Carnival is working on improving its cuisine, and past passengers on Breeze told us they noticed the difference. The core Breeze clientele tilts toward meat and potatoes and fried chicken, all of which are popular at the buffet and in the two main dining rooms. But foodies and vegetarians are considered, as well. Dining room menus mix American staples with options reflecting ports visited that day (jerk chicken wings for Jamaica) along with a daily special that cruisers might not have tried before, such as braised rabbit. Waiters are generally good at remembering names and preferences (likely in hopes of bigger tips, but they work hard). Dinnertime may find servers hopping on counters to sing and dance to upbeat hits such as Pharrell Williams' pop anthem, "Happy."
However, the universally praised eats on the ship are found in the for-fee steakhouse and the free hamburger and pizza stands on the Lido Deck.
Blush and Sapphire Main Dining Rooms (Decks 3 and 4, aft and forward): Carnival Breeze's main dining area is divided into two bi-level rooms, with kitchens in between. Blush Restaurant is aft; Sapphire Restaurant forward. Both are chic and contemporary, decorated in their namesake color schemes with recessed lights casting a glow. Both have 6:00 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. dinner seatings, with Sapphire hosting flexible dining where cruisers can choose when and at what table they want to dine starting at 5:45 p.m.
Sapphire offers open-seating breakfast (times vary) on port days; both dining rooms generally close for lunch when the ship is docked. Blush, with its dazzling chandeliers shaped like upside-down cones, serves lavish sea day brunches from 8:30 a.m. till 1 p.m. Don't miss the extra-cost Bloody Mary bar: Name your liquor and choose one of more than a dozen toppings (horseradish, anyone?).
The dining rooms' "American Table" fare strives to please all palates, with mixed results. Menus change daily, but popular items remain. You'll find interesting options such as smoked chicken quesadillas and Vietnamese spring rolls on the menu. Expect to see staples such as shrimp cocktail (small shrimp and so-so when we ordered it), flat iron steak, salmon, Caesar salad and chicken breast, as well as Carnival's signature gooey warm chocolate melting cake with a side of excellent vanilla ice cream. Quality varies: We found the fried chicken overcooked, but loved the comfort-food corn chowder. "Rare Finds" that "you always wanted to try" -- formerly dubbed the less sophisticated "Didja Ever?" -- included a superb house-cured salmon with dill cream. "Port of Call" choices included Latin-flavored croquets, empanadas and black bean salsa for Miami. Order all the food you care to eat.
Wine is not overpriced ($8 a glass, $30 a bottle for a New Zealand Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, for instance). California vintages from former Carnival Fun Ship spokeswoman and wine-loving Today show personality Kathie Lee Gifford also are on the list at $7.50 a glass or $29 per bottle. Heart-healthy and vegetarian options are marked. Even if you're not a vegetarian, we found a plate of fragrant basmati rice accompanied by a half-dozen savory side dishes better than some fare we've been served at fine Indian restaurants on land.
Passengers expecting all-you-can-eat filet mignon and lobster tail in the dining rooms might be disappointed -- a $20 surcharge is tacked on most nights and there is just one free lobster night per cruise.
The Lido Marketplace (Deck 10): Serving stations in the Lido Marketplace are divided into themed areas like Comfort Kitchen, the Deli, French Chef, Mongolian Wok and the Sweet Spot. You'll find everything from popular breakfast cereals, to pancakes, to eggs Benedict and made-to-order omelets for breakfast. Sandwiches, salad bar and a changing menu of entrees (but always fried chicken tenders) are available at lunch and dinner. Dinner entrees range from carved roast beef, to Chinese stir-fries, to chicken in wine sauce, to pasta dishes. Desserts include a changing roster of sweet treats, from oatmeal and granola cookies, to cherry cobbler, to pineapple custard rum pudding, to Jell-O.
