Update: Carnival goes for classic American with new dining experience

Carnival goes for classic American with new dining experience

By Tom Stieghorst
Prime ribIn retooling its main dining rooms, Carnival Cruise Lines is returning to classic American dishes instead of the more exotic and fanciful fare that once captivated cruisers.

At the same time, Carnival will tailor the dining experience to either its “casual” or “cruise elegant” dress suggestions. There are typically two cruise-elegant nights on a seven-night cruise.

The announcement of new “American Table” and “American Feast” dining programs is one of the first upgrades Carnival plans to roll out in a bid to return the conversation about Carnival to its cruise product.

Mark Tamis, senior vice president of guest operations, said the scope of the change makes it a big deal.

“It really touches all of the guests,” he said. “Every Carnival customer who sails will experience this.”

Carnival is putting the spotlight on its complimentary dining at a time when the emphasis industry-wide has been on developing specialty restaurants that boost onboard revenue.

In recent years, Carnival has introduced some free dining alternatives, such as Guy’s Burger Joint, and some extra-charge restaurants, such as Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, on some of its ships.

Other cruise lines have not focused in detail on the main dining product, and Carnival might be hoping to highlight the value of its cruise by putting the complimentary dining front and center.

“Every single person eats dinner in the dining room,” Tamis said. “Ensuring that they have fun, that it’s a great experience and a great value — it’s important to make sure we get that right.”

Tamis said Carnival has been working on the new dining program for more than a year, has undertaken multiple focus groups and surveys and has talked to hundreds of guests individually.

Carnival also consulted with New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group, operator of restaurants such as Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack. Chefs and managers from Carnival traveled with and talked to Union Square chefs for inspiration, Tamis said.

The result is a menu long on familiarity and comfort, and relatively less ethnic than in the past.

“It’s kind of going away from a menu that was a little eclectic with dishes from around the world, really,” and focusing on American dishes that resonate with the majority of Carnival guests who are from North America, Tamis said.

So, for example, one sample menu includes roast striploin, salmon fish cakes and barbecue pork spare ribs as “mains.” There is also a “From the Grill” section that includes free-range chicken breast, a flat-iron steak and pork chops.

Each American Table menu will also include a “Port of Call” entree and cocktail tied to the day’s port call and a “Rare Find,” which is an exotic item like frog legs or alligator nuggets, which is currently categorized on the menu under “Didja” (as in “Did you ever try?”).

“In the focus groups, the guests told us they loved this idea,” Tamis said. “They didn’t always love eating — and the taste of — frog’s legs. They loved the idea of ordering frog’s legs.”

American Table will be more like a restaurant experience than a traditional main dining room, Tamis said. Fewer dishes will be grouped into plates with an entrée, starch and vegetable.

“It’s not just saying ‘I’ll have the chicken,’ and that comes all composed on one plate,” Tamis said. Also, there will be more appetizers sized to order for the table.

On more formal cruise-elegant nights, Carnival will roll out the American Feast, which is designed to be more celebratory, with supper club fare and dishes prepared tableside. Entrees on one sample menu include broiled lobster tail and slow-cooked prime rib.

The celebration includes a parade of chefs bearing a showstopper dessert, such as sticky toffee brioche with whipped creme fraiche. Diners will be serenaded by waiters, as they are now.

“The service is always very friendly and smiling and very engaging; none of that’s going to change,” Tamis said.

Different decor, menu design and tableware will further distinguish American Table from American Feast dinners.

Carnival Cruise Lines picked Carnival Glory to debut the new dining concepts, because it has a fairly typical seven-night Caribbean itinerary and sails from Miami. “To start with a ship in Miami closest to many of our purveyors and partners is certainly helpful,” Tamis said.

The programs are scheduled to start on the Glory Dec. 8, and will be extended to the Carnival Liberty in January and the Carnival Imagination and Inspiration in February. A fleetwide rollout is expected in the later part of 2014, extending into 2015.

Carnival Legend- Review Baltic Cruise- Dover to St. Petersburg.

Carnival Legend- Review

Baltic Cruise- Dover to St. Petersburg.

 

My Cruise photos are on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/45642696@N07/sets/72157635095801316/ 

We had sailed on 4 other companies (Costa, Royal,NCL and MSC) and between us have all ways said that there are good points and some great points in all the companies, example we like NCL Freestyle Dining, and MSC style, so joining Carnival Legend for the first time from Dover was going to be an experience, the check-in at Dover was the best we have ever had, we were on-board having a wee dram by 11am, that was a first for us. Legend is an exact layout as the Costa Mediterranea which was our first ship, happy memories. She is a lovely ship which needs a dry dock which she is having i Jan 14 (I think) before going down under, just to spruce her up a bit.

The food in the main dining room was excellent with always a Didja Ever option on the menu, which we enjoyed trying that something different such as Alligator, Frogs Legs, and Snails. The service was very good and a waiter dance at 7:15 in the evening, which they grabbed a willing volunteer in my wife, she enjoyed it and i enjoyed videoing the show for evidence and later brownie points when needed.

The show’s where the best we had seen on any cruise before, the dancers were fantastic, and the singers were top notch. Head of Entertainment John Heard was an excellent compare, and was always willing to chat when seen around the ship. the entertainers around the ship were average and we have seen better on the Norwegian Jade, there seemed to be too many quiz’s and not enough music.

The tours were well organised and seemed to be a fair price considering the tours of St. Petersberg and a train trip to Berlin.

The shops on board were the normal offerings such as a Logo/tee shirt shop, a sweet shop, and a top end Jewellers. The photo gallery was the largest selling the mandatory on-board pics, places of interest pics, and a camera and accessory section.

Overall I would not hesitate to join a Carnival Cruise again, and we enjoyed the company of our fellow passengers, especially those pesky Canadians, who we keep in-touch with. Thanks to all who served and cleaned up after us.

If anyone who sailed on the same Baltic Cruise as us, we were the Stars of the cruise from the Welsh Non-Romantic Couple.