ABOARD THE CARNIVAL SENSATION – On our first dinner aboard the Carnival Sensation, the woman at the table next to me was surprised to see dining room tables without tablecloths.
Doesn’t bother me at all. Just think about all the laundry that saves. So much more environmentally friendly. On other cruise ships, I have seen servers changing tablecloths as soon as diners get up to leave so the table is ready for the next diners.
On the Sensation, servers respond quickly to clean tables and set them anew. We do have cloth napkins. Just no tablecloths except for the formal Captain’s Dinner.
It’s all part of Carnival’s new American Table style. I like it.
One of the American Table changes I like most is a big carafe of ice water sitting on the table. I can pour it myself when my glass is empty. Usually, a server will quickly notice and do the pouring for me. But I like the option of knowing that there is plenty of ice water right within reach throughout my meal.
The Carnival Sensation has two dining rooms – Fantasy and Ecstasy. Ecstasy is open for scheduled seating. I’m in Fantasy because I chose “Your Time” dining. That means I can show up in the dining room anytime between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m.
Some folks like a set reservation for each night’s dinner to prevent any possible waiting in line for a table. I prefer the flexibility of “Your Time” in case I want to stay ashore a little longer, finish a shipboard activity or write a blog while it’s still fresh in my mind. I prefer to dine early so have had no trouble getting a seat around 6 p.m. I have noticed a bit of a line when I’m leaving the dining room around 7:30.
American Table décor and menu
Part of the dinner table décor for American Table is cute little bread plates with images of American city landmarks. So far, I’ve had a plate with the Hollywood logo sign, another one with the Statue of Liberty and one with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love.”
Each table has a wine bottle with a stone on a rope around it with the table number. I don’t have a reserved table and have never been escorted to the same dining table twice. But that is fine with me. Lets me see more of the dining room and be seated near different passengers.
The menu is long and seems to offer something for everyone. It starts with about 10 appetizer choices, including fried calamari, chilled Vietnamese roll, cream of ripened tomatoes, shrimp cocktail, smoked chicken quesadilla, corn chowder, heart of lettuce, kale or romaine salad or cured salmon with candied tomato. That was our first night dinner.
Next on the menu is entrees – sweet and sour shrimp, grilled swordfish steak, honey glazed pork loin, braised beef brisket, vegetable lasagna and Indian vegetarian. Each evening, diners can also select “From the Grill” entrees such as salmon fillet, flat iron steak, chicken breast and pork chop.
For an extra $20, diners can choose one of the following: broiled filet mignon, New York strip loin steak, broiled Maine lobster tail or surf & turf.
All the entrees come with side dishes but those also can be ordered separately. Side dish options include mac & cheese with bacon, creamed spinach, ratatouille, baked potato with all the toppings, sautéed green beans and french fries.
‘Port of Call’ cuisine
A fun section of the menu deals with each “Port of Call” on our cruise itinerary. For example, in Ocho Rios, the menu notes that “Jamaica is famous for its street food and jerk cooking. The jerk method of dry rubbing meats with spices and seasonings, then slow roasting it for many hours was used by the Jamaican Maroon people to preserve the meat for days. Originally only done with pork, today you find chicken, fish, sausage and other meats jerked as well.”
The “Port of Call” offers a special cocktail, appetizer and entrée. The Ocho Rios cocktail was pirate punch made with Bacardi Rum, Bacardi 8, Amaretto and orange juice ($8.95). Port of Call appetizer was jerked chicken wings served with banana chips and jicama slaw. Entrée was shrimp curry, sautéed shrimp in Caribbean curry sauce with lemongrass, chilies and tropical fruit, served with coconut rice.
Desserts have included Carnival’s signature melting chocolate cake, crème brulee, chocolate hazelnut cake, apple crumb pie, cheese plate, tropical fruit plate or ice cream.
On the featured wine list are several choices, including Carnival’s special Gifft wines by celebrity winemaker Kathie Gifford – a chardonnay and a red wine blend. Carnival Cruise Line began offering Gifford’s wines in 2015. Before that, the “Today” show host and former Carnival spokeswoman had joined the cruise line in the 1980s where she sang and danced her way through several ad campaigns.
A couple at the table next to me celebrating a young man’s college graduation ordered the Gifft chardonnay and said it was good, if a bit on the sweet side. They also plan to try the Gifft red blend at a later dinner. That’s a fun thing about cruises – a chance to try something we may not normally eat or drink at home.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch