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Bart Basi

Cruise Selection - Good Food Critical

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My wife and I just finished a cruise with Royal Caribbean on the Mariner of the Seas, 4 nights stopping at Nassau and CocoaCay.  We loved it, we escaped freezing temperatures and snow and had a fantastic time.

 

Such a great time, we want to do it again.  Here's where I need help.

 

For us, the food was poor.  Two problems, the ingredient quality was poor and the preparation was poor.

 

Here's where we ate and what we had:

Breakfast - Main Dining Room every morning, eggs Benedict, waffles, pancakes, poached eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, coffee, juice.  I would compare the overall quality of the breakfast to what one get's a Denny's Restaurant.  Certainly edible, a few tasty items but overall lacking in quality.  Good value for the money perhaps in terms of calories; but not such a good value if one is looking for fresh eggs, heavy cream and quality sausage and bacon.

 

  • Good: The regular coffee was perfectly nice.  No complaints at all about the ordinary black coffee served.  I quite liked the corned beef hash.

 

  • ·Average:   The croissants weren't bad, sort of average for a cafeteria, the eggs also were average, bacon was very, very fatty (yes, you can have too much fat) - not terrible but not a quality product.

 

  • Bad: the Hollandaise was atrocious, it simply bore no resemblance to hollandaise and it had the most god-awful neon yellow color to it.  It didn't in and of itself taste bad, it simply tasted noting like Sauce Hollandaise, (I'll bet my bottom dollar it was a GFS or Sysco, powdered or bagged, pre-mixed/pre-made item).  Sausage and bacon were cheap, really cheap, it wasn't a flavor issue it was an issue with a high percentage of gristle/fat fragments from very inexpensive cuts of pork processed cheaply.  Some pastries were unfortunately poorly done, a cinnamon roll is simply not a roll of puff baked to a hard crisp with a layer of cinnamon and sugar.  Waffles - batter was great and had the potential to be an excellent waffle.  But then the kid on the waffle iron was under baking them.  They were fully cooked but had no color.  (I took over the waffle station for 10 minutes and turned out two batches of crispy wonderful waffles).  Again, the issue here is the chef - she needs to be walking around and making sure her people are executing the menu properly.

 

Lunch - We had one of the best meals we've ever eaten on Junkanoo Beach and one of the worst on CocoaCay (and it was essentially the same menu item), on board we had lunch at Jamie's Italian twice (Chops was not open for lunch, and we did not eat at the Windjammer, Johnny Rockets or the other restaurants). 

·         Jamie's Italian

  • Good: Very attentive staff, happy to bring us food from the main dining room, serve us multiple entrees/appetizers, bought us a couple of drinks - amazing staff.  The pasta was great, the ragù alla bolognese was perfect; I'd be happy to pay $50.00 for this entree anytime - and with a view of the ocean nearly priceless.  The cheesecake was equally wonderful, rich, dense, thick and with enough depth of flavor to satisfy anyone, good to the point of being almost magical.

 

  • Average:   Antipasta board, wasn't bad- but it wasn't great.  They served caperberries with it but then left off cerignola and castelvetrano and oil cured Sicilian olives, they served prosciutto which wasn't bad but it wasn't great; an ordinary Italian San Danielle ham.  No options for anything interesting like a Tuscan ham.  .

 

  •  Bad: They served a perfectly ordinary cows milk mozzarella and kept telling me it was buffalo.  I hated the lying.  I feel bad for most of their customers who bite into it and think that's what a real buffalo mozzarella is; I also had 4 waiters and the host tell me the cherry tomatoes were San Marzano tomatoes.  The funniest part is, they actually brought out the cans to the table (which obviously had not San Marzano DOP label - I mean really?  They thought we were illiterate?  And of course the can was the tip of the iceberg in this case - while I did love their Italian cherry tomatoes I detested the lie).  Actual poor quality was the squid and the problem here was the chef (NOT the cooks, this is the responsibility of the head chef, at the end of the day it's her responsibility to ensure her kitchen is running properly and under her watch the squid was fried at FAR too low of a temperature, so low and so long that it became crazy tough, chewy with no color - literally a white coating.  It should have been fried at 475 degrees with at least two quarts of oil per serving and fried for not more than 1 minute 45 seconds - resulting in a very tender piece of squid encased in a golden brown crispy coating.  Not the pale white coating covering a piece of squid nearly too tough to bite through).  It was frozen, but that's not the problem - frozen squid can be fine; it was the preparation.

