Specialty Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Sabor Modern Mexican on Navigator of the Seas

In:
24May2016

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

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

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

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

Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant Review: Johnny Rockets on Navigator of the Seas

In:
20May2016

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

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

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

Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

In:
17Mar2016

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

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

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

Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

Eats

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

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

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

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

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

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

My personal recommendation is to ask for extra lime.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Izumi on Allure of the Seas

In:
02Mar2016

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

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

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

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

Let's take a look.

Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants for lunch

In:
14Jan2016

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

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

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

Lunch hours

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

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

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

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

Lunch prices

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

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

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

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

Lunch menus

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

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

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

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

Review: Chops Grille on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
22Dec2015

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

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

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

Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
16Dec2015

Of all the Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants available, few have spread as far and as wide as Giovanni's Table has, especially given how relatively new it is to Royal Caribbean.

While aboard Brilliance of the Seas, I just could not resist the temptation to enjoy lunch at Giovanni's Table one more time.

I had no plans to dine at Giovanni's Table, but the tempting favorites along with the lower lunch price swayed my decision on one particular sea day.

Atmosphere

Located on deck 6, Giovanni's Table is across from the ever popular Schooner Bar.

Walking in, the restaurant is rather large and offers seating in a variety of configurations.

The restaurant is essentially one large room, with windows making up one wall, that offer an unobstructed view of the ocean.

On our day to eat here, there were waves of 2-4 meters, so we certainly had some action to see.  Admittedly, these waves were also responsible for not having the largest of appetites with all of the motion.

Giovanni's Table will not win any accolades purely for its aesthetical looks, but it feels like a restaurant that is distinct from its surroundings and certainly more elaborately decorated than Rita's Cantina

Eats

It is no secret that Giovanni's Table is an Italian restaurant and there are plenty of Italian favorites to pick from on the menu.

On my last visit to Giovanni's Table on Freedom of the Seas, I felt I did not do a good job ordering, so this time I would try something more on the "seafood spectrum" as means of correcting the experience.

Once seated, we were served complimentary bread and olive oil.  This is consistent with the every other Giovanni's Table I have dined at and having bread and oil is a standard practice among many Italian restaurants.

As I said earlier, the ship was rocking quite a bit so we ordered lightly.  

To start with, we shared an insalata caprese.

This is your standard tomato and mozzarella salad. If I can be picky, I would point out the tomatoes are the same previously frozen tomatoes served in the Windjammer.  Not the end of the world, but I was hoping for something fresher.

I also ordered the eggplant parmigiana.

The eggplant parm from Giovanni's Table is not breaded and is more of a baked eggplant than traditional eggplant parm.  Nonetheless, I would say this was the best eggplant parm I have had at Giovanni's Table in quite a while.

For our entrees, I ordered the sole filets, while my wife opted for the pappardelle pasta.

My fish was a lightly fried sole filet that was served on top of sautéed garlic zucchini spaghetti.

The fish was light and pretty good, but it was the zucchini that I really enjoyed.  Combining the zucchini and fish together was a real treat and if I were to order this again, I would ask for extra zucchini.

My wife's pasta came in a white cream sauce and the little she ate of it, she enjoyed (the motion of the ocean was starting to get to her by this point).  

I sampled a bit of it too and thought the pasta tasted better than something out of the box.

Overall

Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas is a good option for those looking for Italian food that is more than just the typical pasta and sauce served in the Windjammer.

It is far from my favorite specialty restaurant, but the price (especially for lunch) makes it almost impossible to ignore. 

I will point out that when we dined there, there were perhaps six tables but only one waiter who also was serving as maître d'.  

Because of this, the service was extremely slow.  It did improve towards the tail end of the meal when more servers showed up to assist. 

Our overworked waiter was still quite generous, because he opted not to charge my wife for her meal because she barely ate it due to her not feeling well.  Definitely a welcome gesture and a credit to his service.

If you are asking, "should I eat at Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas," my advice is go for lunch on a sea day and take advantage of the lower cost and ease of which it is to get a table.  Stick with traditional Italian dishes and enjoy the view!

Giovanni's Table is open for lunch 12:00pm to 1:30pm and open for dinner 6:00pm to 9:30pm and we reviewed Giovanni's Table on Brilliance of the Seas.

Dining with kids in Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants

In:
14Dec2015

Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants are one aspect of the cruise experience many guests look forward to each sailing, but just because you have children with you does not mean you cannot enjoy these restaurants.

Royal Caribbean welcomes children younger than 13 in all of its specialty restaurants (when accompanied by an adult) and even offers them special pricing.

How much does it cost for children to eat at specialty restaurant?

Kids ages 6-12 can dine at specialty restaurants for a $8 cover charge.

Kids 5 years old and under eat free.

Is there a special menu for kids?

Kids 5-12 have a modified adult menu,which is a round-up of kid-friendly favorites from the regular menu.

Kids under 5 are free and have a kiddies menu similar to the kids menu in the main dining room.

Some restaurants do not have kids menus and so kids order off the regular menu.

Royal Caribbean specifies restaurants such as Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, 150 Central Park, and Chef's Table do not have kids menus, as those experiences are better suited for guests age 13 and older. 

What if my kids want to eat off the regular adult menu?

In this scenario, you may be charged full price for your children.

It is worth discussing with your waiter, as we have heard of situations where they still charge the children pricing.  

Your mileage may vary, but expect to pay full price for children ordering off the regular menu when there is no kids menu option.

How do I make reservations at a specialty restaurant if I am bringing children?

If you book in advance, you will pay the full price but then it will be adjusted for the children's price as a credit on your SeaPass on board.

Bookings made on board will be charged the reduced rate when booked.

Because the Cruise Planner does not offer pricing for children, we recommend making reservations for a party size that omits the children and then showing up to the reservation with the children and informing the staff your dining party has grown.

This strategy allows guests to not overpay for their dining reservations and require an adjustment later.

What is the pricing for children at a la carte specialty restaurants?

At a la carte specialty restaurants, children are charged based on what they order off the regular menu.

Here's how to get free money for eating at Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants

In:
12Dec2015

Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants offer some amazing food and many guests love to go back again and again to enjoy them.

But with so many great choices, did you know about a trick to get free onboard credit just by making plans to eat at specialty restaurants?

We share the secret to getting free onboard credit just for booking Royal Caribbean's specialty restaurants before your next cruise.

Review: Rita's Cantina on Brilliance of the Seas

In:
09Dec2015

It is time to talk about a specialty restaurant that we have never reviewed before, Rita's Cantina on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas.

Rita's Cantina is a Tex-Mex inspired restaurant that first launched on Allure of the Seas when she debuted and has since spread to a number of Royal Caribbean ships.

Before ever stepping foot into Rita's, I had read quite a number of reviews online and most guests seemed to have a negative view of Rita's, especially compared to Sabor Modern Mexican.

I try not to judge anything based purely on what I may read or hear about it, but I will admit I did lower my expectations considerably.  I assumed a meal at Rita's would not be similar to my amazing meals at Sabor, but I wanted to keep as open a mind as possible.

Once on Brilliance of the Seas, I made a point to stop in for lunch on one of our sea days.  Will it be a hit or miss? Time to find out!

Atmosphere

On Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, Rita's Cantina is located on deck 11 behind the Windjammer on the port side of the ship.

Rita's is a half open air restaurant, with covered seating and tables out in the open.  If you have eaten at Johnny Rockets on a Voyager or Freedom class ship, the seating arrangement is somewhat similar in that there is indoor and outdoor seating. 

On Brilliance of the Seas, although there is covered seating, there is no air conditioning (or heat) for the indoor portion, so you are still somewhat at the mercy of the weather conditions outdoors.

Regardless of if you are seating inside or outside, there are views of the ocean from everywhere, except the bar (although you could simply turn around to see the ocean).

To describe the decor of Rita's Cantina, I would have to say there are hints of a Southwestern USA/Mexico motif with teals, dark reds and oranges.

Much of the restaurant, however, is not very well themed and feels more like a table at the Windjammer than a typical Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant.

After I scoped out the restaurant for a bit, it was time to dig into lunch.  Let's check out the menus!

Eats

For my meal at Rita's Cantina, I wanted to sample a little of everything that I could to get a sense of what Rita's really offers.

The first thing I noticed about the menu at Rita's Cantina is that while you could have a meal here, the menu really leans more towards being a restaurant that offers a lot of drinks and some snacks and light fare to go along with the drinks.

There is quite a selection of margaritas available, served on the rocks or frozen.

If mixed drinks or beer are your thing, then there is plenty to choose from as well.  Certainly. no one can complain about there not being a good selection of alcohol at Rita's Cantina.

The food menu is fairly limited, with just eight items listed.

The one thing I did notice immediately about Rita's Cantina menu are the prices.  Everything is incredibly inexpensive.  Most items are about $2-3 each.  That is dirt cheap.

I asked my waiter for a recommendation for a margarita and he pointed me towards the Pineapple Orange Margarita.

I opted for frozen and it was served in a rather large cup.

The margarita was fine, neither the best I have ever had nor the worst.  I prefer my margaritas to have more tequila than what I was served, but not the end of the world.

For my food, I ordered the roasted tomatillo broth, fiesta guacamole, chips & salsa and a grilled Quesadilla.  I figured that would be a good assortment of food to consider.

Service was a bit slower than I expected, but not because of my waiter.  The restaurant was not that busy, so at least I could tell the food was not just sitting around.

First up was the chips and salsa. 

The salsa was more of a pico de gallo, and I really enjoyed it.  We had just been in Cozumel, Mexico the day before, so I had a pretty good idea of what good salsa is and this was freshly made.  I could snack on this any day.  The chips were certainly out of a bag.

Next came the guacamole.

This guacamole was, well, awful.  The consistency was too watery and it was really bland.  I hate to say it, but I have had far better guacamole out of a jar from my local supermarket.  

Luckily, the tomatillo soup came out next and it was a welcome distraction from the guacamole.

The soup was more of a tortilla soup than anything else and it was above average.  I certainly ate much more of the soup than I did the guacamole.

Last out was the chicken Quesadilla, which was served with sour cream and more guacamole.  

I sampled the guacamole that came with the Quesadilla to see if perhaps my first guac serving was a bad batch, but this too was inedible.

The Quesadilla itself was okay and lent itself to the comparison that most Quesadilla are just Mexican grilled cheese's.  I ate a good amount of it, but the Quesadilla was just okay.  

Overall

After hearing mixed reviews of Rita's Cantina for years, I did not know what to expect but after eating at Rita's Cantina, I now know why it has the reputation it has.

I have two takeaways from RIta's Cantina on Brilliance of the Seas:

  1. The food is nothing special and tends to be more lackluster than anything else
  2. The food is really, really inexpensive

I freely admit the food is not going to impress many, but when you consider the low prices (I spent about $8 for all my food), perhaps Rita's Cantina is not an awful value.

I see Rita's Cantina as not a restaurant for a meal, but rather a snack with a few drinks.  If you purchase one of the unlimited alcohol packages, I could easily see Rita's Cantina being a great spot to enjoy the benefits of the drink package with a plate of nachos and salsa.

The bottom line is Rita's Cantina will not be at the top of many guests' favorite restaurant lists, but I do like the low prices and ample selection of drinks available.

Have you dined at Rita's Cantina? What's your favorite dish on the menu?

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