I have sailed Oasis in 2010, Allure in 2011, Freedom in 2011, Voyager this year and am going on Vision in Sep. We began cruising in 1998 and have done one or more per year since. Royal Caribbean is by far our favorite and we will achieve Diamond Plus after the Freedom cruise in Dec. We have done 1 Princess, 1 NCL, and 4 Carnival. So here is my take on food.
Prior to 9/11 Royal Caribbean had a theme night each night in the main dining room. American, French, Italian, etc. The waiters dressed in theme oriented vests and the menu was geared to the theme. In addition they had wine stewards serving the wine in the dining room. The food was very good and service outstanding. After 9/11 they, like everyone, went through a significant decrease. They cut staff, including the wine stewards, and changed their menus, doing away with the theme nights. Part of this was the rapid rise of fuel costs and the incredible competition with the mass of new ships. Here is an example of the cost structure change. I am an airline pilot, retired military, and over 55. So I qualify for 3 different fares. In 1998 we booked, through our airline discount, inside cabins at a great rate for the time of $750 per person on Grandeur of the Seas. In 2007, 9 years later, we booked again on Grandeur, through our age 55 discount, Junior Suites for $749 per person, $1 cheaper, massive upgraded cabin, and 9 years later! So the cruise lines needed to increase revenue. Even their drinks aren't all that expensive compared to any hotel bar or resort.
It seemed to me even before 9/11 that RCL meals, although quite good, were not as good as Carnival, especially toward the end of the voyage. Carnival (we haven't sailed them since 2007) seemed to always have great meals, especially meat dishes. Their duck breast was outstanding and steaks always great. And they have, without question, the BEST pizza afloat. But their buffet was so so. Ships not nearly as nice, and, although great fun, a different clientele and experience.
Princess, in my opinion, was as good as RCL in most respects, including the dining room, but great buffet (mind you that was back in 2001 before 9/11).
NCL had ok food, but not my favorite.
I was not thrilled in 2010 by the food on Oasis, and I thought the cabin steward just mediocre. I was very surprised and pleased on Allure. I felt the dining service was outstanding, as was our cabin attendant. The food, definitely much better. I noticed the same on Freedom and Voyager. Talking with our friends who we cruise with, they agree, and they did 3 more cruises without us on RCL in 2011 and 2012. I believe that RCL management after a noticeable slump after 9/11, has really stepped it up because of the competition from Carnival, et. al. It seems that all the cruiselines are upgrading their eating venues. Reading reviews of NCL Epic, Carnival Breeze, etc. shows how the competition is heating up. Additionally oil has been stable for a few years and the economy is doing ok, so the ships are full and the cruiselines are profitable, leading to, in my opinion, a great upgrading of service. Plus the optional dining venues, especially on Allure and Oasis are GREAT!
There has been talk of bringing back wine stewards, which will free up waiters from chasing down bottles of wine, thus allowing more time for attention to table service.
Lastly, they are cooking for anywhere from 1000 to 3000 people per sitting, depending on which ship you are on. To put out the level of gourmet coupled with the selection of meals, is mindboggling. One must recognize the difficulty in this.
In the old days, RCL offered Lobster and Beef Wellington on the same night. Now it's Lobster and prime rib. Used to be Filet Mignon done to taste, now it's slices of Beef Tenderloin, medium to medium well. These are still good meals, but not like "the old days."
But if you consider the cost of a cruise compared to a resort or hotel and the cost of dining out, paying to travel stop to stop, and paying for nightly entertainment, the value of a cruise is remarkable (not to mention the luxury and fun).
So, that's my take. Sorry I rambled, but I thought if I was going to give you my opinion, you need to know the background.
Just remember, the worst day of cruising is better than the best day of anything else.