·         Junkanoo Beach

  • Junkanoo Jerk - best jerk chicken and pork and plantains with rice & peas we've ever had - stunningly good.  Absolutely worth a special trip.  The all spice wood they were grilled over lent a depth and the sauce a complexity.  Truly a great meal.  We're now thinking about heading back to Nassau just to eat with this guy again.
  •  CocoaCay - Rib's underdone to the point of not being able to tear off the  meat.  Chicken breasts overdone to the point of dryness, leg quarters underdone to the point of tendons still intact.  Sauce just a one-note slide with not staying power and you had to look for the smoke.

 

Dinner - We at twice at Chops and twice at Jamie's Italian.  Chops was simply terrible.  Jamie's we liked.  

  • Good: Lamb Chops at either Jamie's OR Chops were fantastic, we had them both rare and medium rare (they came out medium rare and barely medium) but they were great.  Not quite Keen's Saddle of Lamb great - but excellent chops, fantastic, we loved them and you should get them.  Two very different preparations and very enjoyable.  Loved getting sides/small plates of pasta (off-menu option) and getting apps/mains from the main dining room (off menu option).  We were treated very well at both restaurants.  Some of the very best service we've had.  Not quite the French Laundry - but pretty amazingly good service (wish my people were that good frankly).  Loved the service.  We got them to bring out drinks, sit down with us - made for some great evenings.  Chops - loved the mushroom soup (they just need to get those crunchy veggie matchsticks off the top - stupid) but loved the mushroom soup.  Crabcake was nice (yeah, more lying on the menu - my crab was special, not jumbo lump (or it was jumbo lump that someone smashed into special - so it's back on the chef, either allowing poor preparation or buying a cheaper item than advertised on her menu).  Yes - they were tasty - but there's an awful lot of lying going on here.  Chop's sauce Béarnaise was GREAT - loved it.  I make this a few times a year with my best champagne vinegar, shallots, fresh sweet butter (high fat, jersey) etc... mine is good and so help me God theirs was almost as good as the best I can do - I was in love with their sauce (my wife also liked their wine sauce and their peppercorn one).  

 

  • Average: Most Apps at Jamie's & Chops

 

  • Bad: The six steaks we were served were not prime by any measurement.  USDA graded Prime from Excel or Cargill is running around $10.31 this week for boned primal Ribeye.  That's not a bad steak, but it's a far, far cry from what you'd ever get at Peter Lugar's (no, we were not expecting anything close to a Peter Lugar's experience - we wanted nice waiters and a decent steak (Peter's is mean, pretentious waiters and a great steak))).  Anyway - meat quality (we tried the strip, ribeye, fillet - no claim of dry aged anything on our menu - but vast assurances that we were getting "prime".  What we got was green meat, 21 days old (effectively unaged) - choice grade meat).  Chops cheesecake - this is Jello No Bake Cheesecake at it worst.  Yeah, it's like that.

 

Itzumi's fish counter smelled fishy.  We sell a great deal of fish, and in 10 years my counters have never smelled fishy.  Again - the chef simply isn't on top of everything.  

 

Chef's Table - between the ingredient quality, lack of attention from the chef to the staff and the lying - we just couldn't bring ourselves to try it - we felt it would be too much of a disappointment.  

 

Now - we were stunned by the service of our waiters, captains and hosts at lunch and dinner.  Breakfast?  They literally just did not give a darn.  

 

We loved the cruise, we loved our cabin (balcony) we loved the fact that there were quite places outside on decks 3, 4 and 5 where we could sit with nothing but the sound of the ship and the water.  This was one of the most peaceful and relaxing vacations we have ever had in our lives (and we've traveled a bit).  We were constantly amazed by the staff (other than the main dining room) who seemed genuinely invested in us having a good time.

 

We want to cruise again.  We had pretty low expectations - we just wanted to get out of the cold for a few days.

 

We are total converts - we LOVED being on the ship!  We LOVED the cruise.

 

So - if you happen to be the sort of person who like us really loves food, and get equally excited about the Brazillian Lama Party and Eleven Madison Park - then please let me know your thoughts.  

