Carnival has in recent years become -- and this may surprise some -- known not only for the quality of its cuisine but also for the variety of styles available onboard. These include options like Spa Carnival Fare, health-conscious items low in calories, cholesterol, sodium and fat.
Onboard dining options revolve primarily around Imagination and Sensation, the ship's main dining rooms. The ship has two seatings -- early (6 p.m.) and late (8:15 p.m.) -- or passengers can opt into the "Your Choice Dining" program, which means dinner in a reserved part of the dining room is available from 5:45 to 9:30 p.m., first come, first served.
Starters include salads, stuffed mushrooms, soups and bisques. But the most popular options are the line's standards: fruit cocktail, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad.
The broiled Maine lobster tail, paired with black tiger shrimp, is as good as it gets. Hearty surf and turf souls can exchange the shrimp for grilled flat-iron steak or, as is always the case with Carnival, can order additional entrees including options like pan-seared fillet of tilapia, linguini, pork, lasagna, grouper, roast turkey breast and duck. Carnival also offers salmon, chicken, ribs and steak at every dinner sitting.
Desserts run the gamut from ice cream, sherbets and cheeses to the ever-popular warm chocolate melting cake ... the guiltiest of all Carnival pleasures.
Unlike several Carnival ships, there is no specialty restaurant onboard Carnival Fascination. However, for an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multicourse dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
Those seeking a more casual dining experience may do so in the 722-seat Coconut Grove Bar & Grill, the ship's buffet venue. A self-serve breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet venue, it is here where passengers congregate for pancakes, cereal, bacon and sausage in the mornings; burgers, chicken, made-to-order pizza and deli selections at lunch; and prime rib, pork, lamb or turkey carving stations each evening. Passenger flow could not be better as food stations are located on both port and starboard sides, aft (24-hour pizza) and in the middle of the room, where the deli, salad, dessert and 24-hour self-serve yogurt/ice cream stations are located.
Sun-worshipers need not despair as Fascination's pool grill -- typically open from noon to 6 p.m. daily -- is but a few steps away and offers burgers, hot dogs, chicken, fries and the like. In 2010, the line added a Mongolian stir-fry setup and rotisserie chicken to the pool grill.
There's even an onboard sushi station. Dubbed "The Sushi Bar," this Promenade deck locale is typically open from 5 to 8 p.m. (hours change, so check the schedule onboard). As word gets out, expect increasingly longer line-ups as your cruise progresses, but it's worth the wait. Look for the traditional -- California roll -- plus exotic offerings like a ginger cured salmon, spring onion bean sprout maki roll or cucumber wrapped tiger shrimp and bokchoy uramaki with maple barbecue glace. Best of all, it's complimentary and serves as a great pre-dinner appetizer or, if one is so inclined, dinner itself.
The ship offers 24-hour room service. Deliveries now include many deli and pizza options not previously available. You can also order continental breakfast.