Specialty Restaurants

Sabor Modern Mexican becomes Sabor Indian Cuisine on Navigator of the Seas

In:
24Jul2017

While Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas is offering cruises from the United Kingdom this summer, the cruise line has temporarily changed Sabor Modern Mexican to Sabor Indian Cuisine to cater to the tastes of its British cruisers.

Amanda Scriven-Purcell shared photos on Facebook of the changeover, with a look at the Indian food offered.

Royal Caribbean Blog reader Craig Duncan is also on Navigator of the Seas, and indicated the change was made on the current sailing to cater to the U.K. market.

This is not the first time Royal Caribbean has made a temporary change to its specialty restaurants.  On Radiance of the Seas, Rita's Cantina became Rita's Crabshack while the ship was in Alaska.

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

In:
18Jul2017

I believe it was the great American thinker, Cher, who postulated, "do you believe in life after love" and I had to consider the same conundrum when it came to trying Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar on Harmony of the Seas following a recent menu change.

Ever since the Sabor specialty restaurant debuted on Navigator of the Seas in 2014, I fell in love with the whole menu, but the tuna crudo tacos held a special place in my heart.  They were as flavorful, and my go-to order each and every time I dined at Sabor.  

However, with the recent menu change the tuna tacos were removed and I began to wonder if the food at Sabor would be able to stack up with my previous experiences.  On our recent Harmony of the Seas sailing, I had to investigate the new menu change and determine if anything could fill the void in my heart that the tuna tacos once occupied.

Atmosphere

While the Sabor menu and pricing has changed, the look of Sabor remains intact.  Sabor is located in the Boardwalk neighborhood and encompasses a large area, with ample indoor and outdoor seating.  The restaurant is open air, although there is some air conditioning blowing on guests inside, there are no walls to contain it.  The restaurant is safe from rain (unless it is really blowing in sideways), but the temperature and wind can still be felt.

Sabor is imbued with bright colors, primarily blue, magenta and yellow.  Sabor has that feel of a Mexican restaurant, but without the over the top common motifs. After all, Sabor is meant to be more a more modern take on Mexican cuisine.

Much of the seating in Sabor is at standard tables of varying sizes, but there are booths along the back wall as well.

Unlike Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas, the Sabor bar is attached to the main restaurant, and offers additional seating on the left side of the restaurant.  

Most guests opt to grab a beer or cocktail from the bar, but you can also order off the menu.

Eats

As I mentioned, Sabor changed from an a la carte menu to a cover charge menu earlier this year on Oasis class ships, which mirror the pricing found on Voyager and Freedom class ships.  With the pricing change came a new menu, with some items removed from the old menu, others added and most of the menu remaining the same. I would estimate half the menu contains the same items as before, but the other half has seen items swapped it out in some manner.

Many Sabor fans relished the margarita menu for the creative and extremely tasty beverages offered.  I am pleased to report the margarita menu has not changed at all, and guests can continue to order their favorites. The avocado and Sabor Grand margaritas are my wife's and my favorite drinks, but I encourage you to try them all, especially if you have the deluxe beverage package that includes them.

The new Sabor menu on Harmony of the Seas has a lot to offer, and with your cover charge, you are at liberty to order as much as you like.  We have met no resistance in ordering multiple entrees, appetizers or anything else on the menu.  With larger groups (more than 4 people), your best bet is to order a lot and share.  Much of the menu comes in a very shareable manner.

No meal at Sabor is complete without a bowl of handmade guacamole.  Sabor's reputation has been built on its guacamole, and while the guacamole is no longer crafted at your table (health regulations emerged last year that curbed that practice), your server will still ask you how you like it and prepare it in the kitchen.  Our favorite is medium spice, extra lime juice.

Suffice to say, the guacamole is still exceptional and the pico de gallo salsa is especially good.  The only downside is all too often I fill up on this stuff before my food arrives.

Moving onto the appetizers, you will find some good starters offered.  The menu refers to them as "small plates" and it is appropriately named, as these are great for sharing and wont fill anyone up on their own.

The red snapper ceviche is a light starter that goes great with the chips they serve at your table, or just enjoy on your fork.  

The spicy beef empanadas are terrific.  The flaky crust they are baked in is lovely, and it has just the right amount of "kick" to set the tone for the meal.  

Many of our readers swear by the chicken-stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon, and while we did not order them, we would be remiss if we did not mention them as something to try if you are a bacon lover.

Moving onto the tacos, it was time to find a new love.  The tuna tacos are no longer available on the Sabor menu on Harmony of the Seas, but there is still a fish taco option in the grilled cobia.  Over the course of my cruise, I decided to employ the Love Connection methodology and try out three different tacos: the shredded beef short rib tacos, the spicy chicken tacos and the grilled cobia tacos.

Shredded beef tacos

Spicy chicken tacos

Grtilled cobia  tacos

Another change to the tacos from the old menu is the tacos are now build your own.  This means you are served the protein of your taco in a bowl that you can fill your soft tortillas with, along with an assortment of toppings, such as lettuce, salsa and sauces.  Be sure to save some guacamole for this part of the meal to use that too (or just ask your server for some more if you lack the ability to not eat every last ounce of guac in your bowl).

I was not too sure about the build your own tacos, but I ended up really enjoying the idea.  I am the kind of person that goes into "mad scientist" mode when it comes to crafting my own food, and I loved lopping on as much as I can into my tacos before eating them.  Granted, my tacos probably ended up looking more like burritos, but making them was half the fun.

The grilled cobia tacos ended up being my favorite of the three I tried, and I suppose it shows I am truly a fish taco lover at heart.  The spicy chicken was also quite good, and a close second. 

In addition to tacos, there are a few quesadillas to try.

My advice is take the quesadillas and top them off with guacamole, salsa and anything else on your table to essentially make them into Mexican pizzas.  Regardless of how you eat them, they are really good and flowing with melted cheese.  

If there is one area of the Sabor menu I never bother with anymore, it is the sides.  I have never found them particularly compelling, but perhaps you will find them to be different.  The new menu features a grilled corn on the cob option, so if you have tried that, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

By far the most under appreciated aspect of Sabor's menu are the desserts.  No meal is complete without a few, and you should save room for them, even if that means turning down another serving of guacamole.

If you are new to Sabor, order them all and sample them.  

Our favorites are the banana and chocolate chimichanga and café con leche.  

Overall

Looking at the new Sabor menu and pricing, I really enjoyed the new offering.  As a repeat cruiser, getting some new choices on the menu is a welcome change and I found the menu to remain true to what made Sabor so wonderful all these years.

It seems the biggest issue some folks have with the new menu is not the food, but the pricing.  There are a number of vocal guests that enjoyed Sabor, but preferred the a la carte pricing structure so that they could drop in for quick bites to eat at a cheaper price than the all-inclusive model.  I cannot deny the virtue of that concept.  Frankly, I do not mind the cover charge pricing, perhaps because I first tried Sabor on Royal Caribbean ships that had a cover charge so I was indoctrinated into that concept early on. For those that refuse to pay a cover charge, you can still grab some guacamole and chips during happy hour.

For the cost, I feel guests can get a lot of value out of the meal.  Sabor is still among the least expensive specialty restaurants on Harmony of the Seas, and I cannot complain I have ever left Sabor hungry.  Moreover, the strength of the appetizers and guacamole make for a compelling dining experience.  

Cost: The price for Sabor on Harmony of the Seas is $19 per guest for lunch and dinner.

Spotlight: First night specialty restaurant discount

In:
22Apr2017

If you want to enjoy a specialty restaurant on the first night of your Royal Caribbean cruise and are not picky, there is a great deal waiting for you.

Royal Caribbean is offering on select sailings a "First Night Done Right" option in the Cruise Planner, where guests can enjoy dinner at a specialty restaurant on the first night of the cruise for just $15.

When you go to reserve a spot for you, select your preferred time and number of guests, and a courtesy reservation will be made on your behalf. Royal Caribbean will have a confirmation of the restaurant they have selected for you upon arrival in your stateroom, but if you want to change it, you may do so at the hospitality desk or any specialty restaurant.

By taking advantage of this offer, guests can save money compared to booking the same restaurant onboard at the listed price. Unlike the other specialty dining packages, this offer is just for one restaurant. 

Restaurant Review: Jamie's Italian on Anthem of the Seas

In:
30Mar2017

The collaboration between Royal Caribbean and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver created Jamie’s Italian, which is one of the more popular specialty restaurants on Anthem of the Seas.

It seems like Jamie’s Italian has become quite popular with many Royal Caribbean guests for the tasty, original creations by the famous chef. And yet, I have to admit it never resonated much with me on my previous visits.

It is not to say I disliked Jamie’s Italian by any means, rather, I just preferred other specialty restaurants. To be honest, I felt like I was missing something by not being a bigger fan of the restaurant because so many others seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps I had previously dined there on an off-night, or what I ordered was not indicative of what makes Jamie’s so popular.

When I went back on Anthem of the Seas for a recent cruise, I wanted to start over again and pretend like I had never been there in the first place. Perhaps starting fresh from the beginning would be the right approach.

Atmosphere

Jamie’s Italian is located on deck 5 in an area of Anthem of the Seas known as The Via. It is essentially the middle ground between the Royal Esplanade and Two70. I doubt anyone ever utters the words, “oh, that is located in The Via,” but it is important to be specific.

Royal Caribbean carved out a lot of space for Jamie’s Italian, although it does not necessarily look that from merely passing by. The cruise line designed the restaurant to evoke a street cafe motif to guests passing by, with no real wall separating the restaurant from the walkway. Anyone walking by can easily peer into the restaurant and see other guests dining there, and perhaps more importantly, smell the foods being served.

Unlike a traditional Italian restaurant, there is no red and white checkerboard tablecloth, no Dean Martin songs playing in the background, and no old photos of Italy. Instead, you have a design created by Jamie Oliver that focuses on the simple, yet refined approach Oliver takes in every aspect of the dining experience.

Looking around Jamie’s Italian, one will quickly notice there is no unified design style. Rather, there are metal chairs, wooden chairs and nylon chairs mixed together across booths and tables made out of metal, granite and wood. It reminds me of someone hitting up the clearance area in IKEA, finding great deals on lots of lovely furniture that does not match. Nonetheless, Oliver’s design style somehow works across the breadth of the eatery, and the restaurant maintains its own distinct feel.

Eats

Getting past the décor, I really wanted to give Jamie’s Italian a solid second try by picking some winning dishes. Jamie’s Italian menu is anything but petite, with lots of choices. I mean, there is a lot one can order between the appetizers, small plates, soups, pastas and entrées.

Without a doubt, there is one type of dish Jamie’s Italian is best known for and that is the planks. There are two plank varieties: meat and vegetable. Both come with an array of cheeses that compliment the meaty/vegetarian goodness.

Arguably, the planks could easily be a meal in and of themselves, but our waiter suggested we order a combo plank, that offered the best of each option. We thought it was a great choice, not only because we would be able to sample the best of the best, but because we would not load up too much, too early.

Without a doubt, the plank lives up to its reputation for being a must-order. This antipasto serving is not just a great starter, it sets the tone for the meal to come. Ample servings of salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, olives and more are yours for the picking. We picked that plank to the wood surface extremely quickly.

We also tried the ultimate garlic bread from the starters.  At first, we did not realize the bread served to our table was this dish, but what they lack in presentation, they make up for in flavor.  Without a doubt, there is a good amount of garlic provided in these bad boys.

Choosing among the entrées is where I believe the greatest difficulty arises. In short, there is a lot to choose from and many dishes sounds really good.

It is worth noting that Jamie’s Italian prides itself on the fact it creates handmade pasta everyday at the restaurant. That is a giant indication that you should probably order something with pasta. I certainly felt I could not leave Jamie’s Italian without trying something of a noodle variety.

On the other hand, I am an absolute sucker for eggplant Parmesan (or pretty much any Parmesan dish). It is one of those dishes that I can never get enough of, and it is my Italian food staple. Much like when my kids are complaining about the other having something they do not, I just decided to get both the eggplant and a pasta dish. I mean, I would totally walk off those calories skipping the elevators, rights?

The eggplant Parmesan was terrific, and not overloaded with cheese or deep fried to the point any hint of eggplant is removed.  

The texture of the homemade pasta was wonderful, and I think everyone at our table remarked they could absolutely tell the difference between this freshly made pasta, and the boxed stuff.  

My wife opted for the truffle tagliatelle, with the simple logic that anything with black truffles must be amazing.  Indeed, that logic holds up at Jamie's Italian as well.

If you manage to leave room for dessert, the epic homemade brownie is always a great choice.  

My wife also reported the Italian limoncello is superb, although she consumed it before I could even snap a photo of it.  So you will have to take that as proof that it is quite good.

Overall

After eating at Jamie's Italian on Anthem of the Seas, I am completely onboard the bandwagon of fans that enjoy the restaurant.  The freshness of everything here really stands out, even more than Jamie Oliver's excellent recipes.

If you choose to dine at Jamie's Italian, there is no question you need to order at least one of the planks and something with pasta.  It is without a doubt, the dishes the restaurant does the best.

Cost: The price of Jamie's Italian on Anthem of the Seas is $30 per guest for dinner and $25 per guest for lunch.

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Navigator of the Seas

In:
02Mar2017

Sabor Modern Mexican specialty restaurant has become a popular dining choice for many Royal Caribbean guests because of the great tasting food, primarily the guacamole.  Since the restaurant opened in 2014, the guacamole has been the centerpiece of the terrific culinary choices available but in early 2017, word came down from other guests that Royal Caribbean was not making the guacamole table side anymore.  In the name of research, I decided to investigate if the rumors were true, and if the product has changed at all.

Navigator of the Seas is home to the very first Sabor location, and while the restaurant has spread to other ships in the fleet, it retains a special place in my heart for nostalgic reasons.  Great service, even better food and a quiet atmosphere combine to provide guests one of the best dining experiences on any Royal Caribbean ship. But would the change in guacamole preparation degrade the experience? 

We made a number of reservations over the course of a recent cruise to determine fully what the state of affairs is with Sabor Modern Mexican.

Atmosphere

When you hear of a Mexican restaurant, I am certain most people imagine a restaurant with lots of large woven hats strewn about, fake cacti, and a Mariachi band playing.  Royal Caribbean has none of that at Sabor Modern Mexican.  Their aim was to design a restaurant that retains favorite Mexican dishes, but also offers a more contemporary look and menu.

Located near the forward on deck 4 of Navigator of the Seas, Sabor Modern Mexican is across from the Schooner Bar and near the forward elevators. 

The restaurant is not that large, and has seating along the walls and interior.  There are no windows that look out to the ocean either. What you will notice are plenty of dark reds, bright yellows and deep blues. The only real hint that this is a Mexican restaurant is the use of dahlia flowers in much of the decorations.

Eats

The big question about the food at Sabor on this visit was about the state of the guacamole. I had read in the weeks leading up to the cruise that the table side guacamole is no more, and the guacamole is now prepared in the kitchen. I was concerned there would be this giant vat of guacamole created each day, and servers would scoop from it when serving, almost like how ice cream is served.  

