Welcome back to “Episode 3” of our Bucket List Trip adventures! It was finally time to board the ship for Kat’s cousin’s wedding and we were very excited. While we have been on many cruises before, this was our first Royal Caribbean cruise and we were very ready for the new experience. We drove to the port as it was only about 5 minutes way and would make it more convenient for our departure. The porters took our luggage for us and we each carried on a backpack with essentials we may need for the next few hours. Since we were in a large group, we all decided to head to the buffet for lunch. There were all kinds of foods to choose from and the food was comparable to any other cruise buffet – nothing remarkable here. After lunch, we decided to walk around the ship and explore so we knew what not to miss throughout our cruise. We grabbed a drink and sat by the pool after until we were all going to meet up for the Sail Away party on Deck 11 at 4:30. It was a gorgeous day as we watched the ship sail out of port into the open ocean. After the party, we headed back to our stateroom to unpack and get freshened up for dinner.
As fine dining is truly our favorite part of traveling, we decided to book the Chef’s Table experience for the first night instead of doing the main dining room. There is one seating per night for this beginning at 6 PM with 12-14 seats. We booked the month before the cruise to ensure we got a spot and it also gave us a 15% discount off the $95 per person price tag. This was a progressive meal that took roughly 4 hours with several courses and wine/cocktail pairings. We were told to meet at the R Bar for a glass of champagne where we were greeted by our server, Erhan, while we waited for the entire party before walking to the dining room together. Chef’s Table seating, a single large round table, was located between the Deck 4 and Deck 5 main dining rooms. This definitely had us feeling like we were in a VIP section which really set the tone for the experience. As we sat down, we began to introduce ourselves to everyone at the table and you could immediately tell that the conversation would just flow easily. Erhan gave a brief intro to himself and how the dinner would commence and just like that we were on the first course, Scallop Carpaccio. This dish was topped with yuzu vinaigrette and crispy quinoa and paired with a Pinot Grigio from Italy.
This was the perfect starter dish as it was light and fresh, and the yuzu citrus really opened up the palette and balanced nicely with the fruit forward crisp wine. We then moved on to the Smoked Tomato Soup topped with garlic focaccia croutons and parmesan. This was a thicker soup that had a lot of flavor. It was paired with the Caymus Conundrum, a unique white blend of Chardonnay grapes from California. This wine seemed to be a stand-out favorite of the whites for the night as diners kept asking for refills.
Third course was the Maine Lobster Salad served with hearts of palm, pineapple, cilantro, and vanilla dressing. We definitely agreed this was our favorite part of the meal as it was prepared simply but with unique flavors that truly complimented the glass of Sauvignon Blanc it was served with.
At this point we were halfway through our meal and we felt like we had already made some long-lasting friendships with the other diners. Everyone got along really well and it felt as if we had all known each other for years. Erhan expressed multiple times that this was one of the most talkative groups he has ever had and that he was having a great time. He also let us know that if we wanted any refills of any of the wines we had that night that all we had to do was ask and it would be complimentary. This was much appreciated and we all took full advantage of this benefit until the bottles were empty.
Next up, was the Roasted Branzino entrée served with grilled zucchini, peppers, lemon confit, and pesto paired with Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay. The skin on the fish was perfectly crispy and the inside was flaky and buttery and was delicious with the full-bodied Chardonnay.
The next entrée was the Grilled Filet Mignon with truffle potato puree, asparagus, and bordelaise sauce. This was cooked perfectly to everyone’s preferred temperature and came with our first red wine pairing of the night, Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. We were all pretty full at this point in the experience and it showed as several of us could not finish this plate.
The last course of the night was a dessert called “The World” – a chocolate dome with peanut butter ganache, Valrhona chocolate mousse, and salted caramel gelato paired with a Salted Caramel Martini. The dessert was rich and decadent, and we were very full, so we tried a couple bites and ultimately had to call it quits. I will say that the martini was pretty much inedible – bitter and tasted like licking an ashtray. We did not finish these drinks and instead asked for more wine.
Overall, this experience was an 11/10! The food, company, service, and beverages were all amazing – just come hungry and prepare to leave stuffed. All of the dishes were essentially full-sized portions, so we got full quickly. Although what really MADE the experience next level was the group of people that dined with us and Erhan. Because it was a small group of people, there was plenty of time to get to know everyone and really dive into some conversation with depth. We were all from different parts of the world to include: Jamaica, London, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana, and Texas. Erhan did a wonderful job as he was personable, funny, light-hearted, and attentive. He was very eager to ensure that everyone had what they wanted. He was able to substitute items based on allergies or personal preferences. He also let us all take a glass of wine with us when we left which we thought was an above and beyond gesture. After taking some groups photos and exchanging contact information, it was time for us to go. We LOVED this experience so much that we ended up booking it again for the 3rd and final night of the cruise as there were two seats left. Erhan also mentioned that for returning another night to Chef’s Table, he would give us a 25% discount and if there was anything we wanted substituted for the meal, he would be happy to do that so we could try something different. We cannot say enough great things about Chef’s Table on the Freedom of the Seas and we would book this meal every sailing.
