By Chris Gray Faust
Cruise Critic Managing Editor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

 With nearly two dozen places to eat onboard, Oasis of the Seas doesn't lack in choices. But it can be difficult to figure out exactly what's complimentary and what costs extra, as some restaurants are free at certain meals, then charge a cover at night. The line doesn't make it easy, either, to figure out what the prices are, as the cover charges aren't printed in your program. Look to the TV in your room for menus.

Oasis of the Seas is one ship where you will want to allocate some money for specialty dining, as the quality of the complimentary restaurants, particularly the main dining rooms and buffet, is not very good. We received mealy shrimp, chicken marsala without sauce and perhaps the strangest looking preparation of escargot we've had. Foodies will want to look elsewhere on the ship to eat.

In terms of crowds, the buffet and main dining rooms can get overwhelmed at peak times, particularly on formal nights and for MyTime Dining (where you can enter the dining room any time you'd like between set hours). Wayfinder boards around the ship tell you which venues are getting slammed, and occasionally the ship dedicates employees to steer passengers toward less hectic areas.

Free Dining

Oasis of the Seas has three main dining rooms for regular passengers and a dedicated dining room for suite residents. The restaurants are divided by floor and were each given a different name in anticipation of Dynamic Dining; that program, which required passengers to rotate through the various dining rooms, has been put on hold. Now all three restaurants serve the same menu each night, despite having different decor.

American Icon Grill (Deck 3): American Icon is reserved for My Time Dining between the hours of 5:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m; you can call for reservations or go see the maitre'd in person. If you don't have a reservation, the lines can be quite long. (MyTime Dining passengers will also have to prepay gratuities.) The decor is Americana, with photos of American landmarks on the walls.

Breakfast is served for everyone in American Icon Grill from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Start your day with a selection of pastries, a cereal bar, smoked salmon, eggs cooked to order, omelets, eggs Benedict, pancakes or quiche. (A Dreamworks character breakfast takes place in American Icon twice a cruise. Reservations are required, as is a fee of $10 per person for diners ages 6 and older.)

There's a Brasserie 30 lunch served there on sea days; it's intended to get passengers in and out for more fun. (None of the main dining rooms are open for lunch on port days.)

Dinners are the same in all three main dining venues. They're served as three courses, although you can order more than one. Starters might include caprese salad or creamy roasted garlic soup, escargots Bourguignonne or a classic Caesar salad. Main courses may include lasagna al Forno, chicken Marsala or roasted rack of lamb. Meat-lovers can also indulge in premium cuts. The Chops filet -- the same 9-ounce one you'll find in the specialty restaurant -- can be had for $16.95; add a lobster tail for surf and turf, and you'll spend $34.95. Classic items that are available anytime include linguini with Pomodoro sauce, grilled chicken breast, broiled filet of Atlantic salmon or Angus beef sliders. Desserts include warm chocolate cake, low-fat panna cotta or chocolate praline fingers. Gluten-free, lactose-free vegetarian and Vitality spa options (where a three-course meal can be had for under 800 calories) are marked.

All restaurants are fairly noisy, with friendly waitstaff who frequently parade and sing. (We heard O Sole Mio on Italian night.)

Grande (Deck 4): One of the three main dining rooms, Grande offers two seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. for passengers who choose the traditional, set-seating option. Decor is elegant with tones of gold; this dining room was originally designed to accommodate formal dining.

Silk (Deck 5): Asian-decorated Silk, the third main dining venue, also offers set seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Coastal Kitchen (Deck 17): Royal Caribbean's dedicated restaurant for suite and Pinnacle-level passengers has proved popular, despite grumblings from loyal-to-Royal passengers. (The restaurant replaced the Viking Crown Lounge, a favorite hangout.) The space is spectacular, with several-story windows providing incredible views, light and airy furnishings, and dining chairs that you can sink into. Breakfast features omelets, eggs cooked any style, eggs Benedict, pancakes and other items typical of a main dining room. The lunch menu consists of soups and salads, flatbreads, sandwiches (the grilled chicken is delicious) and light entrees, such as pasta primavera.