 

Thanks in advance,

 

Bart

 

p.s. I know that our experiences do not apply to most people, we are very serious about our food.  We truly love great hotdogs (RIP Hot Dougs) to fine dining (Osteria Francescana) and everything in between.  We abhor the mediocre.  A perfectly poached egg is a thing of beauty but even Wylie Dufresne can't take mediocre ingredients and turn out great food, by the same token - the finest ingredients in the hands of a line cook without training and you'll see just how quickly food can be ruined.

Edited by Bart Basi
Forgot about the amazing sauce Béarnaise at Chops. Added notes about Itzumi and Chef's Table. Edited again for format. Edited again for clarity, no content changes this time.

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Sorry about the bad food, but your post is difficult to read because of all the "A"s.  What's up with that?

 

Welcome to CC - I see this is your first post.

 

Roz

Edited by Roz

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35 minutes ago, Roz said:

Sorry about the bad food, but your post is difficult to read because of all the "A"s.  What's up with that?.....Roz

 

I'm not seeing any "A's", using a laptop, just 'dots' for marking each point.    What kind of device/format are you using?   

 

Otherwise, Bart - you've obviously put a lot of thought into your food review - a mix of good and bad points is always much more relevant than the extreme reviews where everything was either awful or superb.    If you're looking for a step up in food quality, your chances are probably better on one of the more upscale cruise lines (Oceania, Viking Ocean for example), or another step up to the luxury lines like Crystal, Regent, Cunard.   Even on those lines, there are always some people who love, some who criticize.    Other mainstream lines closer to the RCI experience (Princess, Celebrity, Holland America) all have their fans, again with reviews all over the place concerning food.   Princess and Celebrity have restaurants available only to suite passengers which seem to meet with more approval, so you might check them out.    

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You aren't going to get "good" food on any of the mass market lines. You will need to pay substantially more and sail with the premium (Azamara, Oceania, Viking or Cunard in the Grill classes) or the luxury lines (Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea or Regent).

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49 minutes ago, Kartgv said:

 

I'm not seeing any "A's", using a laptop, just 'dots' for marking each point.    What kind of device/format are you using?   

 

 

 

I'm on a Dell notebook.  The As are gone now.  I was getting a lot of SQL error messages, so that may have been the problem.  This new website has a lot of problems.

 

Roz

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Go for a premium or luxury line -- although food is obviously subjective, it's generally considered to be vastly better to the mainstream lines, in both quality, options, and the ability to customize your order.   They spend more per passenger on food, and more to employ good staff.

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Welcome to cruise critic. You obviously put a lot of thought into your food review. I agree with others - you are not going to find what you are looking for on any of the mainstream lines. Royal Caribbean is pretty average and they do also own Celebrity and Azmara, which might be slightly better, however, I think you need to look at a luxury line for what you are looking for. 

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You might be happy with a mass market line if you did specialty restaurants for all meals. Maybe celebrity..

 

seabourn would be a good match as well.

 

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We sail for many other reasons...food...isn't a top priority for us...We certainly don't ever go hungry on a cruise...something about being at sea makes everything taste just fine to us.

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We found that our favorite spot on the Mariner of the Seas was the bow, we spent a few hours just sitting there watching the ocean go by, we also loved outside on deck 3 - very quiet, we rarely saw anyone else there and they deck chairs setup.  Our balcony was also wonderful.  

 

We would go back and book again on the Mariner of the Seas just for the peace and quiet of those spaces.  We were shocked at how much we loved our balcony.

 

We needed sun, and we needed peaceful - the Mariner of the Seas delivered on both counts.

 

We were shocked by the crew - their honest friendliness and welcoming spirit was infectious.  I found myself smiling, it was incredible.

 

I want to attribute it to their leadership.

 

Crystal looked nice, but I think knowing myself I'd have trouble enjoying it when I'd be paying for a lot stuff I'd never use (shore excursions, alcohol, etc...).  I love Royal Caribbean's pay as you go - I can pay for the elements of a cruise that matter to me.  This is why we did pay for specialty dining for every meal it was offered for (4 night cruise, 2 days in ports - so we had all dinners and lunches in either Chops or Jamie's (we didn't like Izumi and didn't trust we'd enjoy Chef's Table).

 

I do want to make clear that overall Royal Caribbean exceeded our expectations and we are looking forward to another cruise due to the great experience we had; we just need better food.

 

Thanks for all comments, love to hear more thoughts if you can share.

 

Bart

 

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If you want quality food  you can have a look at Oceania

you  do not need to take  the perks of  some included excursions /beverage packages / included air or OBC

 

they have some sample menus on their website  have look & see if it may be something you would enjoy

https://www.oceaniacruises.com/experience/dining/

the ships are smaller & ambiance  is quiet

 

They may seem more $$   & not for everyone

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31 minutes ago, Bart Basi said:

Crystal looked nice, but I think knowing myself I'd have trouble enjoying it when I'd be paying for a lot stuff I'd never use (shore excursions, alcohol, etc...).

Just as an FYI, Crystal does not include shore excursions -- Regent is the only line to do so, I believe.   You just have to decide if you want to pay extra on a mainline cruise like RCCL, or pay up front on a luxury cruise.  For instance, I would rather pay for things I won't use (like lots of alcohol) on Crystal in order to not have to pay extras along the way -- it's a comfort level that is the exact opposite of what makes you comfortable (paying piece by piece for just what you use).  To me, that's part of the luxurious feeling, but for you it might ruin the luxurious feeling.

 

How badly do you want ("need") better food?  What's it worth to you?   Only you can decide.

Edited by calliopecruiser
spacing

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So lets put the OP's post in clear English.  They booked a mass market cruise line and got mass market cuisine!  It is just that simple.  Over the past 20 or so years the quality of food on all the mass market lines has undergone a steady decline in terms of quality, variety, and quantity.  Even Celebrity, which was one of the few mass market lines to put some emphasis on cuisine has now cut-back (significantly) under its current CEO who comes from RCI.  So where to go?  One can certainly spend a lot more money and move to one of the luxury lines (Regent, Silverseas, Crystal, etc).   I will be really honest and blunt.  We have cruised upon 15 lines so have a decent idea of what is out there in the market place.  There is no line, upon which we have cruised, that comes close to a decent land-based restaurant.  Murano (on some Celebrity ships) might come closest to a decent quality restaurant, but the price keeps increasing making the "value" part of the equation a big question.  And with the attitude of Celebrity's current CEO we would expect the quality of Murano to decline as the prices increase!  We hope this is not the case, but everything we have seen on the line over the past 3-4 years leads us to that conclusion.   Some folks do speak highly of the cuisine on Oceania, but that is one line upon which we have not cruised.

 

Hank

 

 

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Hank, thanks - this is advice I can make use of as it helps me direct my expectations and energy.  If I'm not going to get close to a decent land-based restaurant (something that the New York Times or Michelin would give a star to for example) - then frankly I'll book another Royal Caribbean cruise with enough stops in ports to allow us to dine out and we'll pack some provisions for our cabin.  We loved the cruise and it exceeded all of our expectations except for the cuisine.

 

I would love to learn more about food on other cruise lines in order to understand why it is better or worse.

 

calliopecruiser, I appreciate you clarifying for me - I confused crystal and regent.  It's not so much that I need the food; it was a combination of our expectations were out of line and being in the find food business I found myself as the kids say throwing shade (I have the bruised shins to prove it, my wife is the most polite and considerate person on earth...me...well....not so much).  

 

LHT28 - The menu's look great, now I worry about ingredients and kitchen leadership.

 

happy cruzer - Love your idea, if I could find something with a mid-market price where we were paying for dinner that would be great.  That was the expectation I had with for Mariner of the Seas but Jamie's Italian and Chops really missed the mark for us.

 

Grandma Dazzles, Roz, Coral, Kartgv & Texas Tillie - I appreciate your advice and the consensus seems to be we need to upgrade the company.  I'll admit we are now concerned that other cruise lines staff won't be as friendly and nice as Royal Caribbean; we really loved every single employee we encountered (although the waffle guy wasn't happy with me, I think I made up for it with him and his boss).

 

Is anyone aware of any food critics who have reviewed any cruise ships?  I can't seem to find any....where are Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni when I need them!  

