Just two years ago, Royal Caribbean sparked a meaty debate by introducing for-fee steak options in its main dining rooms. Carnival's extra-charge entrees are currently being offered on Carnival Paradise, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Inspiration -- three ships that don't feature the line's signature stand-alone, for-fee steakhouse -- and carry an extra cost of $18 per entree.
The four entrees include a nine-ounce filet mignon, an 18-ounce grilled prime rib chop, a broiled Maine lobster tail and a surf-and-turf combo (a half lobster tail and petite filet mignon), all accompanied by grilled green asparagus and au gratin potatoes. According to a company statement, "The beef is USDA prime, dry aged -- the same beef that is served in Carnival's steakhouses." About half of Carnival's 24 ships feature stand-alone steakhouses; diners pay a surcharge of $30 per meal, which includes an appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert, served in a relatively intimate venue. Its eight Fantasy-class ships, plus Carnival Destiny, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Victory, are steakhouse-free.
Those who prefer their cow included in the cost of the cruise will still be able to opt for a "flat-iron steak," which is offered nightly on the line's always-available menu, along with the prime rib and broiled Caribbean lobster tails that are served at least once every voyage. Additionally, a fee-free "petite filet with braised short ribs" is served on cruises seven days or longer, and passengers ordering the for-fee steak can also supplement their beef order with regular items from the main menu.
"This is the first test in the main dining room that incorporates an additional charge," says Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen. "We initially tested steakhouse entrees on a few full-ship charters [including the VH1 Best Cruise Ever, which Cruise Critic attended] but needed more testing to fully evaluate it." The latest testing period is expected to run approximately three months, during which time the company will evaluate demand for these specialty items. Gulliksen would not speculate on future plans for the program.
A storm of controversy was ignited in fall 2008 when Royal Caribbean began offering a for-fee steak in several main dining rooms. Many had beef with the very idea of charging for food items in the main dining room.
Indeed, with the explosion of for-fee "alternative" dining venues, banquet-hall-style main restaurants are fast becoming a last bastion for "free" dinner (alongside the buffet, of course). Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, for instance, has more than 10 for-fee dining options -- from the Seafood Shack (a fast-food fish, shrimp and chowder joint with a la carte pricing) to 150 Central Park (an upscale Continental eatery that carries an extra charge of $35 per person). NCL, a pioneer on the alternative restaurant front, offers at least a half-dozen up-charge eateries, from Asian to Tex-Mex, on each of its ships.
Carnival may have its work cut out converting the masses to its better-beef-for-a-fee campaign. In a non-scientific poll conducted at the time of Royal Caribbean's announcement, more than 67 percent of respondents said that "Dining room menus should not include for-fee items, period." Two years later, Royal Caribbean still offers the for-fee steak, fleetwide, every night (alongside its bovine cousin, the fee-free Black Angus NY strip sirloin steak).
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--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor