It's surprising to note there's only one main restaurant on a ship this big, but the huge stern-situated Normandie Restaurant, with windows on three sides, works surprisingly well. The design, which cantilevers the upper level over most of the lower, somehow manages to effectively baffle the noise of 1,000 passengers, which can be a real problem in most dining venues of this size. The seating layout -- tables for two, four, six and eight -- utilizes booths and open tables that allow for even the most intimate conversations.
Passengers can either opt for set seating (choices are 6 or 8:15 p.m.) or go with a flexible option (Carnival's "Your Time Dining"). With the flexible choice, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later. Breakfast and lunch are open seating .
The food in the Normandie Restaurant is generally very good. There were a variety of menu items ranging from gorge-worthy to spa-simple; ample portions are presented beautifully. Carnival's low-carb menu is popular, and allows a diet-conscious passenger to choose items from the main offerings with potatoes, rice and other starches replaced by vegetables lower in carbohydrates. The low-carb menu basically featured the same meats as the regular menu, but eliminated, for instance, stuffing in the rolled pork, offered an au jus instead of gravy for beef dishes and eliminated starches like rice, potatoes, yams and peas.
As good as the food might be, the main attraction in the dining room is really the conviviality -- the enjoyment of being onboard Pride, the interaction with fellow passengers, and the evening "show" provided by the engaging and outgoing waitstaff. Dancing with passengers mid-meal or encouraging the swinging of dinner napkins to the tune of "Tarantella," the waiters, bus staff, maitre d's and even the officers all get into the act.
For a more casual meal, head to the Lido Deck. The entire back half of the Lido Deck is dedicated to food stations or dining tables. There's the Mermaid Grille, which also serves as the casual dinner alternative and the Mermaid Bistro, the ship's buffet-style casual dining option. Instead of having one buffet line, this venue divides the stations into smaller groupings spread around a vast space surrounded with dining tables. It's confusing at the outset, but once you learn which station specializes in what, planning your dining becomes easier.
Hint: To avoid frustration, get your cold food (salads, desserts, drinks, etc.) first, and choose only one hot station at a time; your hot items will remain hot until you find a place to sit.
The stations include a deli specializing in "overstuffed" sandwiches (one of the few down-notes in terms of cuisine, the deli fare was a disappointment); an wok station with Chinese, Thai or Indonesian-inspired dishes; a grill with hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled steak or chicken breast sandwiches; a traditional "carvery" with roasts and more North American-style fare; a station specializing in items from around the world (we loved the lamb curry served on Indian food day); a 24-hour pizzeria that also serves Caesar salads; and a 24-hour ice cream/frozen yogurt station.
Also on the Lido Deck and free of charge, grab one of Guy Fieri's infamous burgers or fries at Guy's Burger Joint, or spice it up with tacos, burritos (get the breakfast burrito) and a full toppings and salsa bar (including sumptuous watermelon slices) at BlueIguana Cantina.
Expanding on its international cuisine offerings, Pride has included Bonsai Sushi -- not just a sushi bar, but an entire Asian restaurant. With items a la carte, try sushi and sashimi for $1.50 per piece; appetizers like tuna and mango tartare from $4 each; soup and salad at $2 each; and desserts like a green tea cupcake from $2 each. Rolls range from $5 to $7 or order a $10 bento box or a "Ship for 2" that includes miso soup, side salad, two rolls and six pieces of sushi for $17. Sake, wine, custom cocktails and Japanese beer are served.
For a "taste" of daily offerings from the chefs onboard, head to the Taste Bar -- open early in the evening on select days -- and grab a complimentary bite to enjoy with your pre-dinner cocktail. Selections change nightly.
Anyone who has enjoyed a meal out in a really fine dining establishment will appreciate the luxury of David's Steakhouse, Carnival Pride's reservations-only alternative dining room located beneath the red glass dome at the top of the atrium. There's a $35 surcharge, which we felt was modest considering the selection, quality, quantity and preparation of the meal we were served.
Low-carb dieters will be ecstatic at the presentation of the 24-ounce Porterhouse; no one would need a potato for "filler." There are large and smaller versions of filet mignon, plus New York strip, lamb, veal, lobster tail and sea bass for main courses. The menu also includes appetizers, soups, salads, and a dessert selection that will make you weep because you're too full to enjoy everything on it. We particularly loved the New England crab cake appetizer, the exquisitely beautiful spinach salad and the lobster tail/filet combo. Formal attire is required, and appropriate, considering the elegance of the surroundings.
Complimentary espresso, cappuccino and lattes are served in the dining room after a meal; if you want specialty coffees at any other time, the Piazza Cafe on Deck 2 will happily oblige, at a reasonable price.
For an exclusive dining event for just 12 passengers, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners attend a multicourse dinner hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
Room service is available 24 hours a day, but the menu is limited and somewhat boring, with the exception of the excellent Continental breakfast. Ordered the night before with a door-hung card. Later in the day, room service consists of a selection of sandwiches and salads, a dessert of the day, and chocolate cake, cookies and brownies.