Earlier this week, we reported that Royal Caribbean is currently offering a special steak at a cost of $14.95 per person in the main dining room on two of its ships. Spokesman Harrison Liu told us that the initiative was a trial to determine whether cruise passengers are interested in "paying a little more for the option of an organically raised cut of beef."
Now, Liu has contacted us to rescind information that we received from him and duly reported. The correction? The steak in question is actually not organic after all.
Liu says that the New York strip steak being offered in the main dining rooms on these two ships is "an all natural strip steak ... it is not organic." And here's another clarification. It turns out that the New York strip is a Black Angus steak after all. We were first told "yes" and then "no" (after which we promptly posted a correction); now, we're back to "yes." Oh, and a final newsflash: the steak is also being tested in Chops, contrary to what we were originally told. There's no additional fee to try the all natural steak in the specialty restaurant, as it's included in the regular cover charge.
Liu says that part of the reason for the confusion is that this is the first time in the company's 40-year history they're trying a charge for anything in the main dining room.
The all natural Black Angus New York strip is brought in from the Harris Ranch Beef Company, a division of the family-owned Harris Farms in California, according to Liu. Thoroughly confused and frankly curious as to what's so special about this $14.95 cut of meat, we visited Harris Ranch's Web site for more information. Here's what they have to say about their Harris Ranch Premium Natural Angus Beef:
"From the superior Angus genetics Harris Ranch demands, to the strict feeding and management practices in place, Premium Natural Angus Beef is peace of mind at the dinner table. No added hormones or antibiotics, 100 percent vegetarian diet, consistent tenderness, unmatched flavor, and guaranteed safe and natural ... Cattle are humanely handled during all aspects of production."
How is this different from organic beef? Web sites such as healthynewage.com cite that in order for meat to be called natural it should contain no artificial ingredients and be minimally processed. Organic beef, on the other hand, is raised without any chemicals, and the beef cows are only fed substances that are totally organic. By those definitions, we have to admit that the hormone- and antibiotic-free Harris Ranch New York strip is probably closer to organic than most steaks on the high seas, and may warrant the extra cost for those cruise travelers who try to eat as natural as possible.
But that still doesn't answer the question of whether there's a free steak on those test ships' main dining room menus, a major issue Cruise Critic readers have taken up on the message boards: Is the strip taking the place of the "free" always available seven-ounce Black Angus sirloin or being offered in conjunction with it?
Well, the answer (surprise) is not cut and dry. Liu iterates the point that "the all natural NY Strip Steak is in addition to the standard 10 dinner entree selections that [are] included in the cruise fare in the main dining room." However, you'll notice that the sample menu we just received (pictured) does not include the available seven-ounce Black Angus sirloin.
Indeed, Liu points out, "The Black Angus sirloin, which is a free selection as part of the standard dinner menu, doesn't seem to be represented in this menu. There is a prime rib option on this menu, and the sirloin is not present because beef is already represented. I am told that guests can still request the sirloin if they wish."
How, if the item is not displayed on the menu, is a cruise traveler supposed to know that it is available and that they may order it? Liu says that paring down the printed selections, even though the kitchen is prepared to offer a sirloin every night of the cruise, was an executive decision made to make the menu appear more balanced, with different types of food (fish, chicken, beef, etc.) offered equally.
When asked if anything is being done to change the menu to make it less confusing for cruise travelers who may not know to ask for the sirloin, Liu responded: "We've gotten a lot of guest calls asking about this. It's something we've heard and it's being addressed."
Liu tells us, again, that part of why they are offering this in the main dining room is that they need to see if there is interest in a different style of meat -- not organic, as we've cleared up, but all natural. Because Chops is a significantly smaller restaurant and only found onboard 10 of Royal Caribbean's ships, it was not a representative enough sample. Also, the test presents an opportunity to see if there's demand for an alternative dining meal without the full restaurant experience. A good example is a family with kids that may not be able to sit through a "fancy" meal or someone who simply couldn't get reservations.
"This is the first foray into examining the trend that we find right now in culinary culture about all natural foods. People are more conscious about how food is prepared and how food is raised. We want to really see if there is a demand. If there are a significant amount of people that say, 'Hey I would want to have an all natural alternative selection on my cruise,' we would institute that."
Chops Grille serves a lot of prime cuts of meat, but they are not necessarily all natural.
If the test goes well (there's no word on its success as yet), and the line determines that there is indeed interest in all natural beef, it is "most likely" going to be offered as an option in Chops and not remain on the main dining room menu. However, Liu stressed that the final outcome really depends on demand from guests. And let's face it: If it turns out cruise passengers are willing to pay for a Chops entree in the main dining room, the cruise line would be hard pressed to remove it.
Now that we know the meat of the matter (we hope), what do you think: Is the steak still (or still not) worth the extra fee? E-mail me at email@example.com; include Great Steak Debate in the subject line.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor
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