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A Taste of Carnival's Food Concept Branding

This one's for carnies. Not the people who coax you into trying to toss a ring around the neck of a Coke bottle or deflate a balloon with a dart to win a four-inch stuffed pig for the little one in your family…but the people who make Carnival their cruise line of choice.

The dictionary defines carnies as employees of a Carnival, but what do dictionaries know anyway? Every cruise line has its loyalists, so Carnival's are going to be Carnies, for better or for worse.

This news is for them…

Because Carnies have been asked for their feedback on food, the cruise line is floating a change in concept for dinner. Actually, two concepts. One is calledCarnival Dream dining roomAmerican Table, the other American Feast. More than anything, it appears to be an attempt at branding Carnival's food offerings, the way many cruise lines do with styles of eateries.

Carnival's doing it with menus in the dining rooms of four ships: Glory now, Liberty in January, Imagination and Inspiration in February. If it's a success — and that's where you Carnies can continue to have a say — the concepts will blanket the entire 23-ship line by the end of 2015.

American Table is being offered on Cruise Casual nights, which is most of them, and will feature an "exceptional American cuisine" like a modern restaurant with menus that the patrons designed. The entrees are being inspired by the ports of call…most of which are in the Caribbean.

American Feast is simply kicking it up a notch. It's scheduled for Cruise Elegant nights, once or twice a voyage. No mention of black ties and long gowns, because such things are rarely in the luggage of Carnival cruisers, but Carnival is promising a "more elegant, more elaborate" style of serving. That will be reflected in the menus (mojito cured ham, broiled Maine lobster, etc.) and it's safe to assume if you did wear a black tie, you would be more than welcome.

In the final analysis, Carnival is saying the decision to take American Table and American Feast fleet-wide will be made by its people.

Yes, the Carnies.

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
January 6, 2014
Miami (return): Grand BahamaNassauGreat Stirrup Cay
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $39

Celebrity Meets Specialty Demand


When the Celebrity Reflection was introduced to North America in December, we heard a comment on the ship from the new boss, Michael Bayley, after he'd experienced the specialty restaurant known as Qsine. His comment had to do with the fee ($40) for dining at Qsine?

"Is that all we charge?" he asked.

It should have been the tipoff, that it was only a matter of time until Celebrity raised its cover charge for Qsine? That, plus the fact Bayley and his executives made it clear to travel agents on the Reflection that Celebrity was moving to become more upscale than it already was…the catch-phrase was "modern luxury."

As of this month, it costs $45 to eat at Qsine.

And $35 at the Tuscan Grille (Italian), $45 at Murano (French) and $30 at Silk Harvest (Asian), all of them an increase of $5 per person.

Celebrity explained to Cruise Critic that the increases were "due to increased demand during peak dining times."

In other words, supply and demand.

For passengers who have paid to eat at these specialty restaurants, the question will be: "Does another five dollars make it too much?"

The answer is: The market will decide. If there's no demand at the new prices, the market will fall and Celebrity may reconsider. Passengers who are now complaining about the increases aren't forced to go. If they don't like it, take a pass.

For passengers who haven't eaten at these (or other speciality restaurants on cruise ships), the question is always: "Are they worth a cover charge when you can eat at the dining room?"

The answer is: This is always subjective. Obviously Mr. Bayley felt $40 made Qsine a good deal for diners. We have eaten at Qsine. We paid $40. It didn't leave a bad taste in our mouths.

But hey, that's just one opinion.

Norwegian Pearl
14 nights
April 21, 2013
Miami, Cartagena, Panama Canal, Puntarenas, Puerto Chiapas, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Los Angeles
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $64

Jewels of cruising on a Crown Princess

Ten things we liked about the Crown Princess, the ship that in seven days carried us to three Western Caribbean ports from Galveston, in no particular order:

The Ultimate Ship Tour

Usually, tours of the innards of a ship are a one-time experience because a galley is a galley, a print shop is a print shop and a laundry is a laundry. This one was almost three hours and the time flew, even during the longest stop, the Princess Theater. If there was something we didn't see in the theater (okay, we missed seeing performers changing costumes), we'd be hard-pressed to find it, and we left with a genuine sense of what it's like on the other side of the stage lights. And, of course, it never gets tiring to visit the bridge of a cruise ship.

The Cruise Director

Lisa Ball has been honing her skills for almost six years on Princess ships. Unlike some cruise directors, her style is not "over the top" and she is the epitome of professionalism. And if you'd like to know more about her, check on our blog regularly.

Muster Drill

Are you kidding? How can anybody like a muster drill, the "fasten your seat belts" instruction, to use a flight analogy? This one lasted nine minutes, was taped by the captain, played regularly on state-room televisions and covered everything ("If you do go in the water…"). And guess what? At our muster station, everybody was listening for a change.

Man from Vines

Vines is the wine tasting bar that's part of the piazza, the Princess moniker for an atrium. The wines were fine, as they say, but the real star was the ship's lone sommelier. Eduardo Angulo Solis seems a little un-traditional as sommeliers go, encouraging customers to pair food and wine and decide for themselves what works, with a little coaching from an expert. This young man from Chile takes a leave from Princess to spend a year studying to become only the second master sommelier in his homeland, Chile.

The Elevators

At first it was a game: Which side of the door will the illuminated buttons for each deck be on, because they always seemed to be on the side where you didn't look. Then we realized we weren't the only ones playing the game…most passengers were asking the same question, and most were getting it wrong. Talking about it beat elevator music.


This is the trade name for Princess casinos, and we didn't like it for the reasons you might think, but for the one night on the cruise when smoking was banned. Not everybody agreed…we did see one woman, playing a slot machine and chewing on an unlit cigarette.

Space in Balcony Rooms

On most cruise ships, it's hard to find room for all your clothes, some of which get tucked into drawers and cabinets made for other things. On the Crown Princess, the closet was about eight feet long and, with shelves on top and an adjacent cabinet, why….we clearly didn't bring enough clothes!

The Piazza

This is going to be a staple on Princess ships, and we can see why. It's a gathering spot, as atriums always are, but the Princess Piazzas are busy and entertaining, and adorned with many things Italian (the pizzas are coming!)

Captain Andrew Proctor

A Scotsman of the sea (how many of those are there), he didn't agree to an interview, but he did tell us the secret to making haggis edible: "Mashed tatties [potatoes], mashed turnip…and 12-year-old gravy!"

The Crown Grill

As spectacular as the filet mignon was at this specialty restaurant ($25), the side plates of potatoes and spinach and cream corn and French fries (and more) were perhaps more impressive. It prompted this comment: "I could make a meal of the sides." Yes, even without the 12-year-old gravy.

Holland America Zuiderdam
7 nights
May 18, 2013
Vancouver (return): Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Princess, Valentine's Day a Match

ON BOARD THE CROWN PRINCESS — Saved by a Princess. No, not the one I'm married to…by the Crown Princess, who really isn't a person but a ship, a ship that came in handy on Valentine's Day.

The tradition in our house on Valentine's Day is that there isn't one. Just another day…in paradise, that is. Just another way for some enterprising vendor to extract a few dollars from my wallet, which never seems to contain many. Red roses that cost $18 a dozen are suddenly valued at $48. Even cards cost a fortune, relatively, all in the name of guilt…er, love. 

Why does a man have to buy a card on February 14th to convince his wife he loves her? Isn't that what happens on the other 364 days?

Oh yes, the Princess. The ship, I mean.

The Crown Princess, bless her heart, offers a romantic Lobster Balcony Dinner for its cruise passengers and this being Valentine's Day Week (no, no, don't ever think it could be a whole week!), it seemed like a good idea. The fact that the Crown Princess — like all 16 ships in the Princess fleet — offers such a dinner the other 51 weeks each year is completely irrelevant, at least in my world.

This was MY idea for a romantic Lobster Balcony Dinner and, for this night at least, that makes the Crown Princess "The Love Boat"…a ship which was once the Pacific Princess, but that's another story. This story is about doing something special for Valentine's Day without having to think about it.

Well, mission accomplished.

Such bold ventures by somebody who in many years of marriage has managed to ignore February 14th come with a cost, of course. It's $100 and before you wince too hard, think about that. Start by smelling the flowers. If a dozen roses was already going to cost you $48, and that's not a given, you can maybe convince her that a colorful combination of daisies, carnations, baby's breath and lilies is an enriched substitute. She'll be so touched by the entire thoughtfulness of your plan that it won't matter anyway.

Then there's the dinner.

On a cozy table on your cozy balcony – all balconies are cozy on cruise ships — arrives a glass of champagne to accompany the "Pacific Blue Crab Cake" followed by "Marinated Chevre and Mesclun Field Grass, which is goat's cheese and tasty grass to we who have no professional palate. Then comes the coup-de-gras (not to be confused with the field grass): surf and turf.

Now if there's one main course my bride loves, even though there are many she loves, it's lobster and beef tenderloin. The accoutrements were roast Parisienne potatoes, a bouquet of vegetables and two sauces (peppercorn and hollandaise). Wine is extra but it is most nights wherever we dine.

For dessert, there's a quartet of chocolate: dark, Swiss, milk and white, capped by a generous plate of small assorted pastries…if you still have room.

I was sold by the bargain but, frankly, I think she was sold by the flowers — and we hadn't even started to eat. So "romantic" wins over "dinner" every time.

Especially on Valentine's Day.

Star Princess
14 nights
April 23, 2013
Los Angeles (return): Kona, Nawilwili, Honolulu, Lahaina, Ensenada
Inside: $1,309
Cost per day: $93

Norwegian's Irish Pub of the Sea


Among the innovations when the Norwegian Epic arrived in 2010 was an Irish-style pub called O'Sheehan's. If it was a test for inclusion on future ships, O'Sheehan's passed with flying colors. It will be replicated when the Breakaway arrives in May, and it will surprise us if it's not on the Getaway when that new ship arrives next year.

Anybody who has sailed on the Epic knows why.

Despite the fact that Norwegian's CEO happens to be named Sheehan (Kevin), this is a venue that's understated. It tends to get lost in the glare of the specialty restaurants and fancy bars and lounges. There are no press releases about O'Sheehan's — maybe the boss thinks that would be self-serving. It's as much a best-kept secret as a restaurant can be given that it's located in the heart of the ship.

Its proper name is O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar and Grill, and it's a neighborhood passengers can access 24/7, the only place to eat at any time on the Epic outside of your stateroom. Spread across both sides of the ship, it accommodates up to 180 guests.

The modestly sized menu is traditional…bacon and eggs, chicken pot pie, fish and chips, etc. If you're looking for comfort food on the Epic, O'Sheehan's is the place. If you're looking for toast that's hot, as rare as that is on cruise ships, you'll find it at 

O'Sheehan's. The atmosphere is comfortable, like a pub should be, with an eclectic collection of memorabilia from all walks of life decorating its walls — sports cards and pictures, photos of movie stars and politicians, documents and artifacts from ships.

The Epic was Norwegian's first new ship since 2007 and there was only one thing wrong in having O'Sheehan's make its debut then.

It should have happened three years earlier on the Gem, because that's what it is.

Holland America Ryndam
16 nights
March 31, 2013
Tampa, Ponta Delgada, Cadiz, Motril, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $43

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