There’s never been an official study on this, but I’m pretty sure the average person gains a whole lot of weight on a cruise.
Think about it: where else can you order multiple appetizers, main courses and desserts without paying a penny more? Where else can you finish your first dinner, take in a show, then eat a second one straight after? With restaurants, cafes and snack carts scattered throughout the ship, it’s almost rude not to indulge.
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas is no exception, with 17 different F&B concepts onboard. No matter how eclectic or picky you are, you’re bound to find something you like. In fact, the main challenge for me was figuring out how to pace myself- so many meals, so little time.
|🚢 Cruise to Nowhere: Royal Caribbean|
I’ve already covered the restaurant booking process (and dining packages) in detail here, but I’ll do a brief recap.
The primary venues for complimentary dining are the Main Dining Room (MDR) or Windjammer buffet, which normally serve three meals a day (Windjammer only did breakfast and lunch when we sailed). The latter requires no reservations; the former has Traditional or My Time options.
If you opt for Traditional, you’ll choose between a 5.30 p.m seating and an 8 p.m seating. This is fixed throughout the entire duration of the cruise; you can’t swap it mid-way. If you opt for My Time, you’ll be able to make MDR reservations from 6 p.m to 9.30 p.m in the Cruise Planner prior to boarding.
In addition to this, you’ll find complimentary cafes and snack carts scattered throughout the ship, serving up lighter bites like sandwiches, soups, pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, cakes etc. And before you ask, yes, you can have seconds, thirds, fourths of everything.
If you want to eat at specialty restaurants (fees apply), you have two options:
- Make an individual reservation in advance through the Cruise Planner
- Buy an Unlimited Dining Package (UDP) and reserve once on board
(1) guarantees you a specific time at a specific restaurant, but you’ll have to pay the piecemeal a la carte pricing. (2) lets you save big and try as many specialty restaurants as you want (you can eat at the same place multiple times) but you can only make reservations after boarding (where people who booked via (1) may have snapped up the prime slots).
If it comes down to price, the UDP on a four-night cruise costs ~S$135. A dinner at Chops Grille and Wonderland cost S$68 and S$75 respectively. You can see how the UDP can pay for itself very easily, and why it would be the better option if you wanted to try two or more specialty dining restaurants.
Since I was staying in a Grand Suite, I had access to the concierge, which proved invaluable. The concierge is able to pre-book restaurants (plus activities and shows) for those with UDPs. Look out for his/her email, which should pop up in your inbox ~5 days before departure. It’s cheating in a way, since you’re jumping the queue on non-suite guests with UDPs, but I’ll take it.
For everyone else, time is of the essence once you board. You should, nay, you must make dining reservations for the entire voyage on the first day. There’s no penalty for cancellations (a US$10 fee applies for no shows), and slots disappear before you know it.
Reservations can be made via the app, at individual restaurants, or at this kiosk on Deck 4 opposite Guest Services.
Speaking of reservations, the Royal Caribbean app is notoriously buggy, and may not display all your bookings properly. I had a brief moment of panic when I first boarded and saw my schedule completely empty. Fortunately, the maitre d’ at Coastal Kitchen was able to dig through the onboard reservations system and put together a consolidated schedule, which matched what I’d communicated to the concierge.
|Lunch||12- 1.30 p.m||S$31.27|
|Dinner||5.30- 9 p.m||S$67.99|
|Milelion Verdict: Could compete with some steakhouses on land. If you’re only doing one specialty restaurant, make it this one|
Chops Grille, without a doubt, was the highlight of the dining onboard experience for me. We visited twice- the first time was good, the second phenomenal.
The menu reads like a classic steakhouse, where proceedings open with crab cakes, caesar salads and seafood towers, before progressing to the main attraction. Indulgent desserts come standard too.
On embarkation day we had an early dinner at Chops Grille. The starters of crab cakes and tuna tartare were tasty, even if the wasabi caviar for the latter was a bit too neon green for comfort. Both the mushroom soup and lobster bisque were great, if a bit too heavy. I wish they’d have put some real lobster chunks inside the bisque though; it was pure soup and no meat.
My first choice for the main was the ribeye, but it wasn’t available (I’m glad it was on the second visit, see below). So I had the prime NY strip instead, a 12-oz USDA Prime cut, with sides of french fries, jumbo asparagus (that’s what the menu said, but it’s really the thinner pencil asparagus), and sauteed mushrooms.
