Dude Food: Carnival Fantasy
Dude Factor: 7, or Jack Sparrow, on a scale of 1 ("In The Navy"-era Village People) to 10 (Popeye the Sailor)
Every time it came up in conversation that my family and I would be going on a four-day cruise to Cozumel, I found myself over-explaining or making excuses as to why we were doing such a thing.
"It's a family trip," I'd quickly add. "It wasn't our idea, but hey--free vacation."
For some reason, I was embarrassed to admit that we would use our precious vacation time and budget to spend four days aboard a floating luxury resort sandwiching an eight-hour spending spree in a tropical tourist town. A cruise is not exactly the kind of outdoors adventure, cultural horizon-broadening or exotic worldliness that I like to imagine myself engaging in as a manly traveler.
I am, however, a glutton. And since this cruise ship was basically an all-you-can-eat buffet on the sea, it turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting.
Foodwise, the options are almost unlimited. Most of them are pretty good.
During the day, you can always find something in the Windows On The Sea buffet. Imagine a higher-quality Golden Corral offering more adventurous fare like Caribbean and Indian food. At lunch, you could load up a tray with blackened tilapia--yeah, tilapia, but the blackened part makes it good--spicy fried chicken, clam chowder, jerk chicken and pepper pot stew--all pretty tasty.
The only thing I didn't brave was the sushi bar, because by the time I figured out when and where it was available, we'd been on the sea for three days. Four-day-old sushi is not the kind of culinary risk-taking I'm into.
You could do the buffet again for dinner--or you could swap your flip-flops for shoes, put on your big-boy pants and eat in the Jubilee dining room with the grownups. There, the food was comparably good, with the emphasis on comparably. One night, I walked through the buffet on the way to the dining room and noted that several buffet items were also offered as entrees on the Jubilee menu. However, it was served by attentive waiters in a three-course format, and included decorative flourishes like parsley sprigs and drizzles of sauce around the plate rims.
Booze was not included, damn it. So we bought a three-bottle wine package over the four nights for about $65. Totally worth it, as we needed wine to pair with the thick layer of cheese: at the end of each meal, the entire service staff would do awful song-and-dance routines.
The shit we'll endure for dessert.
For breakfast, there was a buffet line with good pancakes, limp bacon, fluffy scrambled eggs and greasy corned beef hash. Or you could get the same items plus waffles and a decent version of eggs benedict in the dining room. But why pass up greasy hash?
Despite charging for sodas, the place gets major dudeliness points for the midnight offerings of pizza, calzones, fries and hot dogs--a must after a night of heavy drinking--and the 24-hour availability of soft-serve ice cream.
I don't know if I'll ever go on another cruise again. But if Carnival were to open a land-bound restaurant, I'd try it--as long as there were no singing waiters.
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