We love that Carnival Vista's free dining spots outnumber those that cost money, though with many free venues only open at select times or on select days it doesn't always feel that way. (Fresh Creations salad bar, for instance, is only open for lunch on sea days.) There's still plenty to eat without spending a dime, and, in fact, our two favorite lunchtime venues were both complimentary (Mongolian Wok and The Pasta Bar).
Generally speaking the food on Vista is good, though we'd have to say our meals in the specialty restaurants (both free and extra fee eateries) tended to be a tad better than what we had in the main dining room or buffet. With that said, we never had a truly bad meal. Most of the complaints we heard about the overall dining experience were gripes about limited hours for spots like Bonsai Sushi and Guy's Burger on port days.
Horizons (Decks 3 and 4) and Reflections (Deck 3) Restaurants
Meals: Breakfast (B), Dinner (D)
Carnival Vista's two main dining rooms: The two-deck Horizons is for the flexible Your Time Dining program participants (choose when you want to dine and a table will be assigned at the time), while the smaller Reflections Restaurant is for those with assigned seating; dinner is at either 6 p.m. or 8:15 p.m. Horizons also has a small bar inside, perfect for a pre-dinner drink if you're waiting for a table.
One unusual detail regarding the Your Time Dining: Diners who have chosen Your Time Dining must first stop at a desk on Deck 5 near Java Blue cafe, to sign in for dinner and get their table assignment. It's out of the way, depending on where you're coming from, and you then have to wait in line twice.
Breakfast is served in Horizons on port days; on sea days, it's brunch. Both are sit-down affairs. The breakfast menu features standard morning items, while the brunch menu is double-sided -- one side for breakfast items, the other for lunch items.
For dinner, both restaurants offer Carnival's American Table on most nights and American Feast on cruise elegant nights. The casual American Table is characterized by a lack of tablecloths, which some veteran Carnival cruisers don't like, but we didn't miss. On American Feast night, the white tablecloths do come out. Dinner menus are the same in both restaurants.
Dining is banquet style with a multicourse menu that includes rotating items, along with always available dishes. Food tends to be Pan-American with the occasional ethnic dish (Tex Mex penne, lasagna, sweet-and-sour shrimp, etc.).
Each night also offers a few special items; one, an appetizer, is labeled a "Rare Find" and described on the menu as "food you always wanted to try, but haven't yet dared." These items could include alligator fritters, tuna tartar, braised ox tongue and escargots.
Also available every night are several steakhouse selections that carry a surcharge of $20 each.
The menu is slightly smaller on American Feast nights when the dishes available are bumped up a notch.
Regardless of whether it's an American Table or American Feast night, dinners on Carnival Vista are a festive affair, as they are on all Carnival ships, and your waiters will sing and dance for you every night. Feel free to join them, they love it when you do!
Lido Marketplace (Deck 10)
Meals: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D)
The ship's buffet, Lido Marketplace, offers an impressive amount of seating, both in terms of quantity and variety, so you'll rarely be wandering around looking for a spot to sit.
Breakfast features all the usual morning options, while at lunch and dinner, Lido Marketplace is divided into distinct areas. Comfort Kitchen, located near the entrance by the Lido Pool, offers a variety of American favorites; at the back of Lido Marketplace, you'll find the carving station as well as a section called (on a rotating basis) Caribbean Favorites, Italian Favorites and Good Eats. You'll find a small salad bar in each section and the Carnival Deli is located all the way at the back of Lido Marketplace. Both sides of the buffet have a Sweet Spot dessert station. Around the corner are the popular 24/7 soft serve ice-cream machines.
Also on both sides of the buffet are self-pour beer taps with Bud Light and ThirstyFrog Red; swipe your card to activate the tap. Self-service beverage stations, scattered throughout the buffet, offer complimentary lemonade, water, tea (iced and hot) and coffee. At breakfast, the beverage choices are orange, apple and orange-passion fruit-guava cocktail juices.
Pizzeria del Capitano (Deck 10)
Meals: Open 24/7
Located at the back of the ship, right by the Tides pool and across from the Seafood Shack, this pizza place makes five varieties of individually sized pizzas, all available free of charge 24 hours a day. Slices and gluten-free pies are available as well.
