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Brilliance of the Seas: Not only for oldies

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

The Evening Herald, an Irish newspaper, sent a reporter to cruise on Brilliance of the Seas to check it out.  The reporter flew to Dubai to board Brilliance and came into the assignment with the notion that cruises were for old people but that seemed to quickly disappear once he boarded the ship.

I feared that I was entering a floating retirement home, where dinner would take place at 5pm, and a game of bingo would set you up nicely for hitting the hay at 8pm. But in truth, the stereotype didn't stick.

The stateroom seemed to be more than he was expecting and his only issue was with the shower, which he found small and the shower head wasn't very accurate.  Otherwise, he found the stateroom a nice place to spend the next few nights.

He also documented much of the activities and entertainment on Brilliance of the Seas, taking time to explore the ship properly.

The boat's central atrium, its regular clinking of glasses accompanying the tinkling of a piano, gave it the feel of a plush hotel lobby, and lulled you into the mood to slump into a comfy seat and gorge yourself on brandies.

Like many who go on cruises, food was a big deal and he seemed to be rather impressed with what he found both in the complimentary dining as well as elsewhere on the ship.

The food on board was a revelation. The main restaurant, which served buffet meals all day, catered for every imaginable taste, all laid out in a cavernous area which meant that there was no queuing, and no scramble for seats, even though up to 800 people could be eating at any one time.

I dined in Portofino, and it was better than any Italian restaurant I've been to in Dublin.

Overall, the author seemed happy with his experience and definitely seemed to be recommending a cruise aboard Brilliance of the Seas to everyone.

DVR Alert: Man-Made: Ultimate Cruise Ship - Freedom of the Seas

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Set your DVRs (or VCRs if someone actually still has one) for Sunday night to check out National Geographic Channel's series "Man-Made", where they will take a look at the Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas ship.

Freedom of the Seas debuted in 2006 as the worlds largest cruise ship: a fast, fabulous floating city with nearly 6000 people on board almost every day. Freedom has a reputation for everything thats bold and beautiful, and her first New Year's is set to be an extravagant celebration with a week of intense preparation leading up to the biggest ever New Year's Eve party at sea. She is equipped with the technology to handle almost anything: rogue waves, hurricanes, terrorist attack and even contagious diseases - threats no captain can ignore. In the lead up to the big bash, Freedom and her crew of nearly 1500 will not only battle the elements but also a full complement of eccentric guests. The first New Years Eve on the worlds biggest cruise ship: plain sailing or a nautical nightmare? This is the inside story.

Remember how I said to set your DVRs? Well that's because it's airing on the National Georgraphic Channel at 2am on Sunday, August 8th.  I don't know about you, but I'm not usually up that early/late, so I'll opt to record it instead.  Here's a quick clip from the episode.

Veteran cruiser reviews Oasis of the Seas

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Nanu, a Nepalese woman and her sister Rita, took a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and compiled a rather lengthy review of their trip, documenting much of it. 

To celebrate my sister’s birthday this month, we – just the two of us – embarked on a seven-day cruise on the world’s largest, biggest, hugest cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas. We left behind one husband, six children, 9 assorted grandchildren, and 1 ½ great grand babies (the half represents one due in December).

Nanu gives a good report on the ship, which for those who haven't been on Oasis, may find interesting. She documents much of the ship and includes a lot of Oasis of the Seas trivia and facts. She also mixes in her own experiences, like the food on the ship, which she found to be more than plentiful for her. 

The entertainment on Day Seven in the Opal Theater was also unusual and unique. It was entitled “Come Fly with Me,” and consisted of performances by gymnasts and dancers using trapezes, cables, wires, trampolines and even, I kid you not, lengths of cloth. Dynamic and unbelievable artistry.

If you enjoy in-depth trip reports, you'll be sure to give her report a read over.  

Restaurant Review: Seafood Shack

In:
05Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Tucked away on the Boardwalk area of Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is the Seafood Shack, one of nine specialty restaurants found aboard the world's largest cruise ship.  For those who need a seafood kick, this is your place to go.

Atmosphere

The Seafood Shack is located in the Boardwalk area of the Oasis of the Seas and fits right in.  In fact, it probably is the best themed element to the Boardwalk motif, as it does feel like the sort of restaurant you would find along an ocean front boardwalk.  The restaurant is decorated with a lot of surf items, from surf boards to water buoys, it's all about the ocean here.  

In fact, the menu you get is designed to look like a kickboard and is made of a hard wood.  These little elements really help establish one of the better decorated restaurants found aboard Oasis of the Seas.

The Seafood Shack is an open air restaurant, meaning it's not air conditioned and subject to the outside temperature.  Eating here in the middle of July for lunch, it wasn't terrible as it's shaded from direct sunlight and there are fans overhead to keep the air moving.

Eats

Before we jump into the food, we need to discuss the ordering system here.  The Seafood Shack has a cover charge you must pay per person, similar to other specialty restaurants.  However, the Seafood Shack differs from the other specialty restaurants in that your cover charge does not allow you to order as much as you like.  Rather, you can order one appetizer, one entree and one dessert.  You can order extra food on top of that for an additional fee per item ($3.95).

At first, I thought this would be a problem as the staple of any restaurant on a cruise ship is ordering as much as you like.  Once I tried it out, I found there to be plenty of food between the three courses you are allowed and it should be more than enough food for most people, especially once you start sharing some food around the table.

The menu at the Seafood Shack features, yes, a lot of sea food.  From fish to crab to shrimp, there's a lot to choose from. I was actually surprised by the amount of non-seafood on the menu as well.  Lots of chicken, beef and pork can be found to choose from, which is good for picky eaters or those who aren't keen on just eating seafood for the entire meal.

Be sure to ask before you order your meal what the fresh catch of the day is.  The fresh catch routinely changes from day to day and if you enjoy fish, you know whatever is freshest is often the best choice.  On the day I ate here, a butter fish was fresh and I opted to give it a try.  But before we get there, let's start with the appetizers.

I had the New England clam chowder, which came in a large sourdough bread bowl.  The soup was good, but the bread bowl was better.  There's just something about the combo that really made it so good and I had to forcibly stop myself from eating the bread bowl because I didn't want to fill up on that before the rest of the food came.  My wife opted to have the cajun potato wedges, which were your typical good tasting large french fries.  In both cases, we found there to be an abundance of food and we barely dented my wife's potato wedges.

Most of the appetizers that aren't soups are served wrapped in faux newspaper to look like the sort of thing you might find in England.  I've only seen this previously with fish and chips, but other appetizers came in this fashion which seemed to give people a kick.

Back to the entrees, my butter fish arrived grilled along topped with a fruit salsa and served with mashed potato and some other veggies.  The fish itself was okay, but I found the salsa on top of it to be really tasty and combining the two really made it a good meal.    My wife opted to get the Bermuda onion burger (can you tell which of us likes seafood?) and found it to be an above average burger.  Not great, but better than the usual burger you find around.

By the time we got to dessert, we were both pretty stuffed.  My wife got the cookies and cream ice cream sundae while I just got a regular ice cream sundae.  The great thing about ice cream is it's nearly impossible to screw up so as you might imagine, it was quite good.

If you have kids (or adults who like to behave like kids), every so often there's a song and dance the staff do for the children.  Basically, they parade around the restaurant singing a song (yes, it's a sea shanty) and the kids that we saw seemed to really enjoy it, so be ready to jump into the parade should it occur.

Overall

The Seafood Shack is an interesting restaurant offering a wide enough selection of food to be able to cater to most taste pallets.  If you can, avoid this restaurant around times when there's something in the nearby Aqua Theater as it seems whenever a show or event ends there, there's a bee line made for the Seafood Shack and Johnny Rockets.  It's best to check out the Seafood Shack for lunch, as it seems to be the least crowded then.

Considering there is no cover charge for kids under the age of 13, if you have young kids, this may be a good option among the specialty restaurants to check out.