We were beyond full and exhausted after dinner, so we called it a night and went to bed. The wedding was the next morning in CocoCay, Royal’s private island in the Bahamas, so we also knew we had a long early day.
We had to be at the wedding location on the island at 10:30 AM so we got up, had coffee, got ready, and made our way off the ship. The backdrop for the wedding was the crystal-clear ocean with picture perfect weather. Only downfall to the location was that it was close to public areas of the island where people could walk right by and where several people were taking selfies with the ocean and the ship. Aside from this, the wedding was quick, simple, and elegant and after the ceremony and some group photos, we were on our way for the rest of the day on the island.
We brought a bag with a change of clothes and our swimsuits so that we did not have to waste time getting back on and off the ship. After changing, we made our way to the massive pool with a swim-up bar, ordered a drink, and began to soak up the sun. This area was packed as we couldn’t find any chairs and it took a while to get drinks from the bar due to the sheer amount of people waiting to be served. After a few drinks and some pool time, we started to get hungry, so we made our way to the Chill Grill for a buffet lunch. The Chill Grill served hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, grilled BBQ chicken, salad bar, fruit, and make your own tacos along with desserts and drinks. This buffet was much better to us than the buffet we had the previous day for lunch on the ship. We decided that after lunch we would walk around the island and explore the other areas. We find a nice spot to relax with some open chairs and parked ourselves for a while. Before heading back to the ship for the day, we stopped at Captain Jack’s for some wings and beer. They had games, swings, and live music at this venue, and it was a great place to finish up the day at CocoCay.
We got back onboard the ship around 4:30 PM and we were still pretty full, so we decided to skip dinner in the main dining room as we had early seating, and our dinner was at 5:30 PM. We took our time showering and getting ready for the evening and when we were all ready, we made the choice to check out another specialty dining location called Izumi. Izumi is a sushi/hibachi restaurant with limited seating. We were able to snag two seats at the sushi bar which is first come/first served and ordered a few items: Miso Soup, Seaweed Salad, Assorted Sashimi Platter, Champagne Lobster Roll, and the Truffled Creamy Lobster Tempura Roll. The Miso Soup and Seaweed Salad were standard– nothing unique here but both were good. Things unfortunately started to go downhill with the Sashimi platter. According to the menu, this was supposed to come with Tuna, Yellowtail, Salmon, and Shrimp but when the platter arrived it was missing the yellowtail and had extra pieces of the other three fish. We would have been fine with this had he mentioned they were out of yellowtail, but he didn’t. To make it even worse, we later found out that they were in fact not out of yellowtail because we saw it on several other dishes. The Champagne Lobster Roll was blanched lobster, avocado, and daikon sprouts in a soy wrap topped with champagne sauce and a chili thread. This really intrigued us as it sounded fancy and unique, but it was ultimately a letdown as the flavor was bland and the pieces of lobster were tiny. The Truffled Creamy Lobster Tempura Roll was Hamachi (aka yellowtail), salmon, asparagus, lobster tempura chunk with a house ponzu, chili thread, spicy mayo, scallion, truffle oil, and unagi sauce. We did ask for the creamy sauce to be served on the side, but it did not end up coming with any sauce at all. Yet again, bland and not worth the price.
The food was a bit of a disappointment due to the items coming out differently than they were described on the menu. The service also left a bit to be desired as the server spilled a dipping plate of soy sauce all over the counter and didn’t offer to clean it up or bring us napkins/towel to wipe it up ourselves despite walking by us several times and staring at us and the mess. He also seemed to be annoyed that we were ordering food throughout the meal rather than all at once and by the end of dinner we had four different checks. If he had let us know that he needed to ring it up as one check, we would have just held off ordering until we were ready. We would ultimately most likely not return to this specialty restaurant due to the inconsistent food and the poor service. It was now time to head to the private wedding reception at “Olive or Twist”.
