Carnival expects Panorama’s cooking classes to sizzle

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Occupying 1,350 square feet on the Panorama’s Deck 4, the Carnival Kitchen will feature nine cooking stations.

Will guests who pick their vacation primarily for fun find it in a classroom? Carnival Cruise Line is about to find out. The line’s newest Fun Ship, the Carnival Panorama, will be it’s first to have a culinary studio for cooking classes.

Occupying 1,350 square feet on Deck 4, the Carnival Kitchen features nine cooking stations designed for 18 students per class. With its debut, Carnival becomes the first contemporary cruise line to offer a full-time space for cooking instruction.

To date, culinary arts centres have been more common on ships that sail for premium or luxury lines, which tend to have longer, more global itineraries that involve more sea days than mass-market lines. In addition to catering to the desire for enrichment and engagement, the luxury lines’ culinary centres provide guests with something to do while their ship is travelling on long ocean legs between ports.

However, Carnival’s voyage model is the opposite: short cruises sailing from domestic ports with frequent stops.

Cyrus Marfatia, the cruise line’s vice president of culinary and dining, said he’s confident that a culinary centre can succeed, in part thanks to the line’s experience with its 16-person Chef’s Table on other ships.

“When we started, we used to do it twice a week, and maybe the second [session] wouldn’t even fill up, and that’s only 16 seats,” Marfatia said. “Now we find that on ships like the Horizon and Vista, we do six days a week and there’s always a waitlist.”

That growth resulted in revised thinking about the concept.

“We felt there is a lot of natural demand for people to deal with food and learn food, so we thought of it as ‘Why not? Why not try it?'” he said. “And we were pleasantly surprised, because when we opened it up for reservations, it was very, very positive, and it had limited awareness.”

The Carnival Panorama is scheduled to launch Dec. 14 and sail seven-day, roundtrip itineraries to the Mexican Riviera from Long Beach, Calif. Marfatia said there are three sea days on the itinerary, providing a fair chance to sample the Carnival Kitchen.

On sea days, Carnival plans to hold up to three one-hour classes during the day plus a two-hour evening session that combines a class with dinner. The day classes are $30 per person, the evening ones are $59.

On port days, the $30 buys a two-hour combined class and lunch, a little extra incentive for those who feel they might be missing something by not going ashore, Marfatia said. There is also a two-hour dinner class.

Marfatia said that because of the types of foods they will be making, guests won’t get bored. Classes come with fun course titles such as “Bake Shop & Pie Town,” “Tailgate Party” and “It’s an Ice Cream Kind of Day.”

“We have a pie-making class. We have an entertaining class, pizza. All of these are fun things to do,” said Marfatia, who added that the format is also family-friendly. “So fun and education kind of come together.”

Carnival has tapped Juliana Barrera, a Colombian chef who has worked at Carnival for several years, to run the program. In addition to teaching, she will enlist guest chefs drawn from Panorama’s diverse galleys who are experts in ethnic specialities such as Indian or Mexican.

A course titled “The Orient Unknown” may be taught by a Thai or Indonesian chef, Marfatia said.

“If there is a sushi-making class, a chef from Bonsai will come and visit,” he said, referring to the name of the line’s sushi bar.

Culinary studios took off about a decade ago with their inclusion on the Oceania Cruises newbuilds Marina and Riviera. But the 4,000-passenger Panorama is triple the size of those ships, so if the classes prove popular, they may be oversubscribed.

Marfatia said that if the sea days sell out, Carnival would consider adding more classes on port days.

Carving out dedicated space for culinary instruction is taking a bit of a chance, Marfatia admitted, because real estate comes at such a premium on a cruise ship. On other Carnival ships, sometimes even the Chef’s Table is held in a dining room annexe or in the library.

Customer research so far suggests the classes will find an audience.

“We’ll learn as we go along, and one of the strengths of Carnival is that we are able to implement and make changes on the fly,” Marfatia said. “So we’re not going to be stuck in something that doesn’t work.”

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