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Harmony of the Seas Review — From Play to Dining

Harmony of the Seas Perfect Storm water slides start on Deck 18 and empty onto Deck 15

Make no mistake about it: While every cruise ship is billed as an ocean-going resort, Harmony of the Seas is truly a floating resort. There is just too much to see and do, with fun distractions for almost all age groups. Indeed, I’m going to go so far as to say that I would not sail the Harmony for anything less than 10 days, and even then only if the itinerary were port intensive. Doing so will leave one far too little time to take advantage of even a fraction of what this Oasis Class resort has to offer. Fortunately, Ursula and I were on a 13-day (shortened from the original 14 days) from Barcelona to Port Canaveral, with only two stops along the way. So we got to pick and choose among the full measure of Harmony‘s offerings.

Zip lining on Deck 16 — nine stories above the Boardwalk

Yes, there is even a venue for zip-lining while suspended nine stories above the Boardwalk on Deck 6. But if miniature golf is more attune with your level of adventurism, then Harmony has you covered there as well with the Harmony Dunes Mini Golf course:

Harmony Dunes Mini Golf course

Between those levels of adrenalin, you have choices ranging from Surfing on one of two FlowRiders

Surfing one of the two FlowRiders on Deck 16

… to the Ultimate Abyss, a pair of dry slides that take you all the way from Deck 16 and dump you nine stories below onto the Boardwalk on Deck 6:

Entrance to the Ultimate Abyss dry slides on Deck 16 for a seven-story descent

Now let’s head on down to Deck 15 for a closer look at Harmony Dunes:

The nautically themed Harmony Dunes Mini Golf course

So, the Boardwalk neighborhood is located on Deck 6 aft. Meanwhile Central Park meanders through the central portion of Harmony on Deck 8. Below is a view from above of both Central Park and the balcony suites that overlook this neighborhood:

Central Park neighborhood on Harmony of the Seas

The Boardwalk resides to the rear on Deck 6, which also hosts a Johnny Rockets; antique carousel; Starbucks; Sabor for Mexican fare and tequilas; the Dog House for hotdogs, bratwursts, and fries; the Luckey Climber play area for adventurous children (with lots of safety nets); an arcade, and a couple of retail stores. Step inside from the Boardwalk and you’ll find one of our favorite watering holes on any Royal Caribbean ship, Schooner Bar, which overlooks the Royal Promenade on Deck 5.

On most Royal Caribbeans ships the Royal Promenade is the heart of social gathering and places to hang out. And while Central Park gives the promenade on Oasis Class ships a run for this title, the Royal Promenade on the Harmony still comes out on top. Here, from the bow, you can see Boleros Latin Club and the shore excursions desks:

Royal Promenade

Here you can get pizza by the slice or order a whole pizza to share at Sorrento’s:

Sorrento’s for pizza

And then there’s the sportscar/racing themed Boot & Bonnet Pub with both “indoor” and “outdoor” seating for some liquid refreshments:

Boot & Bonnet Pub

Speaking of sportscars, all Royal Caribbean ships have in their respective Royal Promenades a classic automobile over which you may drool. Harmony has one of my all-time favorites, a Jaguar XK120, and it appears to me that it’s an early production example — probably from around 1949-1950:

Early Jaguar XK120 — the forerunner of the XK series culminating in the E-Type of 1961

Well, time for dinner. And upscale dining on Harmony of the Seas means going up to Central Park. Here you’ll find Vintages wine bar, Jamie’s (as in Jamie Oliver) Italian, Chops Grille steakhouse (a staple of all Royal Caribbean ships), and 150 Central Park. I’m going to apologize right now, because I neglected to take my camera for by far the best meal we had, which was at 150 Central Park. So, instead, I’m going to review the second best meal of the voyage — Jamie’s Italian. After that I’ll give you a brief description of our meal at 150 Central Park, and what made that dining venue so fantastic.

Jamie’s Italian on Central Park, Harmony of the Seas

Now for restaurant reviews: Ursula and I were first introduced to a Jamie’s Italian during our back-to-back Alaska cruises beginning in late November (first of that series at: Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 1). We had no real interest in going to Jamie’s, but we ran into an old friend working aboard Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. That person is Slavio Correia, who handles Park West Gallery auction events on various cruises. We’ve knows Slavio for many years, and it was wonderful running into him again. At any rate, Slavio insisted upon taking us to dinner at the Jamie’s Italian on Ovation, which is his favorite dining venue, so we were ready to try it again on Harmony.

