The mix of free options ranges from the expansive Windjammer Marketplace buffet restaurant to venues serving light bites and grab-and-go snacks, a classic hot-dog truck, a pizzeria and a 24-hour cafe. There are also four restaurants with different decor (but serving the same menu), which take the place of a main dining room.
Dining options on Ovation differ slightly from its sister ships due to its China home base. Johnny Rockets (a mainstay of the Royal Caribbean fleet) has been replaced by the colourful Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop, and the Windjammer Marketplace has the addition of a dedicated Asian food station.
Ovation of the Seas gives passengers the option to choose from two dining seating times -- early or late -- or a flexible option, which means you can eat at different times and with different table companions each evening. There is no main dining room (MDR). Instead, people are spread across these four main restaurants: The Grande, Chic, Silk, and American Icon Grill. These restaurants were originally designed to accommodate the now defunct Dynamic Dining program, hence the somewhat unusual MDR set-up on this ship.
Early and late seating passengers dine at the more upmarket-looking restaurants, Chic and The Grande, on Deck 3. People on the flexible My Time Dining option enjoy dinner at the American Icon and Silk restaurants on Deck 4. Menus are the same in each venue and change daily. These four venues seat 450 people each, which is not enough to accommodate more than 4,000 passengers. However, while there was always a (small) queue for My Time Dining during our cruise, the wait was seldom longer than a few minutes. We did not pre-book a dining time and simply joined the queue for those with no reservations. Hint: there is a 'passengers with no booking' queue at both American Icon and Silk.
Expect classic dishes such as lobster bisque or escargots in herb butter to start, followed by grilled fish or chicken for mains, and chocolate lava cake, gelato or baked Alaska for dessert. At lunch, it's sandwiches, salads, burgers and other hot items with a US connection. Vegetarian options are always available, and food allergies and preferences can be catered to. Food service in the main dining rooms was impressively timely; drinks less so. Some passengers circumvented this by bringing a glass of wine from one of the bars through to dinner.
The Grande (Deck 3): Originally designed for formal dining but now used for everyday dining, The Grande is indeed grand. Ornate gold, cream and black decor provides a sumptuous backdrop to this beautiful restaurant, and the table settings are very elegant. In common with the other restaurants, there are plenty of tables for two (though you will be pretty close to your neighbours) along with tables for four and circular tables seating up to eight. With prior notice, large groups can be accommodated with tables for two pushed together to form one long table. The restaurant is open for a la carte breakfast from 8 am to 9.30 am (with earlier opening on port days) and dinner from 5.15 pm to 9.30 pm.
Chic (Deck 3): Situated directly opposite The Grande, Chic has a variety of seating, from tables for two to large banquettes, and is open for three meals a day. The contemporary space is heavy on gold and stark white decor. Breakfast features a buffet of fresh fruit, pastries and cold cuts, along with eggs, sausages, bacon and other hot dishes. It's ideal for those who get overwhelmed by massive spreads in the morning (or would prefer to avoid scrambling for a table at the busy Windjammer Marketplace). Chic is open for breakfast from 8 am to 9.30 am (with earlier opening on port days); lunch from 11.30 am to 1 pm on sea days; and dinner from 5.15 pm to 9.30 pm.
Silk (Deck 4): No longer an Asian restaurant, Silk still has rich, ornate Chinese decor in shades of red and gold, which seems incongruous given the modern American menu. Silk is open for dinner only from 5.15 pm to 9 pm.
American Icon Grill (Deck 4): Opposite Silk, this eatery has lots of American art on the walls and room dividers that gives the restaurant a more intimate feel. Window tables are lovely and worth waiting a few extra minutes for. American Icon is open for dinner only from 5.15 pm to 9 pm.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 4): Situated in the Royal Esplanade -- and a great spot for people watching with "outdoor" tables on the main promenade -- the Cafe Promenade offers a range of snacks throughout the day, including sandwiches, pastries and fabulous cookies. Whenever you feel peckish, head to this venue as it's open 24/7.
Sorrento's (Deck 4): Be transported to Italy in the pizzeria that is next door to Cafe Promenade. (As well as entering from the Royal Esplanade, passengers can walk from one to the other through an internal doorway.) Each day, Sorrento's features four different pizzas (such as pepperoni or chicken), which are listed on a board. Walls are decorated with old record covers and photos, making it a fun place to linger awhile. It is open from 11.30 am (sometimes 11 am) right through to 3 am.