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A little googling brought these up:

 

https://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/best-cruises-for-food-lovers#1

 

https://www.fodors.com/cruises/news/photos/20-best-cruise-ship-dining-experiences

 

https://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-cruise-ship-for-dining/

 

Cruise travel outlet has an article but since they are a cruise agency, I won't post a link.  I suggest you have a look at MSC, but only in the Yacht Club.  EM

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7 hours ago, Bart Basi said:

Hank, thanks - this is advice I can make use of as it helps me direct my expectations and energy.  If I'm not going to get close to a decent land-based restaurant (something that the New York Times or Michelin would give a star to for example) - then frankly I'll book another Royal Caribbean cruise with enough stops in ports to allow us to dine out and we'll pack some provisions for our cabin.  We loved the cruise and it exceeded all of our expectations except for the cuisine.

 

I would love to learn more about food on other cruise lines in order to understand why it is better or worse.

 

calliopecruiser, I appreciate you clarifying for me - I confused crystal and regent.  It's not so much that I need the food; it was a combination of our expectations were out of line and being in the find food business I found myself as the kids say throwing shade (I have the bruised shins to prove it, my wife is the most polite and considerate person on earth...me...well....not so much).  

 

LHT28 - The menu's look great, now I worry about ingredients and kitchen leadership.

 

happy cruzer - Love your idea, if I could find something with a mid-market price where we were paying for dinner that would be great.  That was the expectation I had with for Mariner of the Seas but Jamie's Italian and Chops really missed the mark for us.

 

Grandma Dazzles, Roz, Coral, Kartgv & Texas Tillie - I appreciate your advice and the consensus seems to be we need to upgrade the company.  I'll admit we are now concerned that other cruise lines staff won't be as friendly and nice as Royal Caribbean; we really loved every single employee we encountered (although the waffle guy wasn't happy with me, I think I made up for it with him and his boss).

 

Is anyone aware of any food critics who have reviewed any cruise ships?  I can't seem to find any....where are Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni when I need them!  

 

I've been on Royal Caribbean (once and never again) and I've been on Crystal (34 times with more booked) and I can tell you with my experience the crew on Crystal is head and shoulders better than Royal Caribbean. Everything on Crystal is so much better than Royal Caribbean. The sheets on the bed, the furniture all over the ship, the amenities in the cabin (a tiny bar of nasty soap and shampoo in large jug on the wall of the shower on Royal Caribbean versus high quality products on Crystal). The crew on Crystal is highly trained and knows how to serve. I did one specialty restaurant visit on Royal Caribbean and the food wasn't as good as the worst meal that I've ever had on Crystal in over 11 years.

 

Of course, this is just one person's opinion.

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We are with LHT48 about Oceania.

 

Several years ago, when speaking with an Amex Platinum travel agent (more than one, actually), we kept being told about Oceania's superb food.  However, at the time, they didn't go where we wanted, and we also were taking a toddler grandson.

 

Then we decided to try Oceania, and... this was it for us, in good part for the food.

Another factor is that we don't drink much "booze".  Our thing is "fine wine", and that is never included in the drinks packages.

And we typically get private excursions, either just the two of us, or, more recently also occasionally with others on the ship, in small groups.

So we also didn't want to pay for either of those...

The size of the cabins/suites are also a factor.  The two larger Oceania ships (Riviera and Marina)... we had read a description here on CC (I think) about how those PH suites were the best use of space at sea.  We find the PH just perfect (although the bathroom is small, but okay). 

 

In part we choose the PH because if we can't get extra reservations at the Specialty reservations, then at PH level and above, one can be served en suite from those.  On our first O cruise, we weren't too impressed by the MDR.  But on our most recent cruise (last month), we were much happier, and actually ate less from the Specialties because of specific choices we spotted on the MDR dinner menu - and we were not disappointed.

 

And the Buffet is surprisingly good.  Some things cooked/finished a you wait, so they are fresh.  Other stations have some very nice meats carved as you request it.

And... no shared/communal serving utensils.  There are servers for anything that needs to be "served", and you are handed the plate.  So much more sanitary!

And more gracious... not a "buffet mob".

And there is a very nice tea service (with small sandwiches, etc.) every late afternoon.  (too many calories... if one isn't very careful, but at least the calories are "worth it" :classic_wink: )

 

And the general ambiance of the Riviera (our first time on the Marina is coming up this spring, for a Med cruise) is just lovely.
Very peaceful.  A small chamber music group playing a few times throughout the day adds a lot.

