Specialty Restaurants

Criticism over Royal Caribbean's decline in included food


MSNBC posted a column lamenting the decline in the amount of food that is included on cruise ships these days and used Royal Caribbean as an example. Citing the increasing cost of specialty restaurants, author Sean O'Neill pointed out how cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are emphasizing more and more the specialty restaurants that cost extra.

The large part of O'Neill's point was centered around Rita's Cantina and the Seafood Shack, found on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (among other ships not mentioned). 

Passengers used to pay $8 for meals at Rita's Cantina, for instance. They'll now pay a fee of $3 to dine at the restaurant and then pay a price for each item ordered a la carte, too. The 15 percent gratuity isn't included either. 

O'Neill feels that neither Rita's nor the Seafood Shack constitute "premium restaurants" and the quality of the food is low enough that it ought to be included in the price of the cruise.  Adding insult to injury, O'Neill points out that the prices have gone up too with Royal Caribbean's recent decision to charge a restaurant fee and an a la carte charge.

What really concerns O'Neill is the path he thinks the cruise lines are going down of serving worse and worse food in the main dining rooms so that guests will feel more inclined to pay extra for the good food.

Yet the danger here is that all cruise lines will begin to serve sub-standard food in their main dining rooms. After all, by making the dining hall experience less attractive, a company can make more money by upselling customers on fee-based meals elsewhere on-board.

O'Neill was sure to point out that this trend isn't limited to Royal Caribbean, he was simply using it as an example of a trend happening all over the cruise industry.

Royal Caribbean changes price structure at Chops Grille, Rita's Cantina and the Seafood Shack


Royal Caribbean has changed the way guests pay for a few of its specialty restaurants.  Chops Grille, Rita's Cantina and the Seafood Shack have all changed from a one price for everything to a "surcharge plus a la carte" menu.  Basically you will now pay a fee to dine at these restaurants and then pay a price for each item you order on top of that.

Royal Caribbean had recently increased the the fee to dine at Chops Grill from $25 to $30 per person earlier this year. Rita's and the Seafood Shack also changed earlier this year when they charged a $3 up-front service fee, and all items are a la carte. In addition, a 15 percent gratuity may be added to the bill.

So why the change in pricing structure?  Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Janet Diaz told Cruise Critic that, "increases bring the cover charges in line with the premium and exclusive offerings found at our specialty dining venues, which offer a high quality experience at phenomenal value.  A la carte allows guests to better customize their experience and what they would like to pay.  Rather than charging one cover charge for a person who may just want a salad and another guest who may want shrimp, there are different price points based on what a guest orders, similar to land-based restaurants." 

Diaz also mentions that the price change wasn't generating sufficient gratuities for the restaurant staff, which added to the reason to change, "We looked at what gratuity split is taken out of a typical traditional cover charge and applied a similar formula to the a la carte menus, making the necessary adjustments based on concept, service level, etc. With this system it allows to cover for the gratuity, while keeping the menu pricing at the lowest level possible."

Royal Caribbean planning major cruise fleet upgrade


Royal Caribbean is planning a spending spree to upgrade its fleet of cruise ships over the next three years to help keeps its older ships competitive in the cruise market.  

This $300 million revitalization called "Royal Advantage", will allow most of its Vision, Voyager and Radiance class vessels to get a series of upgrades including

  • Restaurants from Oasis Class of ships
    • Chops Grille steakhouse
    • Rita's Cantina Mexican restaurants
    • Izumi Restaurant (sushi)
    • Chops Grille (Steak house)
    • Park Café (sandwiches and salads)
    • Boardwalk Doghouse (brats and wieners)
  • New cabin designs
  • Royal Babies and Tots Nursery
  • Wi-fi throughout ship
  • Digital Wayfinding Systems
  • Oversized LED video screens on pool decks

There's more planned but no details are available quite yet.  These changes sound quite similar to the changes that have already been made to ships such as Radiance of the Seas mostly recently.

These overhauls will require each ship to enter into a lengthy drydock process where the ship will get its upgrades.  The schedule of upgrades are as follows

  1. Splendour of the Seas - November 2011
  2. Rhapsody of the Seas - March 2012
  3. Grandeur of the Seas - May 2012
  4. Serenade of the Seas - November 2012
  5. Legend of the Seas - 2013 or 2014
  6. Vision of the Seas - 2013 or 2014
  7. Navigator of the Seas - 2013 or 2014
  8. Voyager of the Seas - 2013 or 2014
  9. Explorer of the Seas - 2013 or 2014
  10. Adventure of the Seas - 2013 or 2014
  11. Brilliance of the Seas - 2013 or 2014

We know that the overhaul for Splendour, Grandeur and Serenade of the Seas will take place in Cadiz, Spain after Royal Caribbean signed a deal to have those ships rehauled there last month.

