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Carnival Conquest Dining

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Carnival Conquest Dining
One of Carnival Conquest's greatest strengths is the sheer variety of dining options. Conquest has two double-tiered rooms (Monet and Renoir) to handle formal dinner duty. Of the two, Monet, which lies aft and has windows with views on three sides, is the more appealing (especially during daytime). Renoir, right off the atrium, is more centrally located. There are two options for dinner. 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 and are held in the Monet dining room.

Nightly rotating menus feature salads, appetizers and chilled soups, with entrees consisting of pasta, meat, fish and vegetarian options. Choices that are lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium are denoted with little hearts (pan-seared fish, lighter sauces). The "Didja Ever" option, which changes nightly, is aimed at first-timer culinary experience (ahi tuna, escargot). Desserts include ice cream, pies and Carnival's infamous chocolate melting cake. For the finicky eaters, always-available options include flat iron steak, fried chicken and a vegetarian Indian plate. No meal in the main dining room would be complete without Carnival's signature singing and dancing waiters, who clap and hop around to digitized music, sometimes pulling passengers into the show.

Sit-down breakfast and lunch is also served in one of the dining rooms. The menu items -- omelets, cereals and breads for breakfast, and sandwiches, burgers and salads for lunch -- are not much different than the buffet offerings, but they're served in a more structure setting. Quality is commensurate -- it's the service element that different.

The fee-free Punchliner Comedy Brunch, a sea day exclusive added in October 2012, features five-minute teasers from that evening's comedians every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. There's also a special menu inspired by Carnival's "Curator of Comedy," George Lopez, and a Bloody Mary bar ($7.75 to $8.75). Dishes include huevos y carne, a Mexican-style steak-and-eggs dish, and a breakfast burrito.

Even more choices come in beyond the dining room, and you'd need at least a week to try them all out. There are a myriad of lunchtime options on the pool deck, several of which were added in October 2012. Guy's Burger Joint, designed by the spiky haired TV food personality, serves burgers during the day. The burgers are unapologetic monuments to excess: 80-20 beef patties topped with American cheese and cheese whiz on buttered buns. Add bacon, mayo and oil-soaked onions or mushrooms, and you have a hangover cure or a heart attack-inducer. Nearby is the BlueIguana Cantina, which offers wrapped-to-order burritos and topped-to-order tacos (for breakfast and lunch). A condiments bar features more than 20 salsas and hot sauces, plus watermelon.

The lido buffet is called Restaurant Cezanne. There are numerous coffee, iced tea and lemonade stations as well as self-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. Cezanne is two decks high and on our trip there were plenty of stations and empty tables even during peak times. There's also a grill station with everything from hamburgers to garden burgers (and fabulous fries) and an Asian station, where the offerings changed daily. One "hidden" treasure was Sur Mer, a seafood station, tucked away on the otherwise off-the-beaten-track second tier of Restaurant Cezanne. While fried seafood like fish and chips and calamari fritters are staples (the oysters are delicious; also try the housemade potato chips), there are also much lighter seafood options; the bouillabaisse was divine as was the cerviche and the raw tuna. Rounding out the pool deck options is a 24-hour pizza station (offering a variety of types and styles) and a deli.

Evenings, most of the grill stations close down (save for the deli and the pizza stand) but the Restaurant Cezanne transforms itself into a casual dinner eatery called Seaview Bistro.

The Taste Bar, located on the Promenade (an oft-trafficked route to the main dining rooms) offers a nightly rotating menu culled from Carnival's various signature dining venues. The small plates -- typically two per night -- don't incur an extra charge, but the accompanying (and also rotating) cocktails are an attractive $5.

Conquest features one for-fee alternative restaurant, The Point Steakhouse, which charges $35 per person. In return, passengers get a Carnival take on Ruth's Chris -- with solid service and delicious food; a sommelier manages an intriguing and Point-exclusive wine list with great by-the-glass selections as well as bottles. The menu is simple but awesome, from a New England crab cake to surf 'n' turf (main lobster and filet). Other choices include lamb chops, baked onion soup and an 18-ounce ribeye. Sides like mash potatoes, creamed spinach and steamed broccoli are served family style.

Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.

A couple of miscellaneous notes: On the Promenade Deck, all day and into late evening, is Cafe Patisserie, which serves specialty coffees and sweets ranging from banana splits to chocolate covered strawberries (there's a charge). At night, a complimentary Japanese sushi bar opens on the promenade deck. The ship offers 24-hour room service, ranging from basic continental-style breakfast fare to a variety of sandwiches and desserts. All dining room menus and stations feature at least one vegetarian entree per menu. It is recommended that passengers tip a buck or two for room service.
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