If you’re heading on a Carnival cruise, you likely know that you should bring your appetite. From the moment you step on board until you leave on debarkation day, there is food available all over the ship.
In other words, you will never go hungry.
But you might be overwhelmed by the amount of choices you have on the ship. In fact, Carnival Horizon — one of the line’s Vista-class of ships — has more than a dozen places to eat something on the ship. Carnival’s Mardi Gras has even more.
Many of those are free restaurants, like Guy’s Burger Joint, the buffet, and the main dining room. But Carnival has a number of specialty restaurants on each ship as well.
These specialty restaurants are for an additional charge, but are highly popular. They offer a place to sit and dine, often in a calmer and quieter atmosphere than the main dining room.
As well, specialty restaurants have different flavors and types of food. Whether you want Asian, BBQ, seafood, Italian, or a hearty steak you don’t have to hope the dining room or buffet is serving it. Simply pick the restaurant you want to eat there instead.
Specialty Restaurants on Carnival Ships
Note: Not every specialty restaurant listed here will be on every Carnival ship. Newer and recently remodeled ships will be more likely to have all the venues below…
Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ
One of the most popular specialty restaurants on Carnival ships has to be Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ. A relaxed BBQ joint, it also brews its own beer. For lunch you can eat for free, but in the evenings they charge for meals. You can get most of your smoked meat favorites, including brisket, chicken, pulled pork and even ribs. Unlike some other paid restaurants, this one charges by the item. It’s about $8 for an entrée, $4 for an appetizer. A full rack of baby back ribs will set you back $12.
- Menu: BBQ; ribs, chicken, pork, sausage, salmon
- Cost: A la carte (~$8-12 for an entrée)
Cucina del Capitano
Think of a classic Italian restaurant (complete with the red and white tablecloth) and you have a good idea of what to expect at Cucina del Capitano. The atmosphere is usually a little darker and more intimate, making it ideal for “date night.” During the day you can actually eat pasta here for no charge. In the evening it turns into a specialty Italian restaurant and serves a full menu. If it’s an Italian classic, you’ll find it on the menu. That includes everything from meatballs to spaghetti to chicken parm, along with some more unique dishes porcini rubbed beef short ribs.
- Menu: Italian; pastas, calamari, pork chops, veal, salads
- Cost: $15 per adult
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen
Looking for your Asian food fix while at sea? This restaurant is it. It’s a classic high-end pan-Asian restaurant with the atmosphere you’d expect in an Asian theme, along with an open kitchen. On the menu you can get your favorites like slow-braised pork belly, pot stickers, Kung-Pao chicken, and sweet & sour shrimp. There are also a number of dishes with unique twists like Singapore chili shrimp. While most dishes have meat, vegetarians will also find a number of items to eat here.
- Menu: Pan-Asian; pot stickers, Asian chicken/shrimp dishes, spring rolls, noodles, etc.
- Cost: $15 per adult
Going by different names on different ships, places like Nouveau, Nick & Nora’s, and The Pinnacle all have one thing in common — they are the steakhouse on the ship. And if you’re wanting a meal that you’ll remember on your cruise (and the possibility that you will be too full to eat for the rest of the trip), then you’ll want to make a visit. It’s perhaps the most decadent menu across any restaurant. You’ll get hearty appetizers like shrimp cocktails or pork belly, followed by steak (including filet mignon), lobster, or lamb. Don’t forget the cheesecake for dessert.
- Menu: Steak; steaks, lobster, salads, crab cakes, potatoes, fish, lamb
- Cost: $38 per adult
In the mood for some seafood while on the ship? The Seafood Shack has you covered. And while you might be sailing to the Caribbean, this place is more of a New England-style menu. First things first, this isn’t your traditional sit-down restaurant like others on our list. It’s actually open-air and on the Carnival Horizon, for example, located on the back of the ship near the pool. The menu features a number of favorites like fried shrimp ($6), clam strips ($6), clam chowder ($4), lobster rolls ($12), fish and chips ($6), and even steamed lobster by the pound.
- Menu: Seafood; shrimp, lobster, clam strips, fish
- Cost: A la carte
A casual and relaxed sushi restaurant, Bonsai is a fun place to grab a bite of your favorite rolls. California rolls, spicy tuna, tempura rolls ($5-7 per roll), even bento boxes ($10) or noodle bowls ($7). They are all here. We also like that the location on at least some Carnival ships offers great people watching from your table. Sitting just off a main pathway on the ship, you can enjoy your sushi and watch the people go by. Want to sit outside? The restaurant on the Horizon offers some outdoor seating.
- Menu: Sushi
- Price: A la carte
While it’s not on many ships (just Carnival Horizon, Panorama, and Mardi Gras include it), Bonsai Teppanyaki makes a memorable meal. It’s hibachi-style where the chef performs a show for an entire table while also cooking a delicious meal. The fare is Asian-themed, including your choice of meat (or tofu) cooked up with fried rice and stir-fry.
