|Always bring a point and shoot if you are asking someone to take your photo - DSLRs can be difficult for snapshots!|
The stereotype about cruises is that people over-indulge at 24-hour buffets on the Lido Deck, gorge themselves at a midnight chocolate buffet and gain ten pounds on a 7-night cruise. While all of this is possible, that's not how we approach cruise cuisine and I doubt that most cruisers just cruise to eat. I'll admit that my husband ate his fair share of cheeseburgers on the Lido Deck (who can resist a constant supply of freshly grilled burgers and hot fries right next to the pool?). I'll also admit that on more than one occasion I indulged in two breakfasts (one via room service and the second on my way to the pool), but for the most part, we saved our calories for the good stuff - dinner!
(Oh, and it goes without saying that all diets went out the door on this cruise, which is why I gained a few pounds on this trip... it was worth it. I recommend the Lose It! app for iPhone/Android for post-vacation calorie watching.)
Some cruisers are perfectly happy eating every single meal at the buffet onboard. I will say that the buffet food was better than I anticipated and that we generally ate lunch at the buffet for convenience (it's right next to the pools). However, we actually like to dress up and enjoy a sit-down dinner, so we dined in the main dining room or one of the specialty restaurants every night.
The main dining room is included in your cruise fare on Carnival. The selection changes every night and the menu includes at least four courses: appetizer, soup/salad, entree and dessert. You can order whatever you like, as much as you like. The food is not cooked to order, but it is acceptable. It reminds me of the quality of food you'd have at a conference or a wedding reception. Good, but not cooked to order.
We enjoyed dinner in the main dining room for five out of seven nights, but we made special arrangements to have dinner on two other nights. Halfway through our cruise we made a reservation at David's Steakhouse (almost every mass-market cruise has at least one upscale dining option with a cover charge). We felt the $30 per person was well worth it, since we'd pay that in gratuity alone for this meal on land. We like to dine leisurely and we really appreciated that the experience lasted over two hours. Heavenly!
We enjoyed a cooked-to order four course meal that also included a few surprises, compliments of the chef. We brought our own wine (which is permitted) and paid the $15 corking fee - it's well worth the corking fee to bring your own wine on a cruise.
I started with the Lobster Bisque...
There were nice chunks of lobster floating in the middle of this soup. It was topped with crunchy, fresh bread. My stomach is growling just describing this soup.
E had the Ahi Tartare...
E thought the tartare portion was a bit excessive. I ate a few bites to help him out.
Then the chef sent us this delightful bite of salmon with a cheesy sauce...
Cheese and raw salmon? Sounds crazy, tasted yummy. I was skeptical, but it was really good.
I enjoyed a Beefsteak Tomato Salad...
I normally don't like gorgonzola cheese, but it worked in this appetizer. It had quite a bite, but it was tasty. The arugula was awesome, too... gave it a nice, peppery bite. It was like a twist on a caprese salad.
I chose the Lobster Tail as my entree (I'm not big on beef and we were at a steakhouse)...
The difference between this lobster tail and the variety served in the main dining room is that it's cooked to order and it's a larger tail. The dining room lobster tail is cooked in mass quantities and doesn't have the same tender, buttery texture as this just-for-Keeley cooked to order version. Basically it's another reason that it's worth the price to dine at the steakhouse.
E had the filet (if you know my husband, this is not a surprise)...
We ended the meal with two outrageous desserts. I chose this Chocolate Sampler. And no, I couldn't even finish it!
The sampler had little cups for each dessert: Chocolate Cake, Banana Panacotta, Tiramisu (my favorite!) and Chocolate Marquise.
If you're cruising, I highly recommend checking out the specialty restaurants onboard. Some people think it's a cheesy upsell, but it was definitely one of the best meals of our cruise (and we knew this, since we did it back in 2009). If you think this meal looks good, wait until I show you the meal we enjoyed at the end of our cruise!
Does anyone else out there plan your vacation around special dining experiences? Am I the only one who gains a few pounds on vacation and then spends half the summer trying to lose them? I don't know about you, but I really do think it's all worth it.