The Cafe @ Two70 (Deck 5): For passengers in search of a quick breakfast or lighter bites, soups, bistro-style salad dishes made to order, wraps, sandwiches and freshly warmed paninis later in the day, this is the place to be. There is also an extensive complimentary drinks bar that includes tea, coffee, juice and flavoured water such as strawberry or mango. You get the food from the various stations and then find a table outside, or take your food into the Two70 venue to enjoy it as you look out through the panoramic windows at the back of the ship. (There is no seating inside the cafe itself.) Breakfast is served from 8 am to 10.30 am (with earlier opening on port days) and includes continental items such as muffins, bagels and fruit, as well as breakfast burritos. The cafe then reopens for lunch with a choice of items such as hot sandwiches, made-to-order salads and wraps and afternoon snacks from 11.30 am to 5 pm.
Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 14): The main buffet restaurant comprises a number of themed stations, rather than one large central buffet. It's a huge space, and the size and choice of food can seem bewildering the first time you visit, particularly on busy embarkation day and at the peak breakfast period, when you can circle the room trying to find a table. Once you start to get the hang of the layout, it becomes easier. On arrival at Windjammer, passengers are ushered through a hand-washing area, with a crew member on hand to ensure nobody skips it. Every station is geared to a particular type of food or cuisine, such as fresh fruit, salads, cooked items, Mediterranean cuisine and so forth. A new section is the Asian area, designed to appeal to Ovation's Chinese passengers. However, all tastes are catered for and we defy anyone not to find something they like. The bakery section is particularly tempting, with its fresh-baked loaves and cookies. The breakfast buffet includes all the usual favourites such as sausages, scrambled eggs and hash browns. In addition to cereals, fruit, yoghurt, cold cuts and freshly baked ham sliced off the bone, passengers can also enjoy made-to-order omelettes, eggs Benedict and other dishes. Lunch always includes a selection of delicious sandwiches (such as mozzarella and tomato or smoked chicken) or passengers can make their own. There are countless salad items and all manner of hot dishes. Cakes come out in the afternoon and, for dinner, the stations are once again groaning with hot and cold dishes from around the globe with a different themed section each evening. The seating areas closest to the stations are invariably the busiest, and you are more likely to get a table (and a quieter dining environment) if you head out to the tables towards the aft of the ship. Dining outside peak times -- such as 11.45am for lunch -- makes it much easier to find a seat. The Windjammer Marketplace is open for breakfast from 7 am to 11 am (with earlier opening on port days), lunch from 11.30 am to 3 pm, and dinner from 5.45 pm to 9 pm.
Solarium Bistro (Deck 14): In total contrast to the busy Windjammer, this is a much smaller restaurant at the front of the ship, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (when some dishes carry a fee). It was interesting to see how it went from being relatively empty to being "discovered" by other passengers as the cruise went on. Breakfast and lunch buffet options include healthy choices, with plenty of fresh fruit, yoghurt and a tasty Bircher muesli, along with the usual hot dishes, plus eggs cooked to order. Lunch is along similar lines, with a choice of two soups, plenty of salads and hot items. In the evening, when reservations are required, there is a salad and dessert bar with served main courses, such as grilled salmon with couscous, steak and chips, and lemon-roasted chicken. Two items carry an extra charge: Lobster tail (US$20/A$26.80) and lamb chops (US$10/A$13). The Solarium Bistro is open from 7.30am to 10 am for breakfast, noon to 1.30pm (or sometimes later) for lunch, and 5.30 pm to 9 pm for dinner.
Coastal Kitchen (Deck 14): Serving Mediterranean and Californian cuisine, this fusion restaurant is free, but available exclusively to suite passengers only. For breakfast and lunch, only passengers in Grand Suites and higher can dine there. At dinner, it's open to passengers staying in Junior Suites and higher. The a la carte menu is generally healthy, and cuisine -- from grilled salmon to tasty flatbreads -- is well prepared. Passengers can also exit directly from Coastal Kitchen to the buffet using a private side door. Some diners will find this convenient; others may resent the disruption of their dining experience by those ducking in and out to fill their plates. Ask for a table away from this door if you would prefer not to be disturbed. Coastal Kitchen is open for breakfast from 8 am to 10 am (with earlier opening on port days), lunch from noon to 1.30pm., and dinner from 5.30 pm to 9 pm.
