Quantum of the Seas burst on the scene in 2014 with many of the innovative features that would drive Royal Caribbean forward for the next five years. It's got a London Eye-inspired gondola attached to a mechanical arm that allows passengers to sail 300 feet above sea level and get a bird's-eye view of the sea and ports. Cruisers can go skydiving at sea, crash into each other in bumper cars, fly on a trapeze at circus school or jog on a large track that breezes by the legs of a giant magenta polar bear sculpture. And Two70, a completely interactive entertainment venue, is hands-down the most technologically advanced space of its kind at sea.
Soon after Quantum's debut, Royal Caribbean whisked it away to Shanghai, where it has introduced the growing Chinese cruise market to what a state-of-the-art mega-ship can be. Adjustments to the ship's dining and itineraries were made to accommodate the tastes and customs of the Chinese, while still serving an international audience. (In 2019, the ship will again receive an update as it prepares for its new seasonal homeport of Singapore.)
However, the dining changes the line made might make the ship less attractive to the more traditional Royal Caribbean cruiser. Johnny Rockets has been converted to Kung Fu Panda noodle house. The Solarium has moved from an adults-only sanctuary to a space open only to suite passengers. Wonderland and Michael's have morphed into venues that feature primarily Chinese flavours. And while Windjammer remains a buffet with some international selections, it's primarily a Chinese experience. If you don't like Asian food, you will be disappointed on this ship.
Programming also changed. While Quantum of the Seas still sells cruises to English speakers -- as many as 2,000 Australian, Americans, Canadians and Brits were on the seven-night itinerary before ours -- the ship's passengers are almost entirely Chinese on the majority of the short sailings that the vessel makes to Japan. (On our four-night cruise to Kagoshima, we only met four other Americans onboard). Few activities were offered in English and English-language excursions were cancelled because there weren't enough people. The Broadway musical "Mamma Mia" has been pushed out for "Sequins and Feathers," a retro Las Vegas-style revue that plays more like a sexist caricature.
Additionally, some of the ship's coolest features that are free on other Royal Caribbean ships, such as the North Star and iFly by Ripcord skydiving simulator, carry a fee here.
Despite the changes, the technology and design that made Quantum of the Seas such a game-changer still delight. The robot bartenders still sling drinks at the Bionic Bar. The artwork, such as the breathtaking "Waves of Light," a gorgeous free-form mirror and glass sculpture, still dazzles; Chinese passengers snap selfies of themselves continually around the ship, dressing up to do so.
There are some unavoidable headaches that come from taking a cruise out of China. Embarkation, for one, is a longer process, as China requires more paperwork to leave the country than cruisers might be used to. If you have status with Royal Caribbean, look for those queues, as well as English-speakers who can help you; once we found the right people, we were brought to the front of the line. Arriving into Japan from China was also a headache, as the government required an in-person inspection of everyone onboard. While debarkation was a breeze -- the line for foreigners being so short -- the Baoshan port lacks signage that point you to the right taxi. There's not much Royal Caribbean can do to speed up the red tape, but it's something that cruisers should be aware of.
Still, it's possible -- and indeed probable -- to have a great time on Quantum of the Seas, even if you don't speak Chinese. Western habits, such as sunbathing and late dining, are not common in China so you'll have the outdoor pool and whirlpools to yourself all day and many restaurants too, if you dine after 7 p.m. The bars were also empty, while the shops stayed open late; if you avoided the Royal Promenade and the shop-till-you-drop action going on there until late, you'd think you were on a ship by yourself. And the crew was outstanding -- everywhere we went, we were greeted by happy hellos and special touches, from the bartender at Vintages who ran the wine tasting for only three of us to the dining staff who brought us a cheese plate unasked, to our room steward who greeted us enthusiastically every time he saw us. Service was personal and quick, and we felt pampered.
We also felt that many of the negative comments we had read about Chinese passenger behaviour were overstated. Yes, elevators can get packed. Yes, you might witness loud arguments with staff (as we did when a woman's son was too small to go on the North Star). Yes, you'll see a lot of people taking selfies; cruising is still new to the Chinese and many of the features of the ship that seem obvious to regular cruisers are outright novelties. And as one of the few Caucasian females onboard, we did receive some stares, including a few that veered into uncomfortable territory. But Royal Caribbean has taken steps to ensure order, from placing queue barriers at popular stations at Windjammer and restaurant entrances to literally herding passengers directly to sinks to wash their hands before meals. Staff are also firm in directing people where to sit at shows and where to stand at the shops. Smoking outside designated areas and spitting are discouraged (and we didn't see any of the latter).
Quantum of the Seas remains audacious, employing bold features (mostly successfully) designed to appeal to the modern cruiser who expects the creature comforts and whizbang elements available on land. Passengers of all ages will find plenty to love onboard. For Western cruisers, we suggest that you stick to itineraries of a week or longer so you have more English-language activity and excursion choices. Above all, come with an open mind and the ability to be flexible.
During the day, virtually anything goes. Because they aren't really sunbathers and don't spend much time at the pool, many Chinese passengers were more dressed up during the day than you'd expect, particularly the older generation. It was fairly common to see people in pantsuits and dresses, walking around the interior of the ship (and we were told that the dress tends to be even more formal on a longer cruise, when more affluent Chinese are onboard). Chinese Gen Xers, Millennials and their children adhered to the more shorts and T-shirt casual vibe that you'd expect.
In the evening, it's a mixed bag. Younger Chinese dress up to go to Music Hall, wearing cute dresses and carrying designer purses. The older generation wear the same clothes to dinner that they had on during the day. There's one formal night during the cruise, but it tends to be limited to the first seating.