As we were seated, our waiter asked us how we would like the guacamole prepared.  I asked if the guacamole was being made table side and he indicated it was not being done table side any longer.  Later in the cruise, I spoke with Navigator of the Seas' Food and Beverage manager, who indicated a new health regulation by the United States forced the cruise line's hand in how they operated.

We asked for the guacamole to be prepared in two ways, one spicy and one medium.  The waiter disappeared for a few minutes and returned with two bowls of fresh guacamole that tasted exactly like it has on all my previous trips.  While I prefer the spectacle of the guacamole to be prepared in front of us, I can assure the general public that Sabor's guacamole is still amazing.

Another wonderful aspect to any meal in Sabor are the various margaritas available.  The margaritas are not included in the restaurant's cover charge, but are included if you have an unlimited alcohol package. There are five kinds of margaritas:

  • Sweet and Spice Margarita
  • The Sabor Grand Margarita
  • Simply Perfect Margarita
  • Avocado Margarita
  • Jalapeno-Cucumber Margarita

Avocado margarita

Sweet and Spice Margarita

Jalapeno-Cucumber Margarita

Sabor Grand Margarita

My favorite is the Avocado Margarita, but the Jalapeno-Cucumber Margarita comes in a close second.  If you prefer a more traditional margarita, the Sabor Grand Margarita is an excellent choice.

If you are looking for something a bit stronger, try one of the tequila flights.  There are two varieties, and they each offer exceptionally smooth tequila that offers a good sampling of the different types of tequila.

Horizontal tequila flight

The Sabor menu is broken up into a few basic categories. Guests may order as many items as they like from any section.  The Platos Chiquitos are essentially the restaurant's appetizers.  The most popular choices are the queso fundido and the chicken-stuffed jalapenos.

Ceviche

Tortilla soup

The fundido is warm, melted cheese and it is less like traditional cheese dip, and more like a serving of cheese sticks, minus the breading or stick shape. There is a lot of cheese in this dish, so come hungry.

Queso fundido

The jalapenos are a crowd favorite because they are wrapped in bacon and have a little kick to them.  This is a great choice for sharing (assuming you actually want to let any out of your sight).

The main part of the menu is comprised of tortilla-based favorites and platos fuertes.

Tacos, quesadillas and burritos make up the tortilla section.  You will find your traditional Mexican items, like beef tacos, cheese quesadillas and burritos of many kinds.  There is also the tuna crudo tacos and the barbacoa tacos, which offer tremendous flavor.  We also like the Portobello mushroom quesadillas for something different.

Tuna crudo tacos

Portobello mushroom quesadilla

The platos fuertes offer Mexican dishes that may not be eaten with your hands.  They also tend to be a bit less traditional.  The Jalapeno-Garlic Tiger Shrimp are great for shrimp lovers.

When you talk about Sabor with friends (or random people on the internet), inevitably the guacamole and tacos dominate the conversation.  However, dessert is Sabor's secret weapon. In short, save room for dessert because it is definitely worth it.

Dessert sampler

Each table will receive a tray of desserts that are comprised of flan, chocolate-banana empanadas, churros and more.  My favorite desserts at Sabor are the chocolate crepe filled with cayenne chocolate & marscapone sauce, chocolate & banana empanadas, cafe con leche. You would not be wrong for loving any of the others, because they are all outstanding.

Overall

Having dined at Sabor Modern Mexican on three different occasions while on Navigator of the Seas, I feel confident in declaring the guacamole still as terrific as ever, and Sabor in general, an absolute favorite dining choice. When readers ask me for a recommendation of what to see or do on Navigator of the Seas, I will continue to recommend Sabor with flying colors.

Sabor's menu has barely changed since its debut and that is a testament to how good the food and experience is inside. 

The cost for dinner is $30 per guest, and lunch comes in at $20 per guest.  Prior to our cruise, Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner listed it for just $15 per person, making it an absolute steal at that price.  Even if you prefer to wait to make reservations onboard, be on the lookout for discounts.  We saw discounts being offered by restaurant staff throughout the sailing at various events and venues.

