anywhere but what is on your plate.

The focal point of Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas are the colorful dahlia flowers that line the ceiling and wall of the restaurant.  It is quite pretty and a lovely backdrop.

Eats

After a busy day on Freedom of the Seas swimming, exploring and playing, lunch or dinner at Sabor is sure to please.

The Sabor menu on Freedom of the Seas retains many of the same options that are on other Royal Caribbean ships that offer a Sabor Modern Mexican restaurant, but there are some appetizers and entrees that are different on Freedom of the Seas.  Moreover, the drink menu of available cocktails has also been simplified, although the famous margaritas remain.  Nonetheless, there is a wide variety of Mexican classics, such as tacos, burritos and quesadillas.  There are also more sophisticated choices as well.  

If you party is large enough (more than 4 guests usually), the server will offer to bring all the appetizers out and serve them family-style.  Most of them can be enjoyed in this manner, with the exception of the soup.

Every table is served with table side guacamole and frankly, no Sabor meal is complete without the guacamole.  

In short, the Sabor guacamole is amazing and will more than likely become the best guacamole you have ever eaten.  Even if you have had guacamole for years or swore it off, you must try the guacamole at Sabor Modern Mexican.

In addition, chips and fresh pico de gallo salsa are served.  As much as I wax poetically about Sabor's guacamole, I have an unspoken love with Sabor's salsa.  Salsa is not so much a garnishment as it is a topping when I eat chips, and the salsa here has this salsa fiend's seal of approval.

The chicken-stuffed Jalapeños are the most popular options and when you read the description you will know why.  Chicken wrapped in bacon on a stick with Mexican garnishments.  Sold!

The queso fundido is also a winner, and not your typical cup of melted cheese.  This gooey and super-tasty appetizer is a great choice for even the pickiest of eaters.

While dining at Sabor, one must also indulge in the margaritas available exclusively at Sabor.  

There are five margaritas on the menu (plus a few other cocktails, including sangria) and they are like children. You do not have a favorite, but you might like one more than the other at any given time.  I highly recommend getting at least one margarita during the meal to compliment the food.

The Avocado and Jalapeño-Cucumber martinis are at the top of my list, but you cannot go wrong with any of them.  

Avocado margarita

Jalapeño-Cucumber margarita

The staff might also be able to create a Mezcal margarita, which is not listed on the menu but has a very distinct taste (reminds me of Rome burning).

The Sweet and Spice Margarita has a very unique taste to it, but is a great choice if you enjoy a non-traditional and somewhat spicy cocktail.

In terms of entrees, there are a lot to choose from and it is no easy decision.

The tacos are popular and I absolutely love the Tuna Crudo tacos, which are essentially ahi tuna tacos.  Amazing flavor and great fish!

Yes, I did order double tuna tacos.

I wanted to try something else new and ordered the Pato Gordo slow-cooked duck burrito.  I know what you are thinking, and I was thinking the same thing.  Duck is not exactly a typical burrito meat and moreover, duck is not usually my favorite meat.  But I gave it a try and I was so happy I did!

The Pato Gordo had incredible flavor and was much smaller than I was expecting.  While the Tuna Crudo tacos may be my absolute favorite entree on the menu, these burritos are really, really good too.

If you prefer a simpler entree, the quesadillas are all really good choices. They are large, oozing with freshly melted cheese and will hit the spot.

The Chicken and Roasted Corn Empandas are also very filling, and I enjoy topping them with the salsa and/or guacamole from earlier in the meal.

Every table will also receive an assortment of side dishes to enjoy with your meal.  Try them all, because they each will work well with whatever you order.

Arguably the most difficult aspect of dining at Sabor is leaving room for dessert.  Bring your stretchy pants because it is totally worth it!

Dessert is served to all guests on a tray and feel free to ask for more.  Royal Caribbean describes them as "Caja de Dulces", which means "box of sweets" and it is an indulgent selection of Mexican-inspired mini desserts.

All the desserts are rich, delicious and will leave you questioning why you ever ate anything earlier in the meal (Oh yea, it was because that food was awesome too).  

My top picks are the chocolate crepe filled with cayenne chocolate & marscapone sauce, chocolate & banana empanadas, cafe con leche.  I would not fault you for loving any of the others, because they are all outstanding.

Overall

Sabor Modern Mexican's great reputation remains unchanged.  While it may be hidden on deck 4 in what used to be a night club, savvy Royal Caribbean guests know this is where you go on your Royal Caribbean cruise for some of the best food onboard.

If it sounds like just about everything I sampled was excellent, then it is because that is exactly what happened.  There is a wonderful fix of Mexican favorites and contemporary classics to satisfy all guests.  There is as much flavor as there are options to choose from on the menu.

If you were to run into another Royal Caribbean fan and start talking about the amazing food onboard, most of the time a restaurant like Chops Grille gets mentioned, but Sabor is quickly on its way to becoming the best restaurant on a Royal Caribbean ship because of the tantalizing dishes available and incredible flavor each item has.  The word "sabor" means "flavor" in Spanish and few restaurants offer as much flavor as Sabor Modern Mexican.

Sabor Modern Mexican is open for lunch on sea days between noon - 1:30 p.m. and dinner every night between 5:30 p.m.- 9:30 p.m. for dinner. We reviewed Sabor Modern Mexican aboard Freedom of the Seas.

Cost: The price for Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas for lunch is $19 per guest and dinner is $29 per guest.

