By Colleen McDaniel
Cruise Critic Senior Executive Editor
3.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Carnival Ecstasy Dining

Ecstasy was built long before alternative dining venues were pervasive. As such, nearly all of the dining options onboard are free. You'll get the best food in one of the two main dining rooms: Wind Song or Wind Star. Otherwise, food is pretty average, mostly because variety is limited.

Wind Song Dining Room (Deck 8): Wind Song is the restaurant for set dining at dinnertime. Two seatings take place there each night, one at 6 p.m. and the other at 8:15 p.m. Neither breakfast nor lunch is available there.

Deep reds, soft greens and blues, and a bit of neon decorate the restaurant. Service is excellent, with a team of waiters and waitresses tending to every table.

Both Wind Song and Wind Star dining rooms feature a set menu and one that changes nightly. The set menu features seafood, steak, burgers, chicken (fried or grilled) and vegetarian options as well as assorted sides. Diners also can opt to pay a $20 surcharge for one of the "steakhouse selections," which includes Maine lobster, surf and turf, filet mignon and New York strip. The changing menu has a good variety of options each night, and healthier fare and vegetarian dishes are highlighted. Carnival also provides a "didja ever (as in did you ever)" option, which walks a little on the more adventurous side. Options include items like escargot, alligator or frog legs. And you'll always have a "comfort food" option, such as meatloaf or mac and cheese.

The quality in the dining rooms is consistently the best available on the ship. The lobster tail, despite being prepared for hundreds of passengers at once, is delicious: perfectly broiled with just that perfect touch of natural sweetness. The vegetarian Indian option, available daily, has plenty of spice, though you probably won't sweat, and the masala is well balanced. Sides include the traditional papadum (flaky and slightly salty) and a cooling yogurt and cucumber raita.

We would have loved more traditional, light salad options on the menu, which instead featured items like Caesar and "heart of iceberg." Skip the shrimp cocktail, which is rubbery and lacks flavor. Steaks on our sailing were consistently overcooked, an issue easily solved by ordering it one level less done. (So, if you want a medium steak, order it medium-rare.)

Among the dessert options, Carnival's famous warm chocolate melting cake is a hit, with its intense chocolate flavor and gooey center. The sugar-free options, such as the orange sponge cake, are predictably bland and aren't likely to satisfy anyone craving something decadent. Instead, opt for a scoop of ice cream or sherbet, available every night. A cheese platter is also an everyday option.

Wind Star Dining Room (Deck 8): Passengers who choose Your Time Dining will eat in the Wind Star Dining Room, open for dinner from 5:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wind Star, located midship, is a virtual twin to Wind Song, with the same color palette and overall look, though there are subtle changes in the carpet and upholstery. Menus in both restaurants are the same each night.

Wind Star is the option for traditional seated dining at breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.). Check the daily FunTimes schedule, as hours for breakfast and lunch vary depending on itinerary schedule. Breakfast includes standards like Eggs Benedict and omelets, while lunch is generally sandwiches and salads. Passengers can partake in a sea day brunch, served 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The menu offers a large number of options, from eggs and pancakes to salads and grilled salmon. For a sweet treat, try the chocolate chip pancakes, served hot enough to melt the chocolate chips. Mimosas and Bloody Marys also are served (for a fee).

Panorama Bar & Grill (Deck 10): Those looking for a more casual option can hit the Panorama Bar & Grill buffet, where there's plenty of seating. Continental breakfast starts at 6:30 a.m., and the full breakfast buffet is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Late risers can still find a smaller selection of breakfast food until noon. Pastries and bread, fruit and cereal are available, as well as hot options like scrambled eggs, bacon, oatmeal and grits, although standard cruise-ship options like smoked salmon and muesli are missing. Still, the scrambled eggs, which are fluffy and light, are among the best we've had from a buffet at sea. The omelets prepared at the made-to-order egg station, located outside on the lido deck, are the best onboard.

