Dining choices on cruise ships continually evolve. That's true whether you're on an ultra luxury brand or one of the mainstream lines.
Carnival Cruise Lines introduced two new dining concepts in 2013 that have been slowly rolling out across the fleet. Launching first on the Carnival Glory, American TABLE and American FEAST are designed to enhance the guest experience in the line’s main dining rooms.
As of 2015, the concepts are also being tested on: Carnival Breeze, Carnival Freedom,Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Magic and Carnival Triumph.
Observers note that in an era when other cruise lines are emphasizing eclectic alternative dining venues, Carnival is refining its mainstay. It’s a shrewd choice, in light of Carnival Cruise Lines’ position in the value cruising category. Moreover, the move is designed to convey the impression of eating at an upscale restaurant rather than simply a generic cruise ship dining room.
According to Carnival Cruise Line execs, the programs were in the works for more than a year. They stem from considerable past guest testing, focus groups and surveys. Carnival Cruise Lines management teams also spent time with prominent land-based hospitality organizations, such as New York’s Union Square Hospitality Group. The management teams observed best practices and culinary operations. The interaction and inspiration helped bring about American TABLE and American FEAST.
In the rollout period, the line will gradually announce when each successive ship will join the program. “This will be rolled out over time to allow us time to train team members. Everything we’re doing is going to be a learning experience. We have to make sure our team delivers in a consistent, quality way,” said Mark Tamis, senior vice president of guest operations for Carnival Cruise Lines.
Cruise Casual nights will form the backdrop for American TABLE. Changing menus each evening are designed to recreate a “modern American restaurant experience.” Appetizers, entrée and desserts will include familiar regional and contemporary classics.
New place settings, menus, table décor and serving style are also part of the changes. Meals will begin with a cocktail menu that includes specialties such as a Raspberry Mojito, Carnival Cosmo and the Sunset Serenity. Guests may also select featured wines by the glass or a wine menu available by glass and bottle. An appetizer menu includes selections that can be served family style for the table.
“The good news is you don’t have to share. You can order for yourself. Have a great yummy appetizer that is just for you. But you can also order for the table, which is a popular option in a lot of restaurants these days,” said Tamis.
Soup and salad options are available. And special selections dubbed “Rare Finds” will appear on the menu each night. They’ll include items such as Spicy Alligator Fritters, Frog Legs Provencal with Herb Butter and Sesame Crusted Shark for more adventurous diners.
American TABLE entrees include pasta dishes such as Ratatouille Lasagna with Goat Cheese. Poultry selections include Free Range Chicken with Salsa Verde and Charred Lemon or Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Breast with Black Bean, Corn and Tomato Salsa. Meat and seafood favorites include Seared Tilapia with Capers and Parsley or Rosemary Braised Lamb Shank.
Additionally, “Port of Call” selections will reflect the ship’s itinerary. Examples include these dishes inspired by St. Thomas, USVI: 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. Similarly, selections for the port of Cozumel include the Ultimate Margarita, Tortilla Soup with Braised Chicken and Steak Tacos with Tomatillo-Cilantro and Avocado-Arbol Chile.
Each evening, guests may also select “From the Grill” entrees such as Pork Chop with Caramelized Onions and Stewed Apple. Past guests will also be happy to know that Carnival staples such as Flat Iron Steak with Pepper and Herbs, and Veal Parmigiana with Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce will remain on the menu.
Just as in a restaurant, guests can order side dishes separately. Options include Mac ‘N Cheese with Bacon, Grilled Vegetables, Fragrant Basmati Pilaf and Whipped Yukon Potatoes. A special dessert menu includes options such as S’Mores Parfait, Warm Date and Fig Pudding and Nutella Tiramisu, 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 and coffees will also be available.
The second new dining concept, American FEAST is reserved for Cruise Elegant nights. On most cruises, that means guests can enjoy this special occasion dining experience once or twice. American FEAST menus describe the dining concept as “celebrating delicious food and new friends on the high seas.”
With an emphasis on elegant celebration, American FEAST courses are served table-side. Menus include appetizers such as Braised Kale Blackened Port Tenderloin in Citrus Cream, Mojito Cured Salmon with Minted Cucumber Slaw, and Crispy Crab and Corn Fritters with Pineapple, Coconut and Cilantro Salsa. Pasta is served as the second course. And a selection of entrees follows. Dishes include Slow Cooked Prime Rib, Broiled Maine Lobster and Miso Marinated Salmon Filet.
For dessert, selections include Malted Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Cake, Sticky Toffee Brioche with Whipped Crème Fraiche, Chocolate Nib Crunch, Toasted Coconut-Lime and Strawberry Compote.
Carnival’s Tamis makes it clear that guests needn’t worry about being under-fed with the two new concepts. The line hasn’t forgotten that many passengers enjoy ordering different items from the menu on a “no limit” basis. “Nothing is changing. You can order one entrée. You can order another. You can order as much or as little as you want with American FEAST and American TABLE,” said Tamis.
He also makes it clear that another iconic Carnival tradition isn’t going away: dining room entertainment, courtesy of the serving staff. “Waiters will still have time to do their dances and parades. Our waiters and servers love to perform. That will absolutely stay,” said Tamis.