Review: Giovanni's Table for dinner on Navigator of the Seas

In:
18Jun2016

Nestled in the corner of deck 11 on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, Giovanni's Table is open for lunch and dinner.  When I have dined at Giovanni's Table in the past, I have tended to go for lunch, but this time I am trying out dinner.

Giovanni's Table has become the de-facto Italian restaurant across Royal Caribbean's fleet over the last few years.  I have always liked Giovanni's Table's simple, yet tasty menu that offers classic Italian dishes.  There is something to be said about having a plate of pasta in a delicious red sauce with warm bread to dip in olive oil.  

I was admittedly a little crushed when Portofino was replaced by Giovanni's Table.  But time heals all pain, as does a good lasagna!

We have dined at Giovanni's Table across a few different Royal Caribbean ships over the years, but wanted to try dinner this time, mostly because the dinner menu is slightly different than the lunch menu.

Atmosphere

You will find Giovanni's Table on deck 11, adjacent to the Windjammer entrance and opposite Chops Grille.  As you walk into the Windjammer area, the entrance to Giovanni's Table is on the left side.

There is a very small waiting area near the podium, along side a Vespa that is on display.

Giovanni's Table inherited its dining room from Portofino, and it is a rectangular room that opens up into a circular end room.  The layout resembles a lollipop, if you were viewing the restaurant from above.

The walls and ceiling are made up of a dark wood, while the carpeting and furnishings are a blend of blues, yellows and whites. One of the nice things about the transition from Portofino to Giovanni's Table is the feel of the restaurant definitely feels less formal and a bit more personal to me.  Maybe it is the Prosecco talking.

There are windows all along one side of the restaurant, and if you dine there early enough in the evening, you will have a lovely view of the ocean.  Once the sun goes down, the glare from the lights in the restaurant prevent being able to see outside.

Eats

As I mentioned earlier, the dinner menu at Giovanni's Table is slightly different from the lunch menu.  Most notably, the lunch menu has lasagna, while the dinner menu does not.  Both menus offer a steak, but many guests have reported back to me that the steak at dinner is significantly better.

The dinner menu features a number of familiar Italian classics, like anitpasti, eggplant marmigiana, ravioli, ossobuco and more. For those not into carb-loading, there are a few meat and fish entrees as well.

Each meal at Giovanni's Table begins with a serving of warm bread, plus olive oil for dipping. 

Warm bread and olive oil is always a win with me, and I love that they put a little bit of vinegar in the oil.  

For starters, we picked a few options. Some were favorites and others new to try.

The eggplant parm is a favorite of mine, despite the fact I really cannot find any breading.  

It is more of a baked eggplant in sauce and cheese. That is fine with me, but this is not the kind of eggplant parm you might get on a sandwich at your local deli.

We also tried for the first time the warm mozzarella and prosciutto bake.

It comes in a crispy ciabatta and served with mixed greens and Dijon mustard drizzle.  This is essentially fried cheese with prosciutto and tasted great.

I rounded out my appetizers with the vegetarian lentil and root vegetables soup.

I know what you are thinking, and yes, it is really hard to resist any dish that offers lentils and root vegetables.  Honestly, it was not that bad.  Perhaps not my favorite soup of all time, but I enjoyed it and I think it was kind of, sort of healthy.

Moving onto our main courses, we had to try the 8-ounce grilled beef tenderloin.  Everyone always said it was great, so who are we to argue?

This steak definitely is a superior cut of meat when compared to its lunch companion.  What I noticed was the terrific flavor, as well as size of the cut. I understand now why folks rave about the dinner steak.

I also wanted to try something new and ordered the grilled lamb chops.

My fear with lamp chops is there will be a mere handful of bites of actual meat to get off the bone, and resulting in a not very filling meal.  I am pleased to inform everyone these are no scrawny lamb chops and the meat was as plentiful as it was tasty.  Delicious flavor and certainly enough meat on the bone to keep me happy.

Given we are at an Italian restaurant, we ordered a side of pasta just to say that we had pasta.  

As expected, quite tasty and hit the spot.

I also tried the risotto, which is made of Arborio rice and forest mushrooms, finished with porcini and truffle mushroom tapenade.

I do not usually order risotto, but the mushrooms sounded great and I figured this would be as good an opportunity as any to try it out.

I loved the flavor of the dish, but the consistency of risotto still does not sit well with me.  Oh well, E la vita!

For our desserts, we went with the chocolate cake and cannoli.

Dessert is an underrated aspect of the Giovanni's Table experience and the cannoli is worth saving room (and calories) for.

Overall

I always enjoy my meals at Giovanni's Table, and this visit was no different.  I enjoyed the dinner menu a bit more than I thought I would, although I did lament the omission of lasagna from the menu. I inquired if it were possible to get lasagna, but was told it was only available for lunch.

Most of the food we ate was very good, and I would not hesitate to dine here again.  

The thing with Giovanni's Table that always gives me pause to dine here is not anything about the restaurant, but relative to the other specialty options onboard, I would rather dine there. On Navigator of the Seas, Sabor Modern Mexican and Chops Grille are fantastic choices that eclipse Giovanni's Table.  This is not a knock on Giovanni's Table, just I end up gravitating towards the other choices because they are where I would prefer to eat.

Anyone considering Giovanni's Table should absolutely reserve a table for the classic Italian dishes that will hit the spot.

What are your thoughts on Giovanni's Table? Do you have a favorite dish? Share in the comments below!

