When I mention I’m going on a cruise to my friends, I often get a contemptuous look with an occasional comment like, “Cruising?… Isn’t that for the newly wed, nearly dead and overfed?” Since my husband and I are, “none of the above”, the motivation for our first Royal Caribbean (RCI) cruise two years ago was his desire to try the Flowrider, an artificial surfing machine. He got hooked, we took six subsequent cruises, and I have become a Flowrider widow. Here’s a video showing how “we” spent our last Thanksgiving vacation.
Allure of the Seas is our number one choice! My husband likes it because it has TWO Flowriders. I like it because it has over 25 dining options! The Allure is the largest ship in the world. It’s 1,187 feet long and has 7,000 people on board. A floating city doesn’t sound like a cozy getaway but we never feel lost in the crowd. The ship is cleverly designed with large open areas like Central Park but maintains small secluded spaces for personal solitude.
These are some of our personal recommendations to enhance your dining experience:
For breakfast, which we have AFTER our 7am stretching class, our favorite spot is the Solarium Bistro. It’s on an upper forward deck and serves spa food with a healthy dose of morning light. It’s a breakfast buffet so you can create your own combinations and quantities to suit your diet. I love the variety, from fresh cut fruit to Asian breakfast options like miso soup!
For a quick lunch, the buffet in the Windjammer Cafe offers a complete salad bar as well as hot ethnic food (the Indian dishes are my favorite!). For a more leisurely lunch, with an ocean view, the main dining room is a place to take your time, meet new people and enjoy the conversation. Order a la carte or select gorgeous salads which are tossed with your choice of dressing. There’s also a theme of the day like Mexican tacos or hamburgers.
For a late-afternoon protein hit, we meet up at Park Cafe. You’d think “beef on weck” (medium rare roast beef on a kimmelweck bun) would get boring after a couple of days but it never does. (Hint: my husband asks the server to add just a bit of au jus sauce to slightly soften the crusty bun, the chefs know I don’t have the weck.) Park Cafe also creates custom salads with ingredients and dressings of your choice. And to finish, there’s a pastry case with a changing selection of small bite desserts (e.g. pineapple upside down cake, mango tart, chocolate mousse) with at least one sugar free option. (Of course if you aspire to being in the “over fed” class, you can always eat three of each.)
For dinner, we find the main dining room elegant and grand with three open floors, live classical music, and huge hanging chandeliers (just like in the movies). The service is impeccable. The servers not only remember my name, but how I like my water without ice at room temperature. For Thanksgiving dinner, I requested dark meat only and the waiter made a special trip to another deck to fulfill my request and then apologized for the wait!
For variety above and beyond the standard fare, you can try specialty dining. These are restaurants that offer special or unique dining experiences for an additional charge. The specialty restaurants we’ve experienced include Samba Grill, a Brazilian Steak House and Giovanni’s Italian fare as well as Vintages, a wine bar serving tapas. We adored Michael Schwartz’s 150 Central Park which served a seven course tasting menu. Michael is the Chef/owner of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami’s Design District, a restaurant I always recommend to out-of-town visitors. I’ve yet to have anyone disappointed.
When you hear people complain about cruise food, it’s probably because they were traveling on a lesser quality cruise line serving “airline food” (meals prepared on-shore and reheated on board). We had the opportunity to take a behind the scenes, “All Access” tour to areas of the ship normally off limits. The kitchen was a highlight for me. I saw coolers filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, freezers of meats and vats of chicken soup made from scratch! All the bread, pastries and desserts are baked daily. Fresh ingredients are essential to good food and RCI assures freshness by provisioning at every port.
Our all-time favorite cruise dining experience was the Chef’s Table. Special thanks to RCI’s Corporate Chef Michael Gilligan and Allure’s Executive Chef Derek McKnight for organizing this magical experience for us! What a small world to have met Chef Gilligan when he was Executive Chef at The Rusty Pelican in Miami before he joined Royal Caribbean. I had written a restaurant review of Rusty Pelican for a British lifestyle magazine Viva, and so enjoyed meeting him. There’s nothing like British humor.
Chef’s Table was a very special event set in a beautiful, intimate private dining room where we met a seasoned group of cruisers around a community table (maximum 12.) After initial introductions over champagne, Chef Ibrahim presented our first course in what was a delectable five course dinner. It was part educational and part show as Sommelier Richard Jacobs introduced the wine pairings and Chef Ibrahim filled us in with details of his innovations. I’m always fascinated with how chefs come up with these intricate combinations, so his descriptions were riveting.
The menu for the evening…
Chilled lobster, scallop and shrimp salad with campari grapefruit jelly, crispy baby lettuces paired with Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Kim Crawford, Marlborough – New Zealand. Cool refreshing starter, I’m always encouraging folks to add crunch, color and flavor to their dishes and this had it all.
Consomme of Asparagus, Carrot Lemon Bisque with Alaskan King Crab toasted Brioche paired with Belle Glos, Pinot Noir Blanc, “Oeil de Perdix”, 2011, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. They must have had to use a lot of asparagus because it was so tasty. I didn’t need the brioche but how can you not eat it when it’s filled with crab?
3rd course (Main):
Pan Roasted Black Cod with Sauteed King Oyster Mushrooms on a Bed of Baby Green Lentils, Celery Cream with a Madeira Truffle Reduction paired with Chardonnay, 2011, Rombauer, Carneros, California. This was my favorite dish, the cod was perfect and creamy. Great to see there were sauteed mushrooms (saute means stir fry to me, yay) which I think went very well with this dish.
4th course (Main):
Seared Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish cream, caramelized Turnips and Spinach puree paired with Malbec 2010, Salentein “Numina” Mendoza, Argentina. It’s interesting to see how western cuisine’s use of sauce to flavor meat which is cooked naked whereas in Asia, we usually marinade our meat prior to cooking whether it’s a stir fry, a stew or even deep fried.
Chocolate Creme Brulee with Cherry Pistachio Financier with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream paired with Massolino, Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont. And a decadent variety of milk and white chocolates to go with coffee and tea. A gorgeous end to a fantastic 4 course dinner, can’t go wrong with Brulee and ice cream goes with anything!
I can’t recommend Mega Ship cruising enough. If you have negative feelings about cruising but have never actually cruised, or, had a bad experience on an inferior line, try Royal Caribbean. On our last cruise, my husband won second place in the “Best of the Best” Flowrider competition. For our next cruise, he told me in no uncertain terms that, “I’m bringing home the gold, baby!”