We’ve always described Carnival's food as "tasty." It may not be the fanciest or the most healthy at sea, but it almost always tastes good. And what's great about Mardi Gras is the sheer abundance of free choices onboard, particularly for breakfast and lunch -- in fact there were so many interesting restaurants to choose from we didn't eat in the buffet at all. Additionally, when there is a charge for a meal, it's far lower than what you find on other mainstream cruise ships, and generally worth the extra money.
As we were the ship's first sailing ever in July 2021, we are not going to rate the service. Suffice it to say that the ship was in "shakedown mode" in many of its busiest dining venues; long lines and waits were common, even though the ship was only at 70 percent capacity. These issues should improve as the crew becomes more experienced.
There are two styles of dining on Mardi Gras -- traditional, with set times at the spacious two-story Palm restaurant -- and Your Time Dining in the much smaller Flamingo dining room.
And here's where Mardi Gras might end up getting into trouble. The ship's architects noted that Mardi Gras requires a different dining flow, as the ship does not work if all guests eat their meals in the main dining room and Lido.
On our sailing, and for what the line is calling "a limited time," several specialty restaurants -- Chibang, Cucina del Capitano and Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse & Brewhouse -- were made complimentary. It's unclear how long this will last; the line noted that any overflow from Flamingo on Elegant Night (when many guests crowd the main dining rooms for free lobster) could be steered to the second floor of Palm.
Dinners in the main dining rooms tend to be more traditional than what you find elsewhere on the ship, but Carnival makes sure that the atmosphere isn't stuffy (and if you were too worried about that, the dancing and singing waiters will assuage your fears pretty quickly).
Carnival Hall of Fame entrees include prime rib, an Indian rotating vegetarian option and, of course, the warm chocolate melting cake.
Note: If you crave lobster every night, you can have it. You will just pay an extra fee for it to be served from the steakhouse. Top grade steak cuts are also available, and a note to bargain hunters -- if you price it out, the surcharge is still less than you'd pay if you had a full meal in the specialty steakhouse.
Tip: On Mardi Gras, if you have Your Time Dining and want to order anything from the main dining room in an alternative venue, you can do so. We had warm chocolate melting cake in Chibang and it tasted just as good there as it would have in Flamingo.
With so many free complimentary options elsewhere on the ship, the Lido Marketplace buffet on Mardi Gras is almost an afterthought. But rest assured, whatever you want, you'll be able to find it here. The Marketplace has remained self-serve, and has stations for omelets at breakfast, and hamburgers, salad, and gelato at lunch. It's also a popular spot for families at dinner, especially on the early side. One complaint that we heard is that Marketplace was not open for late-night eats; if you have 2 a.m. cravings, you'll have to get pizza from Pizzeria del Capitano on Deck 8.
Carnival has always given cruisers a variety of Lido deck venues, but Mardi Gras spoils you for choice -- and most are not only complimentary, they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Keep in mind that not all venues are right around the pool; look for Guy's Burgers up on Deck 17 and Big Chicken is at the back of the ship through the buffet.
The much-anticipated chicken shack from Carnival Brand Ambassador Shaq O'Neal lives up to the hype. The sandwiches are as good as you'd find at a fast food restaurant on land -- and the fries are incredible. There are also chicken and biscuits in the morning and chicken tenders here.
This collection of three stands is meant to mimic food truck cuisine, and all options are tasty. Steam Dream offers Asian-inspired buns and dumplings; Mad Sizzle has kebabs, satays and pad Thai, and Time Fries has French fries loaded with toppings.
The popular taco and burrito stand is back on the Lido. We've always found this particularly delicious for breakfast, when it serves up breakfast burritos.
The new location is much more spacious, and does draw crowds away from the main pool area, plus it’s closer to the teen area and sports complex. The breakfast menu includes burgers topped with fried eggs and a turkey sausage patty with bacon and hash browns.
