You won't be disappointed if you just choose to eat in the free restaurants: the quality, variety and service are exceptional, especially in the three main dining rooms.
Allure's three-deck Adagio Dining Room, which had seating for some 3,000 passengers, is no more. It's been redesigned and split into three venues -- Silk, The Grande and American Icon. But all feature exactly the same menu. Passengers can dine at 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. with the same group and waiters each night in either Silk or The Grande, or choose My Time Dining (open seating between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.), which is in American Icon. Those opting for My Time Dining will need to prepay gratuities.
The cuisine in these venues is inventive (in as much as that's possible when you're serving 3,000-plus people), and it's varied enough for you not to get bored on a seven-night sailing. Expect starters such as bay scallop gratin, lobster bisque and chilled banana and rum soup alongside more traditional offerings like prawn cocktail and Caesar salad. Mains include a couple of meat dishes (beef tenderloin, roasted duck), seafood (shrimp ravioli, corvina fillet) and a couple of vegetarian options. "Classic" dishes are always available and include linguini, chicken breast, salmon, beef sliders and NY strip steak. Desserts are delicious (and irresistible): bittersweet chocolate souffle, double strawberry cheesecake, sky-high lemon pie and a couple of sugar-free options.
For the health-conscious, a "Vitality" menu promises to keep its three courses under 800 calories. There are also lactose- and gluten-free options available.
Royal Caribbean also offers for-fee premium steaks in the main dining rooms. A 9-ounce Chops Grille filet (the cut you'd get in the alternative restaurant of the same name) is offered nightly. It'll set you back back $16.95. If you opt for surf and turf (lobster tail and filet mignon), expect to pay $34.95.
American Icon (Deck 3): This restaurant features a lot of ersatz Americana, including a map of the USA made out of state license plates. It's open for breakfast and lunch to anyone; dinner is just for My Time Diners. Breakfast is buffet and a la carte; lunch is waiter service, and the menu changes daily. Dishes might include Caesar salad, chicken sliders or potato, leek and spinach gratin to start; harissa barramundi and char grilled palm sugar chicken as a main and almond polenta cake and caramelized banana mille feuille for dessert. If you're in a rush, opt for the "Brasserie 30" menu, and you can finish eating in 30 minutes. In the evening, although this is a turn-up-when-you-want restaurant, it's highly recommended to make dinner reservations at peak times (7 p.m. onwards), or you'll end up milling around in the entranceway waiting for your name to be called. American Icon also hosts the DreamWorks character breakfast twice a cruise ($10 per person for diners ages 6 and older). Open for breakfast 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Silk (Deck 4): As you can tell by the name, this will be the Asian-influenced restaurant, and the decor reflects it: red and gold, silk curtains, tassels and embroidered chairs. There are two dinner seatings, one at 6 p.m. and the other at 8:30 p.m.
The Grande (Deck 5): Royal's plan was for this to be the most formal of the three main restaurants, hence the dark wood, high-back chairs and lots of gold and mirrors. Like Silk, dinner is served in two seatings, one at 6:30 p.m. and the other at 9 p.m.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 5): A 24-hour spot in the Royal Promenade, the cafe serves up brownies, cookies, small sandwiches and coffee around the clock. The addictive ham and cheese mini-croissants are a staple; other sandwiches rotate and include roast beef with pickles on a poppy bun. The Cafe Promenade is also one of several spaces to grab free self-service Seattle's Best Coffee.
Sorrento's Pizzeria (Deck 5): A Royal Caribbean stalwart and popular haunt for teens and club-goers, Sorrento's offers free slices during lunch, dinner and late-night hours. In fact, it's almost never closed. You can select from an assemblage of ingredients (meats, cheeses, vegetables) to make your own personal pie, or opt for the premade varieties. While it's fine for a quick fix, New York City pizza this is not. It's more akin to Ellio's, with its spongy crust and sodium-laden cheese. Still, as the week went on, we became programmed to grab a slice whenever we passed by. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Boardwalk Dog House (Deck 6): Sink your teeth into an Austrian-style wunderdog (skinny wiener inserted into a hollowed out roll), German brat with sauerkraut or five other hot dog varieties at this all-you-can-eat sausage station. Our one major gripe: No spicy mustard is available nearby. You have to navigate up 10 decks to the Windjammer to find some, which we suppose has the effect of working off the calories. Open 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Boardwalk Donut Shop (Deck 6): This venue isn't heavily advertised; we suspect that's because the donuts would be gone awfully quickly. It's not really a storefront, but rather a self-service glass case to which donuts are added every morning. Fee-free Seattle's Best coffee is also available there. Open 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 6): Johnny Rockets is complimentary for breakfast only. (There's a flat-rate $5.95 charge for lunch and dinner.) It features waffles, hash brown nachos, a couple of hot egg dishes and breakfast sandwiches. The food is forgettable, but the change in breakfast venue is refreshing. Although the breakfast is free, expect a receipt with space for gratuity. Open 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Vitality Spa Cafe (Deck 6): If you're looking for lighter options after a workout -- think fruit, yogurt parfaits and sandwiches -- head to the Vitality Spa Cafe, located in the gym and spa complex. You can also order freshly squeezed juices and smoothies powered with protein boosters, but those come with an extra fee. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Park Cafe (Deck 8): This has proven to be one of the Oasis class's biggest dining hits. The casual Central Park restaurant serves hot panini and build-your-own bagels for breakfast, as well as custom-made salads and sandwiches throughout the day. The Kummelweck -- roast beef au jus -- has to be the most talked-about sandwich in cruising. Since the venue is a hit, it's not always easy to find tables (available both inside and outside) during peak hours. But with far fewer diners, it's a welcome and peaceful alternative to Windjammer. Open 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for lunch.