Unlike the line's other mega-ships, Quantum of the Seas no longer has a Broadway show in its Royal Theatre. Instead, the entertainment is more like you'd find on an older ship, with shows like "Sequins and Feathers," a retro Las Vegas-style revue that we found fairly appalling in its sexist caricatures. We did enjoy the performances of Funny Bones, a physical comedy duo that somehow managed to be amusing to everyone, regardless of nationality.
The ship also has "Sonic Odyssey," created by 2013 "America's Got Talent" contestant William Close. At the heart of the show is the Earth Harp, with strings that stretch from the back of the theatre to the stage, as well as a 136-Drum Wall, a Vocal Percussion Jacket and Violin Dress. The result is ethereal music, which, when combined with singers, dancers, aerialists and gymnasts, transports you to another world. It received applause from Western and Asian passengers alike.
Quantum of the Seas has a host of daily activities, with options for both Chinese and Western guests. Your Daily Planner will tell you which trivia sessions or events are in what language. If there are only a few English speakers onboard, though, expect the English-language activity to be cancelled.
The massive SeaPlex, which should be your first stop for recreation, is an impressively sized indoor complex with a large basketball court/roller skating rink/bumper car arena. During the day, the space is used primarily for sports fun like basketball and soccer, but the bumper cars are brought out for a few hours, too. "SeaPods," essentially small rooms for socializing, surround the main court, where gamers can play Xbox with one another or with players around the world.
On select days, circus school is open for adults and kids alike. Learn how to juggle and clown around, or dare to hit the wires with trapeze classes. The minimum age for the trapeze school is 6 years old.
There is as much to do at night as there is during the day, with the popularity of different venues depending entirely on your cultural tastes. Shows that Westerners might love, such as a virtual reality concert in Two70 by Santa Fe & the Big Horn Band, had Chinese passengers streaming for the door. Likewise, Chinese packed Bolero's to dance along to a live band singing adapted versions of country music and American oldies that seemed incongruous to Americans (Elvis as a cha-cha, anyone?). And international party music -- think the Black-Eyed Peas and Rihanna -- drew the Chinese millennials into the Music Hall for late-night dancing.
At night, the SeaPlex transforms into a funky roller skating rink with a floating DJ booth and disco lighting.
The bottom line is that everyone can have fun, no matter what their nationality.
Casino Royale (Deck 3): The Casino is a major hotspot on Quantum of the Seas, and you'll find it far more packed than on other Royal Caribbean ships. Gamblers will find slot machines and table games in Casino Royale, hidden down on Deck 3, where it occupies a large section midship. It's decorated in bright red, gold, black and white, with punches of animal print. It's also got some seating areas with plush chairs, sofas and tables near entrances. Beware: It can get quite smoky down there, as it's one of the few places inside the ship you can smoke. It does have a small nonsmoking section, but smoke from the casino tends to seep into that area, as well.
Music Hall (Decks 3 and 4): Outfitted in burgundy red and black, the double-height Music Hall hosts activities during the day, such as Chinese Celebrity Talking Heads, and a variety of bands at night, mostly party and dance music. In front of the stage is a large dance floor, which is always full once the sun goes down. Stairs lead to the upper level, where you can look down on the band and the dancers or find a quieter area for a late-night drink.
You'll also find karaoke there during certain times of the day. Or just relax with a beer and a game of pool.
Two70 (Decks 5, 6 and 7): This space at the back of the ship is the piece de resistance of the much-touted advanced technology that Royal has installed onboard Quantum and is, in fact, unique to the world of cruising. Two70 has vast windows at the rear, a bar at one side, a stage area with seating in a wide semicircle and more seating on the upper level. During the day, it's part cafe, part activity space. But at night, it transforms into something more akin to Vegas.
You can't miss the "wows." The first you'll notice is the transformation of the windows at the back into Vistarama; the floor-to-ceiling glass walls transform into a vast ambient surface more than 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall. There, any scene, real or imagined, is projected in ultra-HD. Vistarama's resolution is nearly twice that of any IMAX cinema and can't be seen anywhere else in the world. When there isn't officially a show going on, the screen serves as a backdrop for the room, showing various animations, such as a Zeppelin balloon, a giant musical fish tank and a large red curtain pulled apart to reveal a stage. It's mind-blowing, but it's just the start.
Six robotic screens or "roboscreens," which are fixed to a gantry above and to the right of the stage, really push the innovation envelope. Each is fixed to a robotic arm that -- according to the tech wizards behind them -- is programmed with as many movements as a human arm, calibrated to within a thousandth of a millimetre so they all can move in sync or independently of one another. While they move, they are screening fantastical images onto their ultra-HD screens or interacting with the dancers.
During the day, the space is used for a variety of activities, from line dancing lessons to afternoon dance parties.
On most nights, the sensory feast for the eyes and ears known as "Starwater" is offered twice. Part new age, part aerial acrobatics and all mind-blowing, "Starwater" combines singing, dancing and aerial work with stunning digital imagery on the massive HD screens. Sight lines aren't perfect throughout the space, and cool couch seating during the day becomes natural obstruction at night; Quantum of the Seas has monetized the process and if you want better seats, you'll have to pay an extra $29 for priority seating. Also, if you don't want to be involved in the show, sit in the balcony. If you sit on the lower level, you might end up face to face with a staring singer or dancing with an acrobat.
Chinese passengers are not big drinkers, and you'll find passengers more apt to be sleeping in some of the bars, such as Vintages or Schooners, than drinking. This changes, of course, when more international passengers are onboard.
Boleros (Deck 4): A happening night spot, Boleros features live music and a dance floor that's usually packed, although the music isn't the Latin style that you'd find in this bar on other Royal Caribbean ships. On our cruise, the main band here played unusual versions of Western songs, to the delight of the Chinese and the confusion of the Americans.
Schooner Bar (Deck 5): Fans of Royal Caribbean might call this the line's signature bar, as it's a favourite gathering spot on virtually every ship. Here it's decidedly less popular with the Chinese, but still draws in Westerners on longer cruises. The Schooner Bar features dark wood, marble and a nautical feel, thanks to decorative rope netting. It's also the ship's piano bar during international sailings; passengers can sit around a grand piano (thanks to the conveniently piano-shaped bar surrounding it), make requests of the piano player and sing along to favourites. On other sailings, a classical music duo plays.
Bionic Bar (Deck 5): Mark this on your list of spots worth visiting once; the Chinese passengers used it primarily as a background for selfies. Most passengers just call it the "robot bar" because it features two robot bartenders that mix drinks via orders from passengers made on tablets. A digital display shows the wait times for drinks, who has ordered what and which ingredients go in each cocktail. It's a lot of fun to watch, but it's really more of a novelty. Wait times for drinks get long quickly, and the space itself doesn't feel like a bar; it is more a walkway that runs along the side of the Esplanade. When the bar is crowded, it's difficult for passengers to cut through. Only passengers 21 or older can order drinks -- SeaPass cards, which are linked to your profile, are required to order -- but kids will get a kick out of the robots at work.
Vintages Wine Bar (Deck 5): At Vintages, passengers can sip their favourite wines while snacking on treats from an abbreviated menu from the adjacent Jamie's Italian. Five appetizers are offered; each is $5. Wine tastings are also held here periodically for $15.
Sky Bar and Pool Bar (Deck 14): The Sky Bar functions as the outdoor pool bar. There, you'll find a small bar with limited seating. The Pool Bar serves the same function for the adjacent covered pool area.
North Star Bar (Deck 15): In good weather, this is a surprisingly popular spot, mostly because it offers a covered bar and has great views of the North Star as it rises and returns to the ship. It also overlooks the lido deck, so you can tune into the action below without actually participating.
There are three main pools, all on Deck 14 -- an outdoor pool, another beneath a retractable roof and a third (tiered) pool in the suite-only Solarium. There are lots of lounge chairs for soaking up the sun, as well as comfy wicker couches in the shade. Near the main pool, you can grab a cool treat from two soft-serve ice cream machines. Four hot tubs are available.
One nice thing about sailing on Quantum of the Seas is that Chinese passengers are not big sunbathers. This means you can almost always get a deck chair at the outdoor pool, and there's no fear of chair hogs. You'll likely have the hot tubs all to yourself.
Toward the aft of the main pool deck area on Deck 14, you'll find the H2O Zone, dedicated to families with young children. It's not completely separate; it's more an adjunct to the main pools, with a wave pool for youngsters (complete with various Madagascar figures, such as the Penguins and Gloria the hippo). Besides that, there's a little splash pool for babies. There are also kid-size deck chairs, which we're pretty sure is a cruise industry first. (How cool is that?)
On Quantum, the Solarium space is just for suite passengers; the ship doesn't have any adult-only areas. The space has three tiers of pools spilling over into the next, with forward-facing ocean views, hot tub space and an air of serenity. It's not an area that's widely used by the Chinese.
All of the pools on Quantum of the Seas have lifeguards. Complimentary swim vests are available in three sizes for children ages 4 to 12.
Adrenaline junkies should head straight to the back of Deck 16 for iFly by RipCord, a skydiving simulator. Unlike Quantum's sister ships, iFly by RipCord has a charge of $29. You also need reservations for iFly, as it's incredibly popular. Don't be afraid though; it's really a blast to try out, and if you don't like it, you never have to do it again. (Be prepared for a little muscle soreness the next day; you'll find you probably clenched and worked muscles in new ways.) Nearby is the FlowRider surf simulator, as well as a rock-climbing wall.
One of the unique activities to try out is North Star, a jewel-shaped glass globe that rises 300 feet above sea level and provides 360-degree views from high above the ship. Though North Star is open while the ship is in port, we recommend waiting until it's at sea, as that's the only time crew are permitted to manoeuvre the pod out over the water. In port, you'll likely be restricted to a straight up-and-back ride. North Star carries a charge on this ship too, of $20.
If you cancel iFly or North Star appointments less than 12 hours in advance, you'll be charged a $25 no-show fee.
If you want to grab some rays, head up to Deck 15. There, you'll find loungers surrounding the jogging track but little shade.
An exclusive sun deck for suite passengers is located on Deck 16, just forward of the SeaPlex's upper level.
Guest services is in a small, recessed area across from Boleros on Deck 4. For passengers needing help booking restaurants, shows and activities like circus school and iFly, there are several Royal iQ tablets in the area, as well. A crew member is nearby at all times to assist passengers with making their bookings on the tablets.
The library/game room is tucked away on the second level of Two70 on Deck 5. (Note that entry to Two70 is from Deck 4.) Bookcases line the walls with fiction and nonfiction titles for adults, plus there's a small children's and young adult section. There's a decent amount of English-language books, as well as Chinese tomes. Passengers are asked to note which books they've borrowed on a sign-out sheet and sign them back in upon return; the books are electronically marked so they will beep if you take them off the ship.
Games available include checkers, cribbage and decks of cards. Comfortable armchairs and a handful of tables for playing games are all located in the same area, so it might not be the best place for quiet reading.
Wi-Fi through Voom remains among the fastest at sea; we had a strong signal in our cabin and throughout the ship. Packages depend on how many devices you want to connect. Costs begin at $18 per day for one device, $33 per day for two devices and $45 per day for three devices.
The Photo Gallery on Deck 5 is completely digital. Just pick a computer station to view, and order your photos. Quantum of the Seas uses face-recognition software so after the ship's photographers snap pics, they're digitally assigned to the right passenger. When you scan your SeaPass card, your photos will come up. You can purchase prints or digital copies. You can also purchase cameras there.
