It could be said cruising is actually more about dining than cruising.
Sure, there’s the oft-quoted benefits of ‘unpacking once’, the high quality nightly shows, the joy of waking up to a new place almost every day that all differentiate cruising from other holiday styles. But those are pretty much the constants on all cruises.
The big variable is food – the quality, the variety and dare I say it, the amount.
Miss this mark and guests won’t come back. And they’ll probably spread the word as well. The tastebud test is critical to one’s overall impression of a cruise.
Food is such a central focus of cruise life. Meals are the anchor points of every day’s schedule and in the evenings, passengers effectively prepare to dine out in a fancy restaurant every night so the pressure is never off the chefs.
So how did the ship with more mouths to feed than any other to have visited Australia shape up?
A couple of qualifying points to begin with. Bedding down a new ship and cranking up the systems to serve more than 12,000 sittings per day must surely take a little a time to smooth out.
And as is always the case for matters of personal taste and experience, it’s virtually impossible to please everyone. So yes, anecdotally, there were some mixed opinions around the dining on Ovation’s maiden Australian voyage from Sydney to New Zealand and back over 15 days from December 15, 2016. Realistically, differing opinions are of course to be expected when 4000+ people get together.
A lot of the chatter was around the My Time dining option which costs more than the standard package and is designed to enable guests to dine at whatever time they want.
It worked to a point but often times were unavailable due to forward bookings even though guests are told initially that in the four largest restaurants, you can’t make reservations. (As an aside, make sure to read our “First Impressions” story to learn about the Royal IQ App that enables you to book restaurants and shows before you board).
Further compounding the issue was that doors close at 6pm in the two main dining rooms – Chic and Grande – and reopen for a second setting at 8pm to accommodate those attending early or late shows.
If you are not attending a show or have seen the ones you want in the first few days for example, these shut-door times are extremely frustrating particularly when you look in and see restaurants half-full. This is clearly a system that needs fine-tuning.
Overall, Ovation has five complimentary restaurants and another five where a cover charge is required.
- American Icon
- Windjammer Marketplace (buffet)
Cover charge restaurants
- Jamie’s Italian
- Chops Grille
- Solarium Bistro
The are other cafe spaces and snack venues available free of charge most of the day.
The main dining rooms have a range of unique daily dishes and a selection of Classics ie: the staples that don’t change.
Portion sizes are about right and if you’re particularly peckish, there’s no problem ordering more than one starter or entrée (given its American lineage, ‘mains’ on Ovation are known as entrées).
My pick is Chic. Although one of the two biggest dining establishments, its smart, indeed ‘chic’ decor makes it feel like an upmarket experience while most of the other restaurants are themed in some way.
No surprises that American Icon is replete with rustic Americana adorning the walls and general fit-out.
Silk is inspired by the east in terms of design but not so much in its menu which is largely shared with American Icon located just a few metres away.
Whether it’s worth paying a cover charge for the ‘specialty’ restaurants – and the extra meal charges is really a question of personal taste, literally. I’d have to say the base dining package – and the variety of restaurants, menus and food quality – leaves you with very little desire to yearn for more.
Perhaps save your pennies and throw them at the $65USD per day drinks package. It’s the only package with alcoholic beverages included and with a glass of wine averaging $13, cocktails north of that and beers $8, you can get there in ‘holiday mode’ without trying too hard.
All in all given the scale of this ship, its settling-in and the trip cost, I’d say the dining experience was about what you’d expect from a leading cruise company.
Are there better? Yes. Can this improve a notch to match them? Yes. But overall, an enjoyable experience.