 

We'll sail on other lines if the itinerary requires, but if not, the 2 larger O ships are "it" for us.

And the food is a major factor.

 

GC

 

 

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10 hours ago, Bart Basi said:

We were shocked by the crew - their honest friendliness and welcoming spirit was infectious.  I found myself smiling, it was incredible.

 

I want to attribute it to their leadership.

 

Crystal looked nice, but I think knowing myself I'd have trouble enjoying it when I'd be paying for a lot stuff I'd never use (shore excursions, alcohol, etc...).  I love Royal Caribbean's pay as you go - I can pay for the elements of a cruise that matter to me.  This is why we did pay for specialty dining for every meal it was offered for (4 night cruise, 2 days in ports - so we had all dinners and lunches in either Chops or Jamie's (we didn't like Izumi and didn't trust we'd enjoy Chef's Table).

Most crew on all ships go out of their way. I didn't find RCCL's crew any different than any other lines I have been on and I have been on most of the main stream lines. Same with quiet spaces. I always find a quiet corner to read a book. 

 

Crystal's service and food is above and beyond. It really is.

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You pay for banquet food, you get banquet food. You don’t go to Olive Garden and expect fine dining (I actually don’t go to Olive Garden as there are a ton of excellent restaurants here, but they don’t feed thousand of people three meals a day and are therefore able to produce good food at a lower price). On a mass market cruise, you can get unlimited meals and a room for $100 pp, per day. Where can you get that on land?

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47 minutes ago, Texas Tillie said:

 

I've been on Royal Caribbean (once and never again) and I've been on Crystal (34 times with more booked) and I can tell you with my experience the crew on Crystal is head and shoulders better than Royal Caribbean. Everything on Crystal is so much better than Royal Caribbean. The sheets on the bed, the furniture all over the ship, the amenities in the cabin (a tiny bar of nasty soap and shampoo in large jug on the wall of the shower on Royal Caribbean versus high quality products on Crystal). The crew on Crystal is highly trained and knows how to serve. I did one specialty restaurant visit on Royal Caribbean and the food wasn't as good as the worst meal that I've ever had on Crystal in over 11 years.

 

Of course, this is just one person's opinion.

I have been on RCCL and Crystal also. The two are not even in the same category as far as food and service. Crystal really is the best of the best. I agree with everything Texas Tillie says. 

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1 minute ago, mjkacmom said:

You pay for banquet food, you get banquet food. You don’t go to Olive Garden and expect fine dining (I actually don’t go to Olive Garden as there are a ton of excellent restaurants here, but they don’t feed thousand of people three meals a day and are therefore able to produce good food at a lower price). On a mass market cruise, you can get unlimited meals and a room for $100 pp, per day. Where can you get that on land?

I read somewhere that the main stream lines spend on average $10 per person for food for the entire day. I can't remember the last time I had choice beef on a mass market cruise line. Simply the facts. 

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Here are a few more reasons you might consider upgrading to a luxury line. 

 

Service: is extraordinary at the upper end. Blown away by RCCL? Just wait til you’ve experienced Silversea or one of the others mentioned here.

 

Quiet spaces: the luxury lines have smaller ships with fewer passengers, and loads of space per passenger even outside your suite. There are rarely lines anywhere, very few crowds, and quiet spaces galore.

 

Specialty restos: is spite of the small ship size, many have quite a few specialty restaurants that are included in the “all-inclusive.” And then, for a nominal upcharge, you can take it to another level.

 

My advice, fwiw, try one of the small luxury lines this winter for a week and see what you think of the food. With your great attitude, you are sure to have a wonderful time regardless. Then, please do come back and tell us what you think! I’ll be eager to hear your verdict.

 

I’m partial to Silversea, but most of the upscale lines are likely to give you a better dining experience than your previous cruise. 

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Any enterprise which appeals to mass market and competes on the basis of price is not going to deliver top quality of anything.  It has been a good number of years since any mass market line has made a serious effort to deliver fine cuisine.  Expecting it in MDR’s on board Carnival, NCL, HAL, RCI, Princess, even Cunard, etc. is like going to McDonalds or Olive Garden and moaning about mass-production food.  Don’t kid yourself:  you want low prices, you get low cost product.

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