We have an unusual viewpoint because we have cruised exclusively on Regent luxury cruises. We love the all-inclusive concept, the level of service and the quality of the food and wine. We have eaten in outstanding restaurants around the world, my wife is as wine expert as well and we love good wines, so we were not expecting to be wowed by Royal Caribbean. I saw an article on this new ship and we decided at the last minute to give it a try since the ship is so different from the small luxury ships we've been on. I'll try to give you as much specific information as I can but our overall impression of this ship is very positive.
GENERAL OVERALL IMPRESSION:
The ship itself is spectacular and they spared no expense to produce a cruise ship that is just an awesome physical creation. The second thing is, despite the fact this was the maiden voyage, there were literally no glitches at all and this was amazing. You would have thought this ship and its staff had been in place for years. Everything was extremely efficient, the staff was almost without exception very positive and friendly, the service was consistently very good. The other thing that surprised us was the general lack of lines and the feeling we expected to have of a huge ship with tons of people on it. There were only a few times when the crowds were even apparent. The ship was not cleared for boarding until 1 PM so there was a large line to get on board when it was cleared. But it still did not take more than 20 minutes to clear this whole line and get everyone on board. It was also a bit of a zoo after they released everyone from the mandatory lifeboat "lecture" when everyone was anxious to get on an elevator and go somewhere at the same time. But throughout the cruise you seldom waited for an elevator for more than a couple minutes and it really did not feel crowded with a series of waiting lines for everything. They had two banks of 12 elevators at each end of the ship and that was certainly enough. We only went to the main dining room twice (once for lunch and once for dinner) and walked right in both times without a wait (we paid our gratuities in advance so could walk into the dining room for dinner at any time without a reservation). I ate lunch once in the main buffet and walked though there 3 other times during breakfast and lunch. They have several "islands" and I never saw a line waiting to get into the buffet.
You simply walked right in and, even though there were often plenty of people in there, there were no lines to wait in.
The shows are great and you should try to see them all. The one we didn't see was the comedy show. We had reservations but cancelled when we learned one of the comedians had too much "adult" material for our tastes - we learned that from another guest. They were careful to say on the ticket that there was adult content but we think they should have at least a couple of shows each week with nothing but "family friendly" material. I'd recommend you book as many of the shows as you can on line before you go. However, we also found that there seemed to be at least a few empty seats at most of the shows so I would think you would have a decent chance to get in at the last minute to at least some of them without a reservation.
We should be able to help you here since we took full advantage of the specialty restaurants and we have a pretty sophisticated palate. First, we only ate dinner in the dining room one night so the experience is obviously very limited. Our service that night couldn't have been better. However, the menu was pretty "basic". My wife had lasagna and I had surf and turf. The lasagna was fine but nothing special. The surf and turf was not what I expected. The surf was 3 meduium sized steamed shrimp that were overcooked. The turf was not a steak but a thick piece of roast beef filet(without the bone and fat). It was a little dry and not really top quality, flavorful beef. We heard from another guest that they did have rack of lamb the next night and it was very good but our experience was very limited so you may want to discount it.
I ate lunch once in the main dining room and joined 5 other people. Three of the 6 people took one bite of their lunch and did not finish it. One was a quiche that the person said was dry and lacked any flavor at all. The second was a tastada and that man said it was far too hot (spicey) for him (could have been just a personal taste problem). The third had a piece of some kind of meat that he siad was just too tough to eat. I had a pita with lamb and it was not very good either.
The buffet food is typical buffet food. I would say it was pretty much middle of the road in terms of overall quality and selection. I would recommend the Solarium small buffet on the 15th floor for breakfast or lunch. They concentrate on a healthy menu and do a good job at it in a smaller venue.
Sorrentos -- I've seen some good reviews for this venue on the Oasis but we did not care for the pizza. The crust was a little thick and "doughey", the sauce was not distinctive and the cheese was thick. It reminded us of a frozen pizza from the grocery store.
