Food on Carnival Fantasy is a mixed bag, with some of the offerings truly outstanding and others, not so much. Breakfast is available from a variety of free venues -- the Celebration dining room, room service, the BlueIguana Cantina and the Windows on the Sea Buffet -- generally through midmorning. Free dining venues, including the main dining rooms, launch into lunch at around noon, stopping service anywhere from 2 to 6 p.m. Main dining room lunch is available from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Pizza, soft serve ice cream and room service are available 24 hours.
Although a few of the buffet items we tried were not good, the majority of the food included in the fare, notably the pizza and burgers, was outstanding. The main dining rooms are ready and willing to accommodate dietary restrictions such as gluten-free and vegetarian -- in fact, at least one vegetarian option is offered on the dinner menu every night.
Passengers have two choices for dinner in the main dining room. Your Time Dining allows you to eat anytime between 5:45 and 8:30 p.m. For those who like to stick to a schedule, set-seating is at 6 and 8:15 p.m. We had Your Time Dining and tried out different dining times. We found that lines were long (yet moved swiftly) at 5, and gradually tapered off during later dining times, resulting in barely any wait at all come 8:30 or so. Diners waiting for a table are given beepers to let them know when their table is ready. The dinner menu is posted outside the entrance for passengers to peruse prior to being seated.
Celebration and Jubilee Dining Rooms (Deck 8, fore and aft, respectively): These dining rooms are similar in appearance and have identical menus. Both provide a sprawling yet somehow cozy affair, with warm brown and beige carpeting, heavy wooden chairs, sparkly track lighting and close table arrangements. Window seats are plentiful.
Menu descriptions have fancy names that hearken to the past (chateaubriand with bearnaise sauce as the entree and cherries jubilee for dessert, for example), and more often than not, the taste of the food reflected the descriptions (i.e., delicious).
Portions are small, but that's not a problem since meals are multicourse affairs (appetizer, entree and dessert) and you may order extras of whatever you want (such as two appetizers or desserts, for example).
Each night, there is a little of Carnival's signature "fun," on the menu in the form of a "Didja Ever" offering: on one night it was escargot and on another, alligator fritters.
Additionally, dinner isn't just about food; dining room staff frequently break out into audience participation song-and-dance numbers. In our case, this included a rendition of "That's Amore" with couples encouraged to dance on one night and the Macarena followed by the Chicken Dance on another. Participation ranged from napkin swinging and clapping to full-blown getting on your feet and joining in.
Carnival's American Table and American Feast dinner concepts will soon roll out on Fantasy bringing new appetizers, entrees and desserts to the ship, all with an emphasis on American cuisine incorporating regional fresh and contemporary dishes. A sample menu listed a seared tuna appetizer, lamb shank entree and for dessert a passion fruit flan and coconut lime cake.
Standouts on the current dinner menus are the gourmet cheese plate (offered as a dessert but which we ordered as an entree one night, with creamy potato and carrot soup, a delicious combination) and the line's famous Warm Chocolate Melting Cake (which is exactly what it sounds like, served in a ramekin with a scoop of vanilla or butter pecan ice cream on the side).
Dining room breakfasts are good, particularly the Seaday Brunch, offered on one morning per cruise, which features a popular favorite, bagels and lox. Order them with hash browns, which are similar to fast-food "hash rounds," and very tasty. Lox is also available instead of Canadian bacon on the eggs Benedict, which was a popular choice among diners. Many of the breakfast and brunch entrees are served with fresh fruit. An added treat during Seaday Brunch is it comes with dessert, and sides like bacon can be added to any breakfast meal. Banana cream pie was a fitting and delicious end to our brunch meal. On non-Seaday Brunch days, lunch is offered in the main dining rooms.
Breakfast is considerably less crowded than dinner, with no waiting for tables and minimal wait times for food. We were seated with fellow cruisers during all of the breakfasts, which was fine since they were all pleasant, friendly folks.
The Taste Bar (Deck 9): The Taste Bar offers bite-sized tastings from all the ship's dining venues during pre-dinner hours, typically from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on most nights. Offerings might include sushi, as well as menu items from BlueIguana Cantina, the Steakhouse menu and even the Captain's Table. It's a permanent, less-formal version of the main dining rooms, with small round tables surrounded by brown wicker chairs with plush green cushions. Chefs prepare food in an open kitchen. With ferns hanging from the slatted ceiling, this space has an upscale bistro feel, but passengers can always come as they are.