Photos from restaurants and bars on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas

In:
06Jun2016

Royal Caribbean posted new photos from many of the restaurants and bars aboard its newest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas.

Guests on Harmony of the Seas can enjoy a mix of casual venues, comfortable sit-down eateries and upscale dining.

Restaurant Review: Izumi on Navigator of the Seas

In:
01Jun2016

There are certain times I really love doing research for this blog, and when I get a chance to dine at Izumi on any Royal Caribbean ship, that would be one of those moments.

While on Navigator of the Seas I took the opportunity (okay, it was more like multiple opportunities) to dine at Izumi and try out a few different dishes. The reason why I relish returning to Izumi time and time again is because I am a self-diagnosed sushi fanatic and the sushi Izumi serves up has been consistently very, very good.

I also aspired on this trip to try something completely new (to me) on the menu and break out of my habit of ordering the same rolls.  How did I manage? How much sushi did I eat on one cruise? Read on to find out!

Atmosphere

Izumi is located on Deck 14 of Navigator of the Seas, adjacent to the Cosmopolitan Club in the Viking Crown of the ship.  Of all the specialty restaurants on Navigator of the Seas, it is probably the easiest to miss out on because there is not nearly as much foot traffic up there, compared to where other specialty restaurants are located.

Walking into Izumi, you will notice one of the best aspects of the restaurant experience that is not directly tied to food: the views!

Izumi overlooks the ocean and the pool deck, which makes lunch time or early evening seatings quite desirable because you have some of the best views on Navigator of the Seas to enjoy a meal with.

The restaurant is one large, slightly curved room with mostly tables, some half-booths along one wall and bar seating.

Walking into Izumi and you will definitely notice the magenta and black motif, along with some eye-catching pop art along the walls.  

Izumi is an interesting blend of traditional Japanese dining mixed with a contemporary feel.

Eats

As you might imagine, Izumi is well known for their sushi (I believe I mentioned their sushi a few times already in just this post), but they do offer some other great Japanese cuisine.

Dining at Izumi means you will pay for your items a la carte, instead of there being a cover charge.  If you are on a Royal Caribbean specialty dining package, you will get $30 per guest allocation for your meal. You can read the entire Izumi menu and get an idea of prices and what is available.

Every meal at Izumi starts with a warm towel that you wash your face and hands with and a complimentary bowl of edamame.

Edamame is a kind of soybean that comes in a pod that is steamed and served with salt.  You pop the soybeans in your mouth like peanuts, discarding the pod.  These are highly addictive!

I dined at Izumi a couple of times on my cruise and on one occasion I was glancing at the drink menu and noticed the "Call a cab! Sakirita" listed.  I am a sucker for cleverly named drinks, so I had to try it.

I was concerned it would be overly sweet, but the drink was surprisingly smoother than I was expecting and I did not feel like my blood sugar levels were going to shoot up either.  Very tasty and it certainly put a smile on my face.

Anytime I have sushi, I always start my meal with a bowl of miso soup.  Izumi makes a darn good miso soup and it is the perfect starter for everything else to come.

In terms of main courses, there is a lot to choose from. Izumi is not a "one trick pony" that offers just a few sushi rolls. There are salads, soups, hot rocks and of course, plenty of sushi.

If you like sushi as much as I do, the sushi combos really offer some tremendous value.  My favorite is the DX Sushi Combo: 8 pieces of nigiri, 2 tamago and 8 pieces of spicy tuna roll for $16. 

While the value is good, the sushi is even better and it has become my go-to sushi dish of choice.

As I mentioned earlier, I also wanted to try something brand new to me and something I have never had at Izumi before.

I picked the Ahi and Albacore Tataki Salad, partly because it sounded good and partly because it was listed on the menu as a chef's recommendation.

This is a great pick if you are looking for something low-carb (there is no rice) or like to combine sushi-grade fish with a great assortment of greens. I thought it was a terrific salad and quite a large serving.

I still had to order some sushi, and went with a great standard: yellowtail.

Overall

As someone that loves sushi and dines at plenty of Japanese restaurants on land, I really love what Izumi offers on Navigator of the Seas (and across Royal Caribbean's fleet in general). Great quality sushi at reasonable prices leave me happy and satisfied.

One of the advantages of Izumi being a la carte pricing is that you can drop in for a bowl of soup and a roll and not have to spend a lot of money.  Whether you want a full meal experience or just something quick, I have always found Izumi to handle what I need.

I really feel like their menu is varied enough to meet the needs of pretty much anyone that enjoys Japanese cuisine. There are the usual "starter" sushi rolls (California rolls, rainbow rolls, etc) as well as the more adventurous rolls.  There is no lowest common denominator and I think that really works to make the restaurant as popular as it has become with Royal Caribbean fans.

There is plenty to try at Izumi and it is a fantastic spot for lunch, dinner or something inbetween.

Izumi is open for dinner from 6:00pm to 9:30pm and for lunch on most sea days from noon to 1:30pm. We reviewed Izumi on Navigator of the Seas.

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Navigator of the Seas

In:
24May2016

I have a little secret, and it is something you probably are keenly aware of if you have been reading Royal Caribbean Blog for a while.  I have some serious favorites among Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants.

But when it comes time to discuss some of the best choices for specialty dining, there are a lot of great choices out there.  Still, relative newcomer Sabor Modern Mexican continues to win my heart since it opened just a few years ago.

