As Quantum of the Seas has figured out the likes and dislikes of its Chinese base, the onboard offerings have changed. Gone is Johnny Rockets, replaced by a noodle bar. Likewise, the usual Michael's Pub is now the Harp & Horn, which -- despite its British name -- offers Chinese bar food favorites like whole grilled fish and chicken feet. The Solarium Bistro has become the Hot Pot and the signature restaurant Wonderland is now called Da Dong Wonderland, offering a nine-course gourmet meal from a Michelin-starred Chinese chef.
Asian food does dominate on Quantum of the Seas, particularly in the Windjammer Buffet, and there aren't that many options for those who don't like those flavors. The quality in the complimentary restaurants was a tad better than what we've seen elsewhere on Royal Caribbean; still, foodies will want to pay extra for better meals. Westerners excited to eat Chinese food on the ship may be disappointed in the spice and flavor levels of the complimentary venues; we found ourselves reaching for the chili sauce to amp things up a notch.
* May require additional fees
Be aware that Chinese dining habits are slightly different from what you might be used to. Most passengers on our cruise ate early, preferring to get there as soon as the venue opened (lines for the main dining rooms began forming 15 minutes before they opened). If you dislike crowds and want a more leisurely service, go on the late side. Many Chinese also like to order almost immediately, without taking time for drinks or perusing the menu; you might also be surprised at the abrupt tone some passengers take with waiters in the main dining room.
The dress code is fairly casual, though shorts aren't permitted. One thing we appreciated were the constant reminders for handwashing and hygiene. A sink has been built at the entrance of Windjammers and passengers are funneled there by an attendant. Customs do differ in China, and so we recommend that you use hand sanitizer frequently and open restroom doors with a paper towel.
Royal Caribbean fans will be happy to see favorites such as pizza at Sorrento's and pastries at Cafe Promenade. Chops and Jamie's are also onboard and provide a welcome change from Asian food.
Passengers looking for a little higher-end experience or wanting to try something completely new have several additional-fee options. Overall, the quality of food at the upcharge restaurants is better than you'll get at the included restaurants. Reservations are recommended for all sit-down fee dining, although the Western restaurants have more availability than the Asian ones.
If you expect to dine at a number of the sit-down alternative restaurants, you can save some money by booking online ahead of your cruise. If you book three restaurants, you get a 20 percent discount, four gets you a 25 percent break and five reservations will save you 30 percent. Packages onboard will also save you money. All specialty restaurant prices incur an additional 18 percent charge for gratuity.
All restaurants, free or fee, can accommodate dietary restrictions. Waiters asked us when we sat down about restrictions and requests; once such notes are made, all waiters at all restaurants have access to that information and can ensure your dietary needs are met.
Main Dining Rooms (Grande, American Icon, Chic and Silk): All of the main dining rooms serve the same menu, which rotates nightly. While reservations are not required, they are recommended for dinner; there are two seatings: early between 5 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. and late from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Most Asian passengers prefer the earlier seating and crowds often line up 15 minutes before the dining room opens.
In general, the dining room managers try to seat international passengers together or in the same section if possible. At one meal, a hostess offered to sit us in a dining room all by ourselves so it wouldn't be noisy. You can make dining reservations ahead of your cruise online on the Royal Caribbean site or through your travel agent, or you can make them once you get onboard via the ship's Royal iQ service.
All menus are pictorial and have two sides featuring two different cuisines. One of them might not necessarily be Western -- we ate dinner in Chic twice and once Sichuan and Western dishes were features, but the second night it was Southeast Asian and Japanese. There's not as many choices as you might find on other Royal Caribbean ships: four appetizers and three entrees are offered on both menus, along with two desserts. There's no always available option. You can order from both sides of the menu to mix and match.
A sample breakfast menu has a Shanghainese option (deep fried Chinese croissant rice shumai, salted eggs and hot soybean milk); herbal Chinese chicken soup; Cantonese beef noodle soup; and congee for Asian passengers. The always-available Western menu has pancakes, waffles, eggs any way you want and omelets. Breakfast is only available in The Grande and Chic.
At lunch, choose your starter from cilantro fish soup, grilled chicken Caesar salad and fried calamari salad. Entrees might be stir-fried potato noodles with chicken, catch of the day in a buerre blanc sauce, a toasted steak sandwich or tomato seafood risotto. Desserts might be a white chocolate orange flan or brazo de mercedes, a meringue dish. Lunch is served in The Grande and Chic, but only on sea days.
A sample Western dinner menu might include baby shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, Idaho potato pancakes and New England clam chowder for appetizers; and prime rib, barbecue pork ribs and macaroni and cheese for entrees. The Asian menu might start with fried tofu and bamboo salad, koushui chicken and hot and sour soup with shrimp as starters. Main dishes could be braised chicken with chili and black bean, steamed filet of fish with Sichuan sauce; stir-fried beef with tangy garlic sauce, fried eggplant with hot garlic sauce and stir-fried spicy noodles with seafood. White rice is available on request. Both desserts were Western: Key lime pie and a brownie, both topped with ice cream.
The main dining room also has premium seafood selections that you can order for an extra cost, as well as filet mignon from Chops ($16.95). A three-tiered seafood basket ($101.69) is a show-stopper, but you can also order Maine lobster ($29.66), surf and turf ($34.95) and a seafood plate ($33.90). These dishes come with an 18 percent gratuity charge.
On our short cruise, we ate in Chic twice around 7 p.m. The room was not crowded, and the service we received from our waiters was excellent -- in fact, both the food and service we experienced on Quantum of the Seas in the dining room was better than we've had on other Royal Caribbean ships. We requested our prime rib medium-rare, which is an unusual preparation in China. It came out exactly as we ordered, and was flavorful. Our waiter also noted our wine, and brought us a cheese plate to go with it, unasked -- a nice touch.
Quantum's main dining room has a wide and varied wine list, with prices that are in line with what you'd pay in a restaurant in the United States. Not many Chinese order drinks or wine with dinner, however, and we found that we were unable to actually get the bottle we wanted. We had bought a bottle of wine in Vintages during a wine tasting (for a 20 percent discount) and were able to drink it in the main dining room without incurring a corkage fee.
Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 14): The Windjammer buffet features stations, rather than a cafeteria-style line, offering a range of dishes for breakfast (7 to 10:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), dinner (5:30 to 8:30 p.m.) and late-night snacks (11 p.m. to 1 a.m.). It's been modified for Asian tastes and foods familiar to the Chinese dominate with two large Chinese main dish stations and four noodle stations where you can build your own bowl with either egg or glass noodles (at breakfast, these noodle stations are changed to congee). Other stations are geared to menu themes -- salads, fresh fruits, light bites and bakery. There are a few Western items but the choice isn't plentiful. There is an omelet station in the morning.
The venue itself is sleek and well designed with plenty of tables for two, as well as communal seating. Even better: There's a small alfresco dining area off the Windjammer's aft. The space can get extremely chaotic during main dining hours, but Quantum has done a good job at ensuing order by placing various barriers to force passengers to queue.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 4): Another of Royal Caribbean's signature spots for casual snacks, the Cafe Promenade on Quantum is located across from the Harp & the Horn and in between Sorrento's and Quantum's souvenir shop for all things Royal-branded. Here you'll find a selection of freshly brewed roasted coffee and fluffy pastries. You can also order sandwiches at lunchtime. It's open 6:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Sorrento's (Deck 4): A consistently popular Royal Promenade signature eatery, Sorrento's Pizzeria, located right next to the Harp & the Horn, offers free slices during lunch, dinner and late-night. They've got all the usual suspects -- cheese, meat, vegetables -- or you can have them whip up a custom-ordered pie, including gluten-free pizza. There's lots of seating, and the area fills up. It's also the perfect spot to refill your soda cup if you've purchased a soda package. It's open 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
The Cafe @ Two70 (Deck 5): Tucked behind entertainment space Two70, this cafe is always busy at mealtimes. It serves a mix of Chinese and Western small bites, such as sandwiches or soups; there's also delicious roast beef at lunch. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. and includes continental items like muffins, bagels and fruit, as well as breakfast burritos; there's a congee bar too. The cafe reopens for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m.
Coastal Kitchen (Deck 14): Coastal Kitchen, though free, is available to suite passengers and Gold Card holders only. For breakfast (7:30 to 9:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.), only those passengers in Grand Suites and higher can dine there. At dinner (5:30 to 9:30 p.m.), it's open to passengers staying in Junior Suites and higher; Gold Card holders can eat at both. The menu is a variation of what's served in the main dining rooms. The room is light and airy, though there is a rather unusual set of high tables connected to those at normal height. You end up looking down on your fellow diners, which makes for slightly uncomfortable conversation.
SeaPlex Dog House (Deck 15): This food truck at sea, located in the SeaPlex, offers a variety of gourmet hot dogs, including a classic Coney Island frankfurter and chicken hot dog made with apples; for the Chinese, you can also have a Taiwanese sausage. Condiments include mayonnaise, relish and ketchup -- if you want mustard, you'll have to ask. It's open noon to 6 p.m.
Harp & Horn Pub (Deck 4); a la carte pricing: Replacing Michael Schwartz's gastropub, the Harp & the Horn may have a British name, but the bar food it serves is centered around Chinese favorites. The signature dish is a whole grilled fish for $40 and passengers love it; we saw it ordered at nearly every table on our cruise. You can also get bar bites such as duck and vegetable spring rolls, chicken feet and chicken wings, as well as Western fare like a burger and fries. (Note: The chef will only cook your burger well done, which may be off-putting.) Prices range from $5 for the snacks to $10 for the burger platter or pepper tiger prawns. The decor is pub comfy, with an Asian twist: lots of dark woods, deep booths and brass finishings augmented by red Chinese lanterns. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
La Patisserie (Deck 4); a la carte pricing: Get your chocolate and caffeine fix there. You'll find a delicious assortment of bonbons and truffles, along with Danishes, cookies and cakes, priced by the piece. This is also the only place on the ship to get Starbucks coffee, espresso and cappuccino.
