Carnival chefs table Sea bass entree

Carnival’s Secret Cruise Dinner Experience

September 27, 2018 by Michelle

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On my last cruise, I finally booked the Carnival Chefs Table. I had heard about this from so many cruises on previous vacations, and let me tell you, this was the best $75 I’ve spent in years.

Chefs Table Champagne

Did you even know that Carnival does a Chefs Table? Honestly, I cruised for years before I even heard about it. Once I did hear about it, everyone I talked to raved about it.

As a foodie, you know I had to try it. I’ve done most of the specialty dining options on Carnival’s ships. My kids would eat at JiJi Asian Kitchen every night if I let them. My dad absolutely adores the Italian at Cucino del Capitano. And my mom and my husband won’t miss a night at the steakhouse.

The experience at the specialty restaurants offers a more special dinner, and it costs so much less than you’d ever pay back home. The Carnival Chefs Table follows that same model but ups the ante even more.

Would I take my kids there? Maybe not at their age now, but give them a couple years, and I absolutely would. That isn’t to say that kids aren’t allowed – as long as they can sit through a long dinner without losing their minds, they’re welcome.

That said, there isn’t a separate kid menu for The Chefs Table, nor is there a reduced charge for kids.

Do you want or need more cruise tips? Don’t forget to check out my other cruise tips at the bottom of this article.

So What Is the Carnival Chefs Table?

The quick answer is that this is a high end dining experience in a small setting.

How small? There is seating for 14 people each night they do it, and no, Carnival doesn’t offer it every night of a cruise. If you plan to do this, book it now.

You can make a reservation online within your booking, just like you reserve shore excursions and more. Look under specialty dining, and select The Chefs Table. From there, fill out the form and submit.

You will get an email within a day or two confirming that Carnival received you reservation or that (sad panda) they are already booked. However, you don’t know what day you have a reservation until you get on the ship, so be aware.

The actual meal lasts 2 1/2 hours or a little more, depending on how quickly you eat. This is a leisurely meal, so be prepared to take you time to enjoy it.

What if I have allergies?

When you make your reservation, you have the opportunity to let the chefs know your dietary restrictions. If you can’t eat shellfish, let them know. If you have a nut allergy or gluten intolerance or something as unusual as a black current allergy, just include it.

Overall, Carnival is fantastic about allergies when it comes to food. I’ve traveled with my daughter who can’t eat dairy, and Carnival takes food allergies seriously.

However, much of the food made for the Carnival Chefs Table begins prep days in advance. If you don’t let the chefs know when you make your reservation, you risk missing out on some fabulous food.

Crab appetizer with mango caviar

If you have an allergy – and many in our group of six who dined together did – the executive chefs create alternate dishes or alter a planned dish so you can safely enjoy that course.

Why Book Carnival’s Chefs Table

You can afford the meal.

I don’t know about you, but I have a limited budget in life. Back home, I can’t go to the high end fancy restaurants often, if ever. They’re simply out of my budget range.

Carnival designed the cruise Chefs Table experience to be affordable. If you think about it, you’ve already “paid” for eating in general through your cruise fare. That means the upcharge for the specialty dining restaurants ends up less than you’d expect.

For the Chefs Table, you pay $75 per person ($95 on some itineraries – but you also get more). This includes 11 courses, a welcome cocktail, and wine with dinner. There’s no sales tax, and the 15% added gratuity brings the total to $86.25.

I can easily spend that going out to dinner at a halfway decent restaurant when I include appetizer, drinks, and dessert. This meal in Chicago or New York or any other city would easily cost $300 or more.

Carnival tasting menu dessert

Take advantage of this bargain.

Drinks are included

By drinks, I don’t mean every piece of alcohol on the ship. Don’t go overboard (pun intended) here.

But when you first arrive at the meeting point, you’ll have a champagne cocktail waiting for you. At dinner, you have a choice of white wine or red, and the servers keep your glass appropriately filled through dessert.

Champagne cocktail

You also have the option to order soda instead of drinking wine if you don’t drink alcohol. And at dessert, you have offers for coffee and tea.

While hot tea in the main dining room is limited to basic choices, like the steakhouse, tea or the Chefs Table offers so much more. The servers bring out the box with the Art of Tea selections, which provides you with so many more options.

And no, none of these offerings count against your Cheers package if you happen to have ordered it for your cruise.

This is hands down the best food on the ship

Honestly, some of it is hands down the best food I’ve ever had. For those who like a surprise, I won’t spoil it by sharing all the courses.

That said, I ate foods I never knew existed. There is a little molecular gastronomy happening in some dishes, but the focus isn’t just on cool presentation without the flavor to back it up like some super fancy restaurants back home.

I’ll give you a hint. This isn’t an egg, but it was an amazing way to start the night.

Carnival Chefs Table amuse bouche

Instead, I discovered some flavor combinations I didn’t know worked. I also enjoyed some of the most tender wagyu beef I’ve ever eaten – as in no knife needed. I discovered I enjoyed foods I didn’t know I’d like.

Prior to this, I never liked duck. Or bone marrow. It turns out I like both… but only when they’re cooked well.

Crispy duck appetizer

The chefs make this meal for 14 people, not 3,000. It takes hours or days to make some of these dishes, and it tastes like it. This is high end food done well. Hands down, this is the best meal I’ve eaten in memory.