Park Cafe -- this little Cafe serves some nice sandwiches and salads (try the shrinmp salad over asian noodles). It is small and you will find a line at this one for probably the first 1/2 hour it's open each day for lunch.
150 Central Park -- We love the Cordon Blu restaurant Signatures on Regent so we were prepared to be underwhelmed. Forget it! Molly Brandt is one if the finest young chefs in America and I doubt she'll stay with Royal Caribbean for many years. We ate there twice ($35 per person surcharge) and it was outstanding both times, from the impeccable service to the presentation to the quality and taste. It is a six-course tasting menu and you may want to stop in and take a look at the menu first. She changes it once during the week so there will be two different menues available in a 1-week cruise. However, she is also very smart in preparing the menus because she has nothing that is "wild". You'll find no curry or hot and overly spicey items. But this restaurant is not to be missed for those who appreciate fine food and outstanding service.
Samba Brazilian Steakhouse -- This is a new restaurant for Royal Caribbean. This is a great concept but the execution is lacking. It is patterned after the Brazilian steakhouses where they keep bringing you meat until you're stuffed. They also have a Brazilian dancer at Samba who entertains sporadically throughout the evening and this is a nice touch. It's a fun atmosphere but the problem is the meat quality. The meats are filet mignon, another beef selection that is a sirloin cut of some kind, lamb chops, chicken wrapped in bacon, pork roast and what they called a brazilia sausage. The filet. All of the meats come to the table on a big sword and the server cuts them off (pork, and steak) or takes them off the sword (the rest of the meats).
The "filets" are small two-bite pieces that are just too small to be cooked properly and retain their flavor. They were dry even when rare. The lamb chops werevery good. The sausage was very pedestrian and dull, the other steak item was not very tender and I don't expect to eat small bites of chicken wrapped in bacon at a Brazilian steakhouse. We heard mostly negative comments from other guests as well so they may make improvements but right now, skip it and the $25 surcharge.
Giovanni's Table -- This is another big winner for a $15 surcharge per person.
It is an upscale Italian restaurant and everything is good. The service was also excellent and we ate here twice as well. Here's a tip. They have a filet mignon on the menu here and it was a big one. My wife ordered it one night. Now maybe this was a fluke but it was tremendous! We did not eat at Chops but there is no way their filet (a $25 surcharge for Chops) would be better than this one. Save the $10 and get the filet here along with all the other great things. By the way you can order more than one appetizer, pasta, etc. and they will also serve you family style if you wish. You cannot leave there hungry and this is another gem.
Chef's table -- this is a small special dinner (14-16 people) and they will have 2-3 of them during each cruise, depending on the demand. It again is a 5-course fixed menu and it is held in a separate small dining area specifically set aside for this event. It is a $75 per person surcharge but includes 5 different wines paired with the 5-courses. The wines are premium wines and we thought the pairings were extremely well done. Again, the chef comes out and explains and presents each course and it is a great food/wine experience. You also leave there with a copy of the nice hard-cover Royal Caribbean cook book with some good recipes. This was an excellent experience and we would recommend it for those who appreciate good wine and gourmet food.
Final thoughts: This ship can actually satisfy both the luxury cruisers and those who are looking for the mid-price cruise. We heard good comments on CHOPS (the steakhouse) so you could stick with the specialty restaurants and have outstanding dinners each night while still paying significantly less than luxury all-inclusive cruise prices. They also have a wine package which we bought (5 bottles). We bought the top Diamond package. There was some "junk" on the list but there were also 4-5 wines that are $18-20 retail that you would pay anywhere from $45-70 in a restaurant for a bottle. We found it a good value.
We would take this ship again but the cruise is all about the ship and not the ports and I would think this will limit their repeat business some. They only have6 ports in the Caribbean they can get into and two of them are their own islands. So you'll get 3 stops in every 7 day cruise right now. That's fine for the first cruise on this wonderful ship but there are so many places to go and so little time to go there that it is certainly a drawback to continued repeat voyages. PS - I forgot -- the fitness center is fabulous and so big you will never have to wait in line for any piece of equipment