Royal Caribbean this week announced a new way of dining, ditching the traditional main dining room with assigned seating and replacing it with five restaurants where passengers can pick a cuisine of their choice.
Called Dynamic Dining, it will be offered on the Quantum of the Seas, set to debut in November.
Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein, speaking at news conference in New York on Wednesday, said he believes the new program will shake up the concept of dining on cruise ships.
While experienced cruisers appear perfectly happy with traditional dining, Goldstein said inexperienced travelers have the misconception that cruises are too regimented.
So no longer will there be two seatings (at 6 and 8 p.m.) in a main dining room serving crowds nearly the half the size of a ship’s passenger population. Now, passengers will select a different dining spot every night, choosing one of the themed main dining rooms included in the cruise fare.
The Five Main Dining Rooms
From California-influenced to Pan-Asian fare, the five complimentary, full-service restaurants include a range of cuisines. Here’s a breakdown.
The American Icon Grill is where you’ll find comfort foods selected from American cities from "sea to shining sea," the cruise line said. Featured dishes will include New Orleans gumbo, New England clam chowder and Southern fried chicken.
Chic will feature contemporary fine cuisine from fresh ingredients, offering "proteins that pack a punch." Dishes include beef ribeye, lamb chops and Mediterranean sea bass. Entrée options will include dry aged steak, Maine lobster and veal Parmesan.
Silk will feature “Pan Asian flavors such as slow cooked lamb curry, ginger and sesame crusted tuna and sake glazed salmon."
The Grande features classic cuisine such as Beef Wellington, Chicken a l’Orange, Roasted Scallops and Sole Almandine.
Coastal Kitchen is described as "where California cool meets the warmth of the Mediterranean." The menu ranges from California favorites like sea bass ceviche, sliced avocado and blueberry pie to Mediterranean delicacies such as Serrano ham, goat cheese and roasted grapes.
The New Royal Caribbean Dining App
To help cruisers make reservations for these restaurants as well as many other ship amenities, Royal Caribbean is offering a new app that will work on cellphones and iPads during the cruise, or on the Internet before the cruise.
The app will show real-time availability for the on-board eateries and let users make reservations. If the dining room has ample space available, the app will show that, too. Cruisers can also use the apps to reserve shore tours and spa appointments.
The app’s main goal is to attract first-time cruisers, including skeptical Millennials. "In the old days,” Goldstein said, “we sold escape from the outside world. But today’s younger travelers want full-time access to the Internet." Along those lines, Quantum will feature a new broadband technology for cruise ships, currently being tested aboard the line's largest ships, Oasis and Allure of the Seas.
Of course, the app is not the only way to make reservations. More traditional cruisers can still use the telephone, access menus on their stateroom television or consult one of the “wayfinders” – navigational interactive touch-screens located throughout the ship.
Additional Specialty Dining Options
In addition to the five main dining restaurants, there are seven specialty dining spots that feature fare from celebrity chefs. These aren’t complimentary, and service charges vary.
Wonderland, open for dinner only, is described as a "culinary kaleidoscope." In a demonstration given in New York on Wednesday, the line treated guests to a soup with Vanishing Noodles and a Chocolate Olive Fizz in a cellophane wrapper that disappears in your mouth. Other items included Sriracha eggs that appear in a plume of smoke and flash frozen ice cream atop tender pork belly.
Michael's Genuine Pub is the brainchild of James Beard award-winning chef Michael Schwartz. Along with craft beers and the ship's own classic American ale, the gastropub will offer pub-style snacks. It’s open for lunch and dinner.
Jamie's Italian, open for lunch and dinner, features British chef Jamie Oliver in his first cruise ship eatery. The menu will feature mostly rustic Italian fare along with a few surprises, such as Pumpkin Panzerotti and Zingy Prawn Linguine.
Devinly Decadence, despite its misleading name, will offer fresh spa cuisine for breakfast and lunch plus an upscale dinner experience similar to the Solarium Bistro on the Oasis-class ships. The fare is inspired by Devin Alexander, the best-selling cookbook author and chef on NBC's The Biggest Loser. It is complimentary during breakfast and lunch; there is an extra charge for dinner.
Chops Grille is already a well-known Royal Caribbean dining spot featuring the best in steak and other cuts of meat. Options include filet mignon, braised short rib, roasted organic chicken and dry aged steak burger. This is open for dinner only.
Izumi Japanese cuisine begins with vegetable tempura or shrimp gyoza dumplings, and entrées include mixed seafood, beef tenderloin and chicken or beef skewers. This is for lunch and dinner only.
The Chef's Table is a limited special dinner with the best gourmet food and wine or aperitif pairings with every course. This is the most expensive meal offered on the ship, and reservations are required, as well as formal dress. There are generally six to eight courses, including appetizers like foie gras, truffles risotto or lobster bisque and main courses including lamb cutlets or filet mignon.
The last three dining spots include the Windjammer Marketplace, a new name for the Lido Café found on most cruise ships. On the newer cruise ships, cafeteria-style lines have been replaced by dozens of serving stations offering individual portions of various styles of food.
One of the most talked-about new public rooms coming to Quantum is the large combination lounge in a showroom named Two70° (pronounced “two-seventy degrees”). This room will feature a gourmet marketplace menu featuring salads, soups and hot pressed sandwiches, similar to what you find in upscale urban grocery stores.
Finally, Royal Caribbean says Quantum of the Seas will be the first cruise ship with a hot dog stand, known as the Seaplex Dog House. There is no charge for the hotdogs, or the onions, mustard, relish and sauerkraut you’ll want to pile on top of them.
The End of Traditional Dining
Quantum of the Seas will be the first modern cruise ship without a main dining room. Other cruise lines like Norwegian have been offering anytime, multi-venue dining options on their ships for decades, but they have always offered complimentary traditional dining rooms, as well.
Will this be enough to bring cruise virgins to cruise ships? Goldstein believes it will, and he promises even more surprises to come on the Quantum of the Seas.
Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.