Food on Carnival Fascination is both a highlight and an area that needs improvement. Firstly, food in the main dining room and most of the alternative venues is good. We liked just about everything we ate, and the lines at Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina attest to how much everyone onboard liked those venues. (If you're a gourmand, you might be disappointed as the food is more TGI Friday's than NYC fine dining.)
The one weak spot was the buffet -- not uncommon on cruise ships -- where the food was more "meh" than anything and the selection was lacking. With just two buffet counters (both offering identical items) and a salad bar, there were usually only about five to seven choices.
Lack of choice overall is a problem on Carnival Fascination. While there are a number of choices (about six) for lunch, there's really only two for dinner, not including the for-fee sushi counter or grab-and-go deli sandwiches and pizza slices. Being on the cruise to celebrate a birthday, the lack of a specialty venue for a date-night celebration was disappointing.
Sensation (Deck 8) and Imagination (Deck 8) Restaurants
Meals: Breakfast (B), Dinner (D)
Carnival Fascination has two main dining rooms. Imagination, located at the back of Deck 8, is only open for dinner and is specifically for people with set-seating assigned dinner times (6 p.m. or 8:15 p.m.). Sensation, which is located midship (though you can only reach it via the forward staircase) is open for breakfast on port days, brunch on sea days and dinner daily for cruisers doing Your Time Dining (choose when you want to dine and a table will be assigned to you at the time).
Breakfast in Sensation is a nicer, quieter alternative to the crowded Lido Deck buffet, with a large selection of breakfast favorites (eggs any way, waffles and pancakes, etc.) and an eclectic mix of lighter or international options (yogurt parfait, broccoli and spinach Spanish frittata, quinoa bowl, etc.).
If you've got an early-morning excursion, give yourself plenty of time to take breakfast in the dining room, as service can be slow. The brunch menu, surprisingly, is a bit more limited. One side of the double-sided menu features standard breakfast items, while the other has lunch items.
Most nights the line offers its American Table dinner concept. American Table nights are characterized by a lack of tablecloths in the dining room and a large selection on the menu. Dining is banquet style with a lightly international multicourse menu that includes rotating items, along with always-available dishes (chicken, fish, steak), so-called "Steakhouse Selections" that carry a surcharge of $20 each, and one appetizer and one main dish that are selected to represent the destination the ship is sailing in.
Each American Table night also offers an appetizer labeled a "Rare Find," described on the menu as "food you always wanted to try, but haven't yet dared." These items could include alligator fritters, tuna tartar, braised ox tongue and escargot.
On "Elegant" nights, the line breaks out the white linens and offers its American Feast experience. The menu is smaller (fewer choices, no rare finds or destination-specific items and no side dishes), though it does usually feature such items as lobster, filet mignon and other fancier dishes. We much preferred the American Table menus for their larger selections and especially missed the offerings of any side dishes on American Feast nights.
Regardless of the night, dinners on Carnival Fascination are a festive affair, and your waiters will sing and dance for you most nights. Feel free to join them; they love it when you do.
Lido Buffet (Deck 10)
Meals: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D)
The ship's buffet is not the most pleasant spot to dine on Carnival Fascination. It's too small for the number of cruisers trying to jam inside for breakfast and lunch; there's not enough seating, and the lines to get food can be 10 minutes or longer at really busy times.
The food itself is fine -- not great but not bad either. Each buffet counter (there are two on each side of the space, each serving the same food) has about five entree choices, plus at lunch and dinner, a soup, carving station, grilled vegetables and a starch. In the middle of the buffet, a small salad bar has fixings, fruit, cold cuts, cheese and fruit. A dessert table has three or four cakes, some cookies and gelatin, and a 24/7 ice-cream station has three machines of either self-serve soft ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Near the main buffet stations, you'll find self-serve beverage stations with complimentary water, lemonade, coffee and tea (hot and iced), plus one self-pour beer tap (just swipe your card to activate). If you want any other drink, you'll need to go to the bar in the back corner of the buffet and order it yourself. Waiting for someone to come take your order will leave you waiting a long, long time.
Pizza Pirate (Deck 10)
Meals: Open 24/7
Located along the back wall of the Lido Buffet, the Pizza Pirate counter offers several varieties of individually sized pizzas. Pizzas are cooked on demand at most times of the day, except when it's busy and several pies are baked at a time. Slices and gluten-free pies are available as well.
Carnival Deli (Deck 10)
Meals: L, D
Also located along the back wall of the Lido Buffet, this is the spot for hot and cold sandwiches or platters. You'll find the usual deli-style items, such as grilled ham and cheese, Reuben, turkey or tuna wraps, and BLTs. This is also the only spot on the ship to grab a hot dog. It's open late until 11 p.m.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10)
This Carnival staple, created in partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, offers several varieties of hefty burgers, a fixings station loaded with extras and delicious crispy fries. Guy's Burger Joint is, by far, the most popular dining option when it's open (noon to 6 p.m.) and the nearby tables fill up quickly, so you'll mostly need to grab and go. Vegetarian burgers are available upon request, but you'll have to wait for them to be cooked.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10)
Meals: B, L
Located across from Guy's Burger Joint on the pool deck, BlueIguana Cantina serves delicious breakfast burritos in the morning and build-your-own burritos and tacos in the afternoon (have yours served up on a platter if you don't want the carbs). You'll choose your protein and then build your meal from an array of optional ingredients before heading to the nearby salsa bar for even more toppings.
Room service is available 24 hours a day and features a mix of free (only between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.) and for-fee items. Breakfast is served from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. with items including fruit, cereal, baked goods and yogurt available for free. Also complimentary are a selection of four juices, tea and coffee. Free lunch and dinner items include salads, sandwiches and assorted desserts.
Carnival Fascination Dining
Pricing was accurate at time of review but may have changed since.
Bonsai Sushi Express (Deck 9); a la carte, $1.50–$7.50
Meals: L, D
This little sushi counter is hidden away on Deck 9, right behind the photo gallery -- blink and you'll miss it. Open most days just for dinner, it does serve lunch on sea days as well, offering a small selection of sushi and sashimi.
Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (Deck 8); $5
Once per cruise, families are invited to have breakfast with The Cat in the Hat and Things 1 and 2. You'll actually find green eggs and ham on the menu! There are several opportunities to pose for pictures with your favorite Dr. Seuss characters, too.
Chef's Table (Deck 8); $75
Held in the Tara Library once per cruise, this limited-seat dining experience is usually booked up by the end of the first day by cruisers in the know. The multicourse meal includes a sneak peek at the galley, a Champagne toast to kick things off and an exclusive menu chosen specifically by the chef, who is on hand to explain his dishes and their ingredients. Chef's Table is designed for foodies; picky eaters should skip it.
Bogart's Cafe (Deck 9); a la carte, $1.95–$6.50
For a quick caffeine fix, head to Bogart's Cafe where you can choose from a variety of specialty coffees and teas, or satisfy your sweet tooth with a cake, cupcake or milkshake, all priced a la carte. Sweets rotate every day. The cafe is busiest in the morning before excursions when people stop by to grab a specialty coffee on the go.
Room Service; a la carte, $3–$6
Breakfast items beyond the most basic choices cost extra; choose from four different options. Beyond breakfast there are for-fee daytime and for-fee late night dining menus featuring such items as wings ($5), firecracker shrimp ($6) and quesadillas ($5).