Olive or Twist is the Freedom of the Seas “nightclub” venue where they host late night adults only events. The bride and groom chose this for their reception space because it was spacious enough for our party of 50 guests. The bar itself in the venue was not open, so the servers needed to visit another bar to get all the drinks, which really didn’t make sense. Because this was an “open bar” event that the bride and groom had already paid for, this made it very time consuming and cumbersome for guests to get drinks. Less than half an hour into the reception, one of the servers disappeared while the other was running around as fast as he could taking our orders and going to the back to get the drinks. As the reception came to a close, we spoke to the wedding planner to voice our concerns regarding the availability and timeliness of drinks so she offered to bring out several trays of champagne for everyone to somewhat make up for it.
We heard there was going to karaoke in the same venue after the reception, so we decided to stay and check it out. We ended up having a blast and hanging out with another bride who was on the cruise for her bachelorette party. It was very crowded so took a while to get a drink but was no big deal. It was around midnight, and we were exhausted from the long non-stop day, so we headed back to the room for a much-needed night of sleep.
Our last full day on the ship we were ported in Nassau, Bahamas. We had booked an excursion for this day as we had been to Nassau many times and knew we wanted to do something different. We chose the Baha Bay Water Park at Baha Mar excursion after reading several reviews on how wonderful this resort was and how much it had to offer. We were transported to the resort on a small bus for a duration of about 15 minutes. Upon arrival, we decided to hit the casino before we went swimming and got all wet. The walk from the water park to the casino was far but it gave us the opportunity to explore the grounds. The casino was gorgeous and clean with white marble aisleways for an elegant feel. After about an hour of gambling, we headed to the Baha Mar Beach Club which required a minimum spend of $125 per person or otherwise be charged the difference.
We were escorted to two plush lounge chairs with an umbrella that were ours for the entire day and also a dedicated server and incredible view. There were two heated infinity pools overlooking the beautiful Caribbean beach. We decided to order some food and drinks to work our way towards our $250 minimum spend. We decided on the Chef’s Signature Ceviche, Carnitas Tacos, Caribbean Crab Crispy Rice and Salmon and Cucumber Crispy Rice, Lobster Roll, and the Classic Bacon Cheeseburger with a couple frozen alcoholic beverages. The ceviche was local hog snapper, onions, sweet potato, and leche de tigre accompanied with choclo rustic chips. We had high hopes for this but it was overly sauced and not appetizing at all. The tacos were carnitas, pickled onion, smashed avocado, and roasted jalapenos on corn tortillas – pretty good but the pork was slightly dry. We were most excited about the sushi with the crispy rice as this is a growing trend and we had not tried before – another complete letdown. The rice was cold and the seafood was pasty and left an aftertaste – skip these. The lobster roll was local spiny lobster with fuji apples and lemon aioli on a top split brioche bun – think of this as how chicken salad is made but with lobster. The lobster salad was good but the bread was cold, overly oily, and a bit tough. Lastly, the cheeseburger was topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, and melted cheddar – definitely the most basic item we ordered but the best by far. Next time, we would just order drinks and the fruit tray – did not think to order this but saw it served several times and it looked delicious, exotic, and fresh. We finished up here and paid the bill and spent a little longer lounging in the pool with cocktails before we were on our way to try the waterslides.
This particular day was a little chilly and windy as it was January, but we were determined to try a few of the waterslides before we left. We chose two slides which were connected at Cyclone Rush – one was a 5-person cloverleaf raft which required at least 2 people to ride and the other was a 450-foot slide with a 35-foot tall, 10-degree angle wave wall. We had a blast on both slides, so much so that we even lost our hats to the water while going down and had to have the staff collect them for us. We only had about an hour left before we had to leave after this, so we headed back to the heated pool at Baha Mar Bach Club to warm up before changing into dry clothes. We took the same bus back to the port and boarded the ship with no line.
As I previously mentioned, we were headed to Chef’s Table again since we had such a great experience the first time. The food and service were just as good as the first night and we were able to have the wild mushroom soup instead of tomato soup and salmon instead of filet mignon – both delicious.
That being said, the company this evening was not as enjoyable as the first night. There were less people so the table was not full and everyone became quiet several times as we were just not all as engaging with one another. We would probably not do this twice in one sailing again as it is very repetitive and we would also recommend doing this the first night of a sailing as you are very excited to be just starting vacation. We finished up and headed to the casino for the obligatory slots and Kat ended up winning one of the “Buckets of Cash” prizes which was a great surprise! We ended up staying out late this evening as it was our last night and, on the way, back to the room we grabbed a pizza from Sorrento’s Pizza – piping hot and delectable.
Overall, we had a wonderful first sailing on Royal Caribbean and have received several casino offers from Royal for free cruises to come back. Normally we would be bummed to get off the ship but we were headed to Disney World so this was not the case. Stay tuned for next week’s article in the Bucket List series – Day 1 at Disney World – and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram at ourculinarycabaret.