Windows on the Sea Buffet (Deck 10): Connected to the Lido deck outdoor pool area by a long, wide hallway with tables and chairs lining either side, the buffet features various elaborate food stations around its perimeter. Breakfast is available starting at 6:30, with a Late Risers Buffet offered until noon. Besides the standards of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, French toast, bagels, biscuits and grits, there are also omelet stations. Different lines have different offerings.
Lunch and dinner offerings included a salad bar that has everything from greens to fruits to various pasta salads; fried chicken; carving and themed stations such as an Italian one with alternating dishes of lasagna, baked ziti, eggplant Parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs are also available at lunch and dinner. Buffet lunch and dinner menus, including entrees, sides and desserts, vary daily. Offerings are similar, whether it is lunch or dinner. The buffet closes between meals with various stations closing at different times; everything is closed by roughly 10 p.m. Self-serve beer on tap is available there for those 21 and up.
Some outdoor seating is available, however, on our cruise we found it too windy to eat outside.
Despite looking good, much of the food we tried in the buffet was, unfortunately, sometimes subpar. We weren't alone in our opinion as we heard numerous grumblings about the buffet food among passengers. (A notable exception for us was a cold bow tie pasta salad.)
Pizza Pirate (Deck 10): Tucked away at the very back of the buffet is a real treasure: Pizza Pirate, which offers some of the best pizza we've ever eaten, with a thin, slightly charred crust that tastes straight out of Italy, and succulent, fresh toppings. It's available in Margherita, pepperoni, four cheese and mushroom. The chefs pop it in the pizza oven right after you order so it comes out piping hot. The venue is open 24/7.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10): Offered through a partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri and decorated in his signature red-and-black, rock-and-roll theme, this lunch option offers 80 to 20 percent ground-chuck burgers and fresh-cut fries. Both were consistently tasty and popular among passengers. Burgers can be had with your choice of toppings including lettuce and tomato, Guy's "Donkey Sauce," chili, barbecue sauce and onion rings. The "Pig Patty" incorporates bacon into the beef. More of a "nook" than an actual restaurant, Guy's is located just outside the hallway leading to Windows on the Sea, behind BlueIguana Cantina. Since chefs pre-prepare patties to keep up with demand, the freshness of the burgers (and fries) varies, but we always found ours to be relatively fresh.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10): Located near the pool, BlueIguana offers breakfast burritos, arepa (soft Latin American cornbread) and huevos rancheros during breakfast and fish, pork and beef tacos and burritos at lunch. A condiment station has an array of salsas and hot sauces, along with all the usual toppings such as cheese, sour cream, lettuce and tomato.
Room Service: An array of sandwiches (turkey, PB&J, grilled cheese, Reuben) and desserts (cheesecake, cookies) are available 24 hours at no charge. Continental breakfast is delivered promptly, politely and accurately upon request via a door hanger you put outside your cabin before 5 a.m. It includes options such as bagels, English muffins, fruit, yogurt, cereals and condiments such as cream cheese and preserves. This is particularly convenient for days with full itineraries that start early. The coffee was consistently top-notch -- the perfect temperature, full bodied and fresh. In addition to the included options, snacks such as spicy fried firecracker shrimp and the killer chicken quesadilla, as well as an old-fashioned banana split are available for a nominal fee of $2 to $6.
The Chef's Table (Deck 8, midship): Reservations are recommended for this "intimate experience" with the ship's executive chef that includes cocktails, appetizers, entrees and desserts not found in the regular dining rooms. Taking place one night per cruise, the Chef's Table is held in either the Library or Galley and is open to passengers 12 years and older. The cost is $95 per person. Examples of what might be on the menu are filet mignon and fried calamari, and creme brulee for dessert. Diners are asked about dietary restrictions and food allergies beforehand. The Chef's Dinner always takes place on a Cruise Elegant night, so dressy attire is expected.
Coffee Bar (Deck 9): The Coffee Bar offers high-end coffee chain-style beverages and pastries. It's a good option on debarkation day when nearly everyone onboard seems to be in the buffet line for a cup of coffee. It is open 24 hours.