There are so many dining options on Oasis that you could do something different for every meal -- three times a day, for an entire week -- and literally not repeat a venue.
Opus is the ship's traditional, three-deck main dining room, serving open seating breakfast and lunch -- but note all this will change in March 2015 as Royal Caribbean rolls out its Dynamic Dining concept which will see the classic cruise ship main dining room abandoned in favor of a bevy of restaurants -- both free and for-fee.
Royal says it will roll out the new concept -- which consists of nearly 20 restaurants, allowing passengers to ‘tailor' their eating experience to their own preferences -- on Oasis overnight on March 14, 2015. So on March 15, 2015, passengers will wake up to find the launch of three completely different restaurants: American Icon Grill, Silk and The Grande. The three-deck space is still joined by a three-story atrium, but the line has worked hard to achieve separation -- adding sheer curtains to Silk and landscape-paneled dividers to American Icon Grill.
Until then, passengers will continue to have a traditional main dining room experience in the newly decorated spaces which means at dinner Decks 3 and 4 are given over to traditional set-seating dining while Deck 5 is reserved for those who've chosen Royal Caribbean's flexible dining program, My Time Dining. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.) Breakfast and lunch are served open seating.
There are two restaurants that are already open: Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar: a Mexican restaurant, which was first introduced on Navigator of the Seas, is alfresco on The Boardwalk -- making it well suited for a Caribbean sailing; and Coastal Kitchen, which is only available to suite passengers. The high-ceilinged, glass-enclosed lounge is decorated in neutral cream, beige and gray, which adds to the sense of light and space in the room. It's a very relaxing spot with great views and a nicely stocked bar, but the food at breakfast wasn't as nice as that offered in the Windjammer breakfast buffet. The drawback at Windjammer (see below) is that it's chaotic, crowded and hard to find a table.
Other changes/debuts include: The for-fee Izumi, the teppanyaki and sushi joint, is in the process of being moved and expanded; and Wonderland, an avant garde restaurant which debuted on Quantum of the Seas.
The strangest thing about the Windjammer Marketplace, the line's popular buffet-style venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is how small it is for such a large ship! Clearly, designers incorporated numerous other casual eateries into the ship's design and hope that passengers will spread out among them (indeed, at breakfast time crewmembers were stationed by elevator banks to suggest other venues to passengers heading to the Windjammer). On our packed-to-capacity cruise, Windjammer was pretty jammed most times.
Some other Royal Caribbean favorites are back as well, including Johnny Rockets. While the standard burgers/fries/shakes fare for lunch and dinner is offered for $4.95 per person, on Oasis, Johnny Rockets is also a complimentary breakfast venue (its menu offers hot egg dishes and an incredibly decadent cheesy-potato combo). Even though the breakfast is free, our server brought us a chit to sign (showing a zero balance but with a space for gratuities) -- a gentle hint, perhaps, that tips were expected.
The 24-hour Cafe Promenade serves up sugary pastries and coffees in the morning -- with small sandwiches available through the rest of the day. Other tried-and-true Royal Caribbean stalwarts include Sorrento's Pizzeria (free slices and antipasti for lunch, dinner and late-night noshing). A new twist at Sorrento's is a create-your-own pizza option; passengers choose from an assemblage of ingredients (meats, cheeses, vegetables) that changes daily.
And Chops Grille, the line's dinner-only steakhouse, is located on Central Park. While it's beautifully designed, and its sleekness wouldn't feel out of place in Manhattan, the meal we had at Chops was disappointing. The menu is more limited than in the past (appetizer options were particularly unappealing and one, the lobster carpaccio, was drowned with so much olive oil that it was inedible). There's a $30 charge to eat here.
There are plenty of new-to-Royal Caribbean choices onboard Oasis of the Seas and we'll break them down by neighborhood:
In the Royal Promenade. The Mondo Coffee Bar offers Starbucks-like fare -- breakfast breads in the morning and sandwiches in the afternoon (and pretty good a la carte-priced coffee); the food is complimentary. An actual Starbucks kiosk sells the ubiquitous company's standard hot drinks at the expected prices, and diehards can even use their Starbucks gold cards. The selection of edibles is, however, abbreviated. You'll find red velvet pie, croissants and other sweets ($1.50 to $2), but not the full menu of savory sandwiches typically available on land. The Cupcake Cupboard, a totally new concept in cruising, has the most appetizing creative flavors, but never, ever, seemed crowded. The specialty cupcakes ($2.50 each) -- ranging from vanilla and chocolate to crazier flavors like bubblegum and root beer -- are delicious, however.