Cost:

  • Lunch: $7.95 per guest fee
  • Dinner: $9.95 per guest fee
  • There is no cover fee for kids under the age of 13

Seafood Shack is open for lunch from 11:30am to 3:30pm and dinner from 5:30pm to 10:00pm

And I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve been here! What did you order? Any suggestions or favorite items? Let me know in the comments below!

A look at Oasis of the Seas' audio system

In:
05Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

For the technophiles out there, a couple weeks ago we posted information about the lighting on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and this week, there's more technical goodness, with a look at the audio system that powers Oasis of the Seas.  Royal Caribbean hired FUNA International to outfit Oasis of the Seas with a multitude of BSS Audio Soundweb London processing devices. 

Oasis of the Seas' audio system, covering everything from background music, acrobatic, musical and comedic entertainment, is handled by 29 Soundweb London BLU-800 and 21 BLU-120 devices, with BLU-10 programmable touch screen remotes for local control outfitted throughout the ship as well.

FUNA has a history of working with new cruise ships, as it's deployed its Soundweb London devices on the last four new cruise ships built out of its Turku, Finland manufacturing facility.

Senior Project Manager for FUNA International Derek Warner talked about the power of his systems, "As BSS Audio signal processors have continued to become more advanced in their ability to provide comprehensive system networking and control, we have been able to use them in more complex and larger applications. The Soundweb London platform provided us with a quality product, which was very user-friendly for our programmers. Collectively, we were able to pre-program and test our system prior to installation; a big help as our time for onsite programming can be very limited."

One of the more difficult tasks that Warner and his team had to tackle was the audio in the outdoor Aqua Theater, which suffers from ambient noise such as wind, engines, waves and thousands of excited guests.  His audio system overcomes those obstacles while providing guests the sound emanating from the stage is perfectly heard.

Tea Party holding special cruise

In:
05Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

If you affiliate yourself with the Tea Party movement, then there's a Royal Caribbean cruise for you.  Conservative publishing site WorldNet Daily is sponsoring a special cruise dubbed "The WND Tea Party at Sea" to be held aboard Liberty of the Seas September 19-26, 2010.

This cruise will feature teaching sessions by Joseph Farah, Alan Keyes, Jerome Corsi, David Kupelian, and Aaron Klein, all of whom are contributors to WorldNet Daily, a site with politically conservative tenancies.

The cruise follows the WorldNet Daily "Taking America Back" conference, a three-day extravaganza at Miami's Doral Resort and Spa (home of the Blue Monster golf course). The conference spans Constitution Day, Sept. 17, and features a current elected representative, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); a couple of formers, Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.); and a couple GOP hopefuls (Floridians Allen West, seeking a House seat, and Alexander Snitker, running for Senate). And, for all of you who have been wondering, "Where's Ann Coulter lately?", the conservative commentator will be on board, too.

If September 2010 doesn't work for you, there's another cruise being held by the same organizing group in January 2011 for "true patriots who are passionately committed to the principles of liberty and freedom as granted to us by the Founding Fathers."  This cruise will feature Keyes as well as former Georgia congressman Bob Barr and Gary DeMar, founder of American Vision.

Mexican tourist officials meet with major cruise lines to promote new routes

In:
04Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Mexican tourism officials met with representatives of Royal Caribbean and other major cruise lines to promote new routes and increasing tourists Pacific Mexican states and the Gulf of Mexico. The cruise line representatives were part of the Cruise Association of Florida and the Caribbean.

Secretaries of Tourism of Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Colima, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche, and the secretaries of Chiapas and Guerrero met with representatives from major cruise lines including Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line.
 
Undersecretary of Tourism Operation of the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism, Alfredo Moreno commented, "For the first time we are in a dialogue to build public policy on cruise ships". 
 
Last year the Mexican ports were five million cruise passengers and this year expect to receive nearly six million, according to projections by the Ministry of Tourism.
The goal of this conference was to address basic issues such as development and differentiation of ports, standards and certification of providers of services, facilitation and costs, promotion, and effective communication.
 
Moreno noted that Mexico is investing nearly $40 million in all cruise ship destinations, with the idea to increase that amount by 2011 with a focus even more timely in these areas.
 