Royal Caribbean also mentioned that Independence of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas will receive smaller, less significant upgrades.

Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein is excited about the changes that will help keep the cruise line competitive, "The Royal Advantage revitalizations takes many of the best features that we have created in recent years and introduces them across our fleet, offering our guests enhanced vacation choices around the world."

Cruising 101: Food


While Royal Caribbean's deployment of nearly half their fleet to Europe has been the big story in the company as of late, the other big trend that is sweeping across all of Royal Caribbean's ships (and frankly other cruise lines too) is the food options onboard.

While on your cruise ship, there will ample food provided throughout the day.  In short, there's hardly ever a time where you can't find food that is complimentry.  Complimentry food comes from a variety of sources and options.

Complimentry Restaurants

Main Dining Room

Every evening dinner is served in the main dining room at assigned seating tables.  You may end up sitting with passengers who you don't know, but the servers work to make your dining experience here as personal as possible.  The main dining room offers appetizers, entrees and desserts to choose from each night and you may order as much (or as little) as you like and it's nearly all complimentry.

The exception for food that is not complimentry in the main dining room are steak filets, that often come at an extra cost.

You can also dine in the main dining room for breakfast every morning and for lunch when available.  For breakfast, it's sit down service although here seating is first come-first served and you will not have the same waiters as dinner.  Lunch offers similar set up.

There is often a dress code to the Main Dining Room, although it's mostly an issue for dinner and less so for other meals.

Quick Service Restaurants

Throughout your cruise ship you will find other restaurants you may grab something to eat for no additional cost.  The exact restaurants vary from ship to ship but you will find a good variety of food to choose from.  Examples of food here can include pizza, sandwiches, pastries, ice cream and more.  

There's usually some seating available at these restaurants although not a lot.  These types of restaurants are usually for the "grab and go" passenger, who may be wanting something quickly to eat on their way to somewhere else.


The defacto buffet on every Royal Caribbean ship is the Windjammer Cafe, which is an all you-can-eat buffet that serves meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There's lots of seating and it's a great option  when you want a casual meal.  The Windjammer is also usually convenient to the pools on the ship.

Don't let the buffet setup fool you, the Windjammer offers good quality food and while you could argue the food quality isn't as high as you will find in the main dining room, it's still a restaurant many Royal Caribbean fans love to frequent.

As mentioned earlier, the Windjammer is open for dinner and can be a good alternative for those who do not want to get dressed up for dinner in the main dining room or simply want to have more pool time or some other activity.

Room Service

Yes, room service is complimentry on your Royal Caribbean cruise.  There is a menu in your stateroom to choose from and it's available 24 hours per day.

There is a catch to room service, while the food is complimentry, it's traditional to tip the person that delivers the food to your room.  In addition, Royal Caribbean changed their room service policy back in 2009, and there is now a $3.95 surcharge for any food ordered between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.

Speciality Restaurants

The biggest trend among all Royal Caribbean ships is the addition of specialty restaurants to their ships that cost a nominal fee.  The prices vary from ship to ship and restaurant to restaurant.  These specialty restaurants tend to have a food theme (Italian, French, Steakhouse, etc) and are table service restaurants.

Most specialty restaurants have a dress code, and in some cases their dress code is more formal than the main dining room.  

Specialty restaurants recommend making a reservation in advance to ensure there is a seating available.  It's not to say you can't walk up ona  given night and dine there, but there may be a wait or no availability.  You can book speciality restaurants in advance of your cruise on the Royal Caribbean website up to 60 days before your cruise but no sooner than 4 days before your sail date.

Pricing can also vary from restaurant to restaurant.  Some restaurants have a cost per person and then nearly everything on the menu is included in the cost.  Other resaurants offer their menu items with a la carte pricing.  Others include a per-person fee and a la carte pricing.

The future

Royal Caribbean has been working on increasing the amount of specialty restaurants on their ships as they've proven to be great money makers.  Some guests are bothered by the amount of speciality restaurants onboard because it's come at the expense of the complimentry offerings as well as the principle of paying for food on a cruise ship.

No one knows what the future will entail exactly, but all signs point to more speciality restaurants than we've seen before on Royal Caribbean ships.  Even older ships are often receiving new restaurants when they are brought into dry dock for upgrades.

The bottom line is there's plenty of places on your Royal Caribbean ship to eat at.  Both complimentry and specialty restaurants offer a wide variety of food to choose from and there's almost always something to get regardless of time of day.

Royal Caribbean changes Rita's Cantina to a la carte on Allure of the Seas


We've heard a report that speciality restaurant Rita's Cantina aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas has gone from a $7.95 service charge to a $3.00 service charge and all food is now priced a la carte.