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 Navigator of the Seas.

Cost: The price for Sabor Modern Mexican on Navigator of the Seas for lunch is $20 per guest and dinner is $30 per guest.

Restaurant Review: Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas

In:
15Nov2016

Ever since Royal Caribbean introduced the Wonderland restaurant on Quantum of the Seas, the concept has resonated with many guests who find the aura of this sort of not-so-typical restaurant truly attractive. With Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has seemingly "doubled down" on the idea with its largest Wonderland yet.

Of all the specialty restaurants on Harmony of the Seas, perhaps no other restaurant has attracted as much intrigue surrounding what it is like to dine there, so I made very certain on a recent sailing to try it out for myself.  I had dined at Wonderland on Quantum of the Seas, but I was curious how similar (or dissimilar) the version on Harmony of the Seas was and how this experience stacks up to my memory.

In full disclosure, Royal Caribbean invited me to try Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas as their guest for the purposes of this review. I promise I kept at least one eyebrow raised at any given time, in an effort to be as inquisitive as possible during the meal. 

Time to go through the looking glass (and eat)!

Atmosphere

If you are unfamiliar with Wonderland, it is a specialty restaurant developed by Royal Caribbean that is loosely based on the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland novel by Lewis Carroll.  Like all Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, the food available is different than anywhere else on the ship, but it also is big on the experience.

Wonderland is located in the aft of Deck 12, in a rather quiet part of the ship. Unlike other specialty restaurants that are in busy neighborhoods, or areas of the ship with a lot of foot traffic, Wonderland is on what is otherwise a deck of staterooms, so one really has to go in search of Wonderland to come across it (unless your stateroom happens to be on Deck 12).

Unlike Wonderland on Quantum class ships, this restaurant does not feature a whole lot of ornate decorations outside the restaurant. Instead, it squeezes them on the interior of the space.  So while you might not get the same sense of curiosity simply by passing by on Harmony of the Seas, the restaurant's look more than makes up for it once inside.

Entering the restaurant is via a tunnel that leads to a golden door.  The door is symbolic, and can easily be side-stepped, but it represents the disconnect between the "real world" and the experiences you will encounter in Wonderland.

Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas is comprised of two decks, a first for any Wonderland restaurant.  The entrance area, along with a bar and a few tables are located on the top deck of Wonderland, while a majority of the seating and the kitchen are located down the stairs on the lower deck.

Like all Wonderland restaurants, the decorations are quite ornate. The motif of the decor is meant to intrigue.  Wonderland is purposefully different, both in look and experience, so stepping foot inside should instantly accompany a thought that this is somewhere unlike anywhere else.

The most prominent part of Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas is the view of the Boardwalk. On the Quantum class ships, Wonderland had no view to speak of, but we have here a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooks the Boardwalk.  It is a stunning view, which really looks amazing at night when the ship is lit up.

There are plenty of decorations on and around the tables.  Guests will find odds and ends that evoke the overarching story that you are dining somewhere very different than you are used to dining on land or at sea.

Like Wonderland on other Royal Caribbean ships, the serving staff also dress for the part.  You will see them wearing velvet jackets and playing their part in acting just a little bit silly.

Eats

Sitting down for your meal, the experience of Wonderland begins immediately with the menu.  Each guest is given a picture frame with a blank menu and paintbrush. 

Guests are then instructed to dip their paintbrush into water and "paint" the picture that reveals the menu.  A bit of a spoiler if you have never dined there before, but it is always a fun experience.

Like the restaurant, nothing is conventional with the menu.  For our meal, the waiter brought us out a number of choices he picked from the menu to sample, followed up with an entree of our choice. In all of my meals at Wonderland, this has been the typical experience with the waiter bringing out a variety of bite-size appetizers to sample before the main course.

Each appetizer was shared at the table, and they all tend to look a little different, but ended up tasting better than they look.  The idea is to intrigue guests with the the presentation of the food, and then follow that up with food that is quite tasty.