- Menu: Asian; salmon, lobster, shrimp, chicken, steak, tofu, fried rice, vegetables
- Cost: $32 per person
The Chef’s Table
If you consider yourself a foodie, then The Chef’s Table might be the ultimate experience for you. It’s the most exclusive dining on the ship — only about a dozen people can eat at a time. That’s because you get a personalized meal with one of the ship’s master chefs. Before you even eat there is a champagne reception and tour of the ship’s galley. From there, you’ll be cooked up a meal that varies based on what the chef and seasons dictate. For that reason there is no set menu… but you can be sure it will be tasty.
- Menu: Varies
- Cost: $75-95, depending on the ship
Emeril’s Bistro 1396
Making its debut on Carnival Mardi Gras, Emeril’s Bistro 1396 is celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s first restaurant on a cruise ship. It features tons of Cajun and creole favorites. That includes po-boys, gumbo, jambalaya, fried oysters, and more. Essentially, you can think of it as a trip to New Orleans onboard the ship. (The restaurant is located in the ship’s “French Quarter” section, after all.)
- Menu: New Orleans cuisine
- Cost: TBD
Another specialty restaurant making its debut on Carnival’s Mardi Gras, Rudi’s Seagrill is the work of Chef Rudi Sodamin. As you’d guess, it focuses on seafood in a fine-dining atmosphere that’s still approachable and not too stuffy. It’s open only for dinner and costs a decent amount, but offers a memorable place to have a meal. After all, many dishes are presented as a “face” that’s looking back at you. (Yes, really.)
- Menu: Seafood
- Cost: $38 per adult
Are Carnival’s Specialty Restaurants Worth It?
One of the biggest questions people ask is if the specialty restaurants are worth the extra cost. After all, if you’re already paying a lot of money to take a cruise — and many food items are already included — why bother paying extra for different meals?
If you are a frugal cruiser looking to save money, then you’ll likely think that the specialty options aren’t worth the extra money — especially if taking a shorter cruise. On a 3-5 day cruise, there are plenty of free options to eat, including pizza, tacos, burgers, the buffet, and the main dining room. These can keep you satisfied without spending extra.
If you like to let loose on your vacation or are taking a longer trip, then it’s our opinion that dining a couple of times at a specialty restaurant is well worth the money.
For one, they offer different flavors than you’ll find at other restaurants on the ship. When you’re tired of eating a lunch buffet, having the option to have some BBQ or Italian is great. Second, the quality and freshness of the food is the best on the ship. Finally, if you enjoy dining in a quieter atmosphere with fewer people, then specialty restaurants offer that sort of intimacy. They are never as crowded as you’ll find in the free locations.
What’s Included in My Meal?
If you order at an a la carte restaurant, you know exactly what you’ll get — whatever items you order and pay for. Other restaurants that have one set price and an open menu. In this case, you will get an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. If dining with another person, it’s a great opportunity to share items and try different things since you will each get your own starter, meal and dessert.
Drinks are not included. You have to pay for those just like if you were to visit the bar. Those with beverage packages can have them included for no extra free. If you don’t have a beverage package, then you’ll pay bar prices.
Do I Pay Gratuities at Specialty Restaurants?
As with all food and beverage services, you’ll pay gratuity for dining at specialty restaurants. The only question is if it is included in the headline price. Some restaurants such as the steakhouse include the tip amount in the price. Others, such as Bonsai Teppanyaki or a la carte restaurants you will be paying an additional 18% on top of the bill. Given that it’s customary to tip between 15-20% in a traditional restaurant, this figure isn’t out of line.
But you should know that while you are already being charged gratuity for dining at free restaurants (the charges automatically included at the of the cruise), you have to pay extra charges for dining at the specialty dining venues. It’s only a question of if it is already included or not.
What’s the Dress Code at Carnival’s Restaurants?
While it might seem that you need to get all fancied up to go to a specialty restaurant, that’s not always the case. Higher-end venues like the steakhouse or Chef’s Table follow the ship’s dress code for the evening. So if it’s formal night, you’ll want to dress up a bit.
Other restaurants, including Bonsai Sushi and Guy’s Pig & Anchor have “cruise casual” dress codes. That means you can dress down, but no swimsuits or tank tops are allows.
Should I Make Reservations?
If the specialty restaurant you want to eat at accepts reservations, then you should absolutely sign up as soon as you can. This gives you the most options for dining times. Note that some restaurants — such as Bonsai Sushi — don’t take reservations. You simply show up and get seated. If you don’t have a reservation at a restaurant, you can try to eat anyway. The staff will seat you if they have space.
Specialty restaurants on Carnival seem to be hit or miss — not in terms of food, but in terms of popularity. Anecdotally, we’ve noticed that some seem to stay busy while others, have smaller crowds. You can use this to your advantage to find a place to eat without a wait. It also helps to go during off hours.
Have more questions about dining on Carnival? Let us know in the comments below.