The cook on the steak was a perfect medium rare, and it was certainly a good piece of beef, but after you eat ribeye any other cut is always going to feel underpowered.
The Milelioness had the spicy jumbo shrimp, which was tasty, but slightly disappointing. The shrimp were far from jumbo, and were clearly frozen. In fact, one of the things I was surprised to learn on the cruise was that none of the seafood is fresh; it’s all frozen stuff that gets thawed on board.
The problem with this, as chefs will know, is that frozen shrimp gets plumped up with sodium tripolyphosphate. This causes them to absorb more water (hence weighing more- think of it like the industry’s way of putting its finger on the scale), and makes them more likely to steam rather than sear. So nice grill marks (like the ones you could get on fresh shrimp) are near impossible, and you can forget about any Maillard reaction magic where the skin gets ever so slightly crisp and caramelized.
For dessert, we had a New York cheesecake and warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The former was great, the latter was let down by the ice cream. With good quality vanilla ice cream, you can taste the butterfat; with poor quality vanilla ice cream, you taste ice crystals.
So there were hits and misses, but it was on the whole good enough to warrant a return visit, and I’m so glad we did.
This time round, I ordered a charred beef carpaccio for the starter. This featured paper-thin strips of barely cooked beef, parmesan cheese and mustard.
The ribeye I wanted to order on embarkation day was now available, and believe me, this is the only cut you want. It sounds intimidatingly large at 16-oz (450 grams, for those of us who don’t speak American), but remember some of that weight comes from the bone.
Even though it was a relatively thin steak, they managed to get a great sear on it while keeping the inside a perfect edge-to-edge medium rare. The marbling melted as you held a piece of it in your mouth, and the roasted garlic on top gave off a wonderful perfume (be sure to ask for extra garlic).
The Milelioness ended up being that guy who orders fish in a steakhouse, but by golly, it was amazing. Two generous pieces of grilled branzino, with moist flesh and crispy skin, seasoned simply with sea salt. Beneath the fish lurked a bed of delicately wilted spinach.
tl;dr: If you’re only going to try one specialty restaurant, make it this one.
|Lunch||12- 1.30 p.m||A la carte pricing|
|Dinner||5.30- 9 p.m||A la carte pricing|
|Milelion Verdict: Not worth a visit until they resolve their sourcing issues|
There’s three things you need to know about Izumi, Royal Caribbean’s Japanese restaurant.
First, don’t expect an authentic Japanese dining experience. Remember, Royal Caribbean is a US-based cruise liner, and as such they need to serve up what most Americans think Japanese food should be. Read: California rolls and abundant use of avocado, cream cheese and fried stuff. If you’re charitable, you’ll call it fusion (otherwise, culinary imperialism).
Second, unlike other specialty restaurants where you can pretty much order as much of anything as you want, Izumi works on an a la carte model where the price depends on what you order (those with UDP will get to choose one small plate, two large plates and one dessert- thanks to John for the correction). In other words, should you come here, it’s better to have a UDP than pay individual item prices (plus an 18% mandatory gratuity).
Third, the current pandemic has created major sourcing issues for Royal Caribbean. Historically they’d source many of their ingredients from Japan, but because of COVID-19, they’ve had to switch suppliers. The results, unfortunately, are not good.
It’s telling that the waitstaff (who for the record were excellent, as at every specialty dining venue) felt compelled to mention this upfront. My guess is they’ve received their share of complaints already. We were also warned that the salmon sashimi (yes, I know that if we’re talking authentic Japanese food then this shouldn’t even feature, but indulge me) would taste “different”, but we weren’t prepared for just how different.
We ordered the pork gyoza dumplings (US$9+), a plate of assorted sashimi (US$17+), a seared tuna tataki roll (US$13+) and a champagne lobster roll (US$15+).
It was bad across the board, with the sashimi being particularly awful. Apparently, all the fish must be frozen and sent to Florida for FDA inspection, and thawed salmon sashimi is never going to be anything other than a bland, watery and slightly funny-smelling mess. Don’t expect good quality rice in the rolls or nigiri either; the texture was mushy, with sticky grains that hung stubbornly to chopsticks.
The tonkotsu ramen (US$16+) was completely forgettable. The noodles had a texture reminiscent of maggi mee, the Ajitsuke tamago was basically a hard boiled egg, and the broth lacked any sort of richness or depth.
