Curious about what to expect from Carnival cruise food? I was, too! Here are tips for making the most of your Carnival dining experience, cruise food photos and menus, and more!
Food on Carnival Cruise
Food is a big deal on cruises.
I mean, for the most part, you can get delicious food at all hours of the day and night – and it can really make or break your experience.
There’s a reason why the average person gains between 5-10 pounds while cruising (thankfully, I was able to escape that fate!)
When I was researching which cruise line to go with, Carnival seemed to have a good reputation for having delicious food.
The first meal we had was at a buffet, and I’ll admit, I was very underwhelmed. However, the food throughout the rest of the cruise really impressed me, and I came away feeling very satisfied with my experience.
Since I know many people who are about to cruise with Carnival for the first time are probably like me and very curious about how food works, I thought I would put together this guide to Carnival cruise food. Please be aware that this is specific to the Carnival Ecstacy, though they have very similar dining on all the ships.
I’ve heard that the best cruise food is on the Carnival cruise line – and I was pretty impressed by the end of the trip!
Is Food Included on Cruises?
I wasn’t totally sure of this at first when we booked our cruise. I’d heard that cruises were all-inclusive, but then I saw people talking about paying for food, so I was confused.
If you don’t want to pay an extra dime on your cruise, you don’t have to! There are free options available for every meal – including room service. And they are more than sufficient in my opinion. They have a huge variety, and the food is available all day and into the evening, so if you are wondering if food is included – YES!
There are, of course, premium options or special activities – like the Dr. Seuss breakfast – but these are purely optional.
Can You Bring Food on a Cruise?
You can bring your own food on the cruise if you need/want to. Just be aware that at most ports, you will not be allowed to bring food off of the boat into the country you are going to.
When you book your cruise, you will be given an option for different times to eat dinner:
- Early Dining (around 8 PM)
- Late Dining (Around 5:45 PM)
- Your Time Dining (Between 5:45 and 9:30 PM)
When we booked our cruise, the only options available still were late dining and your time dining. Since we have small children, it was a pretty easy choice what we were going to do.
Here are the main differences between set dining times and the Your Time Dining times:
- With set dining, you sit at the same table every night; you are typically placed with other people you may not know.
- You will also have the same waiter every night
- If you are more than 30 minutes late, you typically won’t get to eat in the dining room that night
- With Your Time Dining, you can go any time between 5:45 and 9 PM; much more flexible – we found this to be helpful, especially with having kids
- You sit somewhere different every night, and you typically won’t have the same waiter
I know a lot of people love having the same waiter every night, and they create a fun bond, so if that’s important to you…the set dining time might be helpful!
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Because gratuities are automatically added to your bill for the trip, you do not need to tip each waiter individually. However, there are some instances where you will need to add an additional gratuity, such as for room service (even for the free items) or often at bars.
Carnival Cruise Dining Options
There are SO many options for eating aboard Carnival Cruise ships – and I found the food to all be pretty delicious. There’s really something for everyone.
The actual dining facilities may vary depending on the cruise, but in general, you will typically find:
- Open Buffet
- Formal dining rooms
- Steak House ($$)
And now I’ll go over the specific options aboard the Carnival Ecstacy. Most of these are going to be available on other ships in the Carnival fleet.
Main Dining Room
Since most people will eat dinner in one of the main dining rooms, I will start with that. We really enjoyed being able to sit down in a nice restaurant each night. Even though we had our young children with us, they did pretty well!
As soon as we sat down, they brought out a variety of different breads and butter. I LOVED these, and I probably filled up on them too quickly (even though I didn’t gain weight on the cruise!) But they were so good. These were great for keeping our kiddos at bay as their meals were prepared. You can request they bring them out with your actual food, though, which might be a good way to avoid eating too much!
We were able to order drinks at this point as well, but we always opted for water. Most drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) will cost a premium, so keep that in mind.
Each night, the menu was somewhat different. There were some of the same staples, but for the most part, there was a nice, big variety. They typically offered at least one special that was based on the port of call from that day – for instance, they had Shrimp and Grits when we left Charleston, and one night they had some kind of conch dish after we left Princess Cay.
They also had premium options, such as surf and turf, that you could pay extra for. However, I found that they included options were delicious enough to not even be tempted!
Here are a couple of photos from the different menus for each night:
You can order appetizers, a main dish, side dishes, and a dessert. There’s definitely no reason to be starving after coming for a meal. If there are multiple main dishes you want, you can order an appetizer portion so you can try and larger variety without wasting a bunch of food.
