The PeguWife and I recently enjoyed a seven-night cruise aboard one of the largest cruise ships in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas. In general, we were highly satisfied with the excursion. The Captain was charming. The cruise director was entertaining. The service staff were committed and highly competent. The ship itself is an engineering and ergonomic marvel. The ports of call were meh, but hey, that was the itinerary we chose to sail. Were this a cruise review, it would be short and overwhelmingly positive. But this is a booze blog, so I will be focusing on the alcoholic beverage operation. Therefore, it will be crabby, long-winded, and focused mostly on a single detail that seems picky but is really important for a host of reasons.
These modern mega-cruisers feel much more like a floating midtown entertainment district than the cohesive ship that they actually are. The Harmony has over twenty different bars on board, each unique to a greater or lesser extent, and that does not include all the dining spaces where you can get a drink with your meal but cannot get stand-alone bar service. There is a rowdy Irish pub, a pizzeria bar, a jazz club, a nautical bar, a snooty wine bar, and more. There are also several generic ones, of course. The main pool bars might as well just be named Port and Starboard for instance. But I think every single bar on board has something about its menu or available booze selection that is different in some way. And of course the staff (the single most important element of any bar anywhere) varies from venue to venue. The vast majority of the bar staff are pleasant and competent, full stop. I ran into one or two that seemed painfully new, and therefore slow and/or erratic, which is par for the course anywhere. A couple actually knew their stuff. The main bartender on the Rising Tide (a ridiculously cool bar on an elevator in the central atrium of the ship where I enjoyed more killer Brandy Alexanders than was good for me) is one that I would hire at pretty much any bar, anywhere.
There is no lemon juice or lime juice to be had in any bar, in any drink on board the Harmony. Really? Not just no fresh lemon or lime juice on a ship floating around in the Caribbean Sea, but no bottled either. Just sitting and watching consciously all around you during this cruise will make you aware of the logistical prowess that Royal Caribbean employs so invisibly yet effectively. Other fresh or bottled ingredients are routinely employed in the bars aboard, but not lemon or lime. Ask for lime juice, and the better bartenders will say they don’t have it. The less experienced will wave the Rose’s at you in the honest belief that it is lime juice. Ask for lemon, and you get sour mix. There is simply no good reason not to include lemon and lime from the inventory of most if not all of the bars aboard ship. It is a bit like saying, “Eh, don’t bother with the phillips head in that tool box, you can just jam a flat-head in there and make it work.”
In a few select instances, such as the Caipirinha served in one bar aboard, the procedure is to muddle (an inadequate amount of) lime wedges from the garnish dish to get a splash of actual lime, but overall the effect of this logistical failing is that a lot of your drinks are a sad shadow of how good they ought to be. In many instances in real life, when I encounter a bar with no fresh juice on hand, I badger them into squeezing a la minute. But on board the Harmony, even the quiet bars are are so busy that I’d never be so heartless as to put that load on the bartender. Instead, I just suffer.
But, it gets worse.
Nearly every bar on the ship has a cocktail menu. Every one of those cocktail menus has multiple cocktails where the descriptions use the phrase “fresh lime juice” or “fresh lemon juice”. That’s just not cricket, Royal Caribbean! It is stupid and dishonest to use menus that describe a product in a way that you never have any intention of delivering. It infuriated me every time I encountered it. If there is one rule more important to me than “Do not shake my G-damned Manhattan”, it is “Do not lie to me about what is in my drink.”
Oh yeah, if you are not super specific, they will shake your Manhattan too. I’d say don’t get me started, but I’m already started….
Is all this really important? No, but yes, and in lots of ways. Lots of bars in the world, probably a good majority in fact, don’t have pure lemon or lime juice readily at hand. If the bar I walk into is one with this failing, a good capitalist consumer like me will just wander off into the next. But when I said that the Harmony of the Seas is like a midtown entertainment district, it differs in one, key detail: All the bars have the same owner and supplier. You cannot vote with your feet and your wallet.
But is pure citrus juice important, really? Yes, it is… for lots of reasons. Many drinks simply cannot be made properly with sour or Rose’s. The specialty, extra cost Mexican dining venue aboard ship will give you some killer guacamole, but will not provide you a Margarita without sour mix. They can give you one with top-shelf tequila, but it’s not gonna taste any good because Margaritas made with sour mix are universally disappointing. You cannot have an actual Gin Rickey at all aboard the Harmony. Many of their own original house cocktails would be pretty damned good if they were made with the ingredients listed in their description, but are unbalanced sugar bombs as delivered.
I will attempt to reign myself in and make some coherent conclusions here. The average drinker will be more than happy with Royal Caribbean beverage service and product. Have a ball. (Don’t buy the unlimited booze package unless you are a soda/Starbucks addict and a heavy drinker.) But if you care about your mixed drinks, which you probably do if you are reading this blog, you might want to take into account your inevitable disappointment on the points I’ve outlined when choosing whether to book on Royal Caribbean for your next cruise.
I know I will.