As cruise lines continue to differentiate themselves from one another, the onboard experience is evolving. One line has Broadway shows, another has a Cirque dinner show, another gets into audience-participation games and cruise travelers like it. Once thought to be heavy on 70′s Vegas-like variety shows, entertainment options are now diverse. And so it goes with activities, accommodations, shore excursions, planning and booking: Cruise lines are listening and delivering a product that travelers are excited about.
And then there is dining.
Looking back a decade or so ago, it was the main dining room experience that we looked forward to, if for no other reason than it was the only game in town. Then Carnival Cruise Lines introduced the concept of ‘alternative dining’ which changed the entire culinary landscape of cruise vacations. One after one, cruise lines added new venues, tapped celebrity chefs, changed to address the concerns of a more health-conscious traveler and just kept going.
Now, Carnival is back with what we believe will be the next big thing in dining on cruise ships.
“Dining has always been a hallmark of the Carnival cruise experience and we’re constantly looking for new ways to provide our guests with exceptional meals and service that become a highlight of their vacation, bringing people together while creating fond memories,” said Mark Tamis, senior vice president of guest operations for Carnival Cruise Lines in a press release.
Indeed, Carnival’s bold past efforts have included adding a 24-hour pizzeria, a chain of unique steakhouses on every ship in the fleet, multiple relevant dining options came from their Funship 2.0 initiative including my first stop on any Carnival ship, Guy’s Burger Joint created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
Now, Carnival has not one but two new dining concepts seem to be yet another good call and exactly what cruise travelers are after. Called the American Table and American Feast concepts, Carnival’s culinary team spent time interacting with the leadership at Union Square Hospitality Group, a leading New York-based entertainment, food and hospitality organization, to observe best practices and the organization’s approach to culinary excellence.
Let’s break both down
American Table will be offered on Cruise Casual night and is designed to evoke a modern restaurant experience with an emphasis on exceptional American cuisine featuring a mix of familiar regional, fresh and contemporary dishes.
- Menus will change each evening and will feature an expansive array of creative and delectable appetizer, entrée and dessert choices.
- Modern table décor and place settings are complemented by new menus and a new serving style to deliver a memorable dining experience.
- Menu selections will feature a wide variety of new and inventive dishes, along with plenty of Carnival favorites that are exceptionally popular among the cruise line’s past guests.
Interesting, but not “knock my socks off” amazing. That come’s next:
- New Beginnings- Meals will begin with an extensive stand-alone cocktail menu featuring a variety of imaginative drink specialties such as the Raspberry Mojito, the Carnival Cosmo and the Sunset Serenity, which provide a unique twist on some favorite classics.
- Wine by the Glass- Featured wines will also be offered by the glass, in addition to a wide-ranging list of wines available by the glass and bottle.
- A full appetizer menu will include selections such as Fried Calamari, which can be served family style for the table, as well as soup and salad options.
- Rare Finds- Special selections called ‘Rare Finds’ for the more adventurous, such as Spicy Alligator Fritters and Frog Legs Provencal with Herb Butter, are available as well.
- Updated Entrée choices include expertly prepared pasta and poultry dishes such as Free Range Chicken with Salsa Verde and Charred Lemon or Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Breast with Black Bean, Corn and Tomato Salsa, as well as meat and seafood options such as Seared Tilapia with Capers and Parsley or Rosemary Braised Lamb Shank.
- Carnival favorites such as Flat Iron Steak with Pepper and Herbs, and Veal Parmigiana with Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce will continue to be offered as well.
- “Port of Call” entree selections are inspired by the destination on the ship’s itinerary that day. For example, when calling at St Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the day’s ‘Port of Call’ entrees will include dishes such as Tropical Salad of Ripe Mango, Spicy Grilled Chicken Strips, Crispy Carrots and Red and Green Peppers on a Bed of Fresh Greens Drizzled with Tangy Raspberry Vinaigrette, and Island Chicken Curry with Potato Crisps and Sweet and Sour Mango Chutney
- ‘From the Grill’ entrees such as Pork Chop with Caramelized Onions and Stewed Apple will be available every evening to provide diners with even more variety and choice.
- New Dessert menu- The American Table dining experience will feature a special dessert menu with options such as S’Mores Parfait as well as a divine pie of the day option served whole for the table and a la mode. A variety of featured after-dinner drinks will also be available.
Worth Dressing Up For
And then there is American Feast, a simple concept but one that might very well bring back the luster to formal nights that seems to have fallen overboard on a number of cruise lines.
The American Feast will be offered in the main dining room one or two times per voyage on Cruise Elegant nights. Designed to create the feel of an elegant elaborate special occasion, American Feast will be celebrated by all guests in the restaurant with courses served table-side.
- The American Feast menu features a full selection of tantalizing appetizers such as Mojito Cured Salmon with Minted Cucumber Slaw, and Crispy Crab and Corn Fritters with Pineapple, Coconut and Cilantro Salsa, followed by a savory pasta dish, served as the second course.
- Guests then choose their entrée from a delicious selection of succulently prepared meats, seafood and vegetarian choices such as Slow Cooked Prime Rib, Broiled Maine Lobster and Miso Marinated Salmon Filet.
- Spectacular desserts such as Sticky Toffee Brioche with Whipped Crème Fraiche, Chocolate Nib Crunch, Toasted Coconut-Lime and Strawberry Compote will top off the meal in style.
“With our new American TABLE and American FEAST concepts, we have sought to create a delicious, fun, welcoming and highly satisfying main dining room experience and look forward to our guests’ feedback as we refine the program to take it fleetwide next year.”
We hope so.
What Carnival has done here looks to be the answer to many questions/comments we get from readers about dining: It’s time. It’s appropriate. Most of all It looks like Fun with a capital Carnival F.