I enjoyed getting an appetizer each night (or more than one). Some of them were a bit strange. I didn’t love the corn chowder or the Caesar salad – for some reason, they tasted rather fishy to me.
I did really enjoy these stuffed mushrooms, though. So yummy!
I tried a lot of different items, but I think my favorite was definitely the lasagna and an Indian vegetarian dish. It was SO good. I was sad I didn’t actually eat much of it, because I had filled up on appetizers and bread!
The last night I got ribs, a baked potato, a cornbread muffin, and baked beans. It was also totally delicious.
The first night, I decided to try and be healthy, and I got salmon. It wasn’t really my favorite – it seemed a bit dry, and I wish it had been paired with some kind of dill sauce. It wasn’t bad though!
The kid’s menu was great – they had several different options, and our boys loved being able to pick one out. They came with either veggies, fries, or pasta as a side. Be warned, though – the pasta side was HUGE, and it definitely was more like a main dish.
EXPERT TIP: One thing that I think is worth noting is that even though macaroni and cheese wasn’t on the menu, they did offer it…and it was GOOD macaroni and cheese. I normally don’t like mac and cheese, and I almost wanted to order it for my dinner, too. They also have kid-friendly desserts – our boys loved the banana splits. They had some kind of custard on them that as to DIE for.
EXPERT TIP: Ask them to bring out the kid’s meals as soon as they are ready. The main dishes seemed to take a little longer, and I’m not sure my kids would have loved waiting for food that long (and I wouldn’t have, either!).
The desserts from the main menu were delicious. They had a few staples every night (such as the molten chocolate cake), but then they would have several different options each night as well. I had a Mexican tres leches that was SO good, and the dessert I had on the last night, I could hardly get enough of it. It was a bread pudding of sorts, and I just wish I had one to eat right now.
This was the buffet that was available throughout the day and evening on the Carnival Ecstacy. During the evening, the food at the buffet was pretty much a condensed version of what you could order in the main dining rooms – every time we walked by, I was like, “Hey! That’s what I had tonight!” If you prefer a more casual dining experience, this is definitely a good option for that.
They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and each of these meals has a dessert and pastry table (breakfast was more baked goods than desserts). I only ate at the buffet once for lunch, and it wasn’t my favorite…but it wasn’t terrible either. They have a well-stocked salad bar, which is nice.
The desserts were usually quite tasty! They had at least ten different things each day, so you definitely can satisfy that sweet tooth. There is also a soft serve ice cream station, which our boys loved going to. Jack was SO excited because one day we let him have ice cream with his breakfast (I know, parents of the year).
Sometimes if we were too full for dessert at dinner, we would come to the Lido later to get dessert and eat on the deck as we watched sunset. It was so fun!
I went here on the first day since I didn’t really find much of the buffet to be very appealing. I didn’t understand how it worked at first, so I ended up standing in line for a long time.
The pizzas are – more or less – cooked to order, though they always seemed to be cooking pizza and cheese. 1/2 the pizza is considered a slice, at least when I got it. They have about eight different pizzas to choose from.
The pizza was thin and chewy. I thought ours tasted quite good. I got a pizza with arugula and prosciutto, but to be honest, I preferred the pepperoni. This is open all day, and I believe into the evening.
I don’t even know if this has a name! It didn’t really stand out, but it was right next to the Pizza Pirate. I never got a sandwich there, but every time I saw someone with one, I really wanted it! They paninis looked amazing. They have tons of different sandwich meats, cheeses, and breads (as well as items like peanut butter and jelly), so it’s a great place for a quick lunch or snack.
Guy’s Burger Joint
We are big Food Network fans, so I was excited to try this place out. I was a little surprised when I found that it was pretty much a burger buffet, but that was fine.
When you first get into the line, there is a sign with a bunch of different burgers. You can tell them which one you want, and if it has specialty items on it, they will cook those to put on the burger. It was really loud when I ordered mine, so the guy didn’t quite understand me, and I didn’t end up getting what I wanted…but that was fine! There is a big buffet area with different toppings and sauces you can put on top.
Each burger comes with lots of french fries. I thought it was all pretty good. The burgers were thinner, but I like them like that. It did feel a little bit greasy, though. I only had a burger once, but they are worth trying. I thought the buns were great!
