What do you think of cruise dining? Do you imagine big buffets, formal dinners, and sharing a large table for eight with strangers? Based on my past cruise experiences, that’s exactly what I expected. Not that that’s bad. I have fond memories of making friends with fellow cruisers and having fun getting dressed up for dinner. It’s just that my palate and food preferences have changed. So, I was pleasantly surprised during my last Carnival cruise to see how many choices are now available. And it wasn’t just new menu options or flexibility in dinner times, but a variety of completely different dining experiences. From a cozy little sushi bar, to an elegant steak house, and even a well curated wine list— we had a different dining experience every night of our seven day cruise, and there was still even more left to try. If I had to sum up current cruise dining in one word, it would definitely be ‘choices.’ Here are 5 dining experiences I didn’t expect to have on a cruise.
— Gourmet Coffee Shops
Gourmet coffee is a simple pleasure, and for me, a necessary daily indulgence. I remembered cruise coffee as something brewed in bulk and essentially available on tap 24 hours a day in the buffet hall. It was typically over-brewed with that bitter burnt flavor that’s typical of hotel conference coffee. Thankfully, it’s changed. And, during our last Carnival cruise, we were in for a sweet surprise as there was a gourmet coffee shop with a real espresso machine and a menu of Italian style coffees from espresso to cappuccino, and even what the Italians call “cafe correcto,” which is essentially coffee with a little kick of spirits. (Cafe correcto translates to ‘coffee corrected’— you’ve got to love the Italian sense of humor.)
After an hour-long drive from Orlando to Cape Canaveral to board our cruise, coffee was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. So, instead of going for a pina colada decorated with a paper umbrella, we went for a Caribbean Coffee infused with tia maria and appleton rum, sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg. Yummo!
— A Variety of Restaurants
When you’re cruising for a week, dining at the same table every night can get a little boring. I like to have the same range of options that I’d have on land, and Carnival now offers that. There was an intimate little sushi bar perfect for sharing a plate of sashimi over quiet conversation, an elegant steak house ideal for celebrating a special occasion, a funky Asian fusion restaurant with an eclectic menu, an Italian restaurant with red and white checkered table clothes and ingredients imported from Italy, and even a fun little pub serving up cold pints of beer along with fish and chips. Some of the dining options have an additional fee, but it’s nominal compared to what you’d pay on land for a comparable experience.
— Dietary Options
With all the deliciously indulgent options available for dining, it was a nice surprise to see Carnival cater to different dietary needs including gluten free, dairy free, and lighter meal choices like big leafy green salads and fresh fruit options. During the daytime, we’d opt for more lighter fare in order to save our appetite for dinner. It’s also nice to know that if you’re on a special diet, you don’t have to worry about asking for special meals as you’ll likely find the options you need already on the menu.
— The Taste Bar
The Taste Bar isn’t a restaurant, but instead a sort of “try it before you buy it” concept. Essentially, you can swing by The Taste Bar for a complimentary appetizer to sample a taste of the meals offered at the different restaurants and see if it’s something you’d like before making a reservation. How brilliant is that? It was perfect for indulging in some small bites before dinner, and one of the mango desserts we tasted compelled us to make reservations at the Asian fusion restaurant for our last night of the cruise — a delicious experience we would have missed out on otherwise.
— The Chef’s Table
The Chef’s Table Experience is a real treat that includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen, a fun cooking lesson, one-on-one interaction with the chefs, and an exquisite multi-course dinner paired with wine. The dishes were like intricate works of art, as appetizing and pleasing to the eye as they were to the taste buds. It’s an amazing VIP experience that’s limited to a small number of guests, so if you’re interested, I highly recommend signing up for it on the first day of your cruise.
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