Solarium Bistro (Deck 15): Allure's breezy (and often steamy) indoor/outdoor solarium also features a buffet breakfast and lunch venue. At breakfast, choose from yogurt, granola, oatmeal, fruit and breakfast meats (like the more healthful turkey sausage instead of the pork variety). Again, it's a welcome and civilized relief from Windjammer. Lunch features light fare, such as couscous, salads, fruit and yogurt. Open 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast and noon to 3 p.m. for lunch.
Wipeout Cafe (Deck 15): A mini-version of Allure's buffet offers fast food (burgers, fries and chicken) from breakfast to pre-dinner. The space, which is located on the sun deck near the sports zone area (FlowRiders, Ping-Pong, basketball court), is sometimes reserved for kids-only lunches. Open 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch.
Frozen Yogurt (Deck 15): Self-service stations dispensing frozen yogurt are located near the kids pool area. Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 16): The self-service buffet is compact, given the size of Allure, but that's because a plethora of other (better) casual venues are scattered throughout the ship. The food is pretty standard, nothing exciting or challenging, with a few more European options (think cold cuts and curries) during its Mediterranean sojourn. It's mobbed during peak meal times; window-side tables can be especially tough to snag. A nice touch is that, at busy times, waiters will seat you -- no doubt in a bid to minimize the number of people milling about looking for a table. The Windjammer features an "action station" setup, with separate spots to fill your tray with freshly made panini, pasta concoctions and stir-fries. Open 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch and 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.
Coastal Kitchen (Deck 17): This restaurant is open exclusively to passengers booked in suites (Grand Suites and above). It takes up one side of the stunning circular space on Deck 17, which overlooks the main pool; Royal Caribbean fans will know it's where the Viking Crown Lounge used to be. The color scheme at Coastal Kitchen is muted, with creams and browns, but the setting is unrivalled, with enormous double-height windows letting light flood in from every angle.
However, the food does not rise to the occasion. It's meant to be California-meets-Mediterranean, but it just doesn't work. Grilled garlic prawns (generally hard to get wrong) were served tepid. Slices of seared tuna were lovely, but the sole highlight in the meal. The lamb was undercooked (too chewy), and the fatoush salad was deeply uninspiring.
Outstanding service somewhat made up for a lackluster meal. Diners expect excellent service, but this was a cut above, going beyond attentiveness and courteousness to what makes a waiter great: knowledge, engagement and passion.
Room Service: In-room dining is available around the clock and is free most of the day (though we tip a couple bucks per delivery). A late-night service charge of $3.95 per order 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 from pizza, hot and cold sandwiches, and salads.
There are enough options for passengers to sample a different venue every meal for a week. True, you can certainly stick to the classics, but you can also branch out with hibachi, head to a Mexican beach bar, sample tapas, get dressed up for an upscale tasting venue or settle down for family-style Italian. Generally speaking, the cheaper, more casual options are on The Boardwalk; the upscale ones are in Central Park. We found the quality of the cuisine high (and prices to match), with correspondingly excellent service.
In the high-end restaurants in Central Park, reservations are essential (except for Vintages).
Izumi (Deck 4); a la carte pricing; hibachi $25 to $30: Izumi has been moved from the back of the Windjammer on Deck 16 to a lovely spot at the side of Silk (the middle deck of former three-tier dining room) and has had two hibachi stations installed. The space is wonderful. It feels like a proper specialty restaurant, and there are huge portholes allowing for lots of light. You have a choice of sitting at the sushi bar, at a table or at one of the hibachi stations. If you want to just eat sushi and sashimi, no reservation is necessary, but you'll want to reserve a spot for the hibachi. Regardless, the food is sublime. Edamame beans, miso soup and vegetable fried rice or brown rice are free; sushi starts at $4, and for hibachi, you get one protein for $25 or two for $30. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Starbucks (Deck 5); a la carte: This kiosk offers all the ubiquitous company's standard hot drinks for slightly more than you'd pay on land, and diehards can even use their Starbucks cards. The selection of edibles is, however, abbreviated. You'll find red velvet pie, croissants and other sweets (from $2) but not the full menu of savory sandwiches typically available on land. Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 6); $5.95: The cover charge at this old-timey burger joint on The Boardwalk gets you a burger and fries and onion rings; drinks like shakes and malts are extra. (Breakfast is complimentary. See above.) Johnny Rockets is open 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for (free) breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for (fee) lunch.