The move is similar to how the Seafood Shack specialty restaurant aboard Oasis of the Seas is handled.  

The change is effective as of the cruise that left Port Everglades yesterday.

The change of pricing isn't unprecedented.  Royal Caribbean changed the price structure aboard Radiance of the Seas back on June 10.

Video of the Day: Radiance of the Seas' New Dining Venues


Radiance of the Seas video update


Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas is almost ready after undergoing a "revitalization" before she is deployed to Australia later this year.  In the meantime, Royal Caribbean has released a number of quick video updates that detail the changes that she has undergone.

Summary of revitalisation – interviews with Richard Fain, Adam Goldstein and Lisa Bauer
Radiance of the Seas will be the next Royal Caribbean International ship to receive the Royal Advantage this June 2011. On Radiance, there will be more to taste, savor & share as an array of dining options arrive onboard. Other enhancements include a nursery, Diamond Lounge and outdoor movie screen.

The new Samba Grill
Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas cruise ship continues with her 22-day dry dock. Watch the installation of Radiance's new restaurant, Samba Grill - a sumptuous steakhouse experience with personality and flare.

Quill & Compass Pub
This video shows the Quill & Compass Pub start to come to life on Radiance of the Seas. Radiance is the first ship in Royal Caribbean International Radiance Class to receive this pub:

The Float Out
In this video, Radiance of the Seas is tested on the water for the first time since her dry dock:

New Staterooms
There are 15 additional staterooms are being added to the Radiance of the Seas during her dry dock in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Watch this video for more information about the family suite to single guest staterooms that are being added:

Hull work from bow to stern
Radiance of the Seas is still moving forward with her dry dock process, watch this video to see Marine Operations do their work from the bow to the stern of the ship:

The azipods on Radiance of the Seas are being upgraded to improve fuel efficiency. Watch this Royal Caribbean video to learn more on the process with Radiance's Captain Claus Andersen:

Safety drill
This video highlights the crew performing a safety drill while Radiance of the Seas is in dry dock:

New Royal Babies and  Tots Nursery
Radiance of the Seas is the 5th ship to introduce the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery to the Royal Caribbean International fleet. Watch this clip to see what once was an arcade come to life as a nursery.

Outdoor Poolside Cinema
Watch as workers install an outdoor, poolside movie screen on Radiance of the Seas during her 22-day dry dock. Guests will be able to enjoy watching major sporting events, concerts and family-oriented movies.

Izumi Specialty Restaurant
Watch the installation of Radiance's new restaurant, Izumi - a first to the Radiance Class. Guests can choose from popular sushi rolls, sashimi, our Hot Rock (Ishiyaki) Plates, sukiyaki and more.

Rita’s Cantina
Watch the installation of Rita's Cantina on Radiance of the Seas during her 22 day dry dock. This lively and casual restaurant features tasty traditional Mexican fare and a comprehensive selection of margaritas. Caters to families by day, and adults by night.

Final Dry Dock preparations
Radiance of the Seas 22 day dry dock is almost complete. Watch this video to see Captain Claus Andersen give a tour of all the final preparations before guests arrive for their cruise vacation on the revitalized Radiance of the Seas.

Video: Specialty Dining at Chops Grille


Allure of the Seas features more new restaurants


Showcasing onboard experiences all her own, Royal Caribbean International's Allure of the Seas, the world's next largest and most innovative cruise ship debuting in December 2010, will introduce new culinary concepts and tempting twists to signature Oasis-class restaurants. A Brazilian steakhouse will be a destination restaurant that comes to life for dinner service in the Solarium, featuring authentic Brazilian-style meats and seafood dishes, from Picanha cut sirloin steak to Atlantic salmon marinated with sea salt and garlic, served table-side and sliced straight off the skewer. In Central Park, recently anointed Chef de Cuisine Molly Brandt will present guests with a one-of-a-kind menu and distinct dining experience at Allure of the Seas' 150 Central Park, a signature fine dining experience.