Two Mediterranean-inspired menus are available for dinner. Expect appetizers like Serrano ham-wrapped dates, grilled prawn and arugula salad, and flatbreads. Entrees include caramelized scallops, herb-crusted chicken breast, roasted rack of lamb, and beef tenderloin. Desserts include salted caramel pudding, dark chocolate tiramisu and citrus olive oil torta. While suite passengers can walk in for breakfast and lunch, dinner reservations are required; dinner is served between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. While Suite passengers can eat in the main dining room, we're not sure why they would, as the food and surroundings in Coastal Kitchen are far superior.

Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 16): The ship's buffet is perhaps the one place where you can really feel that you're sailing with 6,000 people. At breakfast and lunch during sea days, the area is hectic, with lines at popular stations and very few places to sit. (While the waitstaff does an admirable job of trying to keep tables clean, you will likely encounter crumbs and dirty dishes at peak hours.) It's much more manageable when the ship is in port.

Options for breakfast (open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.) include eggs, breakfast meats, fruit, cereal, smoked mackerel, bagels, pastries and selections for international travelers, such as miso soup and fried rice. There's an entire gluten-free station, too.

At lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), choose from cold salads, cold cuts, hamburgers and French fries, seafood in cream sauce, a carving station with roasted turkey, international selection like chicken biryani and vegetable curry, and a selection of cakes and desserts.

Windjammer becomes calmer at dinner, served 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Choices can include beef prime rib, pork loin with papaya sauce, Cuban congee rice, hamburgers and hot dogs, cold salads, warm salads, Indian specialties and a plethora of desserts.

Park Cafe (Deck 8, Central Park): Open as a casual spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Park Cafe wins online accolades for its signature roast beef sandwiches. Salads are also popular.

Wipe Out Cafe (Deck 15, aft): Located not too far from the FlowRider, this casual spot offers kid-friendly hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, sandwiches and pizza for lunch (11:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and late afternoon snacks (depending on the date). There's also a soft-serve ice cream station. At breakfast, this area has been set up as an omelet station to take pressure off Windjammer; it's usually open until 11 a.m.

Sorrento's Cafe (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): Sorrento's serves several types of slices daily and gives you the option to create your own. Unfortunately, the result is chewy and uninspiring. It's open 24/7.

Boardwalk Dog House (Deck 6, Boardwalk): The Boardwalk Dog House serves -- what else? -- sausages of various types (chicken, all beef, bratwurst). Choose roasted peppers or onions for a topping, or opt for good ole ketchup, mustard and relish. Potato salad is available as a side. Hours are generally 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Room Service: Oasis of the Seas has a nice selection of items on its all-day room service menu, including salads, sandwiches and entrees like fried honey-stung chicken with ranch dressing and sweet potato wedges, and breaded filet of flounder with dill remoulade, seasonal vegetables and pan-fried potatoes. Pizza, a cheese plate and desserts are also available. Room service breakfast is an option, too. Choices include scrambled eggs, breakfast meats, cereals, pastries, fruits and juices. Ours arrived hot and on time. There's a $7.95 charge for all non-Continental breakfast orders.

Fee Dining

Cafe Promenade (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): Next to Guest Services, Cafe Promenade has specialty coffee drinks for a fee, as well as the regular stuff for free; however, every time we tried to get a complimentary cup of joe there, either the carafes were empty, or they were out of cups. Free pastries are available at breakfast and throughout the day, and there's a nice selection of sweets (cookies, cake, Rice Krispies treats) and sandwiches; the ham and cheese croissants are good for a nosh. It's open 24 hours.

Johnny Rockets (Deck 6, Boardwalk): This suburban staple has an outpost on Oasis, serving up burgers, fries and shakes in the heart of the Boardwalk. There's a fee of $6.95 at Johnny Rockets for lunch and dinner, but it's free in the morning, when you can get breakfast sandwiches, and fried or scrambled eggs, French toast, hash browns and other standards.