Sabor (Deck 6); a la carte: Sabor Taqueria replaces the original Rita's Cantina with another Mexican joint. It's a casual, relaxed setup with wooden benches and alfresco seating in gaudy colors. The food is a mix of tacos, quesadillas and yucca fries with some more interesting dishes, such as mole short rib and pan-seared red snapper. There is also a wide variety of tequilas on offer. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Cups and Scoops (Deck 6); a la carte: This candy shop sells icing-topped confections baked on the premises, as well as ice cream and milkshakes in a wide selection of flavors. Regular cupcakes are $2.50 each; minis are $1.25. (Buy a dozen standard cupcakes, and you'll save a few bucks.) Cupcake-decorating classes, a popular parent-kid bonding activity, carry an additional fee; it's $22 for adults and $15 for kids.
Outside, you'll find a cotton candy truck selling blue or red confections for $4.50.
Chops Grille (Deck 8); $39: This dinner-only steakhouse is another Royal Caribbean favorite. On Allure, Chops Grille is in Central Park. The charge includes all the appetizers you can consume and your choice of porterhouse, filet, veal chop, halibut, etc. (Note: The menu does change, so there may be some variation in meat, fish and fowl.) Sides -- including baked potatoes, asparagus and onion rings -- accompany the cuts. Hungry for more meat? For those who really want to splurge, you can pay an additional $18 or $19, depending on the cut, for dry-aged steaks, or $21 for Maine lobster. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Vintages (Deck 8); a la carte: The ship's wine and tapas bar is a lovely place to while away a warm evening, with cozy inside seating and a few alfresco tables. It never seemed to get crowded, and no reservations are necessary. The tapas, which focus on Spanish cuisine -- think chorizo, octopus salad, Manchego cheese and olives -- cost between $2 and $4 apiece, but they soon add up. They are also not the best we've had -- greasy and, in some cases, undercooked. There are also sugary options if you're so inclined. If you're sharing, consider ordering a "tapas sampler." These combine various tapas and are very cost-effective. Wines are available in two- and five-ounce servings, as well as by the bottle. A few wine flights on the menu -- three two-ounce glasses -- offer modest savings. Open 5 p.m. to midnight.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 8); $10 for lunch, $25 for dinner: Allure's Italian venue offers a trattoria-style ambience and a traditional menu of antipasti, pizzas, pastas and grilled meats. The restaurant aims for a casual, family-style feel. Giovanni's is open for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
150 Central Park (Deck 8); $40: Allure's showcase venue offers two six-course tasting menus per cruise. (Both menus change seasonally.) Since dishes are fluid, it's hard to know exactly what you're going to get, but that creative component is part of the appeal. (The six exotic table salts, including one that tastes like a hard-boiled egg, are a constant.) We had bison tenderloin, cucumber caviar and a phenomenal Asian-style Dover sole. Each of the six courses is served with a vivid explanation by the eager waiter, and the chef wanders the room to discuss how she just smoked potato gnocchi using sawdust (true story). The cover charge at 150 Central Park is pricey, but we feel it was worth it. A wine pairing option for $75 couples each of the six courses with a compatible two-ounce pour. This option represents a small savings, as the restaurant's wine list offers only a few (pricey) wines by the glass. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Chef's Table (Deck 11); $85: The chef's table concept, introduced to mainstream cruisers by Princess, has expanded to almost every line. Allure of the Seas' version is a five-course meal available for just 14 passengers on every night of the cruise. The event starts with Champagne in the library and a meet-and-greet with the sommelier and fellow diners. The dinner party then relocates to the Diamond Lounge, where you'll find a long table and expansive views over the Boardwalk, AquaTheater and horizon. Each of the five courses is paired with wine, and passengers get a detailed explanation of wine (by the sommelier) and food (by one of Allure's top chefs) before each is served. The event begins at 8:30 p.m.
Samba Grill (Deck 15); $30: By night, the adults-only Solarium is transformed into the Samba Grill, a Brazilian-style churascarria that's a love letter to the carnivore. For $30, gauchos bring you all-you-can-eat sirloin, bacon-wrapped chicken, filet, lamb, sausage and pork. Each table comes with a lighting system to indicate dining preferences. Green means "more meat." Red means "I'm full, but I might change my mind." One issue with the Samba Grill: On humid Caribbean evenings, the A/C-free Solarium can be sweltering, and that, coupled with the smell of the nearby pool, can be slightly off-putting to some diners.