Ever since Carnival Cruise Lines implemented its new Fun Ship 2.0 product enhancement program in 2011, the cruise line has continued to roll out new dining options as each ship undergoes renovation. So when the invitation came to visit the Carnival Sunshine, I eagerly accepted so I could have a firsthand look at the ship’s latest offerings. At the risk of spoiling the outcome before I even begin, let me just say that I’m already awaiting my next opportunity to sail with Carnival so I can indulge my appetite once more.
So, what’s so good about Carnival’s newest eateries? From what I can tell: everything. First, Carnival completely overhauled each dining space so you definitely are transported from “cruise ship” mode into “restaurant dining” mode. This goes a long way in setting the stage for the meal that is to come. Second, Carnival didn’t just choose a restaurant concept and set it up; instead, the cruise line took the time to hire the right culinary experts to research and develop the menus and the décor. The results are simply mouthwatering.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen
At Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, guests are seated in an Asian-inspired restaurant filled with clean lines, warm colors and authentic touches like the Asian prayer rolls along the back wall. Even the menu was developed directly in the Pan-Asian region that inspired its dishes. In fact, when you look at the menu, you will see a map that shows where the menu items originated. For my dinner, I started with an appetizer of Jiaozi, or pot stickers, which were shrimp dumplings filled with pea shoots, radish and green apple salad. I followed with kung pao chicken, a spicy entrée of diced chicken seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns, chilies and cashews, and served with the lightest brown rice I’ve ever had. In fact, the entire meal set my taste buds to singing, and I have yet to get over my craving for seconds.
At dinner, dining at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen does carry a reasonable fee of $12 per adult and $5 per child age 11 and younger. I highly recommend including this upcharge in your budget so you don’t miss it. For those who want to sample the cuisine before embarking on a paid meal, you can visit the restaurant at lunch and have the complimentary custom-made noodle dishes. Just choose your noodles, vegetables, spices and meats, and the chef will stir-fry it for you as you wait.
Cucina del Capitano
Fans of classic Italian fare will love Cucina del Capitano, a family-style restaurant concept that features “Italian-American dishes inspired by the recipes from our Italian captains’ and officers’ childhoods,” according to Carnival. What that means for you is rich, satisfying entrees like Nonna’s linguine & meatballs, spaghetti carbonara, and pollo parmigiana della cucina, or chicken parmigiana. And, remembering this is a “family-style restaurant,” all the portions are quite large, many enough to share or take leftovers back to your stateroom for a late-night snack.
Like Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, dinner at Cucina del Capitano also carries a reasonable fee of $12 per person. Again, I suggest including a meal at this restaurant in your vacation budget. And, also like Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, you can try out Cucina del Capitano for free during lunch. Select your noodles, sauce, protein and vegetables, and the chef will cook them to order for you. You also can choose Caesar salad and bread to accompany your main dish.
For another fresh, made-to-order lunch option, stop by BlueIguana Cantina. Here you’ll find soft tacos and burritos filled with chicken, beef or shrimp along with a selection of veggies, cheese and sauces. Think black beans, roasted corn, rice, lettuce and tomatoes, plus sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo. There’s also a salsa bar where you can further customize your tacos and burritos.
If you want more traditional lunch fare, head to Guy’s Burger Joint for a fresh-grilled burger and hand-cut fries. From basic burgers to The Ringer that includes cheese, Guy’s Bourbon and Brown Sugar BBQ sauce, and a spicy onion ring, you’re sure to find a burger to satisfy your palate. At the condiment bar, you can take it to the next level with sautéed mushrooms, onions, bacon, pickles, mustard and ketchup, among other offerings.
Of course, these are just a small sampling of the great new dining options available as part of Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 initiative. Bonsai Sushi, Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ, Shake Spot and Javablue Café are just a few of the additional culinary spots you can try on your next cruise. However, not all dining choices are available on every Carnival ship; therefore, be sure to explore each ship’s dining selections before booking if there’s one specific restaurant you want to try. After you do, come back and tell us which one was your favorite!
Disclosure: Karon dined in these Carnival restaurants as a guest of Carnival Cruise Lines. All opinions are her own.