With more than 20 eateries aboard, Carnival’s flagship Mardi Gras has something for everyone.
From buffet favorites in Lido Marketplace to fine dining at Rudi’s Seagrill, the ship has more places to eat than you will have time to try them all!
When I sailed the Carnival Mardi Gras on her inaugural cruise in July 2021, I had to make a spreadsheet of where I would eat every meal throughout my seven-day voyage. I mentioned this spreadsheet in a couple of videos on my YouTube channel and several people asked that I share it with them to help plan their meals on the ship. I will provide that spreadsheet here, for your use in planning your Carnival Mardi Gras (or Celebration or Jubilee) dining.
|Big Chicken / Guy’s Burger
|Guy’s Burger / Big Chicken
|Street Eats / Guy’s Smokehouse
|Sea Day Brunch
|Piazza Panini* / Blue Iguana
|Cucina del Capitano
|Big Chicken / Emeril’s
|Sea Day Brunch
|Blue Iguana Cantina
*Ultimately did not make it to this eatery – probably because I was at Shaq’s again!
With Mardi Gras, Carnival has made its first attempt at rotational dining, something that other cruise lines have done for years. The idea is simple: you have four or five dining rooms, and you can choose which one you want to go to on any given night. A reservation via the Hub App is highly recommended to ensure you get your preferred dining location and time.
Carnival introduced Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, Cucina del Capitano, and the brand new Chibang! as part of this rotational dining, and hence alternatives to the main dining room, at no additional cost. Originally they stated these three venues were “complimentary” only in celebration of the inaugural season, but these continue to be complimentary as of this writing.
Also new on the Carnival Mardi Gras were Emeril’s Bistro 1396, Rudi’s Seagrill, Shaq’s Big Chicken, and Street Eats. This far and away makes Mardi Gras the biggest food upgrade of any new build in Carnival’s fleet. And this ship is certainly a foodie paradise!
The Mardi Gras is only the beginning. Carnival has already announced plans for two sister ships, Celebration, and Jubilee, coming in 2022 and 2023, respectively. While these ships will have many differences, many of the dining venues already promise to be the same. The Carnival website already lists Chibang!, Rudi’s Seagrill, and Shaq’s Big Chicken as definites for both Celebration and Jubilee.
The Mardi Gras and her sisters are wonderful additions to the Carnival fleet and bring the BIG FUN that Carnival promised. And just as big as the fun is the food. So, without further adieu, here are the 12 Mardi Gras food venues that I tried, ranked from worst to best. I will also provide a rating for each.
12. ChiBang! – 4/10
Image Credit: https://www.carnival.com
Talk about a major letdown! Carnival heavily promoted this new dining venue, making a huge deal about it being complimentary for the first few months of sailings. The concept takes Chinese cuisine and mashes it together with Mexican cuisine. You could get a Chinese appetizer, Mexican entree, and a clash of a dessert – or whatever mix you prefer. The restaurant itself is as beautiful as you would expect for the Mardi Gras, but the food left a lot to be desired.
I am a huge fan of JiJi’s Asian Kitchen on Vista and older classes of ships in the Carnival fleet. I was hopeful that the ChiBang! would at least come close to the amazing food JiJi’s offers. Sadly, ChiBang! could not have been further from JiJi’s. I had Egg Drop Soup for my appetizer, and it was nothing like the traditional soup I am used to at Chinese restaurants. For my entree, I had Beef with Broccoli and also the Diablo Shrimp – trying cuisines from both sides of the offerings. Neither of these had a good taste, and both were served lukewarm.
I was so excited to try ChiBang! that I booked it for the first night of the cruise. Unfortunately, it was not a good opening night for the venue. The restaurant tries hard to offer this unique concept, but in reality, falls short of being authentic Mexican or Chinese. I am hopeful that we will see major improvements to the menu and food served here as the new ships roll out.
11. Lido Marketplace – 6/10
Image Credit: https://www.carnival.com
The trusty Lido Marketplace is the go-to buffet on a Carnival cruise ship. Carrying the same name across the line, the Marketplace is enormous, and the largest yet, onboard the Mardi Gras. Of course, it should be large on a ship that holds over 6,000 passengers! The seating area here is beautiful and includes so many places to sit and enjoy a meal. The pandemic was in full swing when I sailed on the ship, so I rarely ate off of the buffet, which was self-serve.
I did, however, peek at all of the offerings each day and they all looked delicious. I did try some of the cakes and cookies off of the dessert buffet, and these did not disappoint. I also really liked the touchless drink dispensers – for juices, lemonade, tea, and water – and the new soda dispensers. Several times throughout the cruise I brought food from other nearby Lido deck venues into the Marketplace and enjoyed the beautiful ambiance of this well-appointed venue.
10. Pizzeria del Capitano – 6/10
Image Credit: https://www.carnival.com
Another Carnival staple! Known by Pizzeria del Capitano on the newer ships, and Pizza Pirate on older ships, the venue was appropriately placed in the La Piazza neighborhood on Mardi Gras.
Now I am not a huge pizza guy when I am on cruises. I am a huge foodie, but it is hardly ever pizza that I crave. However, the few times that I tried Pizzeria on Mardi Gras I found the pizza to be fresh from the oven; it was hot with super melty cheese. The only good way to have pizza. The few times I went I experienced little to no lines, although I did pass by the venue around lunch and then one morning around 2 AM, and the lines were super long. The perfect late-night snack!
9. Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse – 5/10
Image Credit: https://www.carnival.com
Here’s another one that I was so excited to try when I heard it was going to be on the ship. This venue made its debut on Horizon and Panorama, but the Mardi Gras is the first time it’s been a “complimentary” venue. Older Carnival ships did feature this concept, primarily as an outdoor BBQ grill on sea days. The Mardi Gras also features this, with an outdoor BBQ buffet located just outside of the main Smokehouse venue out on the Summer Landing portion of the ship.
While Carnival promotes Guy’s Pig & Anchor as a “complimentary” eatery, understand that it’s not the same quality as what you’ll likely get when you pay to eat extra at the venue on Horizon or Panorama. The menu has been adjusted to make it more akin to a free dining room versus a specialty dining experience. Speaking of the menu, you are given a piece of paper and pencil on which to mark your selections. You get to choose one meat, some sides, and a dessert. There are other options, such as prime rib, that are available at an additional charge.
The first night I went to Guy’s Smokehouse, I ended up walking out after about 20 minutes of sitting at the table without anyone coming over to ask what I would like to drink. I just wanted water! I went again near the end of the cruise and had a much better experience. But, where the service was good, the food was underwhelming. For one, you are only going to get very small portions of both the meats and the sides. Second, the food tasted just like the free offerings on the lunch buffet. The third strike was the $14 piece of smoked prime rib that was cold and not at all worth the upcharge.
Long story short, go to Guy’s Smokehouse for the free lunch buffet – which is good – and save your time at dinner for one of the other many dining offerings onboard.
8. Street Eats – 8/10
Image Credit: https://www.carnival.com
Another new venue for Carnival, Street Eats pays homage to food trucks by offering small plates right on the Lido deck every day. There are technically three stations that make up Street Eats: Steam Dream, which offers steamed goodies; Mad Sizzle, which features grilled goodies like kebabs; and Time Fries, which offers a selection of loaded fries. I only made it here a time or two, but I enjoyed the food I tried. The Loaded Buffalo Fries were delicious – don’t miss those.
I think this is a fantastic new addition to Carnival’s Lido deck, just steps away from the main pool. And, since the menu changes daily, you are always sure to try something different.
7. Main Dining Room – 7/10
Let’s just say from the top here that the main dining room typically is not the place to find the best quality food on MOST cruise ships. My past experiences in the main dining room on Carnival ships have resulted in food that was lukewarm and tasted like something you’d get at a cafeteria-style restaurant. However, I was pleasantly surprised by my dining experience in the Flamingo Restaurant onboard Mardi Gras!
I only made it to the main dining room on one of the seven nights of the cruise. That’s the beauty of rotational dining, and certainly, of having over 20 dining venues on one ship, you don’t have to go to the dining room that often! The dining rooms on Mardi Gras were not designed to be big enough to accommodate over 6,000 passengers each night, so they use the new “complementary” eateries like Cucina del Capitano, ChiBang!, and Guy’s Smokehouse to entice folks to other venues when it’s time for dinner.
The food and service were both incredible in the dining room on the last night of the cruise. I had heard bad reviews from folks earlier in the cruise, but it sounds like most of these were caused by it being the inaugural sailing, and not necessarily indicative of the quality of food or service. Go at least one night of your cruise, if you can fit it into your busy food schedule!
6. Blue Iguana Cantina – 8/10
Blue Iguana has been a staple on Carnival ships for many years. Carnival did major refurbishments, known as Fun 2.0, to most of their ships beginning in 2013. These refurbishments included new dining venues, such as Guy’s Burger Joint and the amazing Blue Iguana Cantina.
Located right next to the Mardi Gras’ main pool on the Lido Deck, Blue Iguana is a great place to grab a quick burrito, taco, or even taco salad for lunch. They are open for breakfast, too! One of the best items they serve is the breakfast burrito – I grabbed this a couple of times on my cruise. It is one of my go-to items every time I take a Carnival cruise, and thus one of my favorite Carnival food items overall. The taco salad is also amazing and a must-try!
5. Guy’s Burger Joint – 9/10
Talk about a classic! Since premiering on Carnival ships in 2013, this eatery has become one of, if not the, most popular places to grab a bite to eat on any Carnival Cruise Line vessel. The venue has been expanded for Carnival Mardi Gras and moved from its traditional location of right beside the Lido Pool. Guy’s is located one deck above Lido on Mardi Gras and features a large seating area where you can sit and enjoy your breakfast or lunch. I enjoyed this, as on most of the other ships the line just to get a burger cuts off the flow of foot traffic around the Lido deck.
Burgers were not just for lunch on Mardi Gras! Guy’s was open for breakfast, featuring burgers with eggs, hash browns, bacon, and other breakfast-like toppings. This was my first time trying a breakfast burger at Guy’s, and my only complaint was that the bun could have been traded for a croissant and the burger itself would have been better as a sausage patty. Regardless, Guy’s is an exceptional choice for dining, no matter the time of day! I am really glad they gave it a larger footprint on their largest ship to date.
4. Cucina del Capitano – 8/10
Unfortunately, I tried Cucina del Capitano for “main dining” too late in my cruise – it was amazing! It’s probably a good thing I did not discover this until late in the voyage, or I might have only eaten there. The inside of this venue was very large – it felt more like the main dining room, which I believe was its intended purpose from the start. Again, Carnival played some of these venues off as being “complementary” for the inaugural season only, but they continue to be free as of this writing.
I tried the Nonna’s Meatball for my starter, and this was the only disappointment about the entire meