Specialty Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Giovanni's Table on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas

In:
24Aug2015

Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas offers guests fresh made Italian food that has been getting a lot of attention lately, so we decided to try it out on our recent cruise.

Part of Royal Caribbean's update to Freedom of the Seas in early 2015 saw Giovanni's Table replace Portofino as the Italian specialty restaurant onboard.  The replacement of Portofino by Giovanni's Table has been a fleetwide initiative for a few years now and while we will miss Portofino, Giovanni's Table offers a different kind of experience that we have enjoyed on other ships.

It is always interesting to see how this Giovanni's Table compares to other Giovanni's Table restaurants in the fleet, as well as dearly departed Portofino.  Let us head in and try out this new restaurant!

Atmosphere

You will find Giovanni's Table up on deck 11 in the Windjammer area.  It is located to the left as you walk into the Windjammer, in the former location of Portofino.

As you step inside Giovanni's Table, you will find a lot of browns and greens, with a hint of orange.  This is a different color pallete from Giovanni's Table on Navigator of the Seas, which had more of a blue tone to the location.

Just like Navigator of the Seas, the Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas has a great view of the ocean.  If you happen to dine here for lunch or early dinner, you should have a very nice view of the sea as you dine.

The restaurant is divided up between two rooms and it is a rather large space, relative to most specialty restaurants.  The first room as you enter is more rectangular shape, while the second area opens up a bit more into a box shaped room.  Both rooms have large floor to ceiling windows with views of the ocean.

Compared to Portofino, the look and feel of Giovanni's Table is a bit less formal.  Where Portofino had an upscale look to it, I think Giovanni's Table does not have quite that formal look to match, but it certainly feels like a specialty restaurant.

Eats

We ate at Giovanni's Table for lunch and the menu certainly offers a lot of choices. I think Giovanni's Table appeal is that there is a lot of good Italian food to choose from and most of it are foods you have probably heard of.

Giovanni's Table also tends to be among the least expensive Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants, and I think that is welcome by most guests.

For our meal, I tried to go between favorites and new dishes. I will admit two friends of mine onboard raved about their Giovanni's Table experience, although they went heavier into the seafood choices than I did.  

Most dishes, especially the appetizers are on the small side, so be sure to order extra to share.  

We started off with two classics: insalata caprese per due and malanzane alla parmigiana.

The eggplant parmigiana came out in a small white bowl and I really enjoyed it.  It might have been cooked a bit too long, but I love eggplant parmigiana and when I got below the top layer of cheese, I really enjoyed it!

The caprese salad is an Italian classic as well, and to me it is the perfect appetizer because of its light nature.  Grab a piece of bread and put some of the mozzarella and tomato on top and it is perfetto!

On to entrees and we wanted to try something different, so I picked the 8 ounce grilled strip loin steak.  My wife opted for the chicken breast filled with ricotta and mushroom, wrapped in prosciutto.

I wanted to try the steak to get a sense of something a little different than I might otherwise order.  Our waiter also mentioned the steak as being a good choice, so I went with it.

Out came a very tender piece of beef that I enjoyed.  It was simple, but I liked the Barolo reduction and thought it was a good choice.  It was also on the small side, which I did not mind since I wanted to sample lots of food.

I also ordered the traditional meat lasagna because I have had it at other Giovanni's Tables and enjoyed it.

Sure enough, this lasagna was equally as good and as someone that enjoys a lot of sauce with his lasagna, this did not disappoint.

The chicken was incredibly moist and tasty and my wife really enjoyed the contrast between the chicken and the prosciutto.  She said this was something she would definitely order again.

Alas, no meal at Giovanni's Table is complete without a visit to the dessert cart.  Luckily, after all this food, the dessert cart comes to you.

We tried the canoli and chocolate cake, both of which were incredibly rich and even better than they look in these photos.

Overall

Giovanni's Table offers some tasty and satisfying Italian food that I think most guests will really enjoy. If you like Italian food, it is hard to go wrong with eating at Giovanni's Table. 

What Giovanni's Table lacks in "WOW factor", it makes up for in an enjoyable meal experience.  The view of the ocean combined with a wide selection of Italian dishes makes for a great spot for a meal away from the usual.

I really think Giovanni's Table is a great choice for lunch, perhaps even more so than dinner.  The reason is for lunch, the cost is only $15 and I think guests will find the menu offerings a nice change of pace compared to what is available for lunch elsewhere on the ship.

It is also not difficult to get a table at Giovanni's Table, especially given the large size of its restaurant.  Royal Caribbean encourages reservations, but if on a whim you decide to try Giovanni's Table, I think you will find there to be a table open for you.

Giovanni's Table is open for lunch 12:00pm to 1:30pm and open for dinner 5:30pm to 9:30pm and we reviewed Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas.

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas

In:
18Aug2015

If you have read this blog at length, you may know that I am a really big fan of Sabor Modern Mexican specialty restaurant.  

Ever since Royal Caribbean first added it to Navigator of the Seas and I had my first taste of homemade guacamole and first sip of hand crafted margaritas, I was hooked.

Since then, to my pleasure, Royal Caribbean has added Sabor Modern Mexican to a number of cruise ships, including Freedom of the Seas as part of a refurbishment that occurred in early 2015.

While on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, I just had to eat at Sabor and enjoy it again. 

Will my love for Sabor Modern Mexican continue and can this restaurant continue to win me over with amazing food and drink?  Let's find out!

Atmosphere

Sabor Modern Mexican is located on deck 4 of Freedom of the Seas, in the spot where the night club once existed and across the hall from the Schooner Bar.

Much like Navigator of the Seas, Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas is nearly identical in look and layout.  You will find lots of browns, reds and oranges that accentuate a modern restaurant look and feel.

Sabor Modern Mexican definitely does not look like a typical Mexican restaurant found in the United States, with sombreros, art involving mules and mariachi band music playing.  Instead, Sabor Modern Mexican has the kind of vibe that you are in a hip new restaurant that opened in a city close to you and if not for the food, there is not a whole lot here that says Mexican simply by looking at it.

The restaurant is laid out in a sort of rectangle, with a set of tables in the center and tables and booths around the edges.  It is not a large space but it can comfortable fit a lot of guests inside.

Inside Sabor, you will find a lot of colorful flowers and woods.  There is also a larger table near the entrance for bigger groups.  Recently, Royal Caribbean has been adding one large table near the entrance that has the most interesting decor.  Perhaps that is an indication to bring more friends with you!

Eats

On Freedom of the Seas, we elected to eat at Sabor twice.  Frankly, I am surprised it was not more than that.  

Sabor is open for lunch on sea days and dinner on every evening.  There are slight menu differences, with the lunch menu offering a couple less options than dinner but otherwise the experience is indistinguishable.  For the purpose of this review, we will refer to both experiences interchangeably unless otherwise important to note.

After being seated, your server will welcome you with menus and offer you chips and salsa as well as the option of having a bowl of guacamole made in front of you.  

The guacamole is made via a portable cart that has all the ingredients.  Guests can tell the waiter how spicy (or un-spicy) the guacamole should be and if there are any ingredients you want less or more of.  

It is quite interesting to watch the guacamole be made and in just minutes, your guac will be ready for you to eat.  In my opinion, this is the best guacamole I have ever eaten and I could easily come to eat the guacamole and chips alone.  I was very happy to find the guacamole on Freedom of the Seas lived up to the expectations I had from Navigator of the Seas!

For beverages, guests may order from a variety of drinks.  All beverages beyond water have an extra charge to them unless you happen to have a qualifying beverage package.

We opted first to try the handcrafted margaritas. Just like the guacamole, a different cart is brought to your table to have the drinks made for you.

 There are only two margaritas (sweet and spice margarita and Sabor Grand margarita) that are brought to your table to be made in front of you, while the rest are made at the bar.  

Being that we enjoy a show, we opted for the handcrafted margaritas (when in Rome, err... Mexico City, right?).

Watching the margaritas being made was enjoyable and tasting them was even better.  The drinks are large and have some fantastic flavor that certainly masks the alcohol inside.  

Sweet & Spice Margarita and the Sabor Grand Margarita

Simply perfect margarita & Jalapeno-Cucumber Margarita

The Sweet and Spice margarita is quite interesting because it tastes sweet as you drink it, but after you swallow, you get a spicy kick to it.  Very interesting!

I also wanted to try one of the tequila flights available, after a friend recommended it.  There are two tequila flights to choose from: the vertical tequila flight and the horizontal tequila flight.

Do not ask me what the difference is but the horizontal flight is slightly more expensive and comes highly recommended by our waiter.  I went with the horizontal flight!

The flight offers three tequilas to try: Don Julio Reposado, Sauza Hornitos Reposado, Corazón Reposado.  

I am no tequila expert, but I can say that each was very smooth and certainly puts you in the right mood to enjoy a meal!

Moving onto the food (assuming you have not filled up on chips and guac yet), the menu has a mix of appetizers and entrees but they are intermixed.  Our waiter (hi Juan) knew which to bring out when but feel free to order whatever sounds good.

At lunch, we started out with the queso fundido and sopa de tortilla.  

Both appetizers were great and I think my wife and I enjoyed both a lot.  

It is worth noting that many of the dishes are on the small side, so it is a good idea to order more than you might ordinarily order at a restaurant.

Our entrees were the tres quesos quesadillas and the chicken and roasted corn empanada.

The quesadilla features melted Monterey Jack, queso fresco and Chihuahua cheeses.  If cheese is your thing, this is your meal.  My wife recommends dipping the quesadilla into the queso for maximum cheese levels!

The empanadas had good flavor to them but I found them to be a little dry.  I compensated by dipping the empanadas in the salsa and guacamole and it tasted a lot better.