For lunch, there's a small salad bar, a limited selection of hot foods like grilled fish, jerk chicken, pasta and rice, as well as bread and a dessert station. The chef usually selects a theme -- think "Caribbean" or "American." The ever-popular self-serve soft ice cream is (strangely) located on the salad bar, and it's available 24 hours a day. Lunch is served from noon to 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m.

Dinner runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and was lightly used on our sailing. At night, the salad bar includes more cold cuts and a section of cheeses. Hot options vary each night but are similar to what's offered at lunch: fish, chicken or beef with a grain or pasta. Desserts include items like tiramisu and various cakes.

Pizza Pirate (Deck 10): Really just an extension of the Panorama Bar & Grill, Pizza Pirate is located all the way aft on Deck 10. Two chefs toss pizza dough onsite, and pies are baked fresh 24 hours a day. Crusts are excellent: thin, crispy and flaky. Variety is just so-so, with mostly standard options like cheese or pepperoni. While the fresh pizza option is great, it does slow the process, and lines are often long, with wait times approaching 15 to 20 minutes.

Carnival Deli (Deck 10): Carnival Deli shares a counter with Pirate Pizza and offers sandwiches and wraps, made to order. Options include turkey wraps, Reubens and pastrami sandwiches that can be served cold or pressed. With only one or two chefs working there at once, waits can be long, even when there are only a few people standing in line. The deli is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Mongolian Rotisserie Grill (Deck 10): By far the most popular lunch spot onboard, the Mongolian Rotisserie Grill is a pretty true-to-land Mongolian restaurant. Passengers pile noodles and veggies into bowls, which are handed to chefs who add meat (salmon, chicken or beef) and sauce (black bean, Szechuan or Thai barbecue) and heat the concoctions in searing-hot woks. The sauces are nice, with the Szechuan packing some spicy punch. The downside? It's only open from noon to 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. each day, and lines are long from the start. It's not unusual to wait for a half hour to 45 minutes for a bowl of food. A rotisserie is located at the end of the Mongolian counter, and options include items like pork loin or prime rib. Lines there are much more reasonable. It's open at the same time the Mongolian Grill is open.

Off the Grill (Deck 10): Passengers can get burgers (both veggie and beef), dogs, chicken breasts and fries with chili or cheese at the ship's outdoor grill. Lines are long, but they move pretty quickly. The grill is open from noon to 6 p.m. Keep an eye on the daily FunTimes schedule for late-night buffets, which take place at Off the Grill. Our sailing had a Mexican Buffet, complete with tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and plenty of salsa.

Room service: Passengers can order room service for the morning by hanging a card with their choices on their doorknob the night before. Breakfast is strictly of the continental variety: cereal, toast, juice and fruit. While passengers are required to select a time window (say, 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.), room service stewards won't necessarily show up on time. Ours was knocking at our door 15 minutes early with the explanation that "we have a lot of orders for that time period." Sandwiches, both hot and cold, salads and desserts are available for lunch or dinner. Beer and soda can be ordered at regular bar prices. Room service is available 24 hours a day and is free, though a tip of a dollar or two is encouraged.

Fee Dining

Ecstasy has no true alternative dining venues. The Chef's Table and Rolls Royce Cafe offer the ship's only true for-fee options.

Chef's Table: Open to just 12 passengers, the Chef's Table takes place once a cruise in nontraditional dining venues like the galley or library. The night includes a galley tour, led by the ship's executive chef, a private cocktail reception and a multicourse dinner. The experience costs $75 per person.

Rolls Royce Cafe (Deck 9): For those passengers who want a better cup of coffee, there's the Rolls Royce Cafe, which serves specialty coffees, cappuccino, lattes and espresso, as well as spiked coffee options and milkshakes. It also offers desserts like chocolate-covered strawberries and towering slices of red velvet cake. All items are priced a la carte. Hours vary depending on port schedules, but it's generally open in the morning and again in the evening, usually until midnight.

Find a Carnival Ecstasy Cruise