The fee-based restaurants were also above average and, though the food was good, the real draw was the experience of being in a quieter, romantic environment away from the crowds with generally the best dining views overlooking the ocean.
We actually ended up liking that the onboard dining options were more limited, since there wasn't much opportunity for FOMO (fear of missing out) that sometimes happens on cruises. When we wanted to change up the routine, we simply visited one of the specialty restaurants onboard.
The weakest link of all the dining choices was the Windjammer. Though the crew tried mightily to direct traffic, clear dishes and provide table service (such as drink refills and small treats), the crowds during an at-capacity cruise can become nearly unbearable during peak breakfast and lunch times. The small variety of options and food quality here just weren't enough to make us want to endure those crowds often.
Aquarius Dining Room (Decks 4 and 5, aft): This two-level dining room, decorated in tan and blue, features a large crystal light fixture in the center, a glass-walled upper level, winding staircase, large porthole windows overlooking the ocean, and artwork inspired by constellations, including a light-up twinkling Aquarius-themed mural that spans the wall of both decks.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here most days (with the exception of port days, when there's no lunch). For dinner, passengers will either have fixed seating at 5:30 or 8 p.m., or flexible My Time Dining from 5:15 to 9 p.m. (you can avoid waiting for a table at peak times by calling in advance for a reservation).
Breakfast and lunch are first-come, first-served.
For breakfast, the menu includes a selection of fresh pastries, cold and hot cereals, pancakes, French toast, kippered herring, omelets and traditional bacon-and-egg selections. There's also a kids' menu with banana pancakes, French toast fingers and the like.
Lunch in the Aquarius features Royal Caribbean's signature Tutti Salad! station, where a chef prepares a salad to your specifications, plus a made-to-order pasta station. Other entrees include chicken sliders, fattoush salad, harissa-charred tilapia, a beef burger and fusilli pasta. For dessert you'll find options such as praline chocolate crunch, warm cherry custard crepes and almond polenta cake.
For dinner, baskets stocked with freshly baked bread are always on the table. You'll have your choice of starter, main course and dessert. Starter options might include roasted poblano pepper soup and arugula and radicchio salad. Baked French onion soup, Caesar salad, escargots and fruit salad are always available. Main courses might feature braised beef short ribs, creamy wild mushroom risotto and lasagna al forno. A fish of the day, chicken breast and New York strip steak are always on the menu -- and you can pay a fee to upgrade your entree to include a whole Maine lobster ($30), Chops Grille filet mignon ($17) or surf and turf ($35). The dessert menu might offer creme brulee, apple pie a la mode, chocolate cake or cheesecake. There's always a no-sugar-added option, ice cream of the day and artisanal cheese plate (which we loved).
The menu clearly lists vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free and no-sugar added items, and the wait staff takes special care with passengers who have food allergies or sensitivities. A children's menu always has kid-friendly favorites like chicken fingers, spaghetti and cheeseburgers.
We were impressed with the delightful service during our mealtimes in the Aquarius Dining Room. One's experience is often dependent upon one's particular wait team, and we lucked out on our cruise. The first night our waiter asked us if we enjoyed Indian cuisine, and later in the cruise, he had the galley prepare a variety of off-menu shared plates just for our group. Our children were spoiled with nightly plates of fresh fruit and free pink lemonades with drink umbrellas waiting for them.
Windjammer (Deck 9, forward): The central dining hub for breakfasts, lunches and snacks on Vision is the cafeteria-style space known as the Windjammer. It's generally open for breakfast from about 7 to 11 a.m.; lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; an advertised "teatime," which is basically limited snacks from 3 to 4:30 p.m.; and dinner from 6 to 9 p.m.
This dining area, like many others on the ship, is filled with light streaming in from the windows. There's even a lovely skylight surrounded with glass flags of different countries in the central dining area.
There are buffet lines on both the port and starboard sides of the ship offering mostly identical items -- for breakfast: eggs, breakfast meats, fruits, cheeses. For lunch and dinner: salads, soup du jour, breads and fruit.
In the middle of the Windjammer, there's a made-to-order area where chefs prepare omelets in the morning and dishes such as stir-fry chicken, fajitas and a meat-carving station later in the day. There's also a Grab-n-Go buffet line with prepared sandwiches, pizzas and burgers. A drink station is available here with water, iced tea, lemonade, coffee and milk.
Farther forward under the skylight is a cold buffet with more self-service items (cereal, doughnuts, yogurt and pastries, for example).
Crew circulate through the Windjammer throughout the day with carts to refill drinks, clear dirty dishes or offer pastries. This was particularly helpful in the morning when we needed a coffee refill and the crowds were heavy.
Though the space is visually pleasing, we found the layout was not ideal for the large flow of traffic at peak times during breakfast and lunch, with passengers frequently bumping into each other and longer than average waits. The food left something to be desired here, too, both in terms of flavor and a lack of variety. We missed the variety of salad fixings we've had on other Royal Caribbean ships, for example.
It's worth mentioning the two self-serve ice cream machines located just outside the Windjammer near the main pool -- there is a soft-serve dispenser on both the port and starboard sides, usually with two different flavor combinations, and cones. Our kids enjoyed these immensely, and we usually had to make at least one stop each day.
Park Cafe (Deck 9, aft):If you're looking for a quieter and less crowded meal or snack option, check out this cute little cafe located within the Solarium. It's typically open for an early riser continental breakfast (as early as 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and a late-night snack from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Breakfast items include yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit cups, juice and milk; lunch and snack options are tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches, hot carved sandwiches, made-to-order salads and soups. A refrigerated case offers more grab-and-go selections perfect for enjoying poolside such as pasta salad, coleslaw, Greek wraps, three-cheese panini, Cuban panini, and cookies and other desserts like panna cotta and Jell-O.