On days at seas, the buffet complex feels like a big high school cafeteria at lunch hour. Forget about getting fried eggs, grits, mac and cheese or fried chicken tenders at the Comfort Kitchen without a long wait. The Deli serves great sandwiches, and roasts real turkey breasts for them -- a rarity at lunch spots these days. (You can get gluten-free bread.) Try leek and potato soup from the French Chef area, or put together a bowl of bean sprouts, bok choy and other veggies to be sauteed before your eyes with meat or shrimp if you choose at the well-received Mongolian Wok.
The Sweet Spot's the place to sin on home-baked cookies and cakes. But watch out for kids on sugar highs hitting the 24-hour soft-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. Seating at the buffet is thankfully broken up by walls into multiple areas so it doesn't feel as vast as it is. Beach umbrellas over some tables and striped wall hangings evoking cabanas give the Lido Marketplace an easy, breezy Caribbean vibe.
You'll find food on the Lido Deck from morning to night, though with an afternoon break for the buffet. Cruisers returning from excursions in the mid-afternoon complained about most buffet outlets being closed at that time. Free drinks are limited to water, iced tea and fake-tasting lemonade. We mixed lemonade with iced tea for a more appealing free beverage.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10): At Carnival's version of Chipotle, you can build your own burrito with meats, cheeses, peppers, beans and then visit a salsa bar with more options than you've probably seen. BlueIguana also serves tasty beef, chicken and shrimp tacos made to order. BlueIguana Cantina is open for breakfast (have your scrambled eggs, sausage and more wrapped into your burrito) and lunch daily. Your best bet to avoid lines is on port days.
Indian Tandoor (Deck 10): Watch as delicious naan bread is baked before your eyes and fork up the greatest hits of Indian cuisine, including tandoori and butter chicken, chickpea puree, mint chutney, and cucumber-and-yogurt raita. This authentic mini-eatery that's rarely crowded is tucked away aft, far from the buffet and near the quieter of the Lido Deck's two pools. We worry about its future: The fare was considered too spicy by many passengers we talked to, but it was our go-to lunch option on sea days. Open just for lunch, it wasn't mentioned on the daily printed "Fun Times" schedules we received.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10): Whether you're usually a hamburger fan or not, there's something supremely addictive about these juicy slabs of beef from Food Network star Guy Fieri (which can be smothered in "super melty cheese" and even served with another patty made of bacon). Alongside the burgers come hand-cut fries spiced with paprika. Stop at the toppings bar for sauteed mushrooms and onions, pickles and a half-dozen more options, and you're in hamburger heaven. Guy's serves its burgers well done for health reasons, but you can ask for a custom, less-cooked version. One cruiser even requested and received an off-the-menu veggie burger, served with a smile. Guy's is open daily from noon to 6 p.m. You'll wait if you come at peak hours.
Pizza Pirate (Deck 10): A Breeze legend after last call, this 24-hour stand bakes pies to order. The downside is no instant gratification; you'll probably have to cool your heels on the line for Pizza Pirate. The upside is warm, thin-crusted spheres that are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Don't be surprised if the passenger in line next to you at 2 a.m. is wearing a bathrobe and slippers.
The Taste Bar (Deck 5): A creative concept, this food stand by the Ocean Plaza gathering spot offers small samples of what's served in various restaurants aboard. It's a good way to decide which for-fee restaurant you might want to visit. Taste Bar is open 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on sea days.
Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse (Deck 5): Another Guy Fieri creation, Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse is the place to go for decadent barbecue and indulgent sides like mac 'n' cheese, coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad.
SeaDogs (Deck 12): The old-school hot dog cart appeals to the kid in all of us but is only open sporadically on the sports deck by the mini-golf course.
Room Service: It's available 24 hours, but not everything is free. No-charge Continental breakfasts include better-than-expected bagels, limp croissants the French would sneer at, hot coffee, juice, cereals and fresh fruit. Order a delicious roast turkey sandwich or a corned beef Reuben with a side of potato salad and/or slaw at no extra charge. Ditto for cheesecake and cookies. You'll pay extra for sushi, chicken wings, crispy chicken tenders, fried firecracker shrimp, and "Authentic Philly Cheesesteak," though all are $6 or less. Personal pan pizzas (not as good as the pies baked on deck) are $5. Delivery times vary. Once the breakfast order placed on our stateroom door overnight was forgotten, once it arrived earlier than promised and once it was missing an item. But after complaints, resolution was cheerful and prompt.