Jamie’s Italian in Central Park aboard Harmony of the Seas

We were familiar with the menu by now, buy you probably are not. So here it is:

Jamie’s Italian menu

One last look around the Harmony version of Jamie’s before we get to the food. Here you’ll find nice, homey touches, such as:

Jamie’s Italian decorative accessories

Ursula was eager for us to dive into the Our Famous Meat Plank, which she adorned from our previous experience aboard Ovation. This appetizer includes prosciutto, Tuscan fennel salad, various olives, focaccia, pecorino sardo topped with a chili jam, bocconcini mozzerella, coppa picante, a pistachio mortadella, and a tomato-topped crostini.

Our Famous Meat Plank appetizer

Appetizer Number Two was a favorite from our last Jamie’s encounter, the Crispy Squid served with a lemon-garlic mayonnaise. And while it was delicious, this example was a bit on the rubbery side and not quite as crisp as in the establishment aboard Ovation.

Crispy Squid — a bit of a disappoint this time ’round, but still delicious

For a change I decided upon trying Our Famous Prawn Linguine. Here the prawns nicely prepared, the pasta perfectly al dente, and the saffron-and-fennel infused tomatoes a nice, tasty touch.

Our Famous Prawn Linguine pasta dish

Ursula went with the Chianti-Braised Short Rib, which came with a Parmesan mash potato. This dish was a real winner, with the rib meat fork-tender and hearty.

Chianti-Braised Short Rib

We kept the sides simple and tasty. Ursula opted for truffle and Parmesan Posh Fries, while I got the more mundane parsley and garlic Funky Fries. The flavors were definitely up to snuff, but the fries themselves could have used more time in the frier. Or, better yet, a traditional European second trip to the frier to crisp up a bit more.

Funky Fries (left) and Posh Fries

And, for the pièce de résistance we finished up this meal with an incredible Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake. This is described in the dessert menu as, “Velvety mascarpone & lemon cheesecake topped with Italian meringue, served with lemon curd & blackcurrants.” And, yes, it was even better than it sounds or looks. It was stupendous.

Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake

Now for the dining highlight of our cruise (and, once again, my apologies for neglecting to bring my camera for this one): 150 Central Park. We opted for two entrées, a half portion of the Roasted Tenderloin Beef for Two (150’s version of Chateaubriand) and Lobster Thermidor. The appetizer was a delightfully prepared Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly with parsnip purée, apple and watermelon radish slaw, and a port wine reduction.

The staff at 150 were kind enough to halve the already half portion of tenderloin so that Ursula’s portion would come out bleu (raw in the middle) and mine made medium rare (warm pink center). This steak was, quite possibly, the single best piece of beef either of us has ever tasted. It met the clichéd cut-it-with-a-fork tender, and the flavor was absolutely divine.

Not to be outdone, the Lobster Thermidor presented us with tender chunks of cold-water lobster islands floating amidst a delectable cognac cream bearing just the right balance of tarragon and Parmesan. Neither flavor trumped the other, and the generous chunks of lobster shone through. Just as they should.

If you’re going to spring for only one additional-cost meal aboard an Oasis Class ship, 150 Central Park is it. Trust me on this. The fare is absolutely stunning.

Fun Photo Friday I’ll present my favorite shots of the magnificent Harmony of the Seas, and next week well see the start of another travel series.

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Circumnavigating New Zealand — Akaroa; Best Fish and Chips ever at Murphy’s on the Corner

Akaroa, New Zealand

Ursula had heard that Akaroa is the place to go for fish and chips, and we read up on several recommendations. Alas, we did not go with those, but instead found a place on our own. If we had taken the most recommended place we would have wound up eating lunch at Bully Hayes:

Bully Hayes Restaurant & Bar

But a quick look at the offerings on the plates served outside left us yearning for a place we found on our own about half an hour earlier, when we stopped at the Coronation Library to snag a Wi-Fi signal for a bit:

Wi-Fi at Coronation Library on Rue Jolie near Beach Road

Just two minutes’ walk south, on the corner of Church Street and Rue Jolie, we passed a mouthwatering little place that was packed, with people waiting to take one of the few tables available. So, we headed back and decided to give this place a try. This is Murphy’s on the Corner:

Murphy’s on the Corner

The menu appears to change daily, as does the fish used in their fish and chips:

Murphy’s daily menu

I must say that heading back to Murphy’s from Bully Hayes was a definite win. I used to live in England, and I’ve traveled all over both Scotland and Ireland. In none of those places, world-renowned for fish and chips, have either Ursula or I ever had an example with incredibly tasty with a batter this delightfully light and crispy:

Best fish and chips EVER ! ! !