If you are wondering why, there are lots of reasons for that.  The restaurant boasts, in my opinion, the best guacamole I have ever eaten - some even better than guacamole in Mexico.

And truth be told, we make multiple reservations at Sabor Modern Mexican whenever we cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship that offers this restaurant in the name of "research" and seeing what is different, new and just plain tasty.

Atmosphere

Stepping into Sabor Modern Mexican for the first time, you will likely be struck by a couple of things.

First, while Sabor Modern Mexican is a Mexican restaurant, it looks nothing like the kind of Mexican restaurants most folks dine at.  Royal Caribbean designed Sabor Modern Mexican to not be just another Tex-Mex spot.  Rather, they wanted to offer more authentic and fresh options.

I really love the colors of Sabor, with lots of dark reds, bright yellows and deep blues.

Second, you are very likely to notice crew members if you happen to glance around (especially at dinner).  It is always a good sign when you see crew members dining at a given restaurant, because it indicates they like it enough to go there on their time off (and on their dime).  

For a restaurant that is not that large in size, they fit a lot of tables and booths in.  

There is even a main table that will make you feel like the guests of honor, if you happen to dine here.  I am told there is nothing special to do to dine there, just request it if your dining party is large enough.

The other design element that you are likely to spot is the use of flowers.  Specifically, the dahlia flower, which is the official flower of Mexico. 

Eats

In Spanish, the word "Sabor" means flavor, and Royal Caribbean designed this menu to be a fiesta for all your senses.

An easily overlooked aspect of your Sabor meal are the beverages.

Sabor features a number of specialty drinks, including two hand-crafted margaritas that are made table-side.

There are no mixes here, the margaritas are a blend of tequila and fresh juices mixed with unexpected garnishes. 

The Sweet and Spice Margarita and the Sabor Grand Margarita are the premier choices, but you can pick from another half-dozen cocktails that are just as tasty and creative.

If you fancy yourself a margarita fan, I think you will really enjoy the variety of margarita choices.  You have the traditional margaritas (Sabor Grand and Simply Perfect), but there are also the avocado and jalapeno-cucumber margaritas.

Sabor is also a wonderful place to try tequilas, because their tequila flights are exquisite and quite potent.  They are a tremendous value and really do the trick.

To help soak up some of those drinks, you will be served chips and salsa upon being seated.

The chips are definitely not from a bag and the salsa is freshly made pico de gallo that I recommend keeping some always around to garnish your other dishes (in addition to crazily dipping your chips).

Of course, if we are talking about Sabor, then there is always one word that comes to mind: GUACAMOLE!

Sabor has built its reputation among Royal Caribbean fans (including this one) for its amazing hand-crafted guacamole.

A crew member will wheel over a cart to your table and ask how you would your guacamole prepared, so it suits your tastes.  You can get it extra hot, extra mild, no tomatoes, extra limes....whatever you like.

Regardless of how it is prepared, the stuff comes out simply outstanding.  Excellent flavor and texture combined with super-fresh ingredients.  It is the gold standard of guacamole I judge all other guacamole against.

Perhaps the worst thing I can say about Sabor is at this point in the meal, it is really difficult to exercise some self control to not fill up on just the food and drink I have described up to this point.

Moving onto the dishes, there are a lot of choices.  Sabor Modern Mexican has a simple cover charge, so you can order as many dishes as you want.

Our two favorite appetizers are the sopa de tortilla and queso fundido.

Both are great starters.  Even on a hot Caribbean day, the soup really hits the spot with its bold flavor.

The queso is more firm than your average cheese dip, and the dipping tortillas are an excellent contrast to the traditional chips you might use as well.

While I often wax poetically about the virtues of Sabor's guacamole, the "sleeper hit" of the menu has to be tuna crudo tacos.

The recipe is simple enough: 3 crispy corn tortillas, fresh tuna, salsa mexicana, guacamole.  

The thing is, they taste amazing and I could easily order just these and be happy.

I also tried for the first time the spicy chicken flauta, which are rolled tortillas, filled with a spicy chicken.

It is served with sour cream, salsa verde and tomatoes and onions, but this is the perfect dish to take some of that salsa you have on the table and drench these bad boys in it.

While it is safe to say the tuna tacos are still my favorite, the flautas are another great choice.

Speaking of great choices, Sabor's quesadillas are really quite tasty.

If you ask me, what makes a quesadilla different than just "Mexican grilled cheese" are the cheeses used.  In the tres quesos quesadilla, there is melted Monterey Jack, queso fresco and Chihuahua cheeses. It is a really solid combination.

If you like a little more variety in your quesadillas, try the El Juarez.

Portobello mushrooms, roasted poblanos and Oaxaca cheese are great for vegetarians or people that just like something tasty.  Again, use that salsa liberally to really turn up the flavor.

If there is one aspect of the Sabor Modern Mexican meal that goes unheralded and unrequited, it has be the desserts.

Sabor serves up a dessert sampler plate of a few different desserts and each is worthy of a plate of its own.

Unlike children, I do not have any problems choosing favorites. 

The chocolate banana empanadas and the chocolate crepes are, well, amazing.

The empanadas are warm, gooey blend of chocolate and banana in a fried casing.  Apologies for the drool on your keyboard.

The crepes are best described as "Mexican devil dog cakes".  It was worth the likely week of exercise required to burn away those calories.

Overall

As you can tell, I really love this place.  Sabor hits all the right notes with me, with its offerings of traditional and modern Mexican food.