Solarium Bistro (Deck 15, Solarium): On the lower floor of the two-story space set aside for those older than 16, the Solarium Bistro provides complimentary healthy cuisine for breakfast (muesli and oatmeal, fruit, turkey bacon and sausage) and lunch (salad bar, light sandwiches).

At night, the space turns over to a fee restaurant ($20) that serves more elaborate healthy fare. Starters include toasted barley mushroom risotto, sea scallop and whitefish ceviche, and yellowtail tuna sashimi. A number of salads and soups are available, and entrees might include chipotle spiced basa fish steamed in corn husk with root vegetables; sauteed veal scaloppini; or Muscovy duck breast on lentils. A dessert buffet features low-fat and no-sugar offerings. Tellingly, the Solarium Bistro is the least popular restaurant on Oasis, we were told, which is a shame because the area itself, with fountains and pools, is lovely as a white tablecloth establishment.

Vitality Spa Cafe (Deck 6, Vitality Spa): Essentially a juice counter for the spa, this cafe attracts health-conscious passengers with yogurt parfaits, small sandwiches and low-fat pastries (free), as well as green and fruit smoothies (which cost extra). This area never seemed busy.

Fee Dining

Starbucks (Deck 5, Royal Promenade); a la carte: Can't live without your pumpkin spice latte? No worries -- you can buy it at a kiosk in the middle of the Royal Promenade. Note that Starbucks drinks are not included in any drink packages.

Cups & Scoops (Deck 6, Boardwalk); a la carte: Oasis has brought back its partnership with Ben & Jerry's for its premium ice cream selection. Cupcakes are also available there, but as the tiny cakes losing their trendiness, Royal will be bringing in a selection of macarons.

Sabor (Deck 6, Boardwalk); a la carte: This Mexican restaurant replaces the original Seafood Shack and is open at lunch and dinner. The highlight is the guacamole, made to order tableside to your desired level of spiciness; the result is fresh and delicious -- and at $5, it's a bargain. Chips and salsa come complimentary, and the prices for other items are reasonable, with tacos and quesadillas at $5 apiece and entrees, such as mole short ribs or chicken and roasted corn empanadas, costing $10. A special tasting menu that includes the guac costs $20.

Vintages (Deck 8, Central Park); a la carte: Oasis of the Seas has worked to make this wine bar in Central Park a pleasant place for oenophiles, and in terms of decor and menu, it truly is. And yet the space seemed underused, and the wine tastings scheduled during the day were pricey at $40, even for serious sippers. At lunch and dinnertime, tapas can be bought individually (most for about $3 to $7), or sometimes the bar puts out a buffet where you can eat as much as you want for $10.

Chops Grille (Deck 8, Central Park); $39: Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse is the most popular specialty restaurant on Oasis, despite the ship's plethora of options. Located in Central Park, the restaurant, open only for dinner, tries to replicate its land-based counterparts, but with servers who push upsells at every opportunity, patrons might find it a little harder to relax. (My table of wine-lovers particularly disliked the bottles of Caymus automatically put on the table, with a strong assumption that we'd buy that instead of a more reasonably priced Malbec.)

The set price at Chops includes two appetizers, one entree (although you can order another for an extra charge) and multiple desserts if you're still hungry. Appetizers include forest mushroom soup with truffle oil, several styles of salad, colossal shrimp cocktail, charred beef carpaccio and pan-roasted jumbo scallops. Carnivores can choose from petite (6-ounce) and regular portions of filet mignon (9-ounce) and New York strip steak (12-ounce); the meat is served with a choice of bearnaise, peppercorn and bordelaise sauce. Other choices beyond steak include slow-braised short ribs, veal chop parmesan, roasted chicken, grilled branzino and everything-crusted tuna. In true steakhouse style, you order a variety of sides to share, including creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, truffled corn, roasted mushrooms and grilled asparagus.

Upsell opportunities on the entree side feature dry-aged steaks from Midwestern cows (Iowa and Nebraska) sold as 16-ounce strip steaks and 20-ounce porterhouse for $18. The server also brought out a monster Tomahawk chop that could have fed the entire table; that costs $29.50. Lobster is $21.