SeaPlex Dog House (Deck 15): A novel hotdog van at sea, it adds a fun, fairground feel to the SeaPlex complex, particularly when the bumper cars are running. It serves a selection of hot dogs, including the classic frankfurter and a chicken hot dog made with apples. It's open from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Room Service: Room service is available 24 hours a day and can be ordered by phone, through the interactive TV, or for breakfast, by filling out a form and placing it outside the cabin door by 3 am. Only continental breakfast is free. Most everything else carries a US$7.95 (A$10.37) surcharge per order.
Ovation's for-a-fee restaurants offer a very different culinary experience, including a more intimate atmosphere, really personal service, top-notch food.
Reservations for these restaurants can be made ahead of the cruise, onboard at guest services, at the restaurants or via the Royal IQ. However, it is definitely worth booking ahead in order to avoid disappointment, particularly for speciality restaurants such as Wonderland. If you are travelling on a shorter itinerary, do not even think of booking onboard if you have your heart set on dining at a particular restaurant. On our 14-night cruise there were still grumbles from passengers who found the restaurants fully booked, or only offering slots for early or late dining times. Don't leave your dining choice to chance.
Ovation also offers pre-bookable dining packages, available for three to five dinners, which save up to 40 percent off the cost of booking speciality restaurants separately. However, these packages may not be available on every sailing as we discovered on our cruise. Note: A US$10 (A$13) cancellation fee will be charged for reservations cancelled within 24 hours of the reservation date and for those who do a no-show; the fee jumps to US$25 (A$32.60) for the Chef's Table.
Michael's Genuine Pub (Deck 4); a la carte pricing: This British-style pub is created in partnership with Miami celebrity chef Michael Schwartz. If you're feeling hungry there are all sorts of nibbles, snack items and more substantial pub fare, such as a jar of pickled vegetables or devilled eggs for US$3 (A$3.91) each, or chips with onion dip, pork scratchings or chicken wings for US$5 (A$6.52). For bigger appetites choose from bangers and mash, fish and chips, or roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, all priced at US$12.50 ($16.30), and followed by sweets including sticky toffee pudding and peanut butter pie-in-a-jar for US$4 (A$5.22). Opening hours are 11 am to 1 am.
La Patisserie (Deck 4); a la carte pricing: The macarons in the window of La Patisserie are as pretty as a picture, and draw you in from the Royal Esplanade. Choose from delicate flavours, such as green tea or rose lychee, for US$1.75 (A$2.28) each, or indulge in a handcrafted cupcake for US$2.25 (A$2.93). Espresso-style coffees are also available for a fee. La Patisserie is open from 6 am to 11 pm.
Jamie's Italian by Jamie Oliver (Deck 5); US$39 (A$51) for lunch or dinner: Representing the British chef's first restaurant at sea (also featured on the other Quantum vessels), the restaurant is on the upper level of the Royal Esplanade. The lively eatery, popular with families, features a pleasingly rustic Italian decor and the menu include his trademark "planks" -- boards filled with meats, cheeses or vegetarian bites that are designed to be shared as starter. Lunch and dinner menus are the same, which is reflected in the pricing, with dishes such as crab and avocado bruschetta, baked mushrooms and garlic bread to start, followed by garlicky prawn linguine, Jamie's Italian burger, spaghetti puttanesca, and lasagne (baked with squash) to follow. Desserts are large and often served together on a plank. The waiters are cheerful and attentive, with lots of recommendations for food and wine. Jamie's house wine is the cheapest on the ship and very nice. You can also get limoncello, grappa and an affogato for that Italian touch. Jamie's Italian is open for lunch from noon to 1.30 pm (sea days only), and for dinner from 5.30 pm to 9 pm.
Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine (Deck 5); US$49 (A$64): The most innovative speciality restaurant on the ship is a real flight of culinary fantasy. The decor is mismatched and whimsical, inspired by Alice in Wonderland and her trip down the rabbit hole. There is a throne-style chair at every table and others are decorated with faces and optical illusions, so you know from the minute you walk in that this is going to be something totally different. It is also the only venue on the ship where you'll find real candles on the tables. The quirkiness continues when the waiter, clad in an opulent crushed velvet coat, offers you a picture frame containing a blank sheet of paper. Next comes a paintbrush and pot of water and, once you get painting, the menu is revealed. The menu is based on four elements -- sun, fire, sea and earth -- with dishes such as baby vegetables in the garden or chilled sweet pea soup for sun; "vanishing" noodles or duck-liver fritter for fire; liquid lobster or halibut cooked in clear paper for sea; and pork belly or slow-roasted chicken for earth. (All the items come with fancy sides as well.) While you can order from the menu, it's actually much more fun to let the waiter simply bring items to the table (which they offer to do at the outset), so you have no idea what is coming next, or exactly where you are in terms of the number of courses still to arrive. It's worth noting that you won't miss out if you are a vegetarian, and the veggie dishes were equally creative. Desserts are also a delight, with a sensational take on the cruise favourite -- baked Alaska (with chocolate on the inside) and lime lollipops.
