Let's face it. Dinner in the main dining room of a cruise ship is nothing more than a glorified banquet. Sure, it still probably beats dinner at home, but when was the last time you went to a banquet and said "Wow, can I have more please?" The fact is, cruise lines have us all figured out. Give a guest a week's worth of four course meals - or 5 to 7 depending on how many appetizers I order - and chances are the first thing they'll tell their friends about is the amazing food onboard. Quantity over quality sells 9 times out of 10, but to that lone holdout out there, not to worry: the cruise lines have you pegged too.
Enter the specialty restaurants, where a premium menu is served in a more intimate setting, and the service is likely the best you'll find onboard. For a price, of course. The Oasis of the Seas has more specialty restaurants than any other cruise ship, and on our recent sailing I made it my mission to see them all. Because whoever said you can't have both quantity and quality?
We visited Giovanni's Table for lunch immediately after boarding as a way to avoid the chaos of the embarkation experience. Since staterooms are not ready until 1pm the day of departure, all of the early boarders typically flock to the Windjammer buffet or Royal Promenade with luggage in tow. Not exactly my definition of fun, and one that I was happy to pay $15 to skip.
|MJ's Caprese Salad|
Instead, we sat back with a "Bellini-tini" and toasted the beginning of our cruise in peace. It didn't hurt that the black truffle risotto turned out to be the best dish I ate the entire cruise, and we hadn't even left the port.
|Truffle Risotto is always a good idea.|
Yes, that Johnny Rockets. I know what you're thinking: Why eat at Johnny Rockets when I can do that at home? Well, the thing is, I can't do that at home. At least not since my better half gave up meat and I decided to cut cow out of my diet in support of the cause. After consulting various maritime laws, I decided that these dietary restrictions didn't apply while in international waters, and proceeded to go on a 7 day beef binge.
|What do you mean I can't have a burger at 7am?|
So I ate at Johnny Rockets four times in seven days. Big whoop? The Rocket Double, fries, and rings tasted just as they did in my dreams, and were worth every penny of the $4.95 cover charge. And if you're looking for a great order of French Toast in the mornings, you'll find it here of all places. Even better...the breakfast is free.
|Johnny Rockets always makes me smile.|
The Oasis of the Seas Chef's Table was both the most expensive specialty dining experience of our trip and also the most rewarding. A five course pre-fixe menu prepared by the ship's Chef de Cuisine would normally be right up my alley, but I was a little nervous about sharing a table with twelve other strangers. That worry proved to be nonsense because I forgot about one thing: the wine pairing.
By the end of the evening we were all fast friends, and numerous other guests peeked their heads up to the second floor of the Concierge Lounge to spy on our party. As for the food, well, it is safe to say that no one left the Chef's Table disappointed. Of course, the awesome decanter that each party was given at the end might have helped a little.
|The decanter was quite the conversation piece.|
The most anticipated specialty restaurant aboard Oasis of the Seas was a return to Chops Grille, where MJ and I celebrated our engagement six years ago while sailing on another Royal Caribbean ship. That experience was one of the most memorable meals of my life, and would easily go toe-to-toe with any signature steakhouse on dry land. Unfortunately, a lot has changed since 2006.
Gone is the pure lump crab meat cake of my memory. The same goes for lobster tail. Even the old school beef cart with a tableside explanation of each cut by the server has been axed. And the steak, well, it just wasn't as good as I remembered. Meanwhile, the price has increased to $30 per person versus $20 or $25 back in 2006. Less for more is sort of the way of the world these days, and sadly it seems that Chops Grille is not immune. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe the first meal just wasn't as great as I had built it up to be in my head. Either way, I was underwhelmed. The only saving grace was the ability to dine alfresco on Central Park, thanks to the glass enclosed patio which was protected from the elements.
|Our beautiful table, shielded from the 30mph winds.|
150 Central Park
There aren't many restaurants inspired by James Beard Award winning chefs on the high seas, but naturally the Oasis is home to one of them. 150 Central Park is the brainchild of Michael Schwartz, of Top Chef fame, and sends patrons on a tour around the globe with a diverse five course pre-fixe menu. This is not your typical cruise fare, with flavors of Africa and India making a bold appearance, but the experience is the closest thing to fine dining that one will find aboard Oasis of the Seas.
As impressive as the menu at 150 Central Park was, however, the most memorable dish of the evening was served in a glass. A martini glass, to be specific. The signature cocktail at 150 Central Park is the cucumber martini, and on a cruise filled with no shortage of adult libations, it was hands down the best of them all. It was so good, in fact, that MJ requested the recipe so that we could start making them at home.
|One a day would definitely keep the doctor away.|
Despite the best of planning, we came up short in our mission to visit all of the specialty restaurants aboard Oasis of the Seas. In the end, we overlooked Izumi, Seafood Shack, and the Solarium Bistro, although we passed by them many times and said "let's go there tomorrow." With so many amazing restaurants onboard, if you want to experience all that the Oasis of the Seas has to offer I suggest you make a plan and stick to it. Because the biggest problem with a cruise is that eventually you run out of tomorrows.
Enjoy Your Stay