Save room for dessert, as the selections are quite tasty. Choices include a gooey chocolate lava cake, huckleberry cheesecake, red velvet cake and another chocolate cake that seriously came out like a chunk of fudge.

All in all, Chops is a fairly good value for the money, and it's a pleasant, quiet place to dine. On the night we went, a string quartet played in the park, and a soft breeze wafted through the open area; a roof over the outdoor portion of the restaurant keeps away any tropical drizzles. Reservations are highly recommended.

Izumi (Deck 4, midship); a la carte for sushi; $25 for hibachi: Royal Caribbean's popular sushi joint has been expanded to include two hibachi grills, complete with knife-wielding entertainment-oriented chefs. A hibachi dinner carries a cover charge of $25 for a meal that includes one choice of meat or $30 for two choices (including beer, chicken, lobster and shrimp). All meals receive a soup or salad, edamame, fried rice or lo mein, cooked veggies and dessert. At the sushi bar, the fish is good quality, and you can order rolls, sashimi, seaweed salad and other favorites like gyoza dumplings. Prices are about what you'd pay on land, with most rolls costing between $10 and $15. Edamame is free. An omakase menu is available for $35. Izumi is open for lunch and dinner.

Giovanni's Table (Deck 8, Central Park); $25 dinner, $20 lunch: A sleeper hit among the specialty restaurants, this Italian trattoria, open for lunch and dinner, turned out to be one of our favorite meals. It offers quality food and none of the upselling we saw at Chops. Your set price includes family-style appetizers, such as caprese salad and antipasti (highly recommended), bacon-wrapped mozzarella on ciabatta bread, seafood stew and Caesar salad. Pasta dishes like crab ravioli, gnocchi, risotto and pappardelle come as a side or entree.

In terms of entrees, one person in our group dubbed his beef tenderloin a better cut than he had received in Chops earlier in the week. The veal osso buco, served with cheese polenta and green beans, turned out to be the standout dish. Another veal dish used tenderloin and filled it with porcini mushrooms, provolone cheese and ham. A dessert cart comes around at the end; if you're too full, take the tiramisu to go for a late-night snack.

All in all, Giovanni's delivered a great experience for foodies, with none of the pretension we saw at some of the other specialty options.

150 Central Park (Deck 8, Central Park); $40: The most upscale specialty restaurant on Oasis of the Seas has a six-course dinner menu developed by Michael Schwartz, with wine pairings available for an extra $75. On a seven-night cruise, the menu changes twice. A sample menu at 150 Central Park might be a baby beet salad with red quinoa, kalamata olives, pistachio and yogurt-poppyseed dressing; slow-roasted butternut squash soup; homemade fettuccine with Florida rock shrimp, chorizo baby vegetables and manchego cheese; mahogany black cod with whipped parsnip and baby bok choy; pan-roasted filet au poivre and chocolate salted caramel panna cotta with black peppercorn shortbread. The restaurant will substitute a course if you don't like an ingredient or have dietary restrictions.

Chef's Table (Deck 17, Suite Lounge); $90: This special six-course dinner, complete with wine pairings, is held twice per cruise. Only 14 passengers can go to each seating, so book early. Passengers meet in the Champagne Bar for a drink and then go up to a special table set up in the Suite Lounge. (While the set-up is in this restricted area, anyone can book the Chef's Table.)

A sample menu might include hearts of palm, served with avocado, tomato and Champagne vinaigrette; sweet pea soup with truffle poached egg and nueske bacon; butter poached lobster; beef tenderloin with morel mushrooms and smoked garlic-potato puree and a duo of chocolate mousse and chocolate lava cake. You'll also receive a copy of your menu to take home.

Between the two upscale dining experiences, which is the better value? If you're a wine lover and are interested in pairings, you're actually better off doing the Chef's Table than 150 Central Park. Keep in mind that Chef's Table almost forces you to be social, while 150 Central Park has tables for couples and groups. The Chef's Table can also last a long time; on my sailing, one group reported being there for over four hours.

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