For my dinner appetizer, I tried the Tuna Crudo, 3 crispy corn tortillas, fresh tuna, salsa mexicana, guacamole.  

My friends, this was one of the best things I ate over the course of the entire cruise and when I come back next time, I may just order a few servings of this. It was really outstanding!

Keeping with my change of pace, I also ordered a different entree at dinner and went with the pan-seared red snapper.

Had I not filled up on guacamole, chips, tuna crudo, guacamole, margaritas and guacamole, I might have enjoyed this a bit more but the red snapper was very, very good.  It tasted wonderful and was cooked to perfection.

There are also side orders to be had and in both lunch and dinner, our waiter simply brought us all of them.  

Yucca barrel fries, Mexican rice, calabacitas and Mexican beans are available to try.  They all looked good and I sampled some of it but I was so full by this point that I did not eat much.

If by some miracle you have room in your stomach left, the desserts are really phenomenal.

Just like the accompaniments, the desserts are served family style on a large plate and are described as "Mexican inspired mini-desserts".

My wife still dreams about the churros and chocolate banana empanadas.  

Overall

I have to say eating at Sabor Modern Mexican on Freedom of the Seas lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

I love the mix of freshly made food combined with plenty of choices.  I feel like there is a good mix of traditional Mexican favorites (tacos, quesadillas, etc) and some new choices. 

The guacamole, chips and salsa are supreme and I really considered a few times paying the cover charge again simply to dine on them along with perhaps a few drinks.

If you are going to try a margarita, go for the ones made at your table and my friend was definitely right about ordering the tequila flights.  Both will set the right tone for the meal (and likely well into your evening).

Looking at the cost, lunch comes in at $15 and dinner at $25.  I really feel both prices are well worth it and there is not much of a difference between the two to say one is better than the other.  If you want to save some money, go for lunch.

Sabor Modern Mexican still lives up to the lofty heights I have in my mind and it is without a doubt a restaurant I would recommend trying and then going back again (and again) for on your next cruise on Freedom of the Seas.

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.

Three ways to save money on Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants

In:
07Aug2015

Royal Caribbean offers a variety of impressive specialty restaurants that serve up some of the best food available at sea and there are some ways to save money on the total cost to eat at these hot spots.

Whether you want to indulge in steak, sushi or Mexican, Royal Caribbean has added a number of specialty restaurants to its ships with cover charges per person that start at $25 and go up from there.

With these tips, you can cut down that cost and have more money to spend elsewhere on your cruise vacation!

First day discount

On most Royal Caribbean ships, the day you board you will find specials if you eat at many of the specialty restaurants that evening.

Most guests do not consider a specialty restaurant for the first night.  It is not clear why exactly, but specialty restaurants seem to enter guests' radar as the cruise progresses.

Look at your Cruise Compass or go to any of these restaurants and look for discounts available if you dine that day. Usually, there is a 20% discount if you dine at one of the restaurants that evening.

OUR IN-DEPTH LOOK AT SPECIALTY RESTUANTS

Pre-pay online

Royal Caribbean wants to encourage its guests to eat at more than just one specialty restaurant so they will reward you if you happen to go to at least three.

Using Cruise Planner on Royal Caribbean's website, you can save up to 30% onboard credit when you make three or more reservations at any specialty restaurants.

You will get the onboard credit on day one of your cruise and that's more money to spend onboard!

If you know you will dine at three (or more) specialty restaurants, pre-book them online to take advantage of the savings.

Dining Package

If you really love eating at the specialty restaurants and you just cannot get enough, consider the dining package.

We have seen the dining package offered on a few Royal Caribbean ships (Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas to name a few) where for $20 per day, guests can dine at any of the specialty restaurants every day of the cruise.

The dining package is not available on every Royal Caribbean ship, but if it is available on your sailing, it can be a great way to save money provided you want to dine at a specialty restaurant each night.

Which specialty restaurant discount have you used before? Tell us in the comments!

Photo tour of Rita's Crab Shack on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas

In:
23Jul2015

During the summer months when Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas offers cruise to Alaska, Royal Caribbean transforms one of its specialty restaurants into a restaurant more befitting the region.

Beginning last year, Royal Caribbean has changed over the Mexican specialty restaurant Rita's Cantina into Rita's Crab Shack, offering the very best crab and seafood from the southeast Alaskan coast.

In fact, Royal Caribbean has also teamed up with the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau to provide the finest craft brews to go along the new fare.

Thanks to our friend Deb Wills from AllEars, we present a photo tour of Rita's Crab Shack from earlier this summer. Enjoy!

Royal Caribbean offering ultimate dining package for specialty restaurants

In:
20May2015

It appears Royal Caribbean is starting to offer a new dining package, where guests can eat at any of the specialty restaurants aboard the ship for a fixed price.

A Royal Caribbean Blog reader, Michael C, returned from a Freedom of the Seas cruise last week and in the Cruise Compass is a new offer, "Ultimate Dining Package", where for $20 per day, guests can dine at any of the specialty restaurants every day of the cruise.

The package is described as, "Pay one set price and dine in any of our specialty restaurants every day of your cruise.  Whatever you're craving, there's something for every palate. (Except Mystery Dinner & Chef's table).

This offer has been spotted on Freedom of the Seas, but there's no word yet if this new dining package will be offered on any other Royal Caribbean ships.

Currently on Freedom of the Seas, there are three specialty restaurants with individual costs higher than the package's daily rate:

With this ultimate dining package, a person could save up to $105 on their cruise compared to paying for the restaurants on their own.

UPDATE: Other readers have reported the ultimate dining package is being offered on Liberty of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas as well.

Photo by Debby Smith

Will you purchase the ultimate dining package?  Tell us what you think in comments below!

Restaurant Review: Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas

In:
18May2015

Royal Caribbean has filled its Quantum-class cruise ships with a slew of specialty restaurant choices and among them is Royal Caribbean's flagship specialty restaurant, Chops Grille. 

Chops Grille has been a fan favorite choice for years and on Quantum of the Seas, we took the opportunity to see if this Royal Caribbean classic holds up on its newest class of ships.

On Quantum of the Seas, the restaurant features an updated menu that offers what you would likely find at any great American steakhouse on land.  There's a mix of choices that have been staples of the restaurant along with some new choices, most notably dry-aged steaks.  Dry-aged steaks are aged for nearly four weeks to enhance the flavor, tenderness and aroma.  Royal Caribbean is particularly proud to be offering dry-aged steaks first at sea and it's a tremendous addition.

Atmosphere

Chops Grille is located in the aft section of deck 5, near the Schooner Bar.  Despite being onboard the ship for a few days at the time we dined here, I still found myself wondering where exactly it was located.  Odds are you will not be passing it by often as you walk around the ship (unlike Jamie's Italian or Wonderland) but once you look it up on a map, it's simple enough to find.

If you've been to any other Chops Grille on other Royal Caribbean ships, you will likely feel right at home at Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas.  The restaurant's familiar use of browns, reds and yellows give the restaurant an "earth tone" decor.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas to be more well-lit than other restaurants I've been to.

Chops Grille has never had much of a real theme other than looking like a nice steakhouse.  You will find a large room with tables in the center and booths on the edges.  There's some good use of steel or aluminum lighting that seem like they were borrowed from American Icon Grill that give Chops Grille on Quantum of the Seas a little different touch.

For Royal Caribbean fans that been dining at Chops Grille for years, this restaurant will feel a lot like others you have been to.

Eats

Once you are seated, you will be served pretzel bread and butter, which is pretty darn tasty.  It's the kind of bread that you will eat more of it than you probably like because pretzel bread, when done well, is a tasty treat.

The menu at Chops Grille offers a wide selection of appetizers and for your entrees, there's plenty to choose from too.  

To start with, I opted for a Chops Grille classic: French onion soup. A microcosm of the difference between a specialty restaurant and the complimentary restaurant can be found in this soup.  At the Grande, there's a French onion soup served but the one at Chops Grille is far superior because of the ingredients used.  At Chops Grille, there's more cheese, thicker cut of onion and in general it just tastes better.

French onion soup at Chops Grille

French onion soup at The Grande

We also ordered a few appetizers to share at the table, such as the charred beef carpaccio and crab and shrimp cake.  Both were tasty and light choices that we enjoyed.

I mentioned earlier there are a lot of entrees to choose from but considering Chops Grille is a steakhouse, I feel obligated to choose a steak. Since updating Chops Grille's menu, Royal Caribbean offers a number of dry-aged steaks that have an extra cost in addition to other steaks that are included with the price of the restaurant.

I tried the dry-aged steak when I was on Navigator of the Seas and I'll be honest and say I really could not tell much of a difference between the dry-aged steaks and a less expensive steak.  Personally, my palette can appreciate a steak up to a certain level and after that, they all taste the same.  Clearly, I am not a connoisseur of steaks by any means.

We both decided to order from the regular steak menu.  I went with the "petite" New York Strip Steak (6oz) and my table mate opted for the "petite" filet mignon (6oz).

Both steaks tasted great and my only regret is I ordered too little steak.  I went with the petite cut because I always left the restaurant feeling stuffed but not the case this time!

I think we both agreed the steaks were great and by far it's the best cut of beef we had onboard the ship.  

The hidden gem of any Chops Grille visit are the sides. There side dishes are designed to be shared among the people at your table and they are generally really, really good.  So good that I leave some room for them because at my first few visits years ago, I would stuff myself before realizing the sides are so darn good.

We ordered gruyere cheese tater tots, roasted mushrooms, mashed potatoes and grilled jumbo asparagus.  All were quite good except for the tater tots.  The cheese gave it a very odd texture and next time I will go with the french fries instead.  

For dessert, I always order the same thing at Chops Grille and for good reason.  The red velvet cake is something I always pick and I've never been disappointed with it.   On this visit, the cake was as good as I remembered and I can continue to recommend it as a great choice.

Overall

The reason I go to Chops Grille on almost every Royal Caribbean cruise I go on is because of how consistently good it is.  Some restaurants are a bit of a gamble in the sense that they can be hit or miss but Chops Grille has been always a good experience and on Quantum of the Seas, it's more of the same.

If you have dined at Chops Grille many times as well, you will find Chops Grille to be a familiar choice and very similar to other Chops Grille restaurants across the fleet.  If you're new to Royal Caribbean, Chops Grille is a solid choice for anyone that wants a really good specialty restaurant experience.  Great food, good service and a moderate cost are what you will find at Chops Grille.

There's many online that will debate the merits of the dry-aged steaks on the menu and if they are worth it.  If you want to sample the very best steaks out there, there's no question dry-aged are in style and perfect for you.  But if you just want a good steak without the additional cost, the steaks included on the menu will do you just fine.

I think on my next trip to Chops Grille, I will sample some non-steak choices just to mix things up.  

Restaurant Review: Izumi on Quantum of the Seas

In:
30Apr2015

It's time for sushi at Izumi on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas!

Izumi is the Japanese specialty restaurant that first debuted on Oasis of the Seas and has been spreading across Royal Caribbean's fleet ever since. 

Izumi specializes in mainly sushi, although there are some non-sushi items on the menu.  I've been to Izumi on Oasis of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas and it's been a great option because, well, I love sushi.

Going on Quantum of the Seas, I had to give Izumi a try even if I had trouble getting a reservation.  On my cruise, Izumi did not take any reservations for lunch but did take reservations for dinner.  I was able to get a table for lunch just as they were opening up at noon!

I've always enjoyed eating at Izumi because of the great quality sushi available, especially compared to the sort of sushi you would find in the Windjammer on other cruises.  

Atmosphere

Izumi is located on deck 5, in the heart of the Royal Esplanade.  It's nearly dead center in the ship, located between the Schooner Bar and Wonderland.

Izumi has a very open floor plan, with much of the restaurant exposed to the walk way that literally cuts through the restaurant.  There's bound to be a lot of other passengers walking by you, especially the tables closest to the entrance.  If you're looking for a quiet, intimate spot for a meal, this is not it.

The layout of Izumi is essentially a rectangle with a few extra tables opposite the entrance. There's also a sushi bar you can sit at for smaller groups or for those that want to see the chefs in action.

The furniture and look of Izumi is of a modern Japanese restaurant, with lots of reds and whites.  

It's interesting to see where Royal Caribbean placed Izumi, because of the complete lack of separation from the areas around it.  Unlike other Izumi restaurants on other ships that have dedicated rooms, on Quantum of the Seas, Izumi is much more open and feels like a "junior specialty restaurant".  

Eats

The menu on Quantum of the Seas is the same, whether you eat at Izumi for lunch or dinner.  

Nearly all of the items on the menu are sushi and we did not see the hot rock Japanese food that I first sampled on Oasis of the Seas (my wife would not have been pleased).  If you're okay with just sushi, the menu will be fantastic.

Like all Izumi's I have ever dined at, the miso soup and edamame soy beans are complimentary and you can have as much of either as you like.  

Both appetizers are very good and there is plenty of edamame to go around (as well as salt).  It's a great way to start off your meal.

The sushi offerings break down between nigri/sashimi, rolls and combinations.  Personally, I love to get a few different rolls to sample what appeals to me.

I found the prices of rolls at Izumi to be about average for what you would pay for similar rolls on land.  The chef's signature rolls tend to be more expensive but  most of the rolls will run you between $9 and $12, with most in the $10-11 range.  In the grand scheme of sushi roll prices, it's neither cheap nor expensive.

I opted for the box yellowtail in garlic ponzu roll as well as crispy spicy tuna roll.  I also ordered two yellowtail sashimi.  Tuna and yellowtail are my favorite types of fish for sushi, so I stuck with my guns.

Both rolls had excellent flavor and I thought the size of the rolls were about the same as what I might get on land.  I did not order any kind of crazy sushi rolls either, so what I received is right in line with my expectations.

I received six pieces for the box yellowtail roll and eight pieces for the crispy spicy tuna.  That's a great value for sushi.

My friends dining with me also had other kinds of sushi, including this DX sushi combination plate.  Both of them reported it was quite good.

Overall

Izumi is exactly what it advertises, a great spot for anyone that is in the mood for sushi.  

Royal Caribbean has set the bar for Izumi restaurants across its fleet and the Izumi on Quantum of the Seas easily meets that expectation.  Royal Caribbean did not reinvent what Izumi is with Quantum of the Seas, but instead offers another good choice for a specialty restaurant lunch or dinner meal.