This duo anchors the La Piazza neighborhood, and it's almost always buzzing, partly because there's a new bar, Bar Della Rosa, in the area and partly because the outdoor smoking section is just outside. The tasty pizza spot is open 24 hours, and panini options include classic ham, a pressed caprese, or salumeria sandwich filled with Italian meats and cheeses. Dessert is available after 8 p.m.
Tip: For a fee, you can order pizza delivered to your cabin or anywhere on the ship through the Carnival HUB app.
The specialty coffees here will cost money, as will some fancier pastries (we spent $3 for a delicious bacon-topped cream donut), but this coffee counter in the Grand Central neighborhood has a nice array of free sandwiches for breakfast and lunch.
For lighter fare, check out this salad bar within the Serenity pool area.
A trio of specialty restaurants onboard Mardi Gras are being made complimentary for a "limited time," with no word from the line as to when that ends. Reservations are key, particularly at peak dinner hours.
The same attention that has been given to cocktails at the bars across the ship holds true at these restaurants too -- even if you usually have wine at dinner, you might want to peruse the mixed drinks here. Both Chibang and Guy's have excellent options (we're still thinking about the smoked watermelon cocktail we had at the latter).
This casual Italian venue serves breakfast options similar to what you'd find in the main dining room. We came here for a dinner where the service was clearly overwhelmed and ended up waiting hours for food that arrived cold. We heard that both food and service were better on other evenings.
The concept of this replacement for Jiji Asian Kitchen is a bit odd -- you can order Mexican dishes or Chinese dishes, or mix and match. We gave both a try and felt the flavors just don't always work together. Plus we found the Mexican food wasn't nearly as tasty as what you'd find at BlueIguana Cantina. And as for how it compares to Jiji…we'll just shed a tear, and wait until we're on a different ship to order Chinese.
It's nice to have a complimentary version of this BBQ joint, and the daily specials are worth planning your meals around. Go for the meat platters, which give you a choice of three BBQ options like pulled pork, brisket or ribs, as well as sides like Mac Daddy Mac and Cheese.
($) Fancy a lobster roll? The ones here are mayo-heavy but still tasty. It's located near the free Street Eats stations, which could lead to confusion.
($) This duo of Japanese offerings is definitely cheaper than what you'd find in a similar restaurant on land. The Teppanyaki, with its interactive hibachi cooking and chef banter, is fun for all ages.
($) Emeril Lagasse's first restaurant at sea is the culinary anchor of the French Quarter neighborhood. You can order fresh oysters and New Orleans classics such as jambalaya, duck and andouille gumbo, and muffuletta sandwiches. The breakfast menu includes decadent bananas foster crepes that will keep you on a sugar high for hours.
($$) Carnival's signature steakhouse has an upscale menu that is worthy of a date night. Indulge in Australian Wagyu beef, USDA Cowboy Steak and Maine lobster. The desserts are Instagram worthy, especially if you get the Art at your Table for your party -- trust us, you won't need anything else.
($$) New for Carnival Mardi Gras, this restaurant from Holland America Line Master Chef Rudi Sodamin brings his whimsical "food faces" plates and clever presentations to a new audience. The food is delicious and down to earth, and well worth the $38 price tag -- you'd pay much more at a similar restaurant on land.
($$ to $$$) Want to be a chef yourself? At Carnival Kitchen, you can take a wide range of interactive culinary classes. The classes are themed and make for a fun group event -- you can learn to make pasta, pizza, sushi, cupcakes, and even breakfast foods. On some evenings, special two-hour classes end in a full meal that turns into dinner with drinks.
($$$) If you're looking for more of a gourmet experience, try the Chef's Table -- an extra fee, reservation-only meal intended to be a "foodie" experience. It's eight courses, plus some amuse-bouches served with Champagne and house wine, so settle in for the evening. Don't go if you're a picky eater, or have extensive food allergies.
Among the casual options, we couldn't get enough of Big Chicken. It took all of our willpower not to eat every lunch here. Emeril's is a nice addition with reasonable prices, and if you're looking for a date night, Rudi's is your choice. The food is genuinely high quality and at a reasonable price point, especially compared to other megaships. Make your reservations early, as the seats here sell out fast.