27 June 2011

Liberty of the Seas - Salivalicious

When planning a vacation, the rigueur du jour is concerting the transportation, accomodation, attractions, and salivations quartet into a harmonic travel experience. For land tours, there are more options. If one hotel isn't right, we can always change another. If some place is not fun, we have the choice to get out and go somewhere else. If the food at a restaurant sucks, there's always Mc D, KFC or Burger King to fall back on.

That's not the case with a cruise holiday. If we boarded a bad cruiseliner, there's no where to run. There's no different hotel to change to, no escape to greener entertainment pastures, and we are at the mercy of the nautical kitchen. If a cruise is bad, that's it. It'll be a floating torture chamber for days. So choose your cruise operator wisely!

Having experienced 2 cruises with Royal Caribbean, I would say this company would be your best bet. But of course, I haven't been on other cruise ships to draw comparisons. However, considering the standards set by RC, it will be very tough to match.

I've shared about the ship's beautiful interior, exciting activities onboard and fabulous nightly shows in my previous post so in this entry, I shall show you the good food that went into my tummy during those 6 days 5 nights.

Windjammer Café - All Day Buffet

Located on Deck 11, Windjammer Café serves up an international buffet spread in a casual dining atmosphere for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is open from 7am to 9pm. A major section of it closes at around 4 pm for the restaurant to refresh itself for dinner but a small portion remains open to serve snacks.

You can design your own burger or sandwich with meat patties, a selection of hams and cheeses, and smoked salmon. Or perhaps plate a personal fusion of tastes that could be Eastern, Western and everything in-between with Japanese sushis, Chinese dumpling noodles, Cantonese congee, English meat steaks, Turkish kebabs, Spanish paella, American potato dishes, etc.

It can get quite crowded during peak meal hours but there are a lot of seats around. I didn't have any problem getting a table during those times as the turnover is pretty fast. The great thing about eating here is the oceanic view!

I had the mixed paella (chicken and seafood) at Windjammer and surprisingly, it's better than the many I had in Barcelona. It's hard to believe that a ship's kitchen turned up a better paella than the restaurants in Barcelona but in my opinion, that's the way it was. My parents agreed the paella here was tastier too.

The roast beef was also amazingly tender and sweet. Meats usually have this dowdy effect (jer lat) after one too many servings but this roast beef made me hungrier the more I ate!

I love sushi so my ears pricked up when our waiter at Windjammer mentioned that it's being served during dinner. As the nightly dinners were a fine-dining affair at the Rembrandt Dining Room (see below), I made a special trip to Windjammer prior to one of our evening meals to have sushi.

It was disappointing though. The rice wasn't sour enough to provide a contrast that compliments the savoury to fruity fillings. But that's my personal preference to have a stronger vinegary hint.

My friends always say I have a huge grudge against prawns and crabs. Because whenever they are available in a buffet, I'll do serious damage to their population. So imagine my thrill when I saw skewered prawns in Windjammer's spread! And they're peeled with the black intestinal thread removed some more. Best!

However, the prawns here were probably of the supermarket frozen variety as their glassy texture, paler colour and taste were unlike the fierce vermillion and rubbery feel redolent of fresh catch. So I held back and gave the prawn population a break. The other thing I didn't do damage on were the herring and olive rings as I only saw them after a full stomach. But they do look pretty appetising.

On top of all the savouries, there is the quinessential dessert spread of cakes, sweet breads, cookies, mousse, jello and other sweet creations.

Rembrandt Dining Room - A La Carte Fine Dining

When it comes to dinner, you have 2 options. You can either have buffet at Windjammer, or sit down for a fine dining experience at one of the many dining rooms assigned to each passenger. Eating at both the Windjammer and dining rooms are free.

We were assigned the Rembrandt Dining Room on Deck 3 and our seating was 7pm. There are 2 seatings every night, 7pm and 9.30pm. The other dining rooms (Michelangelo on Deck 4 and Botticelli on Deck 5) have seatings at 6:30pm and 9pm. To dine at these places, smart casual attire is required and no singlet, shorts and slippers are allowed. On captain's night, formal dressing is recommended.

Not sure how the other 2 dining rooms look like but Rembrandt is grand and b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l.! The central table is where the captain will sit when he dines with selected guests on Captain's Night. You can check the Cruise Compass, a daily programme sheet, for the indication of the formal dining occasion.

The best time to shoot the dining room is on the first day after you come onboard. That's when the place is practically empty. The photos above of my parents, with our waiters and the family who shared our table were taken during Captain's Night, which fell on the second night of our cruise.

A nice family portrait at Rembrandt Dining Room although the ship rated me with a 'F'. Is it 'F' for Fabulous / Fantastic or 'F' for Fail / Fat Face? Hmm...

Other than the ambience, the great thing about eating here is the tip-top service... Attentive, Affable, Axcellent, Axceptional... how many aces are there? :o)

The next best thing about eating here is that you can repeat your orders! The dinner consists of a 3-course meal (appetiser, main, dessert) and the menu changes every night. You can order more than one of anything and even seconds or thirds of the same thing!

I ordered sceonds for the baked escargot for it just goes so well with the breads freshly basked onboard and one night, I had 2 main courses so it's like an a la carte buffet. One of the interesting things to try here is the watermelon cold soup. Not to be missed are the Chinese dumplings, grilled prawns with rice and this...