But enough about lunch. Let’s finish today with another view of the town:

Akaroa, New Zealand


Filed under Photography, R. Doug Wicker, Restaurant Review, travel, vacation

Rarotonga, Cook Islands — Dining at Charlie’s and Trader Jacks

Me at Charlie’s

Today is a twofer — two Rarotonga, Cook Islands restaurant reviews. The first one on today’s menu (see what I did there?) is Charlie’s in the Takitumu District on the south side of Rarotonga. Charlie’s was easy to get to from our rental in the adjoining Muri District, about a fifteen-minute walk. Ursula read about this place before we arrived, and she told me that Charlie’s is famous for their fish sandwich. So, after seeing one walked by, we opted to split a sandwich and order of fries. A good thing, because it was massive! But first you have to go to the ordering window to place place your order:

Charlie’s ordering station

What you get when retrieve your order is an enormous amount of wonderfully fresh fries and a huge sandwich with a delightfully crisp fillet of fresh island fish. We included with our shared dinner a couple of Bundaberg ginger beers, which we fell in love with during a prior trip to Australia:

Charlie’s HUGE fish sandwich, fries, and our favorite ginger beer

Now, normally, a restaurant review wouldn’t be worth much with only one item in the review. But you’re in luck. We shared a table with a charming Australian couple who allowed me to photograph their dinners and who shared with me their impressions. First up is the New Zealand grilled rump steak with island vegetables, which smelled wonderful and was proclaimed by the diner a winner:

Charlie’s — New Zealand beef

Her husband opted for the fish platter, which didn’t look to me very appetizing. Apparently, our dining companion agreed. Good, but not great was his take.

Charlie’s Fish of the Day

One great thing everyone agreed upon were the sunset views from Charlie’s, which I showed you during last week’s Fun Photo Friday. An even more spectacular sunset from Charlie’s awaits you this Friday.

Sunset at Charlie’s Café

Now it’s off to Trader Jacks in Avarua, the largest town located on the island. It’s on the north shore of Rarotonga.

Trader Jacks in Avarua

This place was good enough to warrant two visits, so you’ll see four different meals reviewed here.

Ursula ready to chow down at Trader Jacks

Trader Jacks has two dining areas. One is inside, but what’s the fun in that?

Trader Jacks indoor dining

The other offers great views of surf, sand, and even the rusting remains from an old shipwreck dating back to 1916.

Trader Jacks covered outdoor dining

Wreck of the S.S. Matai (1916)

But we’re here for the food, starting with my fish and chips. Neither fish nor chip was anything to write home about, but they were passable. The fries were obviously of the frozen variety, and a quick conversation with the waitress confirmed that. They were good, but not great. The fish fillet was moist and tender, but when you fry up a piece of fish this thick it becomes difficult to achieve a crispy coating. If you do achieve it, it doesn’t last long.

Trader Jacks fish ‘n’ chips

Ursula’s seafood chowder was a better choice. She loved it, and I concur with her assessment. It was creamy, and chock-full of seafood and root vegetables. Accompanying this tasty chowder was a generous serving of buttered garlic toast.

Trader Jacks seafood chowder with garlic toast

Unfortunately, Trader Jacks does not serve our favorite Bundaberg, so we opted for a ginger beer from Schweppes. Again, okay, but not great.

Ginger beer

Two days after this visit we again found ourselves taking the local bus around the island back to Avarua. We’d already tried Muri Night Market a couple of times, so we decided to head back to Trader Jacks. Having learned my lesson on fish and chips, I opted this trip for the pizza. I was not disappointed. This particular one was their Traders Supreme, which came with pepperoni, Italian sausage, smoked ham, onion, capsicum, tomato, an olives. I ordered the pizza extra crisp, and that’s exactly what I received.

Trader Jacks “Traders Supreme” pizza

Ursula ordered this time a dish that is native to Rarotonga. It’s called ika mata, and it’s kind of the Cook Islands equivalent to poke, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the shared Polynesian ancestry of the early Hawaiian and Cook Island settlers. Trader Jacks‘ version is called Te Ika Mata, and it includes fresh raw island tuna marinated in lime juice from Mauke. This is topped off with coconut cream and fresh vegetables. Steamed taro root is served as a side.

Te Ika Mata — local tuna, lime juice, coconut cream, vegetables, served with taro

Next week this blog leaves behind the marvelous Cook Islands for Sydney, Australia, which is precisely what we did this past February. From Sydney we’ll be jumping aboard a cruise ship for a complete circumnavigation of the Australian continent, with a follow-on cruise around New Zealand. Hope to see you there!

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Filed under Photography, R. Doug Wicker, travel, vacation, Wine & Food