The Next Cruise future booking desk is also on Deck 5, near the main elevator bank. Across the way is the Shore Excursions space. Passengers can browse and book excursions on tablets and computer stations; there are no paper brochures.
Shopping is a major activity for Chinese passengers on Quantum of the Seas, and the retail shops on the lower and upper Esplanade on Decks 4 and 5 are jumping all the time, day and night. The shopping mania may be confusing, but it stems from the Chinese having large extended families, with members who are all owed a gift from an international trip. To not bring gifts back would incur loss of face, so particularly on a short cruise, the race for shopping can seem intense.
High-end boutiques include Regalia Fine Jewelry, Regalia Luxury Watches, Bulgari, Prince & Greene, Sundials, Michael Kors, Coach, Tiffany & Co., Burberry, Bally and Salvatore Ferragamo. Flash sales on the floor are virtually scrums; if you hate crowds, avoid the entire area.
Don't miss the duty-free beauty shops, where you can browse cult Korean skincare brands such as Dr. Jart, TonyMoly and Missha, as well as high-priced international beauty lines such as La Prairie. We picked up popular "K-Beauty" items like snail secretion face sheet masks, colour correcting powders and BB creams for a fraction of what we'd pay in the United States. An overseas pharmacy where Chinese could buy Japanese products also did brisk business.
If you've forgotten your sunscreen, you can stop by Sea Trek by the main pool for a choice of sun-related products.
For all things branded Royal Caribbean or Quantum of the Seas, The Shop is the place to spend your dollars. You'll find duty-free liquor and cigarettes next door at Port Merchants.
The art gallery is next to Two70.
The Vitality Spa, located on Deck 15, is a peaceful respite on an otherwise busy ship. Decorated in natural tones of light browns and shades of purple, rose and cranberry, the spa has 22 treatment rooms, including two for couples. Before their chosen treatments, passengers wait in the relaxation room in plush armchairs; free water and tea are available. The spa offers a variety of massages, facials and body treatments, while the salon provides hairstyling, manicures and pedicures. Acupuncture and teeth whitening also are available. An 18 percent auto-gratuity is added to all treatments.
The spa's thermal suite is small, with just six heated ceramic loungers, a steam sauna and a dry heat sauna. Only 30 day passes are available on any given day, but these never sell out on primarily Chinese voyages; pricing is $18 per day with a service charge. Weekly passes also are sold. There are no free steam rooms in the changing areas.
Quantum of the Seas has one of the largest and best-equipped fitness facilities at sea. The variety of fitness equipment would make even land-based gyms jealous. Treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes are positioned window-side, so great views come standard. In addition to weight machines, free weights are available, including dumbbells (up to 90 pounds) and machines that use weight plates. A small stretching area is available, adjacent to a spacious aerobics studio where classes like TRX ($20 per session) take place, however on our cruise, we didn't see any classes given. Spinning fans will love the cycling studio, designed for indoor cycling ($20 per class).
Passengers will find a two-lane jogging track on Deck 15. Wall paintings with inspirational quotes -- a la "it's only a crowd if you're in the back" -- encourage runners. Fewer than three laps make a mile (so you won't feel like you're running in circles), and signs around the deck indicate the starting line, as well as the 5-kilometre and 10-kilometre marks. It also includes a small incline (or decline, depending on your perspective) at the front of the ship, where the track goes by the spa. Your biggest problem using the track for running or walking is dodging the Chinese selfie-takers, who cram the top deck for the best photo.
Quantum of the Seas Restaurants
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As Quantum of the Seas has figured out the likes and dislikes of its Chinese base, the onboard offerings have changed. Gone is Johnny Rockets, replaced by a noodle bar. Likewise, the usual Michael's Pub is now the Harp & Horn, which -- despite its British name -- offers Chinese bar food favourites like whole grilled fish and chicken feet. The Solarium Bistro has become the Hot Pot and the signature restaurant Wonderland is now called Da Dong Wonderland, offering a nine-course gourmet meal from a Michelin-starred Chinese chef.
Asian food does dominate on Quantum of the Seas, particularly in the Windjammer Buffet, and there aren't that many options for those who don't like those flavours. The quality in the complimentary restaurants was a tad better than what we've seen elsewhere on Royal Caribbean; still, foodies will want to pay extra for better meals. Westerners excited to eat Chinese food on the ship may be disappointed in the spice and flavour levels of the complimentary venues; we found ourselves reaching for the chilli sauce to amp things up a notch.
Be aware that Chinese dining habits are slightly different from what you might be used to. Most passengers on our cruise ate early, preferring to get there as soon as the venue opened (lines for the main dining rooms began forming 15 minutes before they opened). If you dislike crowds and want a more leisurely service, go on the late side. Many Chinese also like to order almost immediately, without taking time for drinks or perusing the menu; you might also be surprised at the abrupt tone some passengers take with waiters in the main dining room.
The dress code is fairly casual, though shorts aren't permitted. One thing we appreciated were the constant reminders for handwashing and hygiene. A sink has been built at the entrance of Windjammers and passengers are funnelled there by an attendant. Customs do differ in China, and so we recommend that you use hand sanitiser frequently and open restroom doors with a paper towel.
Royal Caribbean fans will be happy to see favourites such as pizza at Sorrento's and pastries at Cafe Promenade. Chops and Jamie's are also onboard and provide a welcome change from Asian food.
Passengers looking for a little higher-end experience or wanting to try something completely new have several additional-fee options. Overall, the quality of food at the upcharge restaurants is better than you'll get at the included restaurants. Reservations are recommended for all sit-down fee dining, although the Western restaurants have more availability than the Asian ones.