If there was one saving grace, it’s that the staff can replace the Play-doh fake wasabi with, well, not the real stuff (that’d be way too expensive), but with something that much more closely approximates the original (I use this at home, for what it’s worth).
The manager came over to personally apologise, and like I said, it’s not really their fault. I actually feel bad for the chefs, and can imagine the frustration they feel when having to work with substandard ingredients. Hopefully this gets sorted out soon, but until then I think you shouldn’t spend your money at Izumi.
She sent some chocolate-coated strawberries to the stateroom by way of apology, which was a nice touch.
|Lunch||12- 1.30 p.m||S$31.27|
|Dinner||5.30- 9 p.m||S$58.47|
|Milelion Verdict: More misses than hits, although it really boils down to how picky you are about your Italian food|
I tried Jamie’s Italian back when it was at VivoCity, and it still ranks among my worst Italian meals in Singapore so far. I suppose you could say this colored my opinion going in to their Royal Caribbean outpost, but I’m not so much biased against Jamie’s Italian as I’m biased towards good Italian food.
While Jamie’s Italian at sea isn’t as bad as Jamie’s Italian on land, it still falls way short of what Italian food should be.
The menu on the Royal Caribbean website is slightly different from the one we received, so I’m posting the actual photo below.
For the starters, we ordered burrata, calamari and black truffle arancini. The burrata was anonymous, lacking its characteristic buttery, milky flavor. The calamari was bland in and of itself, but improved with the garlic mayo.
I was surprised the restaurant didn’t offer a separate risotto dish, but the arancini were respectable. The outside was crispy while the rice inside was cooked nicely, with subtle hints of truffle.
The seafood linguine, unfortunately, was way overcooked. I understand egg pasta (which Jamie’s Italian exclusively uses) will naturally have less of a bite than pasta made with durum wheat, but there’s no reason it should be this soft. Should you dine here, do remind the waiter you want your pasta cooked al dente (I certainly hope it was an oversight by the chefs, rather than thinking that we Singaporeans like our noodles well done). The anemic frozen prawns and crab didn’t lend a lot of flavor to the dish either.
The famous Prawn Linguine was an utterly bland disappointment. The pasta was cooked to mush, and when you make a dish like this, it should taste of the sea. The sauce had no flavor at all, and this was basically prawns + linguine, rather than prawn linguine.
I asked the staff if they could prepare a small plate of carbonara, with the pasta cooked al dente. This they did, and thankfully it came out much better. I’d say this was a decent rendition of carbonara, even if they did use pancetta instead of the more traditional guanciale (alas, despite the menu not mentioning it, they do use cream in the preparation).
We only tried one main in the form of the eggplant parmigiana, and again, it wasn’t memorable. With good eggplant, you get a buttery, creamy texture- the product of slow roasting. This one had a hollow nuked taste, as if it was left at the mercy of the microwave.
The side of “funky chips” (fries with parsley and garlic) were soggy and undercooked. There wasn’t even a touch of crispiness on them.
The epic brownie dessert turned out to be not so epic, as the salted caramel popcorn had long ago gone stale.
Perhaps the other dishes at Jamie’s Italian fare better, but I saw nothing here to warrant a return visit.
|Dinner||5.30- 9 p.m||S$74.79|
|Milelion Verdict: Completely not worth the hype. Save your stomach (and money) for somewhere else|
Of all the restaurants onboard, I was looking forward to Wonderland the most.
While I can’t say I fully understand molecular gastronomy, it’s always fun to see what the chefs come up with. If nothing else, it lets them break away from well-defined templates and express themselves more freely. But this doesn’t always work, as you’ll soon see.
There’s certainly no lack of theatre at Wonderland. The restaurant follows an Alice in Wonderland theme, with the waitstaff dressed like participants at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the menu presented with a paintbrush and water palette. Painting the menu with water reveals the text beneath.
The menu is split into five elements: Sun, Ice, Fire, Sea and Earth. You can pick and choose what you like or you can leave it to the waiter, like we did.
The first course was tomato water, crispy crab cones and liquid lobster. The tomato water was odd, but I could sort of see what they were going for. Crab cones are a delightful idea (Spagos at MBS does an amazing rendition at lunch), but the frozen crabmeat just didn’t work- it tasted bland and watery instead of sweet, and didn’t gel well with the avocado mousse. Liquid lobster, with bone marrow and caviar, was basically a spoonful of lobster bisque- probably the best of the three.