I could be satisfied with just parts of this menu as a meal, so to combine them all only leaves me lamenting my stomach is not larger.

Arguably the main issue with dining at Sabor is the same issue nearly all specialty restaurants have: is it worth the extra cost?

In general, I think Royal Caribbean does a tremendous job with its specialty restaurants.  They offer food that is either nonexistent elsewhere on the ship or nowhere near the same quality. In fact, specialty restaurants are now a part of the cruise experience, just like shore excursions have been for years.  Yes, it costs extra, but it is a big part of the experience.

When you consider how many dishes I absolutely loved - the guacamole, salsa, tuna tacos, quesadillas, dessert sampler - it really justifies the additional cost because the meal at Sabor is a home run.

There are also ways to save on the cost of your Sabor meal: lunch is regularly cheaper than dinner ($5 less at last check) and there were special discounts offered if guests booked a reservation at one of the guacamole demonstrations held around Navigator of the Seas.

Add some fun cocktails, festive atmosphere and table-side fun, and you have a memorable Royal Caribbean meal.

Is Sabor Modern Mexican one of your favorite Royal Caribbean dining destinations? Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts!

Restaurant Review: Johnny Rockets on Navigator of the Seas

In:
20May2016

While onboard Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, my daughter insisted on having lunch at her favorite specialty restaurant: Johnny Rockets.

My daughter was drawn to Johnny Rockets' no-frills atmosphere that serves up some really tasty comfort food.  Burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes are all available for a nominal fee.

With my daughter's passion for 1950's fare in mind, we re-visited Johnny Rockets on Navigator of the Seas once more to see how this favorite on land and sea holds up.

Atmosphere

Johnny Rockets on Royal Caribbean's Voyager- and Freedom-class ships are so similar, I would wager one could not easily tell the difference between any two of them if they were blindfolded.

That is not a bad thing, just a statement on the restaurant's consistency with its sea-based implementation.

Guests dining at Johnny Rockets will find the burger joint on the rear of the ship, up on deck 12.  It is located just before the sports deck activities.

The restaurant is divided into an indoor dining area and an outdoor dining area.

The indoor dining is very typical of any Johnny Rockets you may have been to on land, whereas the outdoor seating seems to be uniquely Royal Caribbean.  Depending on weather conditions, eating outside will either be greatly preferable or impossible.  It really depends on your tolerance for the conditions.

Given the climate controlled environment of the inside restaurant, it seems like most guests prefer to be seated there.

Once inside, you have a combination of booths and bar seating.  

The restaurant is meant to evoke a 1950's diner feel, with plenty of chrome, red (p)leather and classic music tunes to hear.

Music is a big part of the experience at Johnny Rockets, with certain songs highlighted periodically throughout your meal, where the wait staff will get up and dance for your amusement.  

There are jukeboxes at every table, but they were not functional for our meal.  Quite frankly, I cannot recall a Royal Caribbean cruise on any ship where the machines actually worked.

One side of the restaurant has large glass windows, which gives a nice view of the ocean and other guests passing by.

Eats

Dining at Johnny Rockets is simply about enjoying classic American food: burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, floats and the like.

Every meal begins with a plate of fries and onion rings.  These will be refilled as needed, provided you can make a dent in them.

Johnny Rockets has a $6.95 per guest cover charge, and that cost includes all food and drink, minus milk shakes.  Soda is included in your cover charge, which comes in a variety of varieties and flavors.

My daughter absolutely loves their hot dogs.  I wish I could tell you why, but it is cooked well and not burnt (heaven forbid anyone that burns my daughter's hot dog) and seems to be her favorite.

I opted for the Streamliner, which is a veggie burger.  I have eaten many veggie burgers in my day, but Johnny Rockets' veggie burger is really quite good.

Top it with grilled onions and mushrooms and I presume this as close as we will all get to the feeling my daughter has when eating her hot dog.

My wife chose a cheeseburger and my youngest daughter gnawed on a grilled cheese.

Both were great choices and essentially are good examples of why Johnny Rockets has been so successful over the years.

You can order as much food as you like from the menu, so feel free to go crazy with multiple entrees. 

The milk shakes are the real deal, with a combination of ice cream and milk that is stirred by machine.  That is important to note since many times ice cream in a cup is passed off as a milk shake.

Perhaps the one negative I can say about Johnny Rockets is regardless of how busy or empty the restaurant is, meals just take a while here.  Not certain why, but do not expect a 20 minute quick meal here.

Overview

The best reason to go to Johnny Rockets is the same reason my daughter wanted to go: sometimes, you just want a really good hot dog or burger.

At $6.95 per person, it is still a great value when you consider it includes all the food you can eat, as well as sodas.  A soda outside the restaurant would cost you about $2 each and there is no cherry or vanilla flavoring options.

The Johnny Rockets food will likely not "wow" you with flavor, but it usually hits the spot.  Once you find your go-to menu item, it is hard to go wrong.

The milk shakes are always great choices and when you combine a good shake, burger and some onion rings, you have the recipe for a pretty good meal.

Review: Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar on Allure of the Seas

In:
17Mar2016

One of my favorite Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants has been Sabor Modern Mexican, which is available on Navigator of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas.  So when I cruised on Allure of the Seas, this was my opportunity to see this slight variation on the original Sabor concept with Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar.

Unlike the original Sabor restaurants, Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar is an a la carte experience, where you pay for only what you order.  In addition, there are some menu variations compared to the original.