Jamie's Italian by Jamie Oliver (Deck 5); $35 for lunch and dinner: This first-at-sea outpost by U.K.-based restaurateur Jamie Oliver is located in a prime spot on the upper Esplanade and is largely open with plenty of natural light; there's even outdoor seating for alfresco dining. Dark-wood tables and chairs and strings of garlic and cured meats hanging from the ceiling lend the eatery much of its Italian trattoria feel. Jamie's Italian offers a full menu of delicious Italian staples, many with a unique twist, like crab and avocado bruschetta. Of course, you'll also find more traditional items, including penne pomodoro, linguine with prawns and eggplant parmigiana. Don't skip the meat or vegetarian planks (literally, planks of wood with taster items placed on top). All pastas (including a gluten-free option) are made from scratch on the ship. Lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner (5:30 to 9:30 p.m.) menus are nearly identical, with a handful more options on the dinner menu. Don't worry about reservations; Jamie's is not popular with the Chinese passengers -- to the extent where there's a special that allows kids to eat for free.
Da Dong Wonderland (Deck 5); $75: On Quantum, Royal Caribbean switched up the innovation of Wonderland by turning it into a culinary playground for Chinese celebrity chef Dong Zhenxiang, known as Da Dong. Decor is a nod to Alice in Wonderland and her trip down the rabbit hole; it's all a little off-kilter but in a pleasing way. Oversized keys hang from the ceiling, chairs are mismatched, and blown-glass lighting is as artistic as it is functional. The menu itself is a nine-course set meal that's heavy on seafood. On our sailing, dishes served ranged from geoduck clam fillets to cuttlefish soup with black truffle sauce and shredded bean curd to slow-cooked lobster on saffron risotto with black vinegar pears. Da Dong's signature roast duck also appears as a course; Da Dong's roast duck restaurants in China have been awarded Michelin stars and he recently expanded to New York City. Da Dong Wonderland is open for lunch on sea days from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Plan for a meal that will be slow; several hours for dinner is normal. Make reservations ahead of time; the restaurant was fully booked before we boarded the ship.
Izumi Japanese Cuisine (Deck 5); a la carte pricing: Located on the Upper Esplanade, Izumioffers a pan-Asian menu, though the bulk of the items are Japanese. Prices range from $6 for a seaweed wakame salad and $11 for a shrimp and chicken udon noodle dish to as much as $45 for chef's selected sashimi combo platter. Sushi is about $12 for rolls. Sashimi is sold in two-piece ($5) or five-piece ($10) portions. Izumi also has a premium Kobe beef dinner, where you receive a Kobe beef steak, koshihikari rice, miso soup, cabbage salad, seaweed salad and Japanese pickles; its $120 for two people. Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and for dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Chops Grille (Deck 5); $35: This popular Royal Caribbean mainstay keeps the standards, such as filet mignon, lamb chops and New York strips, and adds extra-premium items, including premium seafood towers costing $19 and $39, depending on size. Other options include veal Parmesan, slow-braised short rib of beef, roasted chicken, grilled branzino, snapper Veracruz, crusted tuna and spicy jumbo shrimp. Dark furnishings, low lighting and attentive but not obtrusive service make for a sublime dining experience. Chops Grille is only open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Chef's Table (in Chops Grille, Deck 5); $95: Chef's Table, which is offered every night of the cruise, provides passengers a menu of six courses, each paired with appropriate wines. Menus vary each night depending on what the chef is inspired to create. The dinner takes three hours. Chef's Table accommodates 12 to 16 people, and if there aren't enough reservations to fill a table, the dinner could be canceled.
Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop (Deck 14); a la carte pricing: This cute dim sum addition on the pool deck ended up having some of the tastiest Chinese food onboard. Themed after the DreamWorks character, the sit-down venue offers small bites like shrimp har gao, pork shumai and vegetable spring rolls for $4, barbecue and buffalo chicken wings for $6 and larger plates such as fried rice and chow mein ($5), kung pao chicken and beef chow fun ($6) and main dish noodle bowls ($7). Everything is made fresh to order and our kung pao chicken had the only real spice we tasted onboard. The Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop will mostly be rebranded when Royal Caribbean brings its partnership with DreamWorks to an end in April 2019.
Hot Pot at the Solarium Bistro (Deck 14); $32: On Royal Caribbean ships in Asia, the Solarium Bistro has been transformed into a hot pot restaurant. Diners are given a buffet choice of meats, seafood and vegetables, which they cook themselves at the table in a simmering pot of stock. Flavor is added via a variety of sauces that you can mix and match.
Room Service, a la carte: Room service is available 24 hours a day. While a continental breakfast is complimentary, American hot breakfast selections such as eggs and pancakes costs $7.95 plus an 18 percent gratuity.
From 11 a.m. to 6 a.m., you can order a variety of Western and Asian choices from room service at a la carte prices. Western foods include tomato soup, Greek salad, a hot dog, a wagyu beef Royal burger, a grilled cheese sandwich, grilled salmon, chicken fettuccine Alfredo and pizza. Asian options include chicken corn soup, cold noodle salad, white cabbage and pork dumplings, egg noodles, soy honey glazed chicken wings and fried rice.