I mentioned earlier I felt like Izumi was a "junior specialty restaurant", because I don't think it's on par with restaurants like Chops Grille, Wonderland or Jamie's Italian in terms of overall experience.  Please do not take this to mean Izumi is not worth your time or is in anyway substandard. Rather, it's a different kind of experience.  Izumi more closely matches up with specialty restaurants such as Michael's Genuine Pub or Johnny Rockets because they are smaller and have lower price points.

If it were up to me, I would eat sushi everyday and certainly Izumi is a great spot to do just that.  If you want really good sushi on your Quantum of the Seas cruise, then Izumi is the place for you.

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

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

In:
06Apr2015

One of the stand out restaurants that are available on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas has to be Jamie's Italian.  This simple yet tasty take on Italian food by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver brings a whole different Italian restaurant experience to Royal Caribbean.  

We're excited to share with you what Jamie's Italian offers and if you should give it a try on your cruise as well.

Atmosphere

Jamie's Italian is located in the Via section of the Royal Esplanade, close to Two70.  As you walk towards the restaurant, you will find an open air eatery that reminds you of a city sidewalk restaurant.

Once inside Jamie's Italian, you will find a restaurant that is simple in its look.  There's no traditional red and white checkerboard, Lady and the Tramp style tables either.  There's also not a hint of the formal look you may find in other Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants like Chops Grille or Portofino.

The tables and chairs are an assortment of different styles that almost look like the host called all of their friends to bring tables and chairs because the host did not have enough.  I'm not celebrity chef expert, but I do know that Jamie Oliver, the restaurant's namesake, purposefully makes his restaurants and food simple. 

After a few minutes looking around, Jamie's Italian feels like you're eating in someone's (very large) kitchen.  Tables are located all around the restaurant and the waiters are wearing simple white shirts with jeans.  There are also televisions on the walls showing Jamie Oliver cooking his food and there's an eclectic mix of popular music that we are told Jamie himself listens to.

Sitting down, you will find the restaurant feels very different than most other specialty restaurants.  If not for Wonderland, Jamie's Italian would certainly be the most unconventional specialty restaurant I've ever dined at on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Eats

The food at Jamie's Italian is quite obviously Italian but like the decor, it's not just spaghetti, pizza and other traditional fare.  

One of the neat things Jamie's Italian does is it makes all of its pasta by hand, each day.  When our waiter told us that, I immediately reconsidered what I was going to order because hand-made pasta makes a big difference compared to the boxed stuff.

When you walk into the restaurant, you will likely see many other tables enjoying food served off of a giant wooden plank and there's a good reason for it.  Citing the famous cliche, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, we also ordered the plank.  There are two to choose from: cured meats and seasonal vegetables.

Regardless of which plank you order, the waiter will ask you how many people will be enjoying the plank.  We told him two people and we wanted the cured meats plank.  Soon thereafter, he came out with a generous sampling of meats and cheeses.  There's fennel salami, pistachio mortadella, prosciutto & schiacciata picante.  If antipasti is your thing, this will be heaven for you.

I also sampled the arincini margherita, which are tomato & mozzarella risotto rice balls with arrabbiata sauce & Parmesan.  Of all the appetizers I sampled, this was my favorite.  I loved the texture and the sauce it was served on top of had a bit of kick to it.  

My table mates really liked the mushroom flatbread, which was definitely not pizza.  A mixture of fresh mushrooms and sprinkled cheese on top of a thin breading made for a great choice.  We realized about now that the appetizers alone were really, really good.

The crispy squid was exactly as the name implies.  My friend was the squid fan and reported it was quite good and definitely not chewy.

Perhaps the only disappointment of the meal was the Tuscan bean & single estate Italian olive oil bruschetta.  Ordinarilly, I love bruschetta but this was quite different than any bruschetta I've ever had.  It was cheesy (and not in a good way) and after one bite each, we all went back to our favorites.

A quick side note, I noticed on other tables in the restaurant there were View Finders and asked our waiter why we did not get one.  He informed me it was for children to see what the food they are going to order looks like.  I kindly requested I too get a chance to see our food in faux 3D, 1980's glory and I recommend asking for one too just for the fun of it!

Moving onto the entrees, once I figured out what aubergine meant (it's another name for eggplant), I ordered the aubergine parmigana. It's essentially a stack of baked eggplant slices in a warm pool of tomato sauce topped with cheese.  

Eggplant parmigana is an Italian food classic and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Was it better than the eggplant parm from Giovanni's Table? I'm not ready to go that far.

It is worth noting the freshly baked twisted garlic bread is really, really good and I recommend ordering an entire order of these just for your table to enjoy (or hoard them for yourself while giggling how good they are).

Earlier I had honed in on the fact their pasta was hand-made, so I ordered the penne pomodoro.  To most people, this is penne in a red sauce but again, the fresh pasta makes even a simple dish like this stand out.

The baked lasagna was a real treat as well, with the blend of fresh pasta (notice a trend yet?), mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and beef and pork.

   

I'm no connoisseur of lamb but the lamb chops were also quite good.