Exquisitely prepared and presented, each small dish resembles a work of art. We loved the food at Wonderland and the surprise birthday dessert presented by the maitre d' was a lovely touch but our overall dining experience was disappointing. We were expecting a creative and lively dinner but our serious and somewhat dour waiter could not have been less fun. With its theatrical setting and seemingly never-ending courses, this is a terrific venue to celebrate a special occasion (provided you have better luck than we did with your allocated server); the whole experience is very leisurely and can easily last over two hours. To get the most from Wonderland, you definitely need to go with an open mind and enter into the spirit of it. Wonderland is open for dinner from 5.30 pm to 9 pm. Bookings are highly recommended for this signature restaurant; ideally using the online cruise planner before leaving home.
Izumi Japanese Cuisine (Deck 5); a la carte pricing: This pan-Asian eatery is centred around a large sushi bar. It is only separated from the upper level of the Royal Esplanade by shiny red screens, so this is not a place to come for a quiet meal. Izumi offers a pan-Asian menu, though the bulk of the items are Japanese. Starters include shrimp and vegetable tempura for US$10 (A$13), and tofu sesame salad for US$7 (A$9.13). The bulk of the menu is sushi and sashimi, the latter sold in two or five pieces for US$4 (A$5.21) and US$10 ((A$13) respectively, with signature rolls including Champagne lobster in yuzu wrap for US$14 (A$18.25); salmon sashimi and avocado on a crab asparagus roll for US$12 (A$15.60); and a surf-and-turf steak tataki and shrimp tempura roll, also $12. Izumi is open for lunch from noon to 1.30pm; dinner from 5.30 pm to 9 pm.
Chops Grille (Deck 5); US$42 (A$55): As the name implies, this restaurant is meat heavy and ideal for carnivores who like their steak. It is also the place to find that other perennially popular cruise-ship favourite, lobster, which costs an additional US$21 (A$27). The menu includes filet mignon, lamb chops and New York strips, along with other premium items such as seafood towers, which cost an additional US$19 (A$24) or US$39 (A$50), depending on the size. There are a few fish dishes, such as crusted tuna, spicy jumbo shrimp and snapper, but little for vegetarians aside from soup and a salad and sides. Sides include mash, grilled asparagus, baked potato, roast mushrooms and creamed spinach. Our filet mignon was deliciously juicy and perfectly cooked. Chops Grille has an old-style, warm atmosphere with dark furnishings and low lighting, and excellent service. It was our favourite restaurant onboard. This restaurant is only open for dinner from 5.30 pm to 9 pm.
Chef's Table (Deck 5); US$95 (A$123): Located at the end of Chops Grille and offered every night of the cruise, the Chef's Table serves a six-course menu, with each dish paired with an appropriate wine. A typical menu might include a crispy crab cone with avocado, wasabi and caviar, followed by cauliflower soup with pancetta and mascarpone cheese, artichoke salad with fennel, tagliatelle with truffle butter, New York strip loin with polenta and portobello mushrooms, and olive oil cake with ricotta and lemon liqueur. A meal to be savoured, diners can expect to be at the table (which accommodates 12 to 16) for three hours. Note: If there aren't enough reservations to fill the table, the dinner could be cancelled.
Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop (Deck 14); a la carte pricing: This new eatery next to the main pool area takes the place of Johnny Rockets and is decorated with Chinese lanterns and cute panda pictures. It might have been introduced with the Asian market in mind, but local cruisers shunned it on our sailing despite the simple pricing structure with dishes such as four pieces of dim sum (including pork, shrimp or vegetable) costing US$5 (A$6.50), bowls of noodles (pork and shrimp, vegetarian and various types of beef) for US$6 ($7.82), and dessert (sesame balls, custard tart, white fungus soup, and guiling gao (a Chinese herbal jelly) for US$2.50 (A$3.27). Delivery is available during opening hours but incurs a US$7.95 (A$10.36) room service fee in addition to the cost of the food. The noodle shop is open from 11.30 am to 10 pm.