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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Menu Driven: Doing the Specialty Dining Package on Allure of the Seas

After 20 Caribbean cruises, including three on Oasis class, we felt we’d done it all—and eaten it all.

So on our recent Allure of the Seas trip, we set out to find something new to do, driven by our longing for appealing food. The answer came in a package—a specialty dining package.
Why go specialty? For desserts like this from 150 Central Park

You might ask:

Why go specialty at all? In short, the food’s better than the main dining room (MDR). Way better. So is the service. And the ambience.

Is it right for me? Specialty dining is especially great for:
  •          Veteran cruisers hungry to spice up their next trip
  •          Foodies in search of better quality
  •          Romantics looking for more intimate dining
  •          Celebrants who want to commemorate an event

Why package it up? If you dine out one time, you pay top dollar. Chops Grille is now $49 a person. A dining package brings the price per meal down a lot. On Oasis class, you can get a three-, four- or five-night package. We did the five night at $115 a person, which brought the per meal price to $23.

How the package works:

Signing up
You can do it with your travel agent, or with Royal Caribbean on the phone or online before you leave or once you’re on the ship. Note: You’ll set a time for each meal, but you’re not locked in to it.

Plan your shows first. The cruise line won’t let you select a dining time that’s within two hours of your show. (Fyi, several of our meals went a full two hours.)

Chops Grille for steak on the Allure's Central Park
Making your dining choices
Once onboard, it’s like on land. There's actually quite a lot of flexibility. You choose where you want to eat on what day, in any of the restaurants and as many times as you want. You can even change the time if they have openings. (We were able to get just about any time, any place on any day.)  

You can make reservations on the same day you’re dining or in advance. They can be made at any restaurant in person, by phone or your stateroom TV. Note: One of your meals must be on night 1 or 2 of the trip.

A little bit of Italy at Giovanni's Table

There's even some flexibility with the menu. At Chops, diners next to us loaded up on multiple appetizers. At 150 Central Park, though there was no ice cream on the menu, the waiter brought us some from Chops.

Few more tidbits
  •          Tips – They’re included in your overall trip gratuities
  •          Drinks – What cost extra in the MDR cost extra in the restaurant
  •          Dress – “Smart casual” (although diners tend to get more dressed up)

What’s the food really like?
Note first that taste is a subjective thing, and that quality can vary by who’s doing the cooking and by what you choose. That being said, here was my experience:

Chops Grille – The onion soup was very good. The 9 oz. filet mignon was cooked just right, and we were offered a choice of three flavorful sauces, as well as a number of potato and veggie side dish options. The “liquid center chocolate cake” was a small satisfying delicate cake, sort of like a sponge cake, but with deep chocolate flavor, and a mellow chocolate sauce poured over it with a scoop of ice cream and caramelized bananas on the side.
The filet mignon was hearty and tasty at Chops Grille
Giovanni’s Table – The osso buco was wonderful with a great taste and fork-tender. The filet mignon rivaled the one at Chops, and the meaty lasagna was also quite good. Desserts are typical Italian restaurant fare—tiramisu, cannelloni—as well as a few others. (If you’re a chocoholic, you’ll need to get dessert somewhere else.)
150 Central Park: intimate, romantic with stellar service too
150 Central Park – The food is continental-meets-nouvelle cuisine, but more continental than nouvelle. The squash soup was so velvety and sweet that I wanted to lick the bowl. The lobster gnocchi and short rib were also great, but the pièce de résistance was the chocolate bourbon tart. The fudgy inside was topped with spiced pecans, cranberry chutney and whipped cream, creating a bittersweet/sweet/spicy explosion of flavors. The place was also library-quiet and uber romantic, with its plush high back chairs and couches.
Smooth as silk, sweet as squash at 150 Central Park
Other specialty restaurants on Allure: Samba Grill (Brazilian steak house) Izumi (hibachi and sushi) and Sabor (Mexican).

The bottom line
If you want an overall better dining experience at the cost of—say, one excursion—consider a specialty dining package. It “beefed” up our cruise and will most likely do the same for you. 

Musing’s Top Tips: If you're thinking about a specialty dining package on an Oasis class cruise, check out Musing About Cruising's YouTube video to help you decide if it's right for you. Just click below and play:

Here’s another: For more easy planning and keeping track of your busy schedule, before leaving home, make a chart with separate columns for the shows, and where you’re dining and when. Also factor in the days in port and the hours you'll be there.

Note: All restaurant menus and prices are subject to change.