If you expect to dine at a number of the sit-down alternative restaurants, you can save some money by booking online ahead of your cruise. If you book three restaurants, you get a 20 percent discount, four gets you a 25 percent break and five reservations will save you 30 percent. Packages onboard will also save you money. All speciality restaurant prices incur an additional 18 percent charge for gratuity.
All restaurants, free or fee, can accommodate dietary restrictions. Waiters asked us when we sat down about restrictions and requests; once such notes are made, all waiters at all restaurants have access to that information and can ensure your dietary needs are met.
Main Dining Rooms (Grande, American Icon, Chic and Silk): All of the main dining rooms serve the same menu, which rotates nightly. While reservations are not required, they are recommended for dinner; there are two seatings: early between 5 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. and late from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Most Asian passengers prefer the earlier seating and crowds often line up 15 minutes before the dining room opens.
In general, the dining room managers try to seat international passengers together or in the same section if possible. At one meal, a hostess offered to sit us in a dining room all by ourselves so it wouldn't be noisy. You can make dining reservations ahead of your cruise online on the Royal Caribbean site or through your travel agent, or you can make them once you get onboard via the ship's Royal iQ service.
All menus are pictorial and have two sides featuring two different cuisines. One of them might not necessarily be Western -- we ate dinner in Chic twice and once Sichuan and Western dishes were features, but the second night it was Southeast Asian and Japanese. There's not as many choices as you might find on other Royal Caribbean ships: four appetizers and three entrees are offered on both menus, along with two desserts. There's no always available option. You can order from both sides of the menu to mix and match.
A sample breakfast menu has a Shanghainese option (deep-fried Chinese croissant rice shumai, salted eggs and hot soybean milk); herbal Chinese chicken soup; Cantonese beef noodle soup; and congee for Asian passengers. The always-available Western menu has pancakes, waffles, eggs any way you want and omelettes. Breakfast is only available in The Grande and Chic.
At lunch, choose your starter from cilantro fish soup, grilled chicken Caesar salad and fried calamari salad. Entrees might be stir-fried potato noodles with chicken, catch of the day in a buerre blanc sauce, a toasted steak sandwich or tomato seafood risotto. Desserts might be a white chocolate orange flan or brazo de mercedes, a meringue dish. Lunch is served in The Grande and Chic, but only on sea days.
A sample Western dinner menu might include baby shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, Idaho potato pancakes and New England clam chowder for appetizers; and prime rib, barbecue pork ribs and macaroni and cheese for entrees. The Asian menu might start with fried tofu and bamboo salad, koushui chicken and hot and sour soup with shrimp as starters. Main dishes could be braised chicken with chilli and black bean, steamed filet of fish with Sichuan sauce; stir-fried beef with tangy garlic sauce, fried eggplant with hot garlic sauce and stir-fried spicy noodles with seafood. White rice is available on request. Both desserts were Western: Key lime pie and a brownie, both topped with ice cream.
The main dining room also has premium seafood selections that you can order for an extra cost, as well as filet mignon from Chops ($16.95). A three-tiered seafood basket ($101.69) is a show-stopper, but you can also order Maine lobster ($29.66), surf and turf ($34.95) and a seafood plate ($33.90). These dishes come with an 18 percent gratuity charge.
On our short cruise, we ate in Chic twice around 7 p.m. The room was not crowded, and the service we received from our waiters was excellent -- in fact, both the food and service we experienced on Quantum of the Seas in the dining room was better than we've had on other Royal Caribbean ships. We requested our prime rib medium-rare, which is an unusual preparation in China. It came out exactly as we ordered, and was flavorful. Our waiter also noted our wine, and brought us a cheese plate to go with it, unasked -- a nice touch.
Quantum's main dining room has a wide and varied wine list, with prices that are in line with what you'd pay in a restaurant in the United States. Not many Chinese order drinks or wine with dinner, however, and we found that we were unable to actually get the bottle we wanted. We had bought a bottle of wine in Vintages during a wine tasting (for a 20 percent discount) and were able to drink it in the main dining room without incurring a corkage fee.
Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 14): The Windjammer buffet features stations, rather than a cafeteria-style line, offering a range of dishes for breakfast (7 to 10:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), dinner (5:30 to 8:30 p.m.) and late-night snacks (11 p.m. to 1 a.m.). It's been modified for Asian tastes and foods familiar to the Chinese dominate with two large Chinese main dish stations and four noodle stations where you can build your own bowl with either egg or glass noodles (at breakfast, these noodle stations are changed to congee). Other stations are geared to menu themes -- salads, fresh fruits, light bites and bakery. There are a few Western items but the choice isn't plentiful. There is an omelette station in the morning.
The venue itself is sleek and well designed with plenty of tables for two, as well as communal seating. Even better: There's a small alfresco dining area off the Windjammer's aft. The space can get extremely chaotic during main dining hours, but Quantum has done a good job at ensuing order by placing various barriers to force passengers to queue.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 4): Another of Royal Caribbean's signature spots for casual snacks, the Cafe Promenade on Quantum is located across from the Harp & the Horn and in between Sorrento's and Quantum's souvenir shop for all things Royal-branded. Here you'll find a selection of freshly brewed roasted coffee and fluffy pastries. You can also order sandwiches at lunchtime. It's open 6:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Sorrento's (Deck 4): A consistently popular Royal Promenade signature eatery, Sorrento's Pizzeria, located right next to the Harp & the Horn, offers free slices during lunch, dinner and late-night. They've got all the usual suspects -- cheese, meat, vegetables -- or you can have them whip up a custom-ordered pie, including gluten-free pizza. There's lots of seating, and the area fills up. It's also the perfect spot to refill your soda cup if you've purchased a soda package. It's open 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.
