Vision of the Seas Dining
Vision of the Seas offers traditional main dining room meals in The Aquarius, a two-tier dining room on Deck 4 made elegant by huge windows and a grand staircase (though the effect is rather marred by a vast and gaudy tapestry depicting the signs of the Zodiac). For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for RCI's My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but 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 pre-pay gratuities.) The restaurant is open seating for everyone at breakfast and lunch every day.
While the quality of onboard meals has never been a prime reason for taking a cruise on Royal Caribbean, the line has definitely sharpened up its culinary act in recent years, though quality can be patchy. For example, we found the food in the Aquarius Dining Room much improved, with nicely designed menus featuring well-cooked, always-available basics like steak and chicken alongside more imaginative stuff like Alaskan Scrod Tempura and cold berry soup (I prefer the hot onion variety myself, but it's good to see them try).
While the salads could have done with being a mite crisper, the freshly baked bread was excellent, the coffee perfectly drinkable, and puddings varied and interesting.
Buffet meals are served in the pretty, large-windowed Windjammer Cafe up on Deck 9. I will say, though, that the Windjammer -- while fairly well-designed with separate food islands to minimize queuing -- has an unnecessarily complicated "cakes and pastries" raised section set apart from the main buffet. It gets crowded and having only one entrance rather impedes the flow. There are efficient service stations for hot toast, bagels and muffins at breakfast time, but it would also be good to see a couple of cooks preparing freshly cooked eggs and omelets.
Burgers, pizza and hot dogs are available until late in the evening at the Solarium cafe, also on Deck 9. Alas, those in search of a casual snack from the Solarium Cafe all too often face long queues, slow service and -- sin of sins -- cold fries.
There are free tea, coffee, cold drink and ice cream stations outside the Windjammer. Vision of the Seas has a Ben & Jerry's ice cream outlet onboard serving everything from milkshakes to sundaes, for a fee.
The wine list -- though dominated by Californian products -- was fairly affordable, starting at $20 for a Californian Chardonnay or Merlot, with a far more palatable (to British tastes) Pouilly Fume or Chilean Merlot priced at $39. There is also a rather complicated "Wine & Dine" package available whereby guests can save by buying bottles in advance. Gold packages range in price from $113 for five bottles of Californian or Chilean wine to $273 for 12 bottles. One up is the Platinum (from $125 to $299 for a selection of Californian, European and South Africa wines), while the Diamond Package at the top of the range costs from $137 to $329 for a slightly wider choice.
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. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. 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.
But all of that said, Vision of the Seas (and indeed, Royal Caribbean as a whole) wins huge brownie points from me for serving cartons of creamy fresh milk, rather than that foul-tasting, utterly repulsive long-life stuff passengers have to endure on so many cruise ships these days.