I loved this place! It’s a little Mexican restaurant you can eat at, and it’s right outside by the pool. For breakfast, they have breakfast burritos, which I LOVED. They put everything that I wanted in it, and I thought they tasted delicious.
During the rest of the day, they have tacos and burritos with a variety of toppings and meats. I had these for lunch one day, and I thought they tasted pretty good. There is a large salsa bar, so you definitely can put whatever you want on it.
The only thing I wish was that they offered tortilla chips!
So this may not be applicable to all Carnival cruises, but if you go on one that goes to Princess Cay (and I believe Half Moon Cay as well), they host an island BBQ for you while you are on the beach.
The line for this took FOREVER! As I was standing in line, I kept thinking, “Forget this! We’ll just eat when we go back to the boat!” However, it was really, really good. They had hamburgers and hot dogs, but they also had BBQ chicken, tons of salads and sides, and delicious desserts. There was definitely something for everyone, plus you didn’t have to pay extra for it!
I think breakfast was my favorite part of the day – they had SO many great options, and I just loved them. Their scrambled eggs were delicious.
There was such a huge variety of foods – I had everything from omelettes, to burritos, to breakfast taquitos, to egg muffins. They also have all the traditional options, such as sausage, bacon, eggs, grits, and lots of breads. We only ate out at the Lido (except for one morning), and this worked well for us. They do have other breakfast options – some that come at a premium cost, and you can eat in the main dining room. There was a Sea Day Brunch one day that sounded delicious, but we didn’t do this.
**Expert tip – The line for the breakfast buffet in the Lido was always REALLY long! However, they had a breakfast buffet outside at the Blue Iguana/Guys’, and the lines were SO much shorter – and they had everything that they had inside. In fact, they also had an omelette station, which I really enjoyed, as well as breakfast burritos at the Blue Iguana.
Dr. Seuss Breakfast
This was a fun activity for the kiddos and adults! It was just $5 per person, and on the last day of the cruise, we dined on whimsical meals themed from Dr. Seuss. The tables were decorated in really fun decorations, they had Dr. Seuss-themed music playing, and they even had some special guests (aka, Dr. Seuss characters) come visit the kids.
I wish I had worried less about how many calories I was eating and gotten a better breakfast. I ended up just getting an egg white omelete, and I didn’t like it. Here are some of the more fun additions to the day:
Carnival offers a great room service option with free and paid options. The free options are pretty simple (for breakfast, they had cereals, pastries, fruit, etc., and for other meals, they had sandwiches and salads and a couple of desserts), but they are nice if you don’t want to have to leave your room. They do have some options that you can pay for.
Keep in mind that the gratuity for room service is typically extra, so don’t be surprised when you are asked to add gratuity.
Expert Tip: Okay, I’m not sure this will make me seem like an expert, but when we ordered breakfast room service one day, I filled out the card to put on our door the night before. I just put a checkmark next to each item I wanted, and I figured they would bring one of each.
Nope, they brought one for EACH person in our room – so we ended up with a lot of food that we didn’t want/need. So make sure you specify the quantities that you’d like.
They had a restaurant called the Chef’s Table, which cost extra. We didn’t go to this, but I’m sure it was great…we just didn’t want to pay 🙂 I know bigger cruise ships have other paid options, but you can check on the Carnival website for more specifics on these.
Carnival Cruise Drinks
Water and juices are typically free. In the Lido, there is a drink station where you can get cups of water, lemonade, and juice in the morning. I would always fill up my large 64-ounce water bottle there each morning, With that said, the water from the bar and restaurants is much better than the water from the buffet area. You can go up to any place like this and ask for ice water for free.
You cannot bring your own soda or alcohol on the boat, so don’t even try. You can bring an empty water bottle, though. As I mentioned, I brought my 64-ounce water bottle, which worked great. They have water bottles you can buy, but I didn’t want to waste my money on that!
They offer two drink packages that you can buy in bulk either before you get on board, or on the first or second day of the cruise (pro-rated on the second day). This allows you to have unlimited soda (and certain alcoholic drinks if you get that package). We don’t drink much beyond water, and the occasional lemonade, so we didn’t feel like this would have been a good option for us.
Carnival Cruise Food Allergies
I have a lot of friends who have allergies (or who have children who have allergies), and I know how stressful a trip can be where you aren’t able to prepare your own food. Here is some good information on what to do about dietary restrictions. They can only accommodate them fully in the main dining lounge, though they do have a variety of allergy-friendly and vegetarian options in other restaurants (but this may not be as controlled, especially at the buffets).