The Chef's Table (Deck 3); $75: (Only one group can book at a time.) You and up to a dozen others dine on a set seven-course tasting menu in Breeze's giant galley, surrounded by workers prepping and cooking. But your dinner will be on a far higher plane than what your main dining room compatriots are forking up, re-creating cuisine you might expect at the world's costliest restaurants. This dining option lets the executive chef and assistants show off what they've learned at culinary school and trips abroad. Start with top-notch amuse-bouches to whet your appetite. We were treated to a taste of molecular cuisine, with a mango juice that was turned into gel atop a rosemary biscuit. Then came a cone of salmon tartarewith avocado, onions and lemon-lime zest, bite-sized double-cooked lamb with Indian spices and beef carpaccio with chocolate-striped bacon. The main courses: a "beet blanket" with asparagus and lemon streusel, crab stack with corn custard and polenta cracker, duck with creamy quinoa, tomato/basil bisque with garlic chip, chorizo-crusted sea bass and Wagyu beef with bone marrow souffle. Desserts included sea-salt praline chocolates, Key lime cake and apricot vanilla gel. Cost includes wines. Reservations far in advance are essential, as the chef's table usually sells out. We dare a food snob to walk away unsatisfied.
Dr. Seuss Breakfast in the Sapphire Restaurant (Deck 3); $5: Ready for green eggs and ham? Or a colorful stack of hotcakes? Oh, yes, I am. The whimsical meal with costumed Seuss characters, including The Cat in the Hat, takes place at least once per cruise on a sea day
Plaza Cafe (Deck 5): Open from 7 a.m. to midnight daily, this is the ship's Starbucks. Grab a $2.95 to$3.50 latte and a giant hunk of Black Forest Cake for $2.25. Ice cream and spiked port-themed coffee drinks also are sold.
Bonsai Sushi (Deck 5): Perch on tall chairs upholstered in celadon-colored fabric at tables or a sushi bar in this contemporary Japanese eatery. The must-order item: a small wooden ship loaded with sushi and rolls for two. It's a reasonable $17, including miso soup and side salad. Rolls run $5 to $7; good-quality sushi and sashimi are $1.50 a piece. Tick off what you want on the provided notepads and complement your picks with Kirin beer or warm sake. Occasionally, servers wave flags and break into song. No reservations required. Bonsai Sushi is open 5 p.m. to midnight.
Fahrenheit 555 (Deck 5); $35: Book early for the most popular specialty dining on Carnival Breeze. Entrees at this steakhouse include 9-ounce filet mignon, surf and turf with lobster tail, 14-ounce New York strip or the 18-ounce spice-rubbed prime ribeye steak. Lamb chops, lobster ravioli and fish of the day also are served. Appetizers include escargots, ahi tuna tartare, jumbo shrimp cocktail (far better than what's served in the dining room) and lobster bisque with cognac. Save room for the biggest slice of cheesecake you've probably ever had, served in a romantic and intimate (69-seat), dimly lighted dining room, with contemporary suede-like pumpkin-colored banquettes and armchairs and gleaming dark wood tables. Dinner only.
Cucina del Capitano (Deck 11); $15 for adults and $5 for kids: Its Italian name means "The Captain's Kitchen"; the brick walls of the restaurant are adorned with photos and memorabilia from Carnival's Italian captains. Appetizers served at tables with red-checked cloths include excellent fried risotto balls, antipasti such as cured prosciutto and roasted peppers. A standout salad is arugula with Parmesan cheese and creative Limoncello-tinged dressing. A noteworthy entree is the spaghetti carbonara, a divine melding of pasta, cream, Parmesan and bacon. Tiramisu is a good dessert choice. During dinner at Cucina del Capitano, expect to be serenaded by singing, dancing servers. Odds are you'll hear "That's Amore."Reservations are suggested. At lunch, there's a free pasta bar.