In terms of the entrees, the terroir beef is still my top pick for what to order.  I had it on Quantum of the Seas, and my wife tried it again on this sailing and it is simply very, very good.  The meat is fall-off-the-bone quality, and the flavor is just perfect.

I also tried the branzino in crispy bread, because the waiter recommended it.  It was a small portion, but tasted great.  Still, hard to beat that terroir beef.

The desserts were a bit different than I had on Quantum of the Seas.  We had three dessert options for us to share at the table.

By far, the chocolate globe was the best.  It tasted like a Snickers candy bar and was something I wanted to have just to myself.

Overall

Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas attracts a lot of attention from guests who are intrigued by the concept, and it is safe to say that it is well-deserved.  On a cruise ship filled with plenty of dining options, Wonderland stands apart as an unique option.

The reason to dine at Wonderland is the blend of an eclectic motif and some very good food. Unlike any other specialty restaurant, the experience and "schtick" of Wonderland are what endears the restaurant to many guests and makes it as compelling an option as it is.

It is important to note that Wonderland does come with a rather high price tag for a specialty restaurant. Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas costs $45 per person, which is not a cheap specialty restaurant, but then again, there is no other specialty restaurant  that compares to the overall experience.

Wonderland certainly has a wide-ranging appeal.  Guests that are new to cruising will love the prospect of trying something new like this, and veteran cruisers will find Wonderland a welcome change from the typical specialty restaurant scene.

In short, Wonderland on Harmony of the Seas is a very different experience and perhaps the most intriguing Royal Caribbean dining experience that needs to be tried at least once to fully appreciate.

Wonderland is open for dinner and we reviewed Wonderland aboard Harmony of the Seas.

Restaurant Review: Chops Grille on Freedom of the Seas

In:
05Oct2016

There is no denying Chops Grille's place in Royal Caribbean lore as being the preeminent specialty restaurant of the fleet. After all, it has been around the longest and constantly regarded as a great dining experience.

While Royal Caribbean has been adding a dizzying myriad of new specialty restaurants across its fleet, Chops Grille remains a signature dining experience and while onboard Freedom of the Seas, we wanted to see if that reputation is still well deserved.

In my opinion, a good dining experience and a restaurant I can recommend to others must offer excellent food and great service, at a fair price. While onboard Freedom of the Seas, I wanted to see if Chops Grille still offered that kind of an experience.

Atmosphere

Chops Grille is in the same spot it has been since Freedom of the Seas launched in 2006, on deck 11 near the entrance to the Windjammer.  

Chops Grille evokes that look and feel of a high quality steakhouse, be it on land or sea. A blend of dark browns and lighter browns and whites sets the restaurant apart from anywhere else on the ship.  It is a classy look that will have anyone that has dined at a Chops Grille on another Royal Caribbean ship feeling like they have been here before. By the same token, new diners to Chops Grille will find the restaurant's atmosphere evocative of a fine dining establishment that lets its cuisine make the statement.

Upon entering Chops Grille, there is a noticeable glass wall that provides a great view of the ocean and area surrounding Freedom of the Seas, provided you dine there early enough to have enough natural light to see outside.  Views of the ocean are always a welcome spectacle, and any guest in the restaurant should be able to see to that window without much effort.

The restaurant is comprised of a long rectangular dining room that extends to a circular shaped space that makes up the back half of Chops.

Simply put, the decor and theme of Chops Grille reminds guests they are somewhere a bit fancier than elsewhere onboard Freedom of the Seas, and that elegant touch is reinforced by the food served.

Eats

If you talk to someone about their experience at Chops Grille, the discussion will likely begin and end with the food.  Chops has quite a positive reputation among Royal Caribbean fans for the delicious food, and it is one aspect of the restaurant that brings guests back time and time again.

