Royal Caribbean is not a "foodie" line like its sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises. The food served on Rhapsody can be hit or miss, with a fairly clear hierarchy of menus: Buffet fare was pretty mediocre, main dining room meals were mostly good with the occasional false step or exceptional entree, and the specialty restaurant dinners were a cut above. The wait staff aims to please, but it occasionally failed to deliver.
The Edelweiss main dining room serves breakfast and dinner every day, as well as lunch on select sea days. For dinner, passengers can choose from assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, with seatings on Deck 4, or they can opt for RCI's My Time Dining on Deck 5. The latter program lets you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.), but you can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities.) The restaurant offers open seating for everyone at breakfast (7:30 to 9:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.).
Layout-wise, the galley is tucked behind the two-deck Edelweiss Dining Room, depriving diners of a view astern.
Breakfast offers a buffet of cold items -- cereal, fruit, yogurt -- plus you can order off a menu of hot items like pancakes or eggs. A server will bring around a platter of breakfast pastries. Both here and in the buffet, you can choose between free, watery OJ or pay extra for freshly squeezed juice. At lunch, the venue adopts the name of Brasserie VII, with a menu of hot items (pasta, burgers, chicken sliders, fish, etc.) plus a very large salad bar.
The dinner menu is split into starters (salads, soups and other appetizers -- choose as many as you like), entrees and dessert. RCI makes up a "Vitality" selection list each night from the regular menu that includes a starter, main and dessert that add up to 800 calories or less. Always-available items include pasta with marinara sauce, chicken breast and steak, and each menu features a Chef's Signature Entree. There are vegetarian options on every lunch and dinner menu; gluten-free and lactose-free items are also marked.
If you want specialty-restaurant-quality fare in the main dining room, you can order a lobster from Portofino ($24.95) and filet mignon ($14.95) or surf and turf ($34.95) from Chops Grille. A 15 percent gratuity will be added to the entree prices.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are served in the Windjammer cafe on Deck 9. Much of the food had that "sitting on the warmer for a while" quality, and pizza was particularly unappetizing. Gluten-free items were marked; oddly, vegetarian dishes were not. Though set up in stations, the buffet area is relatively small, and the venue gets packed on certain days and at certain times (such as breakfast before an early-morning port debarkation), making it difficult to find a table.
Also, unlike some cruise-ship buffets, the Windjammer is not open 24 hours. It serves breakfast from 6:30 to 11 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 to 9 p.m. It's physically closed off in between meals. We found this frustrating -- either if we wanted a quick snack before a late dinner or hoped to feed the littlest cruisers early.
At breakfast, you can choose to wait in the made-to-order omelet line or grab the steam-table versions of scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, breakfast meats, etc. in the center raised section of the venue. Along the sides, cold items like fruit, cereal and pastries are on display. At lunch, there's always a carving station and pizza, as well as steam table burgers and dogs and an Asian section that features Indian or Chinese fare. (Usually the gluten-free and vegetarian items were represented there). At dinner, the Windjammer serves buffet versions of the items on the main dining room menu. Waiters push carts through the buffet offering beer, wine and cocktails. Sometimes servers brought us beverages like juice or coffee, but on other days we had to find our own drinks.
Across the deck, in the adults-only Solarium, is the Park Cafe -- an Oasis of the Seas original added to Rhapsody in 2012. It serves breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m., premade sandwiches, salads and pastries from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and late-night snacks from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. It's a hidden gem on embarkation day -- while the hoards take over the Windjammer with their carry-on luggage, we found no line and empty tables by the Park Cafe.
The 2012 refurb saw several for-fee specialty dining restaurants added to Rhapsody. Despite how you may feel about paying more for cruise food, the additional venues do add a nice variety to the onboard dining options. All are open for dinner between 6 and 9:30 p.m., and reservations are recommended. We saw plenty of empty tables, especially early in the cruise, so don't hesitate to try your luck with a walk-in. If you do make a reservation and need to cancel, do so 24 hours in advance to avoid a $10 fee ($25 for Chef's Table). Children from ages 3 to 13 can dine in specialty venues prior to 7 p.m.
Chops Grille is Royal Caribbean's signature option for grilled meats and seafood. It's open for dinners only, at a cost of $30 per person. It's the special-event, date-night venue, where the steak -- from the popular New York strip to filet mignon and 18-ounce Porterhouse -- takes center stage, but the appetizers (like the forest mushroom soup) and desserts (huge portions of rich chocolate pie and red velvet cake) certainly hold their own. Fish and chicken are also available, and you can tuck into some veggies with an array of sides -- asparagus, potatoes, green beans, onion rings -- served family-style.
Giovanni's Table is an Italian restaurant serving family-style dishes at lunch ($15 per person, sea days only, noon to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner ($20). It's pretty easy to go overboard on the ordering, so reign yourself in. The food there isn't light -- we referred to our appetizers as a "cheese party" because each one, from eggplant parmigiana and antipasti to the caprese salad, had some sort of cheese slathered on top, mixed in or set to the side. (Oh, and the ritual of offering olive oil topped with parmesan cheese as a bread dip is a winner.) Don't confuse the appetizer course with either the soup or pasta/risotto courses, which are finally followed by entrees and dessert. By the time we made it through the appetizers, mushroom risotto and gnocchi, we could barely choke down our lamb chops and veal tenderloin entrees.
Izumi is the pan-Asian -- but mostly Japanese food and sushi -- restaurant, set in an airy space at the top of the ship by the Viking Crown Lounge. The fee structure is a bit more "European cruise line" with a cover charge ($3 for lunch on sea days from noon to 1:30 p.m., $5 for dinner) in addition to a la carte fees for menu items. You can choose from sushi and sashimi (combo platters from $6.50 to $12), hot-rock grilling ($6.50 to $10), hot pot dishes ($6 to $12) and appetizers like vegetable tempura and tuna carpaccio ($4 to $6.50). The menu is huge, so feel free to cheat and order one of the set combination meals ($15 to $23). The mochis are a must for dessert.
One flight down, the Viking Crown Lounge now serves tapas-style small bites. The munchies -- ranging from Caesar salad and kobe beef sliders to flatbreads and red velvet cake -- are a great idea for between-meal snacks or some munchies with your drinks. Tapas cost between $3.50 and $8.75.
If you're a serious foodie, consider the exclusive Chef's Table experience, a $95 five-course, wine-paired dinner hosted by the executive chef and sommelier. It takes place at 7:30 p.m., and diners must be 21 or older. Locations and dates vary by itinerary, so check your Cruise Compass for information.
Latte-tudes is the all-in-one coffee shop, snack stop and Ben & Jerry's ice cream counter. Specialty coffees, teas and ice cream cost extra, but the cookies and pastries are free. The chocolate chip scones should not be overlooked. It's open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Ben & Jerry's doesn't open until 11 a.m.)
Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Passengers in Grand Suites or higher-category cabins can order items off the main dining room menu for room service. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.
Adults and children can buy unlimited soda cards for $6.50 and $4.50 per day, respectively (plus 15 percent tip). There are also water, juice, wine and wine & dine packages available at different costs. Two specialty restaurant dining packages are available. The first, for a $120 fee, includes one meal each at Chef's Table, Giovanni's Table, Chops Grille and Izumi. The second, for $50 per person, eliminates the Chef's Table and features one dinner each at Giovanni's Table, Chops Grille and Izumi.