Cruisers the world over have been abuzz about a new dining concept from Royal Caribbean, Dynamic Dining. Royal Caribbean International calls Dynamic Dining “a new world of culinary exploration on Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. It’s dining at sea, reimagined, to give you more distinct options and total flexibility. There are no set dinner times, no required formal nights. Instead let your appetite be the guide to 18 tantalizing possibilities. Like five complimentary, full-service main restaurants. Three new restaurants with award-winning chefs at the helm. And much more, from upscale to casual to the wonderfully whimsical. Let the epicurean journey to Destination WOW begin.”
I recently completed an 11-night cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas, and experienced Dynamic Dining firsthand. I approached the concept with an open, but slightly skeptical mind. Frankly, I like the big dining room and having the same waiter throughout the cruise. It’s a relationship that I’ve come to appreciate in 36 cruises. On the other hand, I’m a guy who likes a little variety, and I’m not a person who automatically resists change. Recognizing that Dynamic Dining is a controversial topic among Royal Caribbean loyalists and other experienced cruisers, I reached out to the company while on board to discuss the new dining experience with none other than Quantum of the Seas’ Executive Chef, Henrique Sparrow.
Interview with Quantum of the Seas’ Executive Chef
I met Chef Henrique on the morning of December 9, 2014, while Quantum of the Seas was at sea making her way back to Bayonne. Walking to his office, one could get a sense that he was a busy man, leading a team of busy people. The galley staff was working hard, serving breakfast in American Icon. In short, a lot goes on behind the scenes.
At 9 days into our cruise, I was now comfortable with the concept of Dynamic Dining, but I did have a few questions for Chef Henrique. We enjoyed a fun half-hour conversation where I learned a lot about the challenges of creating meals at sea for some 4,000 guests, not to mention rolling out a completely new dining concept with Quantum of the Seas. The chef indicated that it was indeed a challenge to achieve the right balance with sourcing 18 different food venues and the large quantities of food being served. A few fun facts: As of the day of our interview Quantum of the Seas guests had consumed 20,000 pounds of meat, 50,000 eggs, and we were consuming 3,000 pounds of potatoes per day. Each of the complimentary restaurant options is served by a unique galley (food prep area). The plating for each restaurant is unique so the dishes are even done separately.
I asked the question many wanted to ask, “why the move to Dynamic Dining?” According to Chef Henrique, the move was based on guest feedback. The new dining concept is about creating more options for more guests with the goal of creating variety. Dynamic Dining is a living concept with distinct lighting, decor, music, and even crew uniforms, in each of the restaurants. Chef Henrique said that they get a lot of requests from guests for their own table and they are unable to accommodate everyone’s wishes with the traditional dining concept. On the other hand, the biggest complaint so far with Dynamic Dining is no longer having the same wait staff for your entire cruise.
Turning to the specialty restaurants on board, Chef Henrique noted the classics remain like Chops Grille and Izumi, but the conversation quickly turned to Wonderland (more below) as the newest specialty restaurant concept. The family style setting offers uniquely presented and prepared foods that tantalize…speaking from personal experience Wonderland was my favorite specialty onboard. Chef Henrique noted the celebrity chef partnerships on board like Michael’s Genuine Pub and Jamie’s Italian as well. According to the chef, Jamie’s is doing especially well so far, and the crowds I saw dining there during the dinner hour (and my own dining experiences) support that. Chef Henrique was especially proud of the new Windjammer design, which he indicated was the largest in the fleet. It was definitely larger than the Windjammer that I remember on Allure. Royal Caribbean has added a bakery where guests can obtain freshly baked goods as well. Another addition Chef Henrique noted is the outdoor dining spaces to the aft of the Windjammer which are reminiscent of the Radiance Class vessels.
My final question for Chef Henrique was one I smiled and suggested he probably couldn’t answer. “What is your favorite of the complimentary restaurants on board?” To my surprise, the Chef was happy to answer – Silk. He went on to say that he really liked the Pan-Asian concept created for Silk, and especially the family style setting which made it easier to try everything. (Personal note: Silk was my favorite as well.) We closed our meeting with a walk around the galley spaces which were bustling with activity. Thank you Chef Henrique for the time spent discussing Dynamic Dining and Quantum of the Seas!
My Experience with Dynamic Dining
Several months prior to our cruise, my travel agent reached out to let me know that we could reserve our desired dining for the cruise. I took a quick look at the complimentary main-dining options which were (descriptions are my take on things):
- American Icon – Basic American “comfort food”
- Chic – European inspired “contemporary”
- The Grande – Traditional formal dining
- Silk – Asian food
As a Diamond Plus member of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society who booked the cruise before it became publicly available, we were also offered the opportunity to reserve dining at Coastal Kitchen, a restaurant normally reserved for suite guests. I booked each restaurant for one night of the cruise, Chops Grille (upcharge steakhouse) for the first night, and left the remaining nights open. I wanted to experiment, and see which restaurants I preferred before committing too many nights, and of course, there were other surcharge specialty restaurants I wanted to try as well.