Being a fan of Sabor on other ships, it was not much of a stretch for me to visit Sabor on Allure of the Seas and see if this variation is as good as I remember on other ships.

Atmosphere

Sabor is located in the Boardwalk neighborhood, having replaced Rita's Cantina in a recent refurbishment.  It is across the Boardwalk from Johnny Rockets.

Sabor is an open air restaurant, with covered and uncovered dining areas and there is plenty of space too.  For a specialty restaurant, Sabor offers a lot of dining capacity.

Sabor is also one of the more colorful restaurants, with a color motif that differs greatly from Sabor Modern Mexican.  On Allure of the Seas, there is lots of light blues, pinks and some oranges.  Sabor Taqueria feels more like the kind of restaurant you would find near a beach than Sabor Modern Mexican.

Guests can sit at the bar, tables or booths.  We visited Sabor about 4 times throughout our cruise (for "research" purposes), and finding an available table was never a problem.

The colors of Sabor are quite striking and it is a rather eye pleasing restaurant to eat at.  

Eats

What has historically attracted me to Sabor on any Royal Caribbean ships has been the really tasty food, so I had high expectations for what is served up here.

The Sabor Taqueria menu is similar to Sabor Modern Mexican's menu, but not identical.  If you have dined at Sabor Modern Mexican, you will find some favorites, but it is not exactly the same.

All Sabor menus incorporate traditional Mexican dishes along with more contemporary options.  Sabor's food is less about Tex-Mex, and more about serving up authentic Mexican dishes.

As you area seated, guests are served complimentary chips and salsa.  The salsa is freshly made (nothing out of a jar) and served with tortilla chips that also do not taste like they came out of a bag.  The fact this traditional Mexican starting dish tastes fresh is always a good sign.

Sabor has built its reputation on its tableside guacamole, which I always order and recommend.

After ordering the guacamole, your waiter will return with a cart filled with guacamole ingredients and will create this delicious dish in front of you and to your specifications (spicy or not spicy, extra lime, etc).

My personal recommendation is to ask for extra lime.  

Sabor also serves up a menu of featured margaritas.  Unlike the margaritas at Sabor Modern Mexican, these are not created tableside.  

While I miss the show aspect of having the drinks made in front of me, nonetheless, they tasted really good and I would definitely rate the avocado and jalapeño-cucumber margaritas as great choices.

Speaking of drinks, if you enjoy a good tequila, be sure to consider the tequila flights offered.  

The horizontal tequila flight is always pleasing and I can tell you from experience that it certainly satisfies.

In terms of the appetizers and entrees on the menu, there is a lot to choose from.

The Oaxacan ceviche of red snapper was pretty good and the tortilla soup was also quite good.

If you like gazpacho (cold tomato soup), Sabor's gazpacho is also quite good.

For entrees, you will choose between tacos, quesadillas and the main courses.

The tacos and quesadillas are easily shareable and priced quite reasonably ($5 for a plate).  

My absolute favorite dish at Sabor is the Tuna Crudo tacos.  It is some of the tastiest ahi tacos you will ever eat.

For picky eaters or those that enjoy a good "safe food", you cannot go wrong with the tres quesos quesadilla. It always hits the spot.

For the main dishes, we tried the mole short rib and pan-seared red snapper.

The short rib was something new that I wanted to try and it was a very tender cut of beef in a mole sauce.  For beef lovers, this is your dish.

The red snapper was also great as a main course and I enjoyed this more than the red snapper ceviche appetizer.  I especially like the mango-papaya salsa it is served with, as it really adds to the dish's flavor.

Without a doubt, the overlooked options on Sabor's menu are the sides and desserts.  

It may be difficult to leave room for them, but they are really quite good choices.  

The yucca fries and banana and chocolate chimichanga are the standouts.

Overall

Sabor Taqueria lived up to my expectations from dining at Sabor Modern Mexican, but there were a few subtle differences between the two that I picked up on that I think leaves me preferring Sabor Modern Mexican just a bit.

The best thing about Sabor Taqueria is the fact it is priced a la carte, which means it is much easier to stop in for guacamole, a margarita and maybe an entree without committing to the full cover charge price found at Sabor Modern Mexican.

I mentioned earlier that I ate at Sabor on four separate occasions while on Allure of the Seas and I can guarantee you that would not have been the case if it had a cover charge.  Being able to drop in and have a drink with chips or just order tacos is a terrific perk.

The reason I give the edge to Sabor Modern Mexican are some of the minor differences between the two experiences.  I like having the tableside margarita option and the food menu at Sabor Modern Mexican is larger. Plus, I think I like the atmosphere of the enclosed restaurant a bit more than the open air option.

Nonetheless, anyone going on Allure of the Seas should strongly consider Sabor Taqueria because it is priced reasonably and if all you do is order the guacamole, a few drinks and tacos, you would still be quite happy with the experience.

For anyone with an unlimited alcohol package, Sabor is a great choice because of how many drink options there are and many are covered by the drink packages.  You can really get value from your drink package by using it at Sabor.

The bottom line is dine at Sabor Taqueria for great tasting Mexican food and drinks, especially if you are looking for somewhere quick and easy to get in and out.

Review: Izumi on Allure of the Seas

In:
02Mar2016

Perhaps no Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant has spread as quickly and has been as well received as Izumi.