By now, we had been through a food war but our waiter insisted we try the desert.  Who am I to argue with a man in jeans?

There's a number of intriguing selections on the dessert menu but the one that caught my eye was the epic homemade brownie.  I mean, who can resist that kind of a title?

I can report that there is no case of false advertising here.  The epic homemade brownie was terrific.  What makes it epic?  There's a freshly baked warm fudgy brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramelized amartetti popcorn on top.  Yup, epic.

Overall

We had eaten at Jamie's Italian towards the end of my cruise and all throughout the voyage, other passengers had always mentioned how good Jamie's Italian was whenever the topic of dinners came up and now I know why.

Jamie's Italian offers a great selection of Italian food that differentiates itself from most other food available on Quantum of the Seas. It's an interesting "reboot" of what we think about when it comes to Italian food.

Nearly everything we offered was very good.  In fact, I think of all the restaurants onboard Quantum of the Seas, Jamie's Italian had the best ratio of hits to misses, in terms of good food to bad food picks.  

I was lucky to have dined with a group of friends because the food here is perfect for sharing and it gives everyone a chance to sample a little of everything.  

Like most Royal Caribbean restaurants, I found the portion sizes to be on the small size, which makes ordering multiple entrees (and appetizers earlier) an easier decision.

Restaurant Review: Wonderland

In:
20Nov2014

I can't think of any restaurant openings on a Royal Caribbean ship I was looking forward to more than Wonderland.  Ever since I saw a preview of it at the Quantum of the Seas dining reveal earlier in the year, the concept fascinated me.

When the opportunity to check out this new restaurant on Quantum of the Seas came to me, I jumped at the chance with great enthusiasm.

Part of the Dynamic Dining endeavor, Wonderland is open for dinner and here's my first hand look through the looking glass at this new dining concept.

Atmosphere

Wonderland is a brand new specialty restaurant on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas that hass loosely based its decor and atmosphere after the Alice in Wonderland tales.

Located on deck 5 on the upper deck of the Royal Esplanade, Wonderland is hard to miss given its location and over-the-top decor.

Outside you will find odd props and statues that look like they are fresh off a movie set.   Inside, you will find an intimate space filled with chairs that don't match any other chair at the table, chandeliers, candelabras and glasses and cups that are so bizzare if you saw it in a store, you'd wonder who would actually buy that.

The restaurant feels like it's straight out of the scene from the 1951 Disney film, where the Mad Hatter invites Alice to tea.  Essentially, the restaurant is purposefully designed to evoke a "I don't know what to expect" reaction from its guests.

The servers in the restaurant all dress the part too, with velvet jackets and multi-colored outfits.  

Eats

The slogan for Wonderland is, "imaginative cuisine" and you will quickly discover why when you dine here.

As you are seated, each person is given an easel with a blank menu and a paintbrush.  

The waiter instructs you to dip the paintbrush in water and then paint the canvas with your brush to reveal your menu.  As you paint, the menu appears magically and you can see what's offered.

The menu isn't conventional either.  You will find the menu divided up by elements (sun, ice, fire, sea and earth) and pretty much everything on the menu is not something you would ever have seen on a menu at home.  

Most of the menu items are what I'd consider appropriate for adventurous eaters.  As you will see later, the food served isn't crazy by any means but it's not burgers and pasta either.

We dined in a group of nine and the waiter suggested ordering for us and we agreed.  Looking at the menu, it was tough to really know what we were ordering so why not just try a little of everything?

Appetizers came out first and each appetizer was served with a different pizzazz than the last.  Buffalo chicken eggs, slow cooked baby beets, liquid manzanilla olives are just a few of what we ate and I can't say any are my favorite new dishes but seeing them and then trying them was an adventure in of itself.

The two appetizers that surprised me were the beets and hard boiled eggs. If asked, I'd say I don't care for either but at Wonderland they were impressive and tasty.  

The entrees did not disappoint either.  Most of the servings are on the small side, so you should order multiple entrees and appetizers per person to be safe.  

My favorite was the terroir beef, which I believe was one of the best slow-cooked beef dishes I've ever had (sorry mom)!  The halibut was quite good too and everyone else at the table really liked the Cuban pork shank.

Wonderland's desserts were truly wonderful and we all sampled a little of everything.  The yogurt pops and baked Alaska were the kind of desserts I'd have if the Earth was about to explode and I didn't care about gaining weight.

Overall

Eating at Wonderland was a great experience because of how odd the place is from a decor and presentation standpoint.  The food was good, maybe not the best I've ever eaten on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but definitely met my expectations.

I think Wonderland is the kind of restaurant you have to experience for yourself at least once.  I'm not sure it will become the kind of restaurant like Chops Grill or Izumi, where I'd want to dine there multiple times per sailing.  

I love the concept of Wonderland and I think it will resonate with cruisers who want to try something different.  If you are cruising in a group, this is definitely the place to go and I'd advise sharing everything to sample it all.  I can definitely say it's a one-of-a-kind experience.

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

Looking back at Royal Caribbean's extinct restaurants

In:
05Nov2014

These days, Royal Caribbean is rolling out brand new restaurant and dining concepts by the handful.  But not all restaurants Royal Caribbean opens stay open forever.  

We thought it might be fun to look back at the restaurants Royal Caribbean has said goodbye to as well as the ones that are nearly extinct (endangered?).

Seafood Shack

Seafood Shack was a brand new restaurant when Oasis of the Seas first debuted.  As the name implies, it served up seafood in an open-air restaurant in the Boardwalk neighborhood.

Originally, the Seafood Shack charged guests a cover charge but later Royal Caribbean changed it to be a la carte pricing.  

The axe came swiftly for Seafood Shack just a few weeks ago when Oasis of the Seas underwent its 5-year drydock refurbishment and it was replaced by Sabor Modern Mexican.

The Seafood Shack failed to connect with cruisers and the changes in pricing seemed to be indicative of efforts to get more passengers eating there but it never became a fan favorite.

Portofino

At one point, Portofino was Royal Caribbean's signature Italian specialty restaurant.  Along with Chops Grille, Portofino was being rolled out across Royal Caribbean's fleet.

When the Oasis-class of cruise ships debuted, they noticably were missing Portofino and had introduced a new Italian restaurant, Giovanni's Table. Would there be room for two kinds of Italian restaurants in Royal Caribbean's fleet?

Turns out the answer was no, as the fleet-wide refurbishment replaced existing Portofino restaurants with Giovanni's Table.

Portofino still exists on a few ships, but Royal Caribbean has quietly confirmed they are on their way out in favor of Giovanni's Table.  We will never know the exact reason for the swapping of Italian restaurants, but it's likely a part of a shift in the onboard dining strategy Royal Caribbean instituted.

Seaview Cafe

If you've ever cruised on a Radiance-class ship, you've probably dined a few times at the Seaview Cafe.  

Part sit down, part quick service, the Seaview Cafe offers freshly made sandwiches, soups and snacks with a view of the ocean.  It was quite popular among Royal Caribbean fans as being a "hidden" secret.

Like Portofino, Royal Caribbean decided to remove Seaview Cafe in favor of adding new specialty restaurants.  Only one Seaview Cafe remains on Jewel of the Seas, which will also be removed once Jewel of the Seas receives her refurbishment.

Seaview Cafe was an interesting restaurant experience and unique to the Radiance-class.  Replacing it with specialty restaurants made sense from a business perspective, but fans lament its loss for the simple yet incredibly tasty fresh food.

Jade

Asian food has always been a popular cuisine and Royal Caribbean looked to capitalize on its popularity with a special section in the Windjammer just for that, called Jade.

Jade offered sushi, a variety of Chinese, Thai and Indian dishes along with a few Asian soups.  I personally enjoyed the make your own miso soup bar.

Jade was never the best Asian food you'd ever have, but it was complimentary and the main dishes changed each evening.  The sushi wasn't great but at the time, it was the only choice we had.

When the Oasis-class of ships introduced the Izumi specialty restaurant, the Jade sections started to be removed in favor of Izumi.  Izumi offered much better quality sushi and Japanese food, albeit at a price.

Much like Portofino, only a few ships have Jade these days and they too will be replaced eventually.

Cupcake Cupboard

The Cupcake Cupboard was a small shop on the Oasis-class promenade that aimed to capitalize on the rising popularity of cupcakes as a stand-alone product.  

In addition to offering cupcakes to eat, there were decorating classes for kids and adults.

Even after debuting on the Oasis-class, the Cupcake Cupboard made its way to other Royal Caribbean ships during the fleet-wide upgrades.  As ships were upgraded, the Cupcake Cupboard started to go from a small shop to an offering at Cafe Promenade.  

When Oasis of the Seas received her refurbishment, Cupcake Cupboard was evicted in favor of a Kate Spade store.

I believe revenue from Cupcake Cupboard was not great enough to warrant the prime real estate it occupied but on Navigator of the Seas, you could find slimmed down Cupcake Cupboard offerings from Cafe Promenade, which allowed Royal Caribbean to offer the tasty treats without all the space.

Main Dining Room

This one is up for debate how endangered the Main Dining Room is because as of the time of this post, the Main Dining Room has only been removed from Quantum and Oasis-class ships but Royal Caribbean waiting to see how its replacement does.

Dynamic Dining is the new dining concept initially introduced on the Quantum-class of cruise ships that eliminates a main dining room and replaces it with smaller restaurants.  The idea is to give guests a greater variety of choice for dinner and without the formality of the main dining room.

Perhaps the main dining room will soon meet a similar fate as other restaurants in this list or perhaps the Dynamic Dining concept will not advance any further.  Time will tell.

Which do you miss the most?

Of the restaurants listed here, which do you miss the most?  Is there a restaurant here you'd love to have one more meal in?  Share your thoughts in this post's comments!

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