Buffalo Chicken Eggs are supposed to be a signature dish of Wonderland, and made a dramatic entrance under a dome of dry ice smoke. But for all that sound, there was no fury. All the blue cheese and hot sauce in the world can’t save an egg that’s basically overcooked, and the sriracha overpowered everything else.
The Shrimp Kataifi was good, because when has crispy shrimp ever not been good.
But it was back to disappointing with the Oceanic Citrus. I understood what they were trying to do here; the tartness of the yuzu ice is meant to make you salivate, enhancing the flavor of the tuna. But the yuzu ice was packed together so tightly, it was impossible to chip off small sections to eat with the tuna. In the end it became an either/or proposition: eat all the yuzu first, or al the tuna.
My halibut with mushrooms and potatoes was completely devoid of seasoning. The flesh tasted aggressively bland and came piping hot in the middle, almost as if it’d been microwaved. I ate two bites and couldn’t take any more.
The beef, mercifully, was slightly better. Hours of cooking rendered the flesh extremely tender, but the overly sweet glaze threatened to ruin it.
A chocolate bomb was served for dessert. While the concept is a common fine dining trope by now, it’s always fun to watch the ball melt as hot caramel is drizzled on it.
I forget what the other dessert was called, but it was a mixture of macarons, meringue, red velvet crumbs and mango sorbet. Like most of the other dishes, it looked better than it tasted.
Wonderland is supposed to be the restaurant on Royal Caribbean, but the only wonder I went away with was what all the fuss was about.
While I was intending to try the MDR for at least one meal, I ran out of time to try it. It was partly because my UDP made me feel obliged to eat at as many specialty dining venues as I could, but also because Coastal Kitchen, the “suites MDR”, was just so good.
Coastal Kitchen is a special restaurant open to those in Grand Suites or higher categories. Junior Suites passengers can book Coastal Kitchen for dinner, but slots are limited and you’ll need to reserve it as soon as you get on board the ship.
Also note that Coastal Kitchen cannot be booked through the Royal Caribbean app (nor will reservations show up in your calendar). You’ll need to physically go down and speak with the host.
I heard from some Royal Caribbean veterans that when they travel in suites, they don’t bother booking any of the specialty restaurants and just eat at Coastal Kitchen for three meals a day. I couldn’t understand why; it sounded extremely boring. But having experienced it firsthand I now understand- Coastal Kitchen is really good, and even better than some of the specialty restaurants in my opinion.
Let’s start with the setting. Coastal Kitchen boasts an intimate environment with impeccable service. Full-length windows provide expansive views of the ocean outside, and the interior looks like a quaint trattoria. Guests are greeted by name, preferences remembered, and the staff love to make conversation if you’re open to it.
The breakfast menu stays the same each day, but it’s sufficiently varied so you don’t get bored (plus, you can always pop by Windjammer next door and bring in whatever supplements you wish).
I tried a lot of the options over the four breakfasts we had there; the pancakes were the highlight, as was the chorizo and egg flatbread.
The lunch and dinner menus rotated daily, with cuisine that could best be described as “New American”. It’s worth noting that Coastal Kitchen is open on boarding day, and even though the menu is somewhat truncated, it’s still substantial.
Everything we ordered was delicious- salmon with crispy skin, slow-braised beef short ribs that fell apart with the slightest provocation, chicken breast that wasn’t the least bit dry, pork ribs with a bewitchingly addictive glaze.
On every cruise, there’s one night you absolutely need to have dinner at Coastal Kitchen: lobster night. As the name suggests, it’s your chance to order all the lobster you want (the only place on the boat you don’t need to pay an upcharge).
While lobster’s the main attraction, the other dishes get upgraded too. The pan-seared scallops were the first time I’d seen sea scallops served onboard. All the other dishes used bay scallops, which are much smaller and don’t lend themselves to grilling.
A creamy truffle risotto was also served, and while I thought it wasn’t as good as Jamie’s Italian, the truffle redeemed a lot of faults.
Of course, the lobster was the star. Delicately poached in butter and set amidst braised leeks and fava beans, the skin was pleasantly firm and sweet (it’s still frozen lobster though, so you shouldn’t expect it to be as good as the fresh stuff). And yes, you can have as many servings as you want.