Izumi has become a favorite go-to restaurant for me on my Royal Caribbean cruises, and on Allure of the Seas, I had the chance to dine there on three separate occasions.

Izumi offers guests high quality sushi at a reasonable price and has been well received by guests and crew members alike.  

It is well worth a visit for lunch, dinner or just a quick bite to eat and is conveniently located on deck 4, near the main dining room.

Let's take a look.

Atmosphere

Guests who have sailed on Allure of the Seas in years past may remember Izumi being located high up on deck 16, overlooking the pools.  

In a somewhat recent ship refurbishment, Royal Caribbean moved Izumi down to deck 4 to give it much more room and a better location.

The restaurant is located near the Grande dining room, near the stairs on the port side of the ship.

Walking into Izumi, you will be greeted in a room filled with dark reds, browns and blacks.

The restaurant is divided into two sections: one dining area for those eating sushi and other Japanese cuisine, and another section for the hibachi.

This review will focus on the sushi side, but it is worth noting the restaurant offers both experiences.

Once inside Izumi, you quickly get that feeling of being in a Japanese restaurant.

The seating area is comprised of one large room, with optional seating at the sushi bar.

During the day, there are large windows offering a view to the ocean.

Izumi is a colorful restaurant that has its own unique look that is not found elsewhere on Allure of the Seas.  Izumi strikes me as somewhere that certainly evokes a Japanese motif and sets the right tone for the upcoming meal.

Eats

On Allure of the Seas, we dined at Izumi three times during our cruise, both for lunch and dinner.  

Izumi's menu offers a lot of variety and it is not just sushi, although sushi is a big part of it.

Guests can choose from salads, noodle soups, carpaccio and appetizers.  Of course, there is quite a lot of sushi to choose from as well.

Unlike Izumi on other Royal Caribbean ships, Izumi on Allure of the Seas does not feature ishiyake (hot rocks), presumably because of the hibachi option.

There is no cover charge to dine at Izumi, guests are seated at their table and will pay a la carte pricing for all items on the menu.

All guests receive a complimentary bowl of edamame soy beans, sprinkled with salt. It is a delicious appetizer and I highly recommend trying them.

Our group opted for a combination of sushi and non-sushi choices.  Our group ranged from die-hard sushi fans to those who preferred cooked food.

Starting things off was the pork gyoza dumpling that is served with gyoza sauce.

The dumplings were quite tasty and cooked just right (not too hard, not too soft).

To me, no sushi meal is complete without a bowl of miso soup.

The Windjammer offers most mornings a make-your-own miso soup option and suffice to say, the Izumi miso soup was significantly superior.  

One of our friends was vegetarian and ordered the shrimp and vegetable tempura appetizer.

My grandfather used to say that it is difficult for any food that is fried to taste bad, and certainly tempura vegetables follow that rule as well.  Eating your vegetables was never so tasty!

My wife ordered the nabeyaki udon soup, which is a collection of shrimp and assorted Asian vegetables cooked in dashi stock with udon noodles. 

Of course, the focus of our meal was the sushi.

Izumi's sushi ranges in choice from basic nigiri/sashimi rolls, to signature rolls and even a few of the chef's signature rolls.

Izumi also features sushi combination dishes, that offer a tremendous value for the price.

My favorite go-to combination dish at Izumi is the DX Sushi Combo.  Not only is it a great assortment of rolls, but you cannot beat the price.  

The sushi was well-prepared and offered some really great tastes.  What I like about Izumi is that the sushi here is more than just regular sushi that you can find anywhere.  Rather, Izumi offers high quality sushi choices that combine different ingredients to give a really interesting and unique taste.

In addition, the amount of sushi offered in any of the rolls we ordered was quite high.  There is no skimping on quality or quantity when dining at Izumi.

There is also something to be said about presentation, and the sushi chefs at Izumi do a fantastic job at making their food as pretty to look at as it is to eat.

Overall

There is one good way to determine if an ethnic restaurant has good food, and that is if you spot a lot of guests dining there that are originally from that part of the world, where the food is from.  On Royal Caribbean cruise ships, the best way to tell if a specialty restaurant is good is by how many crew members you spot eating there.

Consistently, I have seen many crew members dining in Izumi or stopping by for take out and that is a microcosm of an example that shows how good Izumi really is.

When you consider how quickly Izumi has spread across Royal Caribbean's fleet since the first one debuted on Oasis of the Seas just six years ago, it is quite impressive.

Izumi on Allure of the Seas did not disappoint and continued in the tradition of offering high quality Japanese cuisine that tastes really good.

The staff at Izumi is quite attentive and willing to work with any special requests you may have in order to ensure you have a great time.

In the grand scheme of Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, Izumi stands out as a fabulous option for a night out or just an afternoon bite to eat.  The prices are quite fair (especially compared to land based sushi restaurants) and the fact it is on a cruise ship does not provide an excuse to compromise on the experience.

If you want great Japanese cuisine (especially sushi), be sure to make a reservation (or three) at Izumi.

What do you think of Izumi? Please let us know with a comment!

Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants for lunch

In:
14Jan2016

Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants have become quite popular with guests for the amazing food, expanded variety and excellent values they offer.  While most guests enjoy specialty restaurants at dinner, many are open for lunch too.

Lunch can be a great time to try a specialty restaurant or visit a favorite again because it offers additional slots to eat at the restaurant and often at a reduced price, compared to dinner.

If you are considering a specialty restaurant on your next Royal Caribbean cruise, be sure to look for their lunch hours and keep this information in mind.