There's a drink station here where you can fill your own glass up with ice water, lemonade, apple juice and flavored water -- we loved that option for when we were relaxing at the Solarium pool.
Cafe Latte-tudes (Deck 6, midship): The complimentary snack options here are a bit of a hidden gem on the ship. Many passengers love the extra-fee specialty coffee here and the scoops of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but they don't realize that they can also grab a quick snack for free. The selection is similar to -- though more limited than -- the Park Cafe. Examples include prepared croissant sandwiches, wraps and submarine sandwiches, Jell-O, cookies and slices of cake.
Room Service: There is a delivery fee for most room service items, but passengers can still get a complimentary continental breakfast delivered, limited to coffee, tea, juice, pastries and cold cereals.
Chef's Table (Deck 4, aft); $85: This super exclusive specialty dining experience is tucked away in a small wood-paneled room off the main dining room with a chandelier made out of silverware and a limited number of seats. Chef's Table is a multicourse dinner paired with wine that takes place most nights at 6:30 p.m., and participants are advised to plan for a two- to three-hour dinner. The prix fixe menu varies, but it might include scallop carpaccio, a smoked tomato soup, Maine lobster salad, roasted branzino and, for dessert, a Valrhona chocolate bar salted caramel with dulce de leche gelato.
Chops Grill (Deck 6, aft); $22 for lunch and $32 for dinner: This steak restaurant is open nightly for dinner and on select days for lunch. Passengers are encouraged to make advanced reservations for all of the specialty restaurants, but on our cruise, we didn't have a difficult time getting reservations.
Chops Grill is gold-toned with mirrored accents and feels very much like an exclusive, upscale dining experience. You'll start with a selection of soups and salads, such as a crispy goat cheese salad, lobster bisque or wild mushroom soup. Appetizers include charred beef carpaccio, grilled black pepper bacon and tuna tartare.
This is a great place to order a perfectly prepared steak -- choose from filet mignon, New York strip, bone-in ribeye -- or rack of lamb, grilled branzino, grilled Atlantic salmon or an organic half chicken, and pair with a selection of scrumptious sharable sides, such as Gruyere cheese Tater Tots, sauteed mushrooms, truffled French fries and mac 'n' cheese. Cap off your experience with a dessert from the freshly made selections: Mississippi mud pie, New York cheesecake, red velvet cake or warm apple pie a la mode, among others.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 6, aft); $15 for lunch and $30 for dinner: The warm wood tones, extensive wine list and Tuscan artwork transports you to Italy for the day or night. Giovanni's is open daily for dinner and on select days for lunch.
You're guaranteed not to walk away hungry, as there are several courses from which to choose, starting with appetizers and salads (examples: focaccia della casa, carpaccio di Manzo and insalata caprese); soups such as seafood stew and lentil and vegetable soup; a pasta course, including gnocchi with baby lamb and root vegetable sauce, pappardelle pasta in radicchio cream and pancetta and baked ricotta and spinach crepes; entrees include grilled lamb chops, pan-seared sole fillets and veal tenderloin with porcini mushrooms; plus dessert, of course: cannoli, panna cotta and chocolate cake.
We loved watching the sunset during our dinner here while we savored each course. Tip: Don't let the dessert cart pass you by without grabbing a serving of tiramisu.
Cafe Latte-tudes (Deck 6, midship); a la carte pricing: This specialty coffee shop is located near the Centrum internet cafe area and serves up various hot and cold espresso-based drinks like caramel macchiato ($3.75-$5), cafe Americano ($2.25-$3) and mocha frappe ($4.25).
Ben & Jerry's (Deck 6, midship); a la carte pricing: This beloved ice cream chain has a scoop shop right beside Cafe Latte-tudes. Check the board for daily flavors, which might include Chunky Monkey, Phish Food and Cherry Garcia, priced $2.50 for a small, $3.25 for a medium and $4 for a large, plus extra for toppings. You can also order a milkshake for $4.50.
Izumi (Deck 12, midship); a la carte pricing: Izumi is Royal Caribbean's Japanese restaurant brand, and on Vision of the Seas it's generally open for lunch and dinner with the same a la carte menu. It's located a few stairs up from Viking Crown Lounge and is decorated in a simple and elegant Asian motif.
You'll start your meal with a hot towel to cleanse your hands and a complimentary appetizer of edamame. Other appetizer options include pork gyoza dumplings, mixed poke taco and crispy rice spicy tuna. Salad selections are ahi and albacore tataki salad and tofu salad, among others. There are a variety of sushi rolls and nigiri (we ordered one of the chef's signature rolls, the truffle creamy lobster tempura, and thought it was fantastic). There's also a Hot Rock option, where you can order a steak or seafood and cook it over a hot rock at your table, with accompanying dipping sauces. Rolls were $12 to $15; entrees were $15 to $24.
This was a great lunch option on a day when we didn't want to deal with the crowds at the Windjammer. We brought our kids, who happily ate ramen and were treated to a behind-the-scenes sushi demonstration by the kind sushi chefs.
Room service: Passengers can order room service 24 hours a day, with a continental or American breakfast served from 6 to 11 a.m., and items such as chicken fingers, salads and sandwiches served the rest of the day. Royal Caribbean charges a $7.95 fee for all room service orders except continental breakfast.