The same day it laid the keel for its newest ship, the Mardi Gras, Carnival Cruise Line introduced some of the new food and beverage venues that will be onboard to Travel Agent, the travel trade and other media in an event at New York City’s Current at Chelsea Pier. We spoke with Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy for more on what's new in terms of the ship's bars and restaurants.
As previously announced, the new ship will play host to a restaurant by New Orleans-based celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, the chef’s first partnership with Carnival. It will also have the second location at sea of Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken restaurant, which has already made its land-based debut in Las Vegas and which will first roll out on Carnival’s fleet onboard the Carnival Radiance in 2020.
“With the Mardi Gras and having a French Quarter on the ship, it was logical to figure out how to get Emeril,” says Duffy of the ship’s Bistro 1396 restaurant. “And with Shaq being our chief fun officer and opening his Big Chicken restaurant in Las Vegas, we said, ‘Why not that?’ Because everyone loves fried chicken and chicken fingers.”
In terms of what’s new, the cruise line decided to get a little more adventurous. A new, complimentary Street Eats venue, which will serve street food dishes from a variety of global cuisines, will be located outside next to the ship’s Seafood Shack.
“Because so many people love food trucks, it’s an opportunity to try different kinds of food I might not order if it was on the menu,” Duffy says. “I think it’s a really neat way to introduce people to new things that are outside of the traditional buffet.”
Served out of three themed kiosks offering fried, steamed and plancha (skillet) dishes, offerings at Street Eats will run the gamut from empanadas and falafel to bao buns, siu mai, kebabs or satay. The exact menu will rotate daily. We had the chance to try a mini-wrap filled with spicy chickpeas and a veggie empanada, both of which were quite good.
Also newly announced were two bar venues, RedFrog Tiki Bar and The Watering Hole. The first is billed as a two-level, South Pacific-themed twist on the line’s popular poolside bar concept. It will serve rum-based cocktails in an island-inspired atmosphere near to Guy’s Burger Joint. Cocktails will be creatively presented in pineapples, souvenir tiki glasses and Mai Tai glasses with elaborate garnishes. Our sample, a Polynesian Punch, incorporated a wide array of rum into a drink that had a nice balance of rum flavors and the sweetness of the fruit juice.
The Watering Hole, set in The Patio at Summer Landing, will be modeled after a backyard gathering spot, offering a place to unwind and enjoy a cocktail along with some sea views. The bar will serve a wide beer selection, including Carnival’s own canned and draft brews, as well as summer-inspired cocktails. We tried the Watermelon Cooler, a concoction of watermelon-flavored vodka, watermelon syrup a fresh watermelon cubes topped off with a sprig of mint; another signature drink will be a Tequila Sunset.
All told, advisors should expect larger dining spaces on the new ship, as well as a wider variety of options, in order to manage the higher passenger count. (The first in Carnival's XL Class, the Mardi Gras will be the largest ship the cruise line has ever built when it launches.)
"We've made the Cucina del Capitano larger, and the JiJi Asian Kitchen will be much larger, certainly," says Duffy. "We'll certainly have more choices to accommodate the larger ship."
Construction officially began on the Mardi Gras with a keel-laying ceremony that was held on June 18 at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Turku, Finland. The new ship is set to debut in Europe August 31, 2020, before repositioning to New York for a series of voyages. After that, the ship will shift to Port Canaveral, Florida, for year-round Caribbean departures.