Lunch hours

Select specialty restaurants will be open for lunch on your Royal Caribbean cruise, primarily on sea days.

Check your Cruise Compass for specific days and times, but usually you will find specialty restaurants open for a few hours for lunch on sea days.

In almost all cases, advanced reservations via the Cruise Planner are not possible and guests are encouraged to walk up to the restaurant and ask to be seated.

On embarkation day, some ships will have their specialty restaurants open for lunch, while others may not.  

Lunch prices

Generally speaking, specialty restaurants with a cover charge will have a reduced price to dine at them for lunch.

In the past, we have seen these types of prices for lunch

For restaurants that are a la carte, there generally is no change in pricing.

While embarkation day dinner at specialty restaurants usually offer a 20% discount, the same is not true for lunch.

Lunch menus

The menus between lunch and dinner do not often change much, but the lunch menus can be slimmed down a bit compared to dinner.

At Sabor Modern Mexican, we have seen a few items missing from the lunch menu menu and at Giovanni's Table, a smaller steak was offered with lunch.

At Izumi, some of the non-sushi items are left off the menu.

The exact differences in menu options and choices between lunch and dinner will vary from ship to ship.

Review: Chops Grille on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
22Dec2015

Perhaps no specialty restaurant is as well known (or liked) on Royal Caribbean cruise ships as Chops Grille.

Over the years, Chops Grille has seen her fair share of changes, but it remains a fan favorite restaurant for the high quality food offered.  

While on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, we just had to go back and try Chops one more time and see if all the admiration it receives is deserved.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 6 of Brilliance of the Seas, Chops Grille is right outside the Schooner Bar and is the only specialty restaurant that was not a recent addition.

The restaurant is essentially one large room, with booth tables along the sides, some smaller tables by the windows and larger tables in the interior.

There is an open kitchen, which allows guests to watch the "action" in the kitchen from tables close enough to get a view.

In the evening, the lights are dimmed and it certainly feels like you are dining in a fine steakhouse, with the dark and light browns contrasting against the white tablecloths and plates.

What is interesting about Chops Grille is fleet wide, the experience inside is pretty much the same and all Chops Grilles have a very similar flow.

Food

Though the focus at Chops Grille is naturally on the steaks, there are plenty of other things to talk about as well.

To begin the meal, a plate of warm bread with butter is served.  

My wife swears this is the best butter ever.  We are not certain what is in it, but it just tastes really good.  Certainly a great start to the meal.

Admittedly, it is often difficult to not over eat just the bread, but you must avoid the temptation because the food that is forthcoming is always worth it.

There are quite a few appetizers to choose from, and it sets the tone for the entire meal of there being too much good food to try for one stomach to handle.

For salads, we tried the mesclun salad and the crispy goat cheese salad.

Both are freshly made and good starts to our meal.  Plus, eating a salad before hitting the "heavy stuff" totally offsets the calories, right?

The signature appetizers offer some of the best food that do not end in the word "steak".  

The charred beef carpaccio is some of the thinnest and tastiest slices of beef I have ever had.  

The beef carpaccio has been a staple of the Chops Grille menu for years and something I always have to order.

However, the award for most impressive appetizer goes to the grilled black pepper bacon. 

Comparing this slab of slow-cooked Berkshire pork to bacon you might get at a diner is like comparing a 12 year old Pee Wee football player to an NFL linebacker.  

This is a massive serving of bacon and among bacon aficionados, it is a must-order.

For our entrees, I went "off the reservation" and actually did not order a steak.  Please, hold your fire!

In an effort to document all aspects of the Chops Grille experience (and to watch my girlish figure), I opted to order something other than steak.  

I asked my waiter if he recommended the Everything Crusted Tuna or the Snapper Veracruz and without hesitation, he pointed me to the tuna.

As the name implies, everything is indeed crusted on this tuna and it was mighty good.  

I love tuna and this was definitely a great piece of fish and I enjoyed the Asian inspired seasoning.  

Fret not, steak fans, because my wife went with old faithful: the "petite" filet mignon.

The steaks at Chops Grille have been historically great and this time was no different.  A beautiful piece of meat and cooked to perfection.  I may or may not have snuck a few bites in from my side of the table.

For dessert, I do not even read the dessert menu because I always order the same thing and regret nothing!

Yes my friends, I always order the red velvet cake.

I do not care about what it used to be or anything else. It is still really, really good and arguably the best red velvet cake I eat every time.

We also ordered the chocolate mud pie, which is a rich chocolate cake served with a berry sauce.

By this point in the meal, we were stuffed, so it was time to waddle out of the restaurant with the knowledge of another great Chops Grille meal complete.

Overall

I have eaten at Chops Grille on a number of Royal Caribbean cruise ships and each time I have a great experience and this meal on Brilliance of the Seas was no different.

I feel the consistently good meals at Chops Grille are why so many guests come back time and time again.  In fact, it is not unusual to hear about guests that dine at Chops Grille on multiple nights of their cruise.  It really is that darn good.

Chops Grille offers a lot of food and we did not even try the dry aged steaks this time (for our review of the dry aged steaks, check out our Navigator of the Seas review).  However, that is the strength of the menu that you can order so many options and still come away with a great meal.

Chops Grille excels at all aspects of the meal and it is because of this consistency that it is hard to ever go wrong with dining here.

What are your thoughts on Chops Grille? Leave us a comment and tell us about it below!

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