The Cafe @ Two70 (Deck 5): Tucked behind entertainment space Two70, this cafe is always busy at mealtimes. It serves a mix of Chinese and Western small bites, such as sandwiches or soups; there's also delicious roast beef at lunch. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. and includes continental items like muffins, bagels and fruit, as well as breakfast burritos; there's a congee bar too. The cafe reopens for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m.
Coastal Kitchen (Deck 14): Coastal Kitchen, though free, is available to suite passengers and Gold Card holders only. For breakfast (7:30 to 9:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.), only those passengers in Grand Suites and higher can dine there. At dinner (5:30 to 9:30 p.m.), it's open to passengers staying in Junior Suites and higher; Gold Card holders can eat at both. The menu is a variation of what's served in the main dining rooms. The room is light and airy, though there is a rather unusual set of high tables connected to those at normal height. You end up looking down on your fellow diners, which makes for a slightly uncomfortable conversation.
SeaPlex Dog House (Deck 15): This food truck at sea, located in the SeaPlex, offers a variety of gourmet hot dogs, including a classic Coney Island frankfurter and chicken hot dog made with apples; for the Chinese, you can also have a Taiwanese sausage. Condiments include mayonnaise, relish and ketchup -- if you want mustard, you'll have to ask. It's open noon to 6 p.m.
Harp & Horn Pub (Deck 4); a la carte pricing: Replacing Michael Schwartz's gastropub, the Harp & the Horn may have a British name, but the bar food it serves is centred around Chinese favourites. The signature dish is a whole grilled fish for $40 and passengers love it; we saw it ordered at nearly every table on our cruise. You can also get bar bites such as duck and vegetable spring rolls, chicken feet and chicken wings, as well as Western fare like a burger and fries. (Note: The chef will only cook your burger well done, which may be off-putting.) Prices range from $5 for the snacks to $10 for the burger platter or pepper tiger prawns. The decor is pub comfy, with an Asian twist: lots of dark woods, deep booths and brass finishings augmented by red Chinese lanterns. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
La Patisserie (Deck 4); a la carte pricing: Get your chocolate and caffeine fix there. You'll find a delicious assortment of bonbons and truffles, along with Danishes, cookies and cakes, priced by the piece. This is also the only place on the ship to get Starbucks coffee, espresso and cappuccino.
Jamie's Italian by Jamie Oliver (Deck 5); $35 for lunch and dinner: This first-at-sea outpost by U.K.-based restaurateur Jamie Oliver is located in a prime spot on the upper Esplanade and is largely open with plenty of natural light; there's even outdoor seating for alfresco dining. Dark-wood tables and chairs and strings of garlic and cured meats hanging from the ceiling lend the eatery much of its Italian trattoria feel. Jamie's Italian offers a full menu of delicious Italian staples, many with a unique twist, like crab and avocado bruschetta. Of course, you'll also find more traditional items, including penne pomodoro, linguine with prawns and eggplant parmigiana. Don't skip the meat or vegetarian planks (literally, planks of wood with taster items placed on top). All pastas (including a gluten-free option) are made from scratch on the ship. Lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner (5:30 to 9:30 p.m.) menus are nearly identical, with a handful more options on the dinner menu. Don't worry about reservations; Jamie's is not popular with the Chinese passengers -- to the extent where there's a special that allows kids to eat for free.
Da Dong Wonderland (Deck 5); $75: On Quantum, Royal Caribbean switched up the innovation of Wonderland by turning it into a culinary playground for Chinese celebrity chef Dong Zhenxiang, known as Da Dong. The decor is a nod to Alice in Wonderland and her trip down the rabbit hole; it's all a little off-kilter but in a pleasing way. Oversized keys hang from the ceiling, chairs are mismatched, and blown-glass lighting is as artistic as it is functional. The menu itself is a nine-course set meal that's heavy on seafood. On our sailing, dishes served ranged from geoduck clam fillets to cuttlefish soup with black truffle sauce and shredded bean curd to slow-cooked lobster on saffron risotto with black vinegar pears. Da Dong's signature roast duck also appears as a course; Da Dong's roast duck restaurants in China have been awarded Michelin stars and he recently expanded to New York City. Da Dong Wonderland is open for lunch on sea days from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Plan for a meal that will be slow; several hours for dinner is normal. Make reservations ahead of time; the restaurant was fully booked before we boarded the ship.
Izumi Japanese Cuisine (Deck 5); a la carte pricing: Located on the Upper Esplanade, Izumioffers a pan-Asian menu, though the bulk of the items are Japanese. Prices range from $6 for a seaweed wakame salad and $11 for a shrimp and chicken udon noodle dish to as much as $45 for chef's selected sashimi combo platter. Sushi is about $12 for rolls. Sashimi is sold in two-piece ($5) or five-piece ($10) portions. Izumi also has a premium Kobe beef dinner, where you receive a Kobe beef steak, koshihikari rice, miso soup, cabbage salad, seaweed salad and Japanese pickles; its $120 for two people. Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and for dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Chops Grille (Deck 5); $35: This popular Royal Caribbean mainstay keeps the standards, such as filet mignon, lamb chops and New York strips, and adds extra-premium items, including premium seafood towers costing $19 and $39, depending on size. Other options include veal Parmesan, slow-braised short rib of beef, roasted chicken, grilled branzino, snapper Veracruz, crusted tuna and spicy jumbo shrimp. Dark furnishings, low lighting and attentive but not obtrusive service make for a sublime dining experience. Chops Grille is only open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Chef's Table (in Chops Grille, Deck 5); $95: Chef's Table, which is offered every night of the cruise, provides passengers a menu of six courses, each paired with appropriate wines. Menus vary each night depending on what the chef is inspired to create. The dinner takes three hours. Chef's Table accommodates 12 to 16 people, and if there aren't enough reservations to fill a table, the dinner could be cancelled.
Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop (Deck 14); a la carte pricing: This cute dim sum addition on the pool deck ended up having some of the tastiest Chinese food onboard. Themed after the DreamWorks character, the sit-down venue offers small bites like shrimp har gao, pork shumai and vegetable spring rolls for $4, barbecue and buffalo chicken wings for $6 and larger plates such as fried rice and chow mein ($5), kung pao chicken and beef chow fun ($6) and main dish noodle bowls ($7). Everything is made fresh to order and our kung pao chicken had the only real spice we tasted onboard. The Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop will mostly be rebranded when Royal Caribbean brings its partnership with DreamWorks to an end in April 2019.
Hot Pot at the Solarium Bistro (Deck 14); $32: On Royal Caribbean ships in Asia, the Solarium Bistro has been transformed into a hot pot restaurant. Diners are given a buffet choice of meats, seafood and vegetables, which they cook themselves at the table in a simmering pot of stock. Flavour is added via a variety of sauces that you can mix and match.
Room Service, a la carte: Room service is available 24 hours a day. While a continental breakfast is complimentary, American hot breakfast selections such as eggs and pancakes costs $7.95 plus an 18 percent gratuity.
From 11 a.m. to 6 a.m., you can order a variety of Western and Asian choices from room service at a la carte prices. Western foods include tomato soup, Greek salad, a hot dog, a wagyu beef Royal burger, a grilled cheese sandwich, grilled salmon, chicken fettuccine Alfredo and pizza. Asian options include chicken corn soup, cold noodle salad, white cabbage and pork dumplings, egg noodles, soy honey glazed chicken wings and fried rice.
Quantum of the Seas has 2,090 cabins, and 75 percent of them -- 1,570 staterooms -- have balconies. All of the ship's 373 interior staterooms sport "virtual balconies," essentially floor-to-ceiling flat-screen HDTVs that give passengers real-time views of what those with genuine balconies see. The remaining 147 cabins are ocean-view cabins. Thirty-four cabins are wheelchair accessible, and 28 cabins are studios designed for solo passengers.
In an era where cabin sizes generally are shrinking, Quantum bucks the trend: Most cabins are larger than the industry average, and balconies are sizable and comfortable. All cabins are decorated in tones of brown and blue, with bold but tasteful geometric patterns. Wood tones are alternately light and dark, and storage space is plentiful, with most cabins including large dressers with deep drawers, small cubby-style nightstands, wardrobes for hanging clothes and large over-bed cubbies.
Most cabins have king-sized beds that can be separated into two twin beds, and small sofas, most of which can be pulled out into sleepers. This is a great configuration for the Chinese passengers, who almost always travel as a family with their parents and children all in one room. Desks, which double as vanities, are standard, as well; they have white low-backed chairs that each feature a small handle attached to the back that makes the chair easy to pull out -- a thoughtful touch we just love. Three outlets (one European, two U.S.) grace the top of the desk, joined by two USB ports; another U.S. outlet is located bedside. Hair dryers, safes and refrigerated minibars are included in all rooms. Hair dryers are the kind that require you to hold the button down during use, so if that bugs you, bring your own instead. The small safes make for a tight squeeze, especially for full-sized tablets. All cabins have digital thermostats, energy-saving lighting (put your card into a slot to keep the lights on in your room) and soft-close draws to avoid slamming. We were impressed by the large flat-screen TVs in every cabin. Programming includes several Royal Caribbean channels that provide info about the ship and the cruise lines, the Cartoon Network, ESPN Caribbean and TNT. Movies are available on demand (for about $12 each!).
Bathrooms are compact but well designed, with glass-enclosed showers, sinks, small counters and narrow shelves for storage. A bottle of combo shampoo and conditioner is hung on the shower wall; you might want to bring your own. There's a bar of soap in the sink, but no shower gel or soap is in the shower, so here too, you'll want to bring your own.
For families, Quantum of the Seas has rethought cabins. The ship certainly offers plenty of the standard interconnecting doors and balconies, but it also offers different styles of family cabins -- from Junior Family Suites to the Royal Family Suites. All have been carefully thought through and include things like extra tubs and separate rooms to make it easier for families onboard.
Interior: All inside cabins have virtual balconies. The 80-inch HD screens create a surprisingly believable balcony view, complete with sound and railings. It makes for a pleasant backdrop and a fun conversation piece. Screens and volume can be shut off, but we love the ambient noise of the waves, as well as the subtle light they cast, as inside cabins typically get really dark. Interior cabins come in at 166 square feet. There are 18 interconnected inside cabins.
Oceanview: Ocean-view cabins run from 182 square feet for those on lower decks to 302 square feet for eight corner cabins, called Superior Ocean View staterooms, on Decks 8 through 11. Additionally, 36 front-facing Large Ocean View cabins (256 square feet) are located on Decks 8 through 10. The location of the Superior and Large ocean view cabins -- below the bridge -- is ideal, with fantastic views; you'll see virtually the same thing the captain sees. This kind of cabin is unique in the cruising world. Be aware, though, that cabins here employ some funky layouts. You might have a large support pole at the foot of your bed and a large porthole on a slanted, front-facing wall, for example.
Balcony: Balcony cabins are plentiful onboard. They generally fall into one of two categories: Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony (177 square feet with an 82-square-foot balcony) and Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony (198 square feet with balconies ranging from 55 to 119 square feet). Each balcony features two mesh chairs with two small ottomans and a stool-sized table that could accommodate a couple of cocktails. Booking cabins near midship will likely get you the biggest balconies, as, architecturally, this is where you'll find what Royal Caribbean's loyal cruisers lovingly call "The Hump": a spot where the ship gets wider, creating angled and oversized balconies. Be aware that there's a strong smoke smell in the hallways on Deck 6 forward, on the starboard side, which can leak into balcony cabins in the area. (The crew smoking area is nearby.)
