Carnival Splendor Dining
Splendor largely gets it right on the dining front, offering everything that's become an industry standard, along with a few surprises: a super Indian tandoori grill, a sushi bar, a stir-fry station and a superb alternative restaurant. The Pinnacle supper club and premium coffee bar are the only venues that come with an extra price tag. The rest are included in the cruise fare you pay.
Splendor's main dining rooms -- The Gold Pearl, aft, and The Black Pearl, forward -- are grandiose venues, seating a total of 1,750 guests. Dinner tables are assigned -- the majority accommodate four, six and 10 diners with a limited number of two-tops. Seatings are at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., and they are orchestrated like a fine watch. When the maitre d' starts singing and the waiters jump up on the tables to dance, you know it is time to say good night.
The dinner menu is robust and features a half-dozen entree choices each evening, along with a "Carnival Classics" option that includes comfort food like barbecued baby back ribs, grilled flat-iron steak and broiled fillet of fresh Norwegian salmon. Entree choices are wide-ranging -- panko-crusted jumbo shrimp, chateaubriand with Bearnaise, seafood Newburg and rack of New Zealand spring lamb Dijonnaise. There's always at least one vegetarian entree -- black bean and vegetable enchiladas or vegetarian lasagna, for example -- and one main course from Splendor's SPA menu. The latter are lower in calories, sodium, cholesterol and fat, and salads are prepared with a diet dressing. The dessert menu also includes SPA choices, such as diet apple pie (prepared with a sugar substitute) and a diet banana gateau (prepared with low-cal banana cream and a sugar substitute).
Open-seating breakfast and lunch are offered in The Gold Pearl. Breakfast includes seasonal fruit, an array of hot and cold cereals and, from the bakery, muffins, bagels and toast. You'll find your standard breakfast entrees: smoked salmon with cream cheese and a toasted bagel, eggs Benedict, buttermilk pancakes or Belgian waffles, French toast and omelettes and eggs made to order, along with traditional sides. We found the formal dining lunch selections fairly original -- among them, Mongolian steak salad, egg and spinach fettuccini and chilled curried apple soup. Several SPA selections and a create-your-own-burger are also on the menu.
The Spendido Lido, a buffet that rises two levels on the Lido Deck, is a crowd-pleaser because of its uncommon variety and its proximity to the pools, hot tubs, water slide and sun decks. However, the lines can get long, so you'll want to time it just right. In addition to the restaurant itself, there are smartly positioned stations on deck that serve tandoori, New York deli-style sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as 24-hour pizza.
Splendido Lido serves a continental breakfast, beginning at 6 a.m., and then breaks out into a full-blown breakfast, offered from 8 a.m. to noon. (This is a ship that stays up late and sleeps in -- it's not unusual to see guests enjoying bacon and eggs at close to mid-day. For early risers, however, the wait for the 8 a.m. start of full breakfast offerings doesn't quite get it done.) Breakfast includes a made-to-order egg station and daily specials like eggs Benedict, an egg and cheese burrito and cheesy chicken rolls.
The buffet lunch can be pretty grand. Along with a salad bar, there are wraps made to your individual order, a chicken rotisserie grill, a meat-carving and pasta station and a quite impressive stir-fry bar. Here, you select a bowl of fresh vegetables -- onions, mushrooms, snow peas and carrots, for example -- that the chef then fries with chicken, salmon, pork, duck or squid. There's also a choice of sauces: black bean, Thai barbeque or Sichuan. Every day, look for a rotating "Taste of Nations" theme, featuring, for instance, a French, Caribbean or even chocolate theme. Last but not least, the dessert bar tops lunch off with selections that include cherry Jell-O, linzer torte, orange diet cake, banana cream pie and cookies.
Evenings, from 6 until 9:30 p.m., Splendido Lido serves buffet-style dinner with selections from the formal dining rooms, as well as a salad bar. I found it uninspired. The salad bar will seem familiar because it's a repeat from lunch, but the entrees, at least, are fresh and mostly come from the same menu served in the ship's main dining rooms. You won't see each and every menu item, of course, but there's a sampling that, on our cruise one evening, included penne Siciliana, lemon confit-topped grouper fillet, grilled flat-iron steak and cinnamon, pumpkin squash and yam pot pie. Among the featured desserts were diet New York cheesecake, amaretto cake and cherry upside down cake. There's no wait staff in Splendido Lido, so if you want a glass of wine or an aperitif to accompany the meal, you'll have to walk to a poolside bar to get one.
The only other place to grab a bite is on the popular Promenade Deck, which houses the casino, lounges and shops. Like most ships, Splendor has a premium coffee bar that sells Barista coffee, herbal teas, iced lattes, milk shakes, cookies and cakes. What's different is the innovative California Roll, open from 5:30 until 8:30 p.m., which serves sushi and, on occasion, tapas. There's no extra charge for food at California Roll. It's a nice concept, and it's perfectly positioned for passengers who don't want to venture topside for a casual food fix.
The Pinnacle, at $30 per person, is a great value when you consider the robust menu and the stylish venue. A skylight provides spectacular nighttime views of the stars, while a glass dance floor, suspended over a mini-atrium, is sure to be a conversation starter. As for the menu, starters include escargot, pumpkin and feta cheese parfaits, beef carpaccio, a sushi platter, jumbo shrimp cocktail and lobster bisque. The salad selection is basic but serviceable with a classic Caesar, baby-leaf spinach and mushrooms and a tossed garden salad. Selecting your entree can be a brain teaser, given the expansive options -- among them are broiled New York strip loin, grilled prime rib chop, classic porterhouse steak, broiled filet mignon, surf and turf, whole Dover sole Meuniere, broiled lobster tail, broiled free-range chicken and grilled lamb chops. The dessert menu is no less tantalizing: citrus cheesecake, Washington apple tarte tatin, a chocolate tarte and fresh fruits with international cheeses. When the maitre d' tells you to expect to linger over dinner for as long as two and a half hours, he means it.
One weak link in Splendor's offerings is the complimentary room service menu. The continental breakfast is fine: cereals, fruit, smoked salmon, breakfast breads, yogurt, coffee, hot chocolate and juices. But, the 24-hour menu begins and ends with sandwiches (true, there are 12) and salads (just two). There are also a few desserts, but overall, the menu is scant.
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.