"As churrascaria concept restaurants gain popularity on land, Royal Caribbean is taking advantage of having a new ship to introduce a Brazilian steakhouse and bring a new dynamic and colorful nightlife ambiance for adults in the Solarium," says Lisa Bauer, senior vice president, Hotel Operations, Royal Caribbean International. "Guests onboard Allure of the Seas will have a new arrangement of dining experiences throughout the ship, from the Adagio Main Dining Room to new venues on the Boardwalk and Royal Promenade."
Combining the best of classic Mexican beach bars and Southern California's famed taquerias, Rita's Cantina will be a vibrant new restaurant in the Boardwalk neighborhood. Adults and kids alike will enjoy some of their favorite Mexican fare, such as shrimp ceviche tostadas, warm tortilla chips with salsa and fiesta guacamole, as well as entrees, such as fajitas, fish tacos and Chipotle-style flautas. The more casual setting will be a favorite lunch, snack or dinner spot for guests seeking a flavorful fiesta onboard Allure of the Seas. Rita's Cantina also will boast some of the best and widest selection of margaritas at sea, offering both authentic and signature concoctions mixed with a choice from the extensive list of quality tequilas, served on the rocks or frozen in a variety of fruit-flavor combinations. In addition, the restaurant will introduce new nightlife to Boardwalk with live guitar music, drinks and dancing. Rita Cantina's design will include large open breezeways and an outdoor seating area complete with high top tables and stools, and will be located in place of Seafood Shack onboard sister-ship Oasis of the Seas.
Also new to Boardwalk's dynamic and engaging scene will be The Boardwalk Dog House, an outdoor hot-dog specialty counter located where The Donut Shop is on Oasis of the Seas. Guests can choose from traditional hot dogs, wieners, brats, sausages and other delicious linked meats and a variety of toppings to split a long bun. The Donut Shop will remain on Boardwalk in a new location next to the Ice Cream Parlor.
The following includes a variety of other palate-pleasing options available throughout the neighborhoods on Allure:


Rita's Cantina: A casual yet vibrant indoor/outdoor restaurant exclusively on Allure's Boardwalk, caters to families by day, and adults by night; traditional Mexican fare, comprehensive selection of margaritas and live guitar music and dancing for evening entertainment
Boardwalk Bar: The main bar on the Boardwalk; offering fruit, salads and sandwiches
Boardwalk Donut Shop: A classic haunt for casual snacks and delicious treats
Ice Cream Parlor: A variety of ice cream flavors and toppings take center stage against a backdrop of 1950s kitsch
Johnny Rockets: '50's-style diner with server-entertainers


150 Central Park: A trendy, upscale and intimate restaurant with a tasting menu and customized wine pairings created by Molly Brandt, winner of the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge co-hosted with The Culinary Institute of America, as well as Food and Wine's 2006 best student chef
Giovanni's Table: An Italian trattoria with both indoor and alfresco seating featuring Italian classics served family-style
Park Cafe: An indoor/outdoor gourmet market featuring salads, sandwiches, soups, pastries and to-die-for fudge
Vintages: A wine bar with pre-dinner tapas and cheeses along with a robust selection of fine wines
Chops Grille: Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse with views of Central Park, and premium cuts or quality meats


Exclusive to Allure of the Seas, the new churascarria, styled after popular Brazilian steakhouses, is an interactive experience where guests choose from a variety of meats, chicken and seafood brought table-side by servers, ready to slice and serve upon request
Solarium Bistro: A health-conscious dining option for breakfast and lunch
The Wipe Out Cafe: A casual self-service buffet with pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches and fresh salads
Izumi Asian Cuisine: Featuring mouthwatering flavors and a sushi bar with hot-rock cooking


Sorrento's Pizzeria: Featuring New York style pizza, with both made-to-order pies and by the slice
Cafe Promenade: Offering Seattle's Best coffee, fruit shakes, pastries and sandwiches all day
The Cupcake Cupboard: Featuring fresh-baked gourmet cupcakes as well as parties and design classes


The Vitality Cafe: Offering healthy snacks, sandwiches, wraps, fruit and smoothies
THE CLASSICS, Royal Caribbean hasn't forgotten the classics of its fleet:
Adagio Dining Room: The ship's main restaurant features a three-tier venue with a 1920s Art Deco style; flexible My Time Dining and traditional assigned seatings, as well as the highly anticipated DreamWorks Character Breakfast
Windjammer Marketplace: A casual buffet fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner
In-Stateroom Service: Order from the complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, or choose an original Johnny Rockets hamburger or Ghirardelli chocolate cookies from the new Dine In Delights menu

Royal Caribbean announces new restaurant for Allure of the Seas


There will be a new specialty restaurant on the soon-to-be-completed Allure of the Seas, Samba Grill, a Brazilian-style Churrascaria restaurant.

The new restaurant will be a little different depending on the time of day.   During the evening, Samba Grill will be adults only while during the day it will revert to being the Solarium Bistro, where it will serve light breakfasts and lunches.

Samba Grill will be a notable difference between what you will find on Allure of the Seas' sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, where the Solarium Bistro serves healthier choices for all three meals during the day and dinner in the evening for a supplementary charge of $20.

While eating at Samba Grill, guests will be served by waiters dressed as gauchos, who will offer grilled meat off skewers while live music is playing.

The new restaurant will have a charge of $25 per person, as well as a vegetarian alternative, featuring a wide-ranging salad bar, for $15 per person.