... the gorgeous, gorgeous lamb shank! The meat just wears the bone and can be taken off with a whisk of the fork while in the mouth, it disintegrates like a ballet on the tongue. You can still taste the baa-baa (say it sounding like a sheep) without the overpowering gamey mutton musk. Baa-rific!

While the menu changes every night, some of the items were ported over from Windjammer, just decorated differently. Just like the prawn skewer in the above photo, I've seen it at the buffet but at Rembrandt, it's jazzed up with a sauce topping and came dolled up.

Another must-try is the appetiser pictured above. Cannot recall its name and the photo of the menu came out blur because of low light condition and I didn't check as I was too eager to try it. Anything with garlic is a magnet for me. It consisted of a slice of ham with mushrooms and other stuff that don't just work as decorations, but taste good when combined on the palate.

Accompanying the appetisers and main courses, we finished off dinner with desserts.Of the many I tried in the few nights, my favourite was this cherry pie pictured below. It didn't feel too heavy after a sumptuous meal and the cream sauce lent just a right touch of egg-vanilla aroma.

If you're stumped what to order from the menu, no sweat. The waiters serving your table are always ready with recommendations. Anyway, you can order as many items as you like so basically, you are only limited by your appetite.

During dinner on the third and last night, Rembrandt's waitering team even sang for us! It's really quite a sight having all of them fill up the rotunda's stage. I think this just goes to show the trouble and effort in adding a personal touch for the guests. They sure ended on a high note!

Chops Grille - A Cut Above the Rest

If you fancy a meal that's more private and exquisite, do check out the 2 reservations-only restaurants onboard - Chops Grille (steak house) and Portofino (Italian fine dine). Meals here are chargeable. We booked a dinner at Chops Grille and it costs about S$34 per person.

Located on Deck 11 (to the side of Windjammer Café's entrance), Chops Grille offers a 3-course menu that starts with a selection of appetisers, main courses with choice of side dishes, and desserts. You can place unlimited orders for appetisers, side dishes and desserts, but only one order of the main course. Additional order of main courses incurs a charge.

Again, service at Chops Grille is nothing short of excellent with our waitress appearing and disappearing at all the right moments to serve and clear up. Very intuitive. Bravo!

Our meal at Chops Grille was also the only rare time that my family and I got to catch up with Yee Leong, also a winner of the Royal Caibbean blog contest. Even though we stayed on the same ship just a few doors away from each other, we hardly had the time to spend time together as each of us had different plans to enjoy the vacation.

So it was really nice catching up with him over dinner and exchange experiences on the ship and the land tours we took. All-in-all, we were mostly gushing about the facilities and the shows onboard. It was also a chance for me to admire Yee Leong's photos. This guy has a great eye for photography. Check out his photos of the various restaurants here.

A French loaf with specialty dippings started off our dinner with a blurred photo of this delightfully creamy Forest Mushroom Soup. I finally decided to invest in a flash for photographing food after seeing the large percentage of out-of-focus or grainy photos due to low light and high ISO.

There's a long list of appetisers to choose from and we pretty much went wild. I ordered 2 - Oyster Duet and Shrimp Cocktail. Baked in the dual condiments of Rockefeller and Kilaptrick style, I ordered seconds. As for the Shrimp Cocktail, now, this is what prawns should look and taste like! The size was hwah! and succulently fresh.

For the main course, we ordered a mixture of seafood and what Chops Grille is famous for - steak. I had the Herb-Crusted Jumbo Shrimp (did I menion I'm a prawn king?) while mum ordered the Broiled Veal Chop.

Dad and Yee Leong ordered the Chops-Style Mixed Grill which was the best dinner choice with a combination of grilled lamb chop, apple-chicken sausage, veal tournedos, and bacon. It's a whole lot of meat that're big on taste!

We can accompany our main courses with a choice from 8 side dishes. We particularly liked the Steamed Asparagus as the vegetable provided a balance to all that meat. But mostly because we've not seen such gigantic asparagus stalks! Yet they taste so tender and not fibrous at all.

By now, I'm sure you know what comes next to complete any meal... desserts! I don't really have a sweet tooth but I had so much cakes and sweet what-nots onboard. The portraits of these desserts are still hung on my waistline till this day.

Here's the droolsome Chocolate Mud Pie and the Passionberry Duo which is a circle of delight with a layer of berry gelatin sitting on a mousse of tropical passion fruit.

The highlight was the Crème brûlée with the burning of the sugar crust done at our table! I'm no dessert expert so I'll just say they all provided a sweet ending. Yah, that saying is cheesy... I know!

If you ever cruise with Liberty of the Seas, my advice is to diet before the trip. Eat less 1 week prior to sailing because once you're onboard, you will be overeating for the next 6 days 5 nights. So by eating less 1 week and overeating the next, your total caloric intake for the 2 weeks evens out!

The F&B experience isn't limited to these 3 eating joints but include a few other free and paid eateries such as Sorrento's Pizza, Café Promenade (24-hour free snacks), Cupcake Cupboard, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (all on Deck 5), and Johnny Rockets (Deck 12).

Oh, here's another piece of advice... leave the tight-fitting clothes at home! Have fun going on a gourmet exploration! :o)

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