Overall, I found Dynamic Dining to to be a pleasant and enjoyable experience. Frankly, I liked the new variety in venues, both complimentary and with an upcharge. For me, the best complimentary restaurant was Silk, which is focused on Asian inspired cuisine. The Hibachi Steak was my favorite, with the duck being a close second.
The decor and general atmosphere in Silk was also my favorite of the included restaurants. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the others, just that Silk was my preferred. It’s also the only one of the complimentary options that I visited more than once.
Of the upcharge restaurants Wonderland ($45 per person) was the hands down winner for me. A new restaurant introduced by Royal Caribbean on Quantum of the Seas, Wonderland promises to figure prominently in the Dynamic Dining experience. Word of warning – if you’re the type that seeks out McDonalds when dining in Paris or Rome, you may not be comfortable here. In a few words, I would describe Wonderland as whimsical and adventurous. The menu is certainly unique, right down to the fact that you have to paint it with water to read it. Once that’s done, one of the more interesting dining experiences at sea is revealed.
At first, I thought Wonderland was going to be a “big plate, small food” kind of place. I was wrong.
You’ll have all sorts of options throughout the meal. My advice – engage your waiter and let them know your likes and dislikes. Basically, let them guide you on your culinary journey. Things start small, with delicious tastes. Favorites – liquid lobster, olives, sashimi. Just when you’re certain you’re in a small food kind of place, kimchi and a wonderful vegetable medley appear. Than a beef rib that will knock your socks off. Keep in mind there are other options, I’m just sharing my experience.
I’m not a big dessert person, but Wonderland’s take on Baked Alaska was a favorite of mine.
There is a lot of opinion floating around about Quantum of the Seas, Dynamic Dining, and the very real IT issues guests experienced/are experiencing onboard. For the record, I do not think that the rollout of Dynamic Dining and Quantum of the Seas was the smoothest new ship introduction on Royal Caribbean’s part. Even on our 12/1 sailing, there were still approximately 100 computer types on board trying to resolve problems with the dining reservations system, the Royal IQ app, etc. I know that some guests lost reservations they had confirmed, experienced lengthy waits for meals or in line trying to get seated, etc. For the record, I did not wait in line for a meal, and found the service improving each night of our cruise.
I have an opinion on why I was not negatively impacted by any significant issues during my cruise, take it for what you will. First, my original dining reservations were booked early by my travel agent, and I made no changes to them. I did not need to because I got the times I wanted where I wanted to eat. Second, I use iDevices and at the moment, iOS is the operating system that Royal Caribbean’s Royal IQ app is designed for (Android coming soon). Third, I actually downloaded the Royal IQ app and attempted to use it. (No flaming…. I know others did the same and did have problems). Fourth, on the handful of occasions when I did experience problems making Royal IQ work while onboard the ship, I either signed into one of the iPads in guest services or at other locations around the ship and took care of business, or I visited a restaurant I wanted in person to reserve a table. I did NOT march down to guest services to queue up for help. Finally, I rolled with it – meaning I did not expect a flawless experience on the early cruises aboard Quantum of the Seas. I expected little issues, and I had a few.
The staff was obviously struggling with some of the unique aspects of Dynamic Dining from their perspective just as much as the guests. I’m not convinced that the dining rooms are staffed appropriately aboard Quantum of the Seas either. I elected to share constructive feedback with Royal Caribbean where appropriate, and otherwise move on with maximization of my very valuable leisure time. That one seemingly small decision probably played a greater role than any other in my enjoyment of the cruise. Reports from current (12/29/14) cruisers are that staffing has been either reallocated or added for the dining venues.
The Future of Dynamic Dining
I recently posted that Royal Caribbean has delayed the introduction of Dynamic Dining on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. I think this is a wise move, but not because I believe there is anything inherently wrong with the concept. The IT that drives the reservations system and the smartphone app interface with it for guests needs some additional work. I believe these issues to be a source of a high percentage of complaints about the concept, though I acknowledge some cruisers just aren’t going to like non-traditional dining. For Dynamic Dining to be successful, Royal Caribbean needs to resolve outstanding IT issues, and increase the level of outreach to cruisers, both experienced and novice about the concept. It is different, and many cruisers are just not that plugged into the idea. Successful or not, all Royal Caribbean ships will not be converted to Dynamic Dining and the good news there is that there will be options for all Royal Caribbean fans. Contrary to popular opinion on some of the message boards, I expect Dynamic Dining is here to stay, but it will likely evolve. Frankly, I like options and I really like Dynamic Dining. I think it’s a win for Royal Caribbean.
-MJ, December 29, 2014