In Central Park. The tapas at Vintages, the ship's wine bar, are served all day (and into the wee hours) and offer a delicious, lighter fare (though not necessarily low-calorie) option. The tapas, which range from a simple bruschetta to more elaborate concoctions and from savory treats to sweet ones, cost between $2 and $4 apiece. If you're peckish, consider ordering a "tapas sampler" -- these combine various options and are quite cost-effective.
One of the biggest home runs on Oasis of the Seas is the new Italian-influenced Giovanni's Table. Initially described by Royal Caribbean as a more casual take on its much-loved but perhaps too elegant Portofino, I imagined it as an Olive Garden clone and nothing could be further from the truth. It's got a fantastic, friendly, trattoria-style ambience -- and the menu is beautifully conceived. Interestingly, Giovanni's is open for lunch on sea days (and, uniquely in the cruise industry, on embarkation day as well -- so there's a lunch option for passengers who prefer to avoid the usual crowds at the buffet). The service charge is $15 for lunch, $20 for dinner, and one of the best values onboard.
150 Central Park is meant to be the ships showcase restaurant and while it comes off initially as a bit pretentious (a tasting menu consists of seven courses -- gnocchi with chanterelles, cauliflower panna cotta -- plus meal-ending cheese plates), ultimately it is a lovely experience. There's a wine pairing option ($55 and $75) and that worked really well with the courses (plus wines by the glass are shockingly expensive). The service fee, $40, is one of the highest in the cruise industry -- and yet people were begging for reservations.
The aforementioned Park Cafe, which serves delicious hot Panini sandwiches and bagels for breakfast and custom made salads and sandwiches throughout the day, was justifiably a huge hit.
On the Boardwalk. Across from Johnny Rockets is the Seafood Shack. It's a partially al fresco joint where you'll find coconut shrimp, ribs, chowder and beer. The motif is beach-y: seashells, surfboards and the red metal chairs that resemble the simple plastic seats one associates with seaside eats. Pricing is a la carte.
It was rarely crowded (in fact several crewmembers told me that its concept needed some fixing) and the service was atrocious (one waiter ran around trying to serve all the tables while, seriously, a half-dozen other service staffers just chatted with each other and ignored customers).
Also new here is the Boardwalk Donut Shop (no extra charge) and an Ice Cream Parlor (which is not a Ben & Jerry's operation, as is found on Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships). A la carte scoops cost from $1.95 (try the fruity, refreshing mango flavor). You can also find fruit, salads and sandwiches at the Boardwalk Bar at lunch and dinner, for free.
In the Pool & Sports Zone. A mini-version of the ship's buffet, offering fast foodstuffs, is located at the Wipe Out Cafe (complimentary all day, from breakfast to pre-dinner). Then there's the Solarium Bistro, reminiscent of the spa eateries onboard Celebrity ships, serving spa breakfast and lunch items. At breakfast there are yogurts, granola, fruit and breakfast meats like the more healthful turkey sausage instead of the pork variety. Lunch features light fare, such as couscous, salads, fruit, yogurt and other healthy, tasty options. At night, the bistro is transformed, via linen tablecloths and soft lighting, to a more upscale but still spa-oriented alternative restaurant; the fee is $20. As a nighttime eatery, Solarium Bistro was the least popular of the ship's for-fee restaurants. The food is fine but the atmosphere is rather sterile. Alas, it's the one restaurant you could get into without a reservation!
One huge success is the Chef's Table. This is a brand-new concept for Royal Caribbean and was offered each night on our cruise. The trick is that only 14 passengers can be accommodated. The dinner starts with cocktails in the library and an introduction to other passengers. Then it's onto the meal in the upper level of the Concierge Lounge, with a fantastic view overlooking the AquaTheater and Boardwalk. There are five courses (this is a regular menu, not a tasting-style affair) and before each is served the chef comes out of the kitchen and explains the preparation.
At our dinner, one couple had liked it so much earlier in the week that they'd returned -- and so would we. You can book it before the cruise by calling Royal Caribbean; we took a chance and reserved our spots online and could have chosen between a couple of nights. Wine pairings (quite generous ones) are included in the $95 fee, as are gratuities. We liked the service so much we added on an extra tip.
Other dining spots onboard include the Vitality Cafe, which has low-cal snacks and smoothies in the spa and fitness center.
Still hungry? Room service is available around the clock, free most of the day (though it's considered sporting to tip a buck or two), though a late-night service charge of $3.95 per statement is assessed between midnight and 5 a.m. Egg dishes are available in the morning, along with the usual Continental fare (croissants, coffee, cereal). Throughout the day and into the evening passengers can choose between pizza, hot and cold sandwiches and salads.