"We seek to improve the flow of cruising and spending of visitors and for our part theming conditions of our ports and differences between destinations," said Francisco de la Vega Aragón, secretary of Tourism of Sinaloa, noting that the port of Mazatlan receives 200 cruises a year and a half million cruise passengers.

Restaurant Review: Izumi

In:
04Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas features a number of specialty restaurants that are available to book for an additional fee and Izumi is one of them.  Featuring a selection of Japanese food, today we take a closer look at this offering.


 

Atmosphere

Izumi is a Japanese restaurant that features a lot of brown and orange with an Asian flare.  You will find a lot of bamboo and cherry blossoms adoring the interior of the restaurant.   Located on Deck 16 of Oasis of the Seas, Izumi partially overlooks the ocean as well as the sun deck and to a lesser degree the pool deck.  Only tables near the windows will allow for much of a view.  There is also a rather large sushi bar that encircles the chefs that prepare the sushi.  Seating here can vary in terms of something to see, as it can be difficult to see the chefs at work while sitting at the bar.


 

Upon entering the Izumi, you will check in and be seated.  There isn't much of a waiting area should you need to as the restaurant as a whole is rather small.  Once seated, the waiter will bring you a warm towel to refresh your face and hands.  This is a staple of any good Japanese restaurant and nice to see.

Eats

On my recent 7 night Oasis of the Seas cruise, I ate at Izumi every evening except one, so I like to think I got a good idea of the food here.  Izumi is a Japanese restaurant and has a few options beyond just sushi.  Sushi was the driving force that brought me here, but for those who aren't fans of raw fish, there's also some other interesting options.

To start with, Izumi currently features complimentary edamame (a preparation of baby soybeans in the pod boiled in water together salt, and served whole)  and miso soup.  Both were good and tasty and you can have as much of either as you choose.  You will also be offered a choice of various sparkling waters (this does cost extra).  Not being a fan of Peligrino or its similar counterparts, I passed on it.

Let's start with the sushi.  If you're looking for sushi on Oasis of the Seas, Izumi is your only option. Unlike other Royal Caribbean ships, there is no sushi offered in the Windjammer Cafe.  In addition to the set sushi menu, there's usually a special roll created each night by the chef.  I found the chef's roll to be the best sushi option each night, as they were routinely large portions, fresh and interesting combinations.

The sushi on the menu offered some good options, however, I found the options fairly limited compared to the various types of sushi rolls one can get at your local sushi restaurant at home.  That being said, there were still many more sushi options in Izumi than I've found in the Windjammer on previous cruises.  The sushi itself was fresh and most sushi rolls featured 6 to 8 pieces per roll.  Given the price of most sushi to be about $5 per roll, I found this to be a good value.

Beyond sushi, the most interesting item on the menu is the hot rock plate.  Basically, you get a heated stone the size of a small book along with uncooked meat (beef, chicken or shrimp) along with some vegetables.  You take the meat and veggies, stick them on the plate and they cook in front of you.  The first time we did it, we had the question of "When do I know when it's done?".  The waiter was very helpful in not only telling us, but helping us cook the first batch.  

This is definitely a fun dish to share, and kids are sure to really enjoy it and a good option for those not keen on really ethnic food.

In terms of pricing, I found Izumi to be mostly fair.  Entree dishes were good and there is no cover charge, the fee at Izumi is a la carte.  There were some items that I found to be rather unfairly priced, however.  I ordered a bottle of hot sake and that was $24 (there was no other option) and that special sushi roll of the day cost $10 (most other sushi rolls cost about $5 or $6).  It's always a good rule of thumb to ask how much something is when it isn't listed on the menu.

Overall

Overall I found Izumi to be a good option for fans of Japanese food, specifically sushi.  While Izumi features a few different dishes that aren't sushi, I feel their strongest suit is their sushi offerings.  I only wish they had a few more rolls to choose from, but given the price of their sushi, it's hard to go wrong.  

Izumi is open for dinner from 6:00pm to 9:30pm and for lunch at noon to 1:30pm.

And I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve been here! What did you order? Any suggestions or favorite items? Let me know in the comments below!

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