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10)
One of Carnival's most popular eateries, Guy's Burger Joint is the brainchild of celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Build your own or choose from five pre-designed burgers. You'll also find delicious crispy fries and a generous toppings bar. Be prepared for a long line during prime lunch hours, but it usually moves fast. Veggie burgers are not advertised but are available upon request.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10)
Meals: B, L
It's Cinco de Mayo every day at this poolside Mexican venue, where tacos and burritos are on offer for lunch. Choose a tortilla (or have your taco or burrito served up on a platter if you don't want the wrap), protein as well as optional ingredients, plus there's a salsa bar with even more toppings. BlueIguana Cantina is hopping for lunch, but breakfast is quiet and the scrambled egg burritos are delish.
Mongolian Wok (Deck 12)
This free Asian noodle venue, located inside of JiJi Asian Kitchen, was one of our regular lunchtime go-to spots. Though you sit at a regular table, table service is limited to the delivery of your meal as Mongolian Wok diners order by filling out a paper form selecting a protein, what type of noodle and what sauce they'd like, and then add extras from a list of options.
The Pasta Bar (Deck 12)
Located inside Cucina del Capitano, The Pasta Bar (a somewhat misleading name as you actually eat in a sit-down restaurant) is a great, free spot for Italian food lovers to get a quick meal. Choices, which you indicate by filling out a paper form given to you by your server, begin with the pasta itself, but also include five sauces and a variety of ingredients. You can also order a meat lasagna if you don't want pasta, and can supplement any meal with a Caesar salad and bread. Half-portions are available, as well.
Fresh Creations (Deck 15)
Meals: L (sea days)
Meals: B, L, D
In-cabin dining is available 24 hours a day, though breakfast choices are all cold options. Anytime options are sandwiches, garden or Caesar salads, and a market vegetable platter. For a small fee, you can order wings, chicken tenders, fried shrimp, chicken quesadilla, Philly cheesesteak, pizza and fries.
Pricing was accurate at time of review, but may have changed since.
The Chef's Table (Deck 5); $75
Located inside the Reflection's main galley (kitchen), the 16-seat Chef's Table is separated from all the action by a glass wall so diners can watch the hustle and bustle as waiters come and go. The evening kicks off with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres inside the galley, followed by a tour of the galley and then concludes with an eight-course meal, all hosted by one of the ship's master chefs. The Chef's Table is proving to be very popular with cruisers, and on most sailings it's already sold out by the time the cruise departs. Pre-cruise or first-day reservations are essential.
Fahrenheit 555 (Deck 5); $38 for adults, $12 for kids
With its sophisticated atmosphere, the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse is a great date night choice; its selection of aged beef steaks, lamb chops, lobster tail and grilled fish specialties, along with 17 appetizer, salad, soup and side dish choices means there's something for nearly everyone. (We don't recommend it for vegetarians.) Reservations are highly recommended.
Bonsai Sushi (Deck 5); a la carte, $2 to $22
Meals: L (sea days), D
Hands down the most popular eatery onboard Carnival Vista, Bonsai Sushi offers a comprehensive menu of sushi, sashimi and bento boxes, as well as cooked-to-order items. The more adventurous can choose the Omakase meal, in which the chef prepares a series of sushi and sashimi dishes just for you. Reservations are not permitted so be prepared to wait.
RedFrog Pub & Brewery (Deck 5); a la carte, $3 to $4
In addition to its liquid libations, you'll find small-plate Caribbean-inspired pub grub after 6 p.m. at RedFrog Pub.
Seafood Shack (Deck 10); a la carte, $4 to $12 for a single item, per pound market prices
Meals: L, D
Fans of comfort seafood, like fried shrimp, lobster rolls, crab cakes and good old-fashioned fish and chips, will want to check out Seafood Shack. Order at the outdoor counter and your food will be delivered to one of the picnic-style tables located a few steps away. You can also purchase fresh fish, bought at one or more ports along your cruise. Pick which fresh fish you'd like and have it cooked on the spot or preorder to have it delivered to whichever restaurant you're dining at that night.
Cucina del Capitano (Deck 11); $15 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under
Prepare to walk away from Cucina del Capitano, with its old-fashioned trattoria feel and featuring a menu of family-sized Italian staples, stuffed to the gills. Reservations are recommended but not required.
JiJi Asian Kitchen (Deck 11); $15 for adults, $5 for kids
Dining at JiJi is a smorgasbord for the taste buds, where menu items from China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore are shared family style, giving everyone a chance to taste multiple appetizers, entrees and sides. We highly recommend the super spicy Kung Pao chicken. Reservations are recommended but not required.