At the staff’s insistence, we also tried the rack of lamb, which was excellent. Not everyone appreciates the gamey taste of lamb, but when cooked and seasoned perfectly, it’s barely noticeable.
Desserts in Coastal Kitchen were great, as they were at all venues across the ship.
SeaPlex Dog House
This hot dog cart is located in the SeaPlex, but thanks to the access control restrictions brought about COVID-19, you can’t actually access it from the SeaPlex. Yes, you’ll need to exit, walk around half the circumference of the ship, and enter the SeaPlex again from a side door. It’s crazy, but at least you’ll work up an appetite.
I think it’s worth it though, because the Dog House serves up some really good hot dogs. I’m not talking the cheap supermarket gunk that tastes like gristle and has an unnervingly metallic aftertaste; I’m talking about good quality pork in a snappy sausage casing. I wasn’t a fan of the bun (they could have done wonders by toasting or heating it up), but no one wastes their calories on bread anyway.
Some people really like Sorrento’s, but I guess this is where the Italian food snob in me comes out again. After you’ve tasted Neapolitan style pizza (wood-fired oven, San Marzano tomatoes, Buffalo mozzarella DOP), everything else pales in comparison.
Sorrento’s was neither good nor terrible. It was perfectly adequate for those who wanted a quick pick-me-up between meals, or if you just craved salt and grease. But it’s not something you should use a dedicated meal slot for.
Windjammer is Royal Caribbean’s buffet restaurant. It’s supposed to be open for three meals a day, but when I visited only breakfast and lunch were served. No reservations are required, and it’s a good option for those who just want a quick in-and-out meal.
Self-service buffets are not permitted at the moment because of COVID-19, so you’ll approach the counter, point out what you want, and let the chefs do the scooping and plating. I much prefer this over the alternative buffet approach, where you check items off a chit and wait for them to come; it’s much faster and more efficient.
The selection of food is extremely wide and varied. You’ll find Western, Chinese, and Indian counters, as well as options for vegetarians and those who need gluten-free food. Desserts include cakes, ice cream, fruits and everything you need to indulge your sweet tooth.
Complimentary drinks are also available, but they’ll be simple ones like water, lemonade, iced tea, coffee, tea and milk. If you want soft drinks or alcohol, you’ll have to pay for it separately.
|🍹How much do drinks cost?|
If you didn’t buy a beverage package, you’ll pay a la carte prices for drinks. I’ve uploaded the entire drinks menu here, but here’s some sample prices:
La Patisserie is a cafe serving up coffee and dainty things like macarons and petits-fours. The “Stackaroons” are supposedly the signature item- basically a stack of macarons.
But more importantly, here’s where the good coffee is on the ship.
In case you have trouble reading that:
|Chocolate Chai Latte||US$4.75||US$5.25||US$6.00|
|All prices subject to 18% gratuity | Soy Milk + US$0.50 | Extra Shot Espresso + US$0.50|
Royal Caribbean sells a Cafe Select Coffee Card for S$42.16, which includes 15 specialty coffee drinks. The allowance is counted by shots, so if you get a grande or venti size, that counts as two uses. Alternatively, the deluxe beverage or refreshment package will give you unlimited premium coffee for S$54.40 or S$27.20 per day.
Assuming you go for the tall size, the breakeven point for the Cafe Select Coffee Card is ~six coffees. If you think you’ll drink more than that during your cruise, by all means.
I never had any reason to order room service, but the good news is that it only carries a flat US$7.95 delivery charge + 18% gratuity, regardless of how much you order.
For all the variety available on the boat, the selection was surprisingly small though. There’s a grand total of nine items available, most of which are unhealthy. It is possible to take away food from most venues; to-go containers are available on request.
What surprised me the most about Quantum of the Seas was that the free dining outshined the paid venues (Chops Grille aside). I could have eaten all my meals at Coastal Kitchen and walked away perfectly happy, and it never feels like you’re being extorted to pay an upcharge in order to get decent grub.
My advice would be to skip Izumi and Wonderland, and book Chops (and Jamie’s, if you really want to try a “celebrity chef restaurant”). The rest of your meals can be taken at the MDR or Windjammer, and you won’t miss out on anything. If you really have FOMO, buy a “Taste of Royal” lunch package (S$47.59) that lets you try one course from each specialty restaurant.
One thing’s for sure: you won’t go hungry on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
For those who have dined in the MDR- can you share more on your experience?