Minisuite: Junior Suites with Balconies are available as part of the Family Connected Suite (see below) or on their own. These cabins are a spacious 276 square feet and include 161-square-foot balconies. They also have a sitting area that includes a couch, chair and small table. Bathrooms feature combo bathtub/shower arrangements. The ship also offers 46 Spa Junior Suites with Balconies, which are the least-expensive cabins in the Junior Suite category, probably because they are slightly smaller at 267 square feet; balconies are significantly smaller, at 81 square feet. Still, these feature a split-bath arrangement: A water closet with toilet and sink is separate from the shower and bath area. The shower has a rain showerhead, and there's a separate soaking tub. There's no tie-in (via discounts or exclusive access, for example) to the ship's spa, though. All Junior Suite passengers have access to the Coastal Kitchen restaurant for dinner.
Suite: There are seven categories of suites onboard (not including those designated as family suites). All suites have living rooms with sofas that convert into double beds. All suites come with access to the Concierge Lounge, exclusive access to the Coastal Kitchen restaurant for breakfast, priority check-in, reserved seating in the main theatre for shows, priority tender tickets, spa bathrobes for onboard use, free pressing service on formal nights and priority departure.
The smallest suite is the Grand Suite. At 351 square feet, this cabin features a master bedroom, living room with sofa, and one full bath with tub and two sinks. The large balcony (109 square feet) has room for two loungers and a small table with chairs for dining.
Identical, save for balcony size, is the Superior Grand Suite. The balcony in these suites is an impressive 259 square feet.
The Owner's Suite is 541 square feet and features a master bedroom with full bath, a living room with half-bath and more storage space (closets, drawers and cubbyholes) than you'll be able to fill. The master bathroom has a tub with water jets and two sinks.
The Sky Loft Suite is the smallest two-deck cabin (either 673 or 740 square feet). The master bedroom is on the upper level, along with a full bath with tub and dual sinks, and a walk-in closet; a living room with dining area and full bath with shower are on the lower level. The balcony is 183 square feet.
There are three variations of the Grand Loft Suite, all varying by size and number of balconies. All are two decks high with the master bedroom, a sitting desk area, full bath with shower and walk-in closet on the upper level. The lower level features a living room with sofa, a dining area and full bath with shower. Grand Loft Suites on Deck 8 (795 square feet) each have one balcony (216 square feet), while those on Deck 10 are either 696 square feet with three balconies totalling 361 square feet or 840 square feet with one 216-square-foot balcony.
The Owner's Loft Suite is a whopping 975 square feet and, like all loft suites, is two decks, with the master bedroom (king-sized bed) on the upper level. Also on the upper level is a writing desk area, a master bathroom with shower with dual showerheads and an enlarged walk-in closet. On the lower level, you'll find a large living room, separate dining area and split bath setup, one with toilet and sink and another with shower and sink. There's 501 square feet of balcony space spread over three balconies (one on the upper level), including one with a large table for dining alfresco.
The largest suite (there's only one) is the Royal Loft Suite. At 1,640 square feet, it dwarfs all other suite cabins. The master bedroom is on the upper level, with a master bath with oval bathtub and dual sinks; a shower with dual showerheads and a porthole looking out to sea is around the corner. The oversized walk-in closet is beyond belief. On the lower level is a living room with a large dining space. There's also a separate living room and a second bedroom with a full bath. There are three balconies, totalling 613 square feet. The largest of the three boasts a full-size hot tub and wet bar. One of the smaller balconies features a smaller two-person hot tub.
Family: To accommodate families, Royal Caribbean has introduced several options, including a few that essentially combine cabins (rather than strictly connecting them), creating suites that allow for family time, as well as some privacy.
There are 28 Family Junior Suites with Balconies coming in at 301 square feet with 81-square-foot-balconies. Slightly larger than the standard Junior Suite, Royal Caribbean claims this stateroom can sleep up to five people (two adults and three wee ones). In addition to the bed, there's a sofa that converts to a double bed, so you'd either need to squeeze three tykes in one bed or have two share with a baby in a porta-crib. Each Family Junior Suite includes a full bathroom with a tub, as well as a separate half-bath.
Each of the ship's four Royal Family Suites with Balconies comprises two bedrooms and two full bathrooms. Each master bedroom has a king bed, a private bathroom with tub and a separate dressing area. The second bedroom in each has two twin beds, two beds that drop down from the ceiling and a second bathroom with shower. The living area has a sofa that converts to a double bed, a coffee table and chairs. There is a fancy marble entrance hall and a fancy entertainment centre. These 543-square-foot suites each come with a 259-square-foot wraparound private balcony with seating area and private outdoor dining. The cabin sleeps up to eight, and a minimum of six is required for a booking.
Perhaps the most innovative cabin is the Family Connected Junior Suite with Balcony, which actually is three cabins combined: a junior suite, a studio cabin and an ocean view with balcony. The studio cabin is on the small side (101 square feet) but is ideal for kids. The cabins share a vestibule, thus making the whole area one big family suite; it's also suited for a large group of friends. Each cabin has its own full bath, while the balconies are also interconnecting. These types of cabins can theoretically sleep up to 10 people. Each of the 16 Family Connected Junior Suite cabins is 575 square feet (combined) with a 216-square-foot balcony (also combined). Each of the individual cabins can be booked separately or as a combination of two.
Studio: Quantum also has an impressive 28 studio cabins designed for solo travellers, including 12 with balconies -- something unheard of within the industry. Studio cabins range from 101 square feet (as part of the Family Connected Suite) to 119 square feet for a Super Studio Ocean View with Balcony; the latter feature 55-square-foot balconies. Studio cabins are a smart choice for those travelling by themselves, as cruise lines often require solo cruisers to pay a "single supplement fee," which can nearly double a cruise fare.