People enjoy cruising on large ships for a number of reasons: to celebrate a special occasion, to get away from it all, to discover new destinations, to meet new friends, to relax/recharge/chill out, to rekindle a romance, to gamble and be entertained, etc. Whatever your reason for cruising, the food—in a variety of styles and cuisines, and plenty of it—is another big part of the cruise experience. If it’s a Carnival itinerary you’re researching, for example, the food on a Carnival cruise is something you’re going to want to know about.
On a Baltimore-to-the-Bahamas cruise in late November onboard the Carnival Pride, I was impressed by the variety and sophistication of Carnival’s food offering, which I often found exotic and inspired. Like on all Carnival cruises, something to slake my appetite was available 24 hours a day.
From my time testing and tasting in the Caribbean, here are 11 things to know before you go about the food you can expect on any Carnival cruise—on Carnival Pride and just about every Carnival cruise ship out there:
1. The basics: food on a Carnival cruise
With the exception of the ship’s signature and specialty restaurants (like Steakhouse and Bonsai Sushi), for which you’ll pay a little extra and you should make advance reservations, most of the food on a Carnival cruise is included free of charge, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Each night, Carnival has two dinner seatings in the main Normandie dining room: early at 6pm or late at 8:15pm, but you can also customize your dining time (i.e. pick between the two). Dress attire is casual, but you can go as dressy as you like. There were two formal evenings on my cruise, however, on which appropriate attire was required. Verboten clothing included things like jeans, men’s short-sleeve shirts, baseball hats—things that you might guess were prohibited beforehand. Formal evenings give you a chance to have your photos taken dressed to the nines by a professional onboard. For extra bragging rights, you can also pose for a classy photo with the captain in the Atrium Lounge.
For casual, 24-hours-a-day snacks and meals, Lido Marketplace has dozens of options like BBQ, a deli counter, a salad bar, an Asian station, and a pasta bar. There’s also a station where the chef serves up a different surprise daily. At Lido Marketplace, there’s tons of indoor and outdoor seating so you can enjoy your personal foods in your favorite company for lunch, dinner, or even breakfast. As for the rest of what’s onboard…
2. The Normandie dining room does it all
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the NormandIe dining room (included) is a two-level space with elegant decor. At breakfast and lunch, you simply pick your own seat and then choose from the menu. For breakfast one day, I had the seafood tower followed by a plate of smoked salmon (you can order as many items as you like at no extra charge). For lunch one day, I had one of the best renditions of huevos rancheros I’ve ever had.
At dinner, you’ll be promptly seated at your assigned table, which you’ll probably share with other passengers (unless you request a move to another). You’ll also be served by the same team of servers each evening, who try their best to learn your preferences. Dinner consists of three courses. Have trouble deciding on an entree? You can select two, three or more. The same holds true for appetizers and dessert.
If you’re not satisfied with your entree, you can ask your server to bring you another. On the evening that my filet was overdone, I asked for a replacement.
3. Allergies and special requests are easily accommodated
Carnival’s chefs are specially trained to prepare food options for a variety of diets, including vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, Indian vegetarian, and low-carb, -fat, -sugar, or -cholesterol. If you have a special request for something out of the ordinary, you ask the room manager, who’ll try to get it for you for the next day’s dinner. When I heard on my sailing that guests on the previous cruise were served goat, I asked for some myself. Ken Byrne, my excellent room manager, not only made it happen but served it Indian-style (curried with rice, raita and pickled mango). Byrne was also quite the showman, entertaining with a song or two during dinners.
4. Guy’s Burger Joint is good
Poolside on the Lido deck, Guy’s Burger Joint (included) is a must-try. The popular food station takes its name from best-selling author, restaurateur and Food Network personality Guy Fieri. Pick up a burger with some of the best fries you’ll probably ever have and then head over to the fixings stand to add goodies like sautéed onions, mushrooms, guacamole, jalapeños, and more.
From a list of a half-dozen or more burgers, I chose “Guy’s Pig Patty,” a burger topped with melted cheese and a second patty made entirely of crisp bacon.
5. BlueIguana Cantina serves good Mexican
If you guessed that the BlueIguana Cantina (included) serves Mexican food, you’d be right on. Have it your way by choosing the meat (including shrimp), salsa, guac, and more and ask your server to pile your taste preferences onto your tacos and burritos.
6. Lido Marketplace has salads, desserts and pizza at all hours
If you want a reprieve on calories, the salad bar at Lido Marketplace (included) has a huge array of ingredients to choose from, including cold cuts like prosciutto and salami. If you want to cast your diet to the winds, the sweets bar is stocked with some of the most beautiful cakes I’ve ever seen—everything from red velvet and orange citrus to chocolate and cheesecake creatively flavored.
The Lido’s pizza station is open 24 hours a day and lets you design your own thin crust pie with the ingredients you want. There’s also unlimited soft-serve for those with a taste for ice cream at a special station in a nook on Lido deck.
7. Room service is free from 6am to 10pm
Hungry but don’t want to leave your room? You can order food on a Carnival cruise via room service free of charge between 6am and 10pm. Outside those hours, there’s a small charge.
8. Steakhouse is a place to treat yourself
For a special evening, make a reservation at Steakhouse (extra) on the ship’s top deck. Climb the glass stairs from Deck 9 or take the elevator to get there. Either way, you’ll find a colossal white replica of Michelangelo’s David out front. Steakhouse chef Wayan Mudara from Bali is an artist of both food preparation and presentation. My oysters, for instance, were a visual sensation. They arrived under a glass dome that, when lifted, let out a puff of smoke.
Among the steak entrees are “Australian Wagyu Prime Cowboy Steak” (a marbled 18oz rib) and the chef’s pride and joy: a “Spice Rubbed Prime Ribeye.” Pick your favorite sauce and side dishes and enjoy. Options for non-red-meat-lovers include the “Broiled Lobster Tail,” “Dover Sole,” “Colossal Shrimp,” and “Farm Raised Chicken” to choose from. Steakhouse decor is comfortable and elegant, the wine list is deep, and the service on my night there was impeccable.
9. You can opt in for afternoon tea and cooking classes
Two fun ways to augment your food intake: Head on over to the dining room for afternoon tea (included), and register for a cooking class (included) in the spacious opulence of Steakhouse.
With your favorite tea at afternoon tea (included), you get an array of finger sandwiches, scones and sweets. A glass of champagne is extra. The cooking demo I attended, meanwhile, allowed me to get up close with chef Mudara, who cooked for my group four different dishes: “Mushroom Cappuccino,” “Baby Spinach and Fresh Mushroom Salad,” “Broiled Supreme of Free Range Chicken,” and “Tiramisu.” After each course, complimentary samples were passed around to those in the audience. An extra bonus: the watermelon carving, cake decorating and ice carving demonstrations were done right before our eyes.
10. For the kiddies, there’s the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast
Youngsters onboard should get a kick out of the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (extra), themed in the style of Dr. Seuss and hosted by the Cat in the Hat. The breakfast costs extra but for $5 it’s worth the fun the kids will have.
11. A mighty team is behind the food on a Carnival cruise
To see that all the food stations, restaurants and special food events go smoothly, Carnival Pride food operations manager Senthilkumar Obulisamy told me, a huge staff works every sailing. His team of 206 includes waiters, assistant waiters and maître d’s. And that’s in addition to 385 chefs, auxiliary chefs and support workers. Together the food team makes up about 40% of the ship’s entire crew. One other indicator of the size of the operation: It takes eight to nine large dishwashing machines to sterilize each day’s cutlery, dishes and glasses.
Interestingly, once in port, the job of loading food and other materials begins early and takes about 4.5 hours. On each sailing, the food on a Carnival cruise is enough to supply an extra five days at sea. How the crew manages to do this in so little time is mind-boggling to me. All that food, and they get the job done in so little time.
For more on the food on a Carnival cruise or Carnival Pride itineraries, visit carnival.com.