After 15 months of no cruise ships sailing, Royal Caribbean has slowly restarted operations with dining onboard being one of the most visible changes to the experience.
Not only has there been tweaks to how food is served, such as crew members serving passengers at the Windjammer buffet, but Royal Caribbean has rolled out other changes to its ships that are in many cases the result of months of work behind the scenes.
While cruise ships may have been shutdown for most of 2020, Royal Caribbean's food and beverage team was not idle. Royal Caribbean Vice President Food & Beverage, Linken D'Souza, took the time while ships were out of service to work on a number of initiatives that guests are now seeing onboard.
At the onset of the shutdown, Royal Caribbean was primarily focused on getting crew members home and to ensure all the equipment and venues were locked down. But then, the food and beverage team started thinking about the projects they always wanted to do, but were simply too busy to tackle in addition to the day-to-day operations onboard.
"I said, this is an opportune moment. Let's go back and really think about the business and what needs to get better," Mr. D'Souza explained as he laid out his team's plans during the shutdown.
A lot of energy initially went into re-evaluating their supply chains, looking at ways to improve the Windjammer or dining rooms.
"We spent a lot of time looking at all the menus and all of the recipes and a lot of simplification. The most challenging part of our business is managing 26 ships spread across the world and figuring out how to build consistency."
One of the early changes to come out of this refocus was the Windjammer, where Mr. D'Souza says new dishware and a focus on quality of presentation was added.
"I think historically it was about mass volumes of food everywhere. This is really about making sure everything that's out there is well prepared, tastes exceptionally good, and makes folks want to come back."
Over in the main dining room, Royal Caribbean refocused their efforts on plating, entrees, and fine-tuned a lot of those experiences.
Another change was to re-vamp the fleetwide drink menu, which now includes cocktails, mocktails, and low/no alcohol drinks.
"The beverage team focused in on rebuilding the beverage menu, and we focused on the 'Taste of the Caribbean', which is really going to some of our favorite places that our ships sailed to and identifying drinks that are really signature drinks to those islands and bringing them on board the ship."
The hope for Mr. D'Souza was to infuse a piece of these quintessential Caribbean ports in the drink menu, "It's like bringing a port of call to your experience onboard the ship. And maybe you have the cocktail on board and you get off from the island and you say, hey, I got to get one of those here to see how close they are."
Some of the major changes Royal Caribbean has made to the dining experience to ensure a healthy experience for all includes:
- No self-service buffet option, including drink stations, ice cream stations and other locations
- Restaurant menus shown in the Royal Caribbean app
- Reservations recommended for meals at specialty restaurants, Main Dining Room, or Windjammer
- Scanning guest SeaPass cards upon entry and exit to Windjammer to ensure venue is not too crowded
- Designated areas for everyone in main dining room, including parents and unvaccinated children, and areas for vaccinated parties only.
- Most bars and lounges are open to everyone, while some are designated for vaccinated guests.
Healthy return to service
Cruise ships restarting was much more than simply pulling into port and allowing passengers onboard. Royal Caribbean spent a great deal of time and energy on new protocols, and that includes dining.
Mr. D'Souza said a big part of his team's planning was focused on the return to service, "There was a lot of protocols, a lot of time spent focused on how do we come back to healthy, safe return service."
"We looked at the table designs in the dining room, how many guests could fit in every dining ship by ship."
"And so making sure that we had all the systems and protocols in place and a lot of my team stepped into roles that were not traditionally their roles. And I think that happened across our company."
D'Souza characterized this time as "very challenging" for everyone involved, but he felt there was a focused effort on doing what was needed for the business to return.