For those with dietary restrictions, the Carnival kitchen crew can address concerns as needed. It's best to notify the cruise line before embarkation, but, if not, speak with the maitre d' or your waiter before any meal so accommodations can be made.
Inspiration Restaurant (Deck 8, aft) and Imagination Restaurant (Deck 8, midship): Other than decor, the Inspiration and Imagination restaurants are the same. Seating varies from small tables for a party of two to larger round tables or long rectangle tables for groups of six or more.
Inspiration Restaurant serves dinner for those with assigned time dining, either at 6 or 8:15 p.m. It also is the host of the Dr. Seuss Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast, an upgraded breakfast option ($5 per person) featuring Dr. Seuss-themed menu items and character appearances. This breakfast option was offered once during our five-night cruise, and reservations are recommended, although walk-ins are welcome until the event is sold out.
Imagination Restaurant serves dinner for those with the flexible Your Time Dining (5:45 to 9:30 p.m.) as well as breakfast.
Breakfast items range from cereal and pastries to pancakes, omelets and a selection of breakfast meats. We enjoyed having breakfast each morning here for two simple reasons: We didn't have to wait on the buffet line and we found the food fresher, given it was cooked to order.
The sea day brunch menu includes bagels, fruit, eggs, huevos rancheros, French toast, pancakes, steak and eggs, and grilled salmon.
For those with Your Time Dining, unless you come right at 5:45 p.m., expect to wait in two lines before being seated. We usually tried to arrive between 6 and 6:30 p.m. The first line, which we often waited in as long as 30 minutes, wound its way from the restaurant entrance all the way around the atrium. This was the line just to check in, we then received a pager and waited another 30 minutes to be seated. Duke's Piano Bar and the Mark Twain Library flank the restaurant entrance, so passengers had some places to sit and wait.
Dinner menus, which follow Carnival's "American Feast" and "American Table" dining program, feature appetizers, entrees and desserts, with some variety to menu items. Appetizers usually include a shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms and a Caesar salad; while a soup is always offered, it changes each night. In addition, there are featured appetizers that change nightly, like a pasta e fagioli.
Entrees also rotate each evening, but there's always a vegetarian dish (our menu always had an Indian vegetarian dish) as well as "From the Grill" selections like flat iron steak and grilled chicken that remained the same night after night, as well as a fish dish that varied each night. On some nights, as part of the "American Table" menu, there was a "rare find" appetizer like braised rabbit or escargot offered as well. Also usually featured were "port of call" items based on the current port. For instance, in Nassau, the "port of call" menu items included a Pirate Punch cocktail, a crab soup appetizer and junkanoo pot entree.
In addition, the dinner menu features "Steakhouse Selections," such as lobster, filet mignon, New York strip loin steak, and surf and turf. These items incur a $20 surcharge per entree.
The dessert menu includes some mainstays (Carnival Melting Chocolate Cake, ice cream) combined with featured items each night such as vanilla creme brulee, malted chocolate hazelnut cake and coffee cream cake.
Dinnertime entertainment is provided by the waiters who sing and dance and encourage passengers to participate. During our cruise, we also were visited by a roaming magician, who showed off his skills and invited passengers to attend his show later in the week.
During our cruise, we also had the unexpected pleasure of participating in a Chef's Tasting prior to dinner one night. According to the maitre d', each night he invites between two and four passengers to visit with the chef in the galley, where the chef details the very extensive kitchen operations that keep more than 2,000 passengers and nearly 1,000 crew members fed throughout the voyage. He then goes over that evening's dinner selections, which passengers sample. This includes appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts. The maitre d' told us he chooses passengers he feels will thoroughly enjoy the experience; but feel free to inquire about it.
Tiffany's Restaurant (Deck 10): Often referred to as the Lido buffet, Tiffany's offers a variety of foods at several food stations throughout the space. For instance, at the Chef's Choice station, menu items for lunch and dinner rotate based on country-specific cuisine -- think American, French, Caribbean and so on. At the Comfort Kitchen, you'll find comfort foods like mac 'n' cheese and fried chicken, and there is an extensive salad bar nearby that also features soups. Passengers can satisfy their sweet tooth at either Swirls, the soft serve ice cream dispensers with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, or The Sweet Spot, which offers a variety of cakes, pies and cookies. It's also home to the Chocolate Extravaganza, a midday buffet of all things chocolate held once during the cruise. During our cruise, it was on the last sea day.
Breakfast choices range from continental mainstays like croissants, muffins, bagels and Danishes to eggs, bacon, oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit and breakfast potatoes. An omelet station is available, but the line for this popular spot can be long, with wait times of 15 minutes or more.
At the back of Tiffany's, the Carnival Deli (open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) serves up fresh-made cold and hot sandwiches. A new spot for us, we enjoyed the Deli a lot. Options include a turkey wrap, smoked salmon on a bagel, corned beef or pastrami on rye, a grilled Reuben, grilled ham and cheese, and an all-beef hot dog.
Passengers will find premade lemonade, ice tea, coffee and hot tea at the beverage stations located near the front of the dining room. For breakfast, the cold drinks are switched out for orange and apple juices, as well as an orange, passion fruit and guava cocktail.
To the side of the buffet stations, passengers can serve themselves at the Beer Station, which is available from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily. Swipe your Sign & Sail card, and pour your desired amount of Heineken beer into a cup. The price is 36 cents per ounce, with a 14-ounce cup costing approximately $5. For additional beverage selections, the Lido Aft Bar in the rear of Tiffany's offers full bar service and soft drinks.
Food stations in Tiffany's Restaurant are open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and reopen from 6 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner, and from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. for late-night snacks like hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, fruit and cookies.
Pizza Pirate (Deck 10): Everyone loves pizza, making the Pizza Pirate popular all day and night long. Open 24 hours, this eatery serves six different pizza choices: margherita, pepperoni, Napolitana (olives, peppers and mushrooms), Capriciosa (anchovies, capers and tomatoes), De Chevre (garlic, mushrooms and goat cheese) and a pan style with sausage, peppers and onions. Passengers also can choose a calzone with sausage, salami and cheese or a Caesar salad, with or without chicken. The De Chevre and calzone are made upon request and can take between eight and 10 minutes to receive. Depending on the line, wait times can range from a few minutes to 15 minutes or more.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10): Developed in partnership with Food Network personality Guy Fieri, this poolside restaurant is extremely popular for its fresh-cooked burgers and hand-cut French fries. You can go simple with a Plain Jane, with or without cheese, or step it up a notch with one of the specialty burgers like the Pig Patty, which comes with a burger patty made of bacon. Burger aficionados may want to try the Chilius Maximus, with an onion ring, cheese, donkey sauce (a secret sauce) and chili. Also popular is The Ringer, which features cheese, Guy's bourbon and brown sugar barbecue sauce and an onion ring. For more toppings, visit the toppings bar, which includes caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms, plus a selection of condiments. Open from 12 to 6 p.m., Guy's Burger Joint is extremely busy at lunchtime.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10): Opposite Guy's Burger Joint, this Mexican-inspired eatery serves up made-to-order tacos and burritos on homemade tortillas. Choose from chicken, beef or shrimp, and then load it up with fresh ingredients such as black beans, rice, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole. A toppings bar has salsa, jalapeno peppers and even fresh-cut watermelon slices. Lunch at BlueIguana Cantina is served from 12 to 2:30 p.m., and breakfast is available from 7:30 to 10:15 a.m. Breakfast ingredients are much the same but also include eggs. From open to close, this restaurant stays busy, but the line moves fast, so wait times aren't too long. The passengers we spoke to were impressed at how large the servings were as well as the variety of ingredients available to create their chosen menu items.
Tea Time (Deck 8): Fans of traditional English tea will enjoy a selection of teas, finger sandwiches and sweets at Duke's Piano Bar on sea days from 3 to 4 p.m.
Room Service: Operating 24 hours a day, room service offers a continental breakfast from 5 to 10 a.m. (think cereal, breads, juices and coffee) and a limited lunch and dinner menu from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a selection of salads, sandwiches and desserts. Juices, tea (hot and cold), coffee, milk and hot chocolate are complimentary, with soft drinks and beer available at regular bar prices. Room service is not available on debarkation day.
The Chef's Table (Deck 8); $75: Foodies who enjoy a behind-the-scenes experience will love this unique dining opportunity. For groups of 14, the experience starts with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres before taking a tour of the ship's galley operations. Afterward, passengers enjoy a three-course meal featuring dishes not found on regular Carnival menus. Because of the time and menu selections involved, Carnival recommends that passengers be 12 years or older to participate. The Chef's Table availability is limited, so reservations are highly recommended.
Sushi at Sea (Deck 9); a la carte prices: At this smaller version of Carnival's popular Bonsai Sushi, cruisers can sample sushi or sashimi for $1.50 per piece. Selections include shrimp, salmon, yellow fin tuna and amberjack. Or they can choose from four rolls: California roll and spicy tuna, both $5 per roll, and tempura roll and bang bang bonsai roll, both $7.50 per roll. Sushi at Sea is open from 12 to 11 p.m. on sea days and 4 to 11 p.m. on port days.
Musical Cafe (Deck 9); la carte prices: Passengers in search of their favorite latte will find it at the Musical Cafe, Elation's specialty coffee shop. Open from 7 to 10 a.m. for the breakfast crowd and again from 4 to 11:30 p.m. for the evening crowd, this cafe features a menu of specialty coffee drinks plus a selection of baked sweets like cakes, pastries and cookies. These sweet treats are not the same as those offered in the buffet, and you can taste the difference.
Room Service: Hot items like chicken tenders, chicken quesadilla, Philly cheesesteak, chicken wings and fries are available throughout the day for $2 to $6 per item.