The Chops Grille menu on Freedom of the Seas is nearly identical to Chops Grille locations we have dined at on other Royal Caribbean ships in the last couple of years.  In general, Royal Caribbean tends to standardize its specialty restaurant menus fleetwide, although there can be some variations here or there.  At Chops Grille, you will find a menu that mirrors that of many other ships and that kind of consistency is at the heart of what has earned Chops Grille its glowing reputation over the years.

Once seated, guests are offered bread and butter to begin their meal, along with any beverages they desire.  It is worth pointing out the pretzel bread was not available anymore, nor the salted butter that we have enjoyed previously.  What we did have was good too, but admittedly I preferred the pretzel bread and salted butter.  Alas, c'est la vie.

While I may have missed out on my prized pretzel bread, I would not be denied any other favorites, such as the incredible French Onion soup.  

There are many great choices for appetizers, but my go-to choice is there melted Gruyére, Asiago and Parmesan cheese soup that tops a warm broth, mixed in with plenty of onions.  

While I may describe the virtues of my soup worthy of a Shakespearean sonnet, I would remiss if we did not discuss arguably the Chops Grille appetizer everyone seems to love, the grilled black pepper bacon.

When someone hears the word, "bacon," they are likely to conjure up an image of a thin strip of fried pork that might be served at a diner.  There is nothing wrong with that staple of American breakfasts, but Chops Grille's bacon is worthy of an annotation in any well-respected dictionary to refer to what is served by Royal Caribbean as a bacon without equal. Simply, it is massive, well-seasoned and tastes amazing. 

When getting to the entrees, there are many choices and very often, guests wonder if the dry-aged steak option is worth the extra price.

When Royal Caribbean revamped the Chops Grille menu in 2014, they added a few dry-aged steaks to the menu, which promise the best flavor of any steak on land or sea.  Dry-aged steaks are quite the steakhouse phenomenon, and Royal Caribbean has capitalized on the idea by offering them for a modest additional charge.

While I do enjoy a good steak, I freely admit that I am no steak connoisseur. That being said, if you want a terrific flavor to your steak, and want the best meat on the menu, then the dry-aged steaks are for you.  Each is $18-19 and offer the pinnacle of flavor, tenderness, and aroma.

This time around, I opted to stick to the regular part of the menu.  The filet mignon that is offered at Chops Grille is excellent, and I would not hesitate to recommend it as an option.

We also ordered the Everything Crusted Tuna, which was a nice change of pace, although I cannot say it tops the steaks offered at Chops in terms of overall flavor.  

No Chops Grille meal is complete without ordering a number of side dishes.  The side dishes are served family-style, with plenty of refills if needed. 

All the side dishes are quite good, and I found myself adding the sautéed mushrooms to pretty much everything on the table because they seemed to be so darn complimentary and tasty.

Arguably, the least talked about but most deserving of your drool, are the desserts.   Chops Grille has always had a great dessert selection and it is difficult to go wrong with any of the choices.

Of course, the red velvet cake and Huckleberry cheesecake stand out as real winners for their amazing consistency and forget-your-own-kids-names taste.    Your best bet is to order many desserts and sample them all, because they are worth holding back on a few servings of sautéed mushrooms to save room for.

Overall

Having dined at Chops Grille on many ships over the years, I came into Chops Grille on Freedom of the Seas wondering if the restaurant is worth the cost.  The cover charge fluctuates across the fleet, with newer ships charging more, but on all ships, it remains the most expensive specialty restaurant cover charge that is not a private dining experience.

I can safely say that Chops Grille is worthy of a swipe to your SeaPass account for the great food, from start to finish.  Dinner at Chops Grille on Freedom of the Seas reinforced the notion that Chops is the premier Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant, and I believe it remains just as good a value today as in years past. 

The focus of Chops Grille remains the terrific food, and nothing that we ordered even hinted at mediocre.  The ambiance is worthy of any kind of celebration, evening out or occasion, and the food will leave you smiling and very satisfied. 

 

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.

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