The presentation is amazing

I’m a foodie. I love when my food looks pretty. After all, we eat with our eyes first.

The presentation of this semi secret Carnival dining experience takes it to an entirely different level, however. That “egg” you saw above? It wasn’t an egg.

The salmon amuse bouche appeared in a savory cone.

This beef tartare on an air pillow? It’s a delight to look at as well as amazing to eat. The tiny touches we had in everything from the soups to desserts made it even more of a special experience you won’t see many other places – and never at this pricepoint.

Chocolate bacon appetizer

The Chefs Table offers dinner and a show

One of the most fun surprises was the break in dinner just before we enjoyed our main course.

As they removed the plates from our eighth course, they let us know we’d have a short break. A magician walked in. Because we had a smaller group than even the usual 14, we had personal magic tricks for each of us.

Carnival Chefs Table magic show

I have no idea how Manoj did his tricks. I won’t spoil them for you, but they were amazing. One of our group was actually crying because it was so magical.

Yes, the magician on ship often comes through the main dining room at some point during the cruise, and you may or may not have him do a trick or two at your table. This was far beyond that experience.

It also provided the perfect break to let us digest some of the meal. Why is that important? There are three huge and very filling courses yet to come.

You get a tour of the kitchen

In fact, the dinner experience starts off with the tour after you initial welcome champagne. Bring your champagne with you – there’s no need to gulp it before leaving.

This isn’t a full tour, to be fully transparent. You don’t see all the dinner prep or all the stations, let alone where the kitchen stores food. But you go inside and see a good portion of it where you enjoy your first three opening appetizers.

Chefs Table galley tour

Your guide will share more information on the galley with all sorts of fascinating facts, and it’s a great time to ask additional questions, as well. It’s fascinating to see how meals appear magically in the dining room.

But that’s just the start….

You learn secrets of the Carnival melting cake

After the three appetizers, you head to the pastry section where the pastry chef teaches you how to make the famous Carnival melting cake.

Carnival melting cake demonstration

They make a scary amount of them every night, and it’s fascinating to see how simple these are to make at home. Yes, you can make them at home.

Honestly? I prefer my molten chocolate cake. But this is hands down their most popular dessert. Some of the secrets on how to create this are applicable outside just this recipe.

And of course, they give you the actual recipe, too.

It’s an intimate experience

All day long, you’re around a lot of people. They make a lot of noise, and you often have lines. The Chefs Table meets in a private location, often the ship’s library, where it is literally the 14 people enjoying the dining experience plus your chefs and servers.

The quiet is a refreshing change for me. As much as I find a cruise relaxing and rejuvenating, this takes it to a whole different level.

Carnival tasting menu

You heard me mention the servers as some of the few in your quiet space for dinner. Servers. Plural. For the 14 people enjoying this magical cruise dining experience. They are quiet and discreet but constantly there to serve you. Your water glass will never be empty.

You walk away with keepsakes

At the end of the meal, the servers bring you a couple special gifts. Before the meal starts in your special dining room, a photographer snaps a professional photo.

To my surprise, we received a copy of that photo at the end of the meal in a cardboard envelope to protect it. I loved that extra surprise that made the meal even more memorable.

In addition to that, you will never forget the meal you just enjoyed. At your place setting – everyone has an assigned seat – you have a scroll with the night’s menu included. Did I save this? Absolutely I did. It’s the perfect way to remember a perfect night.

Other Carnival Chefs Table Tips

  • Wear close toed shoes. When you go to on the galley tour, you’re in a working kitchen. Safety first, so make sure you remember to pack something appropriate.
  • Show up on time. The dinner starts at 6:15, and you leave from the meeting spot for the galley tour shortly thereafter. While the meal starts at 7pm, you don’t want to miss out on any minute or the Carnival Chefs Table experience. Or not know where to go for dinner as the meeting point isn’t your dining room.
  • Make sure you share food preferences. When you make your reservation, you have the opportunity to include your dietary restrictions. That said, if you don’t eat beef, let them know. If mushrooms ruin a dish for you, share that with them. You want to enjoy every one of those 11 courses at dinner!
  • Don’t eat a late lunch. Many of the portions are fairly small, but they are rich. And there are 11 of them. You walk away full. And I mean waddle, not walk. If you eat a later lunch or snack on anything before dinner, you’ll regret it.
  • Did you get too full? Bring leftovers back to your room. By the time we got to the beef course, we were flagging. Seriously unable to finish it, but it was some of the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten. Thankfully, the servers will plate it up for you to bring back to you room and store in the fridge. That beef and the bone marrow souffle make a fantastic cold breakfast the next day.
  • Make sure your phone is charged. Do you understand now how amazing this experience is? I hope you get a sense of how fantastic this night was for us. Needless to say, you will want to capture your memories – the food, the magician, the melting cake lesson, your friends and family joining you… make sure your camera is ready for all the memories!

Love this? Try these other cruise tips

Ready to book the Carnival Chefs Table? Share this with you friends

You will love this magical secret cruise dining experience. At $75, you might need to convince you friends and family to join you. Share this article with them and anyone else you know cruising.

It’s a fantastic night, but so few people know about it. Here’s your chance to be the expert and enjoy something unique and special.

Carnival cruise chefs table sea bass entree. Just one reason to book this secret cruise experience.

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