What do we eat when we cruise?
*Warning – this post may cause excessive and immediate hunger. Proceed at your own risk. *
Cruisers consistently return from sea a little fluffier than when they left home. Why? Because there is always somewhere serving something to eat. You can get pizza and ice cream 24 hours a day. Room service will bring you a BLT, or maybe a Reuben at 3 a.m. if that is how you roll. Or, speaking of rolls, you can get a Lobster Roll at the Seafood Shack in the afternoon.
While we love dinner in the Main Dining Room, it isn’t always the best option. If you are assigned Early Dining, you need to be ready to eat at 6 p.m. There are times when you will be barely back on the ship from your port day, and it is time to eat, forcing you to rush or cut your day in Cozumel short. Late Dining starts at 8 p.m. and will often leave you in the standing room only section for the shows, if you get in at all. Your Time Dining is by far the most popular option now offered, and the flexibility allows you to take your time and eat at your leisure.
However, there are plenty of other options other than the MDR. Bonsai Sushi or Bonsai Teppanyaki serve up exactly what you think they would, Sushi Boats and flying shrimp fun. Guys Burgers is open right up to the first seating of the MDR, so if you are just in the mood for a burger and fries you can grab one there. On the other side of the lido deck, you can grab a fish taco, or a burrito made your way at the Blue Iguana Cantina. On sea days Guy’s Pig and Anchor serves up smoked brisket, chicken, sausage, pulled pork and all the sides you expect from a classic BBQ joint. Cucina del Capitano offers free pasta at lunch, and more traditional Italian dishes at night for a small fee. The Chicken Parmesan is amazing and was loved by just about everyone at the table. There are pictures of old Italy and of the hometowns of some of the ship Captains, and the atmosphere is pure bistro. JiJi’s Asian Kitchen is on a few ships and it serves up traditional Asian fare in the same manner, though we have not had a chance to try it yet as there are always so many options and so little time.
The Lido Marketplace Buffet has samplings of the MDR menu, as well as salad and fruit bars, dessert stations and sometimes a carving station. The Deli is also located here and you can get a specialty sandwich or a beef hot dog (FYI – the hot dog is great!). The Deli also serves fresh french fries and several times I have seen kids standing in line just to snag a plate of them. The Mongolian Wok is usually in the Marketplace too. There you can build your own bowl, choosing your meats, veggies, sauces and noodles.
The Chef’s Table experience is an amazing evening full of culinary delights. A multi-course dinner is paired with wines specially chosen to brighten and enhance the many flavors. The experience is presented with a high service standard and superb attention to detail, and spans several hours. A close-up Magician performs during a short break that is intended to give your system a moment to adjust. It’s a great opportunity to try new things and meet new friends. You are also given a tour of the galley and sometimes, served at a table in the middle of all the action.
I could go on, but instead will try to focus on our three favorites; Guy’s Burgers, Blue Iguana Cantina, and the Steakhouse. I say try, because my mouth is watering just thinking about all that food!
Carnival has teamed up with Guy Fieri to make the best burgers at sea. Without question, these burgers are delicious. The burgers are smashed on the grill, so they get a great sear on both sides and the result is perfection on a steamed bun. The fries are crisp and seasoned, and most important to me, HOT. I would rather eat a shoestring than a cold french fry.
Personally, I get my burgers Straight Up. That’s SMC (Super Melty Cheese), LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles), and a liberal slathering of Donkey Sauce (Fieri’s jacked up special sauce). My wife goes with the Plain Jane w/ SMC, and then adds her own toppings at the bar. That is where you will find sauteed mushrooms, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions and about a dozen sauce choices waiting to adorn your sandwich.
Want something a little different? Try the Ringer – A version of the straight up, with Guy’s Bourbon and Brown Sugar BBQ sauce and an onion ring. Or how about a Pig Patty?? – same as the Straight up, but with a crispy bacon patty. Yes, a BACON patty.
So if Burgers are your thing, Guy’s has you covered. The lines move quickly, so you won’t wait long, but while you do, you will notice the staff is always smiling and glad to serve you. I challenge you to find a land based burger joint where you are treated so well.
Blue Iguana Cantina
Looking for goodness wrapped in a freshly made taco shell, or a jalapeno burrito shell stuffed with chicken, shrimp and beef? The Blue Iguana Cantina has you covered and they do it right!
First of all, Breakfast is offered at the Blue Iguana starting at 7 a.m. and it is my choice more often than not. There are two lines, one for tacos and one for burritos. On the taco side, you can get Huevos Rancheros, or Arepas topped with chorizo, tomato, cheese and beans and an egg made to order. Most folks don’t even realize this is an option, so you can usually get your breakfast here with little or no wait. On the other line you will find breakfast burritos. Start with your choice of Jalapeno or Wheat shell, then add Mexican or plain scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, cheese or veggies. One of our favorites add-ins are the hash browns. Each bite is made crispier with these onion touched treats (they are also served on the breakfast buffet and really are terrific).
The toppings bar includes fresh watermelon for your side item and an assortment of different salsas to add a little heat – or a LOT of heat if you go with the Habanero (we recommend putting this one on the side, and we are not strangers to hot food). Plenty of crema fresca, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, limes and tomatoes are waiting to top off your meal as well.
The Taco side at lunch offers Chipotle Rubbed Chicken, Ancho Roast Pork or crispy fish tacos. The shells are made right in front of you and are so light and soft that it feels like holding a cloud while you eat. The meats are all well seasoned and delicious, but I get the fish tacos every single time they are available. Sometimes they do run low and have to make more. I am just fine with any of the choices, so I don’t wait. Looking back it seems I may be a bit impatient when it comes to eating.
The Burrito side is usually more popular and does have some incredible offerings. I have been known to indulge in several over the course of a cruise. Again, start with the Wheat or Jalapeno shell, and stuff it with Chicken, Shrimp or Beef. Add in some refried beans, or Cilantro Lime Rice, Roasted Corn or Charred Green Peppers. Then choose a sauce; Salsa Roja or Guacamole, Sour Cream, Monterrey Jack, your choice.
Dawn’s favorite is the Taco Salad. A large crisp shell full of yumminess made of your choosing. She goes with a layer of beans on the bottom, light on the lettuce, tops it with that awesome jack cheese, chicken and sour cream. Then she dresses it up more with the add-ons at the salsa bar. She starts talking about the Taco Salad about a month before we sail. It comes out of nowhere, and then she can barely wait to have one. So I would say it is safe to say it is delicious.
I cannot count the number of times I have stopped at The Blue Iguana, or Guy’s for that matter, simply because there was not a line. The food is just that good, and eating on a cruise is part of what I am there for.
Ahhhhh…. Finally – The Steakhouse
There may be no better value at sea than dining at the Steakhouse aboard a Carnival vessel. The atmosphere is exactly what an upscale steakhouse should be and the food is every bit as good. We have dined at Eddie Merlots, Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s and Jeff Ruby’s. There are probably better options out there, but those have been my experiences and the Steakhouse is every bit their equal.
I like to start with the Iced & Smoked Fresh Oysters. Served under glass with a flourish, it’s a great way to start a fabulous evening. My lovely wife prefers the Stuffed Mushrooms. In fact she could not stop raving about them for weeks after our last trip. The Spinach and Four Cheese covered mushroom caps are crispy and delicious, and though she tries not to eat them all, she usually finds a way.
Other options include, Risotto with crab and mushrooms, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Heritage Berkshire Pork Belly, or Bone Marrow & Hand Cut Beef Tartare. Prefer the Tuna Taratare? Fear not, it is there as well. Try the Onion Soup or the Lobster Bisque. Both are perfect. Or, if you like to eat rabbit food, they have several salads to choose from. Any of which accompany the meal to come perfectly.
What follows the appetizers and soup course? Entrees! And that, my friends, is what we come for. I love steak! Dawn loves steak! You can’t get better than the Spice Rubbed Ribeye in my opinion, but Dawn’s favorite, Broiled Filet Mignon, comes in a very close second. I have also enjoyed the Cowboy Steak, the Australian Wagyu, of course the Surf & Turf. If you prefer Lamb or Chicken, they have it and do it well I am sure. Add a little more zest with a Chimichurri sauce or mellow it out with the Bearnaise.
Side dishes may seem unnecessary when you see the size of your food, but they are delicious along with everything else. Do the classic Baked Potato, or try the Yukon Gold mash potatoes with Wasabi Horseradish. Or maybe Mac n’ Cheese is your thing, or onions rings. You really can’t go wrong.
End your meal with an Espresso or Cappuccino. Take your Cheesecake to go. But, if you have a little time for a table show, ask for the Chef’s Art. An amazing display of culinary talent ending with a piece of edible art. Purees, chocolates and creams are spread out, rolled up and dolloped at your table while the Chef describes each sampling. Finish by breaking open the Chocolate Orb and watch as the filling flows. A perfect ending to a magical night.
You could start at the Blue Iguana Cantina for Breakfast, have Guy’s Burgers for lunch and finish at the Steakhouse for dinner. The first two meals are free, but the Steakhouse is $38 per person. Undoubtedly, the best value at sea.
Dining days to come
In February 2021, the Traveling Bradburys are booked on the Mardi Gras. Carnival’s newest, baddest, biggest and boldest ship to date. New offerings will be available, including Shaq’s Big Chicken Shack, Emeril’s Bistro 1396, Rudi’s Sea Grill and Street Eats – an assortment of eateries laid out like a city street lined with cafes and bistros.
There will be zones that are themed to be completely different experiences. Spend a little time in the French Quarter before heading down the Grand Central, the new open space atrium with floor to ceiling windows and views of the fun on the three floors above. We will spend a day on Summer Landing and then the night enjoying the Italian offerings of La Piazza. The trip is seven days and we do not plan on eating the same place twice.
So when you see us in March or later in the Fall, and we are very tan, and a little fluffier than usual, you can bet that we have thoroughly enjoyed another week being pampered and well fed by Carnival and their amazing staff. Check back later as we will be sure to follow up with a report on the Mardi Gras and all her glorious new food options. Until then Happy Travels!