*** This post is not sponsored by Carnival Cruise Line in any way. The opinions mentioned below are my own, and not of any present, or past, employee of Carnival Cruise Line. ***
I just got back from my first cruise with Carnival Cruises. This was a short 3 day cruise to Ensenada with some family and friends and I had a blast!
A big part of being on a cruise is the food. There are multiple dining halls and small cafes to get food at any hour of the day or night.
As a foodie, you would have thought this would be a dream! But not all the food is stellar and I even had a bad experience with one of the restaurants. So I thought this post would be a great way to list the best, and worst, foods I had while on this cruise.
Before I begin, a few notes:
- These opinions are purely my own. Other people have different taste buds and different opinions, and as a result, their thoughts may be different.
- Different cruise lines or even different ships within Carnival Cruise Line have different chefs and restaurants.
- The photos shown below are not great quality because I took them with my iPhone. So please ignore that! But I think the photos still give a good representation of the food.
The first night on the ship, I was feeling a little queasy. The ship was on choppy water, and, although I took a motion sickness pill, I was still feeling a bit loopy.
However, the first dinner on the boat was actually where I had the best meal!
I was trying to order a light meal at the Mardis Gras Dining Hall, and there was an Indian Vegetable dish listed on the menu. I had second thoughts about ordering a meal for that likely had strong flavors, but, “what the heck!” I thought.
This meal turned out to be the best I had on the boat!
I started off with a Cream of Roasted Tomato soup. When reading this on the menu, I just thought to myself, “oh, so a Tomato Soup like Campbell’s. That will be comforting for my tummy”.
The soup that came looked nothing like Campbell’s Tomato Soup. It had a much lighter color and flavor, but it was actually delicious. I really appreciated the light, bright flavor of the soup. A great appetizer!
The Indian Vegetable Dish came next and it was completely unlike what I expected too. It was actually 3 different Indian vegetable dishes, served with a mixture of basmati rice and chickpeas. The rice and chickpeas were mixed with ghee and was more of a plain accompaniment to the other veggies.
The first veggie dish was a green pea curry. It was incredible! The bold curry spices were offset by the natural sweetness of the peas, then mellowed with a little coconut milk. I couldn’t stop eating it – it was that good!
The second veggie dish was like a grated cauliflower and turmeric based curry. (Sorry I don’t know the correct names for these dishes!) It didn’t have any liquid in it and was more of a chewy texture. It had a much stronger curry flavor than the green peas did, and a little more spicy heat too.
The last veggie dish was a lentil turmeric soup. I had had similar soups before but this one was even more flavorful. The lentils were cooked perfectly, and not mushy at all. Warm and comforting, this soup was delicious!
On the side, I had a papadum, yogurt raita and a tomato cucumber salad. I also happened to take a large bite of another side which turned out to be pickled green mango in a fiery red hot chili sauce. The flavors were overwhelming! And not in a good way! The burning spice of the chili and the harsh bite of acid from the underripe mangos was not what I expected. I did not have another bite of that!
This veggie dish was completely unexpected but delicious! I would definitely have this meal again. I found out later that the chef was as Indian, so that could explain why this Indian dish, and another Indian dish we had later, was so good.
Here’s a few meals that I thought were pretty good too:
- Breakfast fruit salad: such a fun, creative way of serving fruit and cottage cheese. I really appreciated the ingenuity and the fruit was super fresh!
- Molten Chocolate Cake: this was an incredibly decadent dessert! The rich molten chocolate cake was served with vanilla ice cream. It was a little undercooked on the bottom for me though – the top was nicely cooked and cake like, but an inch or two down below the surface, it was basically all cake batter.
- Salmon cake: my mother-in-law, Sandra, had the salmon cake as an appetizer one night and she let me try one bite. It was amazing! The fresh, flaky salmon with the yogurt dill sauce was flavorful, light and scrumptious!
- Escargot: yes, we ate snails on the cruise! They were actually cooked really well, not rubbery at all, and the butter garlic sauce was delish too.
- BBQ Chicken Flatbread: since I live in Texas, I thought BBQ meant there would be some BBQ sauce on the flatbread. But no! This flatbread actually had grilled (or barbecued) chicken on it with red onions, mushrooms and a few greens for garnish. The chicken was tender yet flavorful. Another surprising but delicious dish.
- Yogurt and granola parfait: a granola heavy parfait with vanilla yogurt. The granola was loaded with different kinds of nuts and seeds, and only a little bit of oats, seasoned and roasted till crisp. Because of this, it was a surprisingly filling breakfast!
- Masala dosa: this Indian breakfast was another surprisingly yummy dish! The lentil dosa, or flat crispy bread, was light and delicious. It was served next to a potato side that was made of steamed or boiled potatoes that had been cooled, then lightly spiced with turmeric, mustard seeds, salt, pepper and maybe some other things. It was a nice lightly seasoned breakfast dish.
Bad Just OK
There were several dishes that I had that were just ok:
- Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon: the salmon was overly salted which really put a damper on what I thought would be a good breakfast. The English muffins were cold by the time the food got to me and, like most dishes I later learned, presentation is not always great, probably because of the rocking of the boat on choppy waters.
- Roasted Pumpkin Soup: this soup was lacking seasoning. Just an ok soup in my opinion.
- Chicken Chow Mein: the complete opposite of the Roasted Pumpkin Soup, this dish was over seasoned with the soy based sauce. Too salty to finish!
- Chile Relleno filled with chicken: this was probably the wrong dish to get since I live in the heart of Tex Mex. I was eating another dish when this Chile Relleno arrived at the table so it sat waiting for me for about 4-5 mins. By that time, some of the crispy batter had gotten soggy. The filling had good flavor but didn’t blow my socks off. I imagine this would be a good intro dish to people who were not familiar with this type of food.
- Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs: oh, how I wanted to love this breakfast. It was exactly what I wanted to have on the ship the whole trip… but it was kinda bland. The eggs were cooked perfectly, it was just under seasoned, a bit cold and the toast was not crispy by the time I received it at the table. The avocados also looked a little past the ripe phase too.
The Ugly aka What Not to Eat on a Carnival Cruise
My worst food experience on the boat was at… Guy’s Burger Bar. You may have heard of Guy Fieri from the Food Network show, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, or from his many restaurants. Well, one of his fast casual restaurants was on board and our whole group was excited to try a Celebrity Chef’s burger place.
I ordered the burger with an onion ring and bbq sauce on top. The burger patty and cheese is already cooked and melted back in the kitchen. So when you come up to order at the counter, the cook is basically assembling a burger for you, versus making a fresh one to order.
The burger itself tasted pretty good. The onion ring was crispy, the bbq sauce was smoky and sweet. The burger patty itself was a bit crumbly and falling apart but not a big deal. The french fries were deep fried and not crispy, but I like my fries that way… I know, I’m weird!
A couple of hours later, I wasn’t feeling so good. My stomach was starting to churn. I thought it might have been the motion of the ocean, but when the upset stomach hit, I knew it wasn’t that alone.
I went back to the room and laid in bed, miserable, my stomach in knots, and feeling completely awful.
I missed out on spending time with family and friends and just tried to sleep off this bout of food poisoning.
I found out later that my mother-in-law, who had eaten almost the exact same food as me, had gotten terrible indigestion from the burger too.
The rest of our group ate at Guy’s Burger Bar later in the day and didn’t have the same experience. Maybe it was that particular batch of burgers that made us sick, maybe not. But it took me about a day to feel like myself again.
Suffice to say, I’ll be laying off burgers for awhile.
Best Food not on the Boat
In Ensenada, one of my sister’s friends, Jeanette, took us to the most amazing taco stand, Tacos Felix.
They serve two kinds of tacos, fish and shrimp. You can top your tacos with a smorgasbord of toppings from pico de gallo, to cabbage, limejuice, mayo and spicy red and green sauces.
The line of people ordering tacos were a huge giveaway this taco stand was good. Really good. There was another taco stand across the street that had hardly any people there.
For USD$2, I got two piping hot, just fried fish tacos in warmed corn tortillas. Topped with pico and the red and green sauces, I stood on the pavement with the rest of our group, chowing down on these incredibly, fresh and flavorful fish tacos.
The batter was crisp and light as air, the fish was flaky and not over cooked, the salsas were intoxicatingly spicy but a nice compliment to the mild fish flavor. Just delicious!
Thank you, Jeanette, for this incredible recommendation for fish tacos!
I think that if you go on a cruise, try the food at the ports you stop at. The amazing fresh food may surprise you!
Would I Cruise Again?
After this experience on a cruise, the good, the ok and the ugly, the ultimate question is, would I go on a cruise again? And the answer is… yes I would! Although the ship was in choppy waters due to the weather, I do think that I would go on a cruise again and probably try other cruise lines.
My friends have told me that other cruise lines offer different types of food and entertainment that I think would be great to try.
Plus going on a longer cruise with different ports of call would be a lot of fun too!
A Few More Points to Remember
If you’ve never been on a cruise before, it’s important to remember that the portions are purposefully small. This is great if you want to try several different dishes in the same meal.
Also, if you don’t like something, you don’t have to eat the whole thing. You can order something else.
Beware of the smaller cafes throughout the ship that you may need to pay extra to eat at. There was a coffee shop and sushi restaurant, on the boat we were on, that you had to pay extra for.
So that was my first experience on a cruise! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever tried Carnival Cruise Line or any other Cruise Line before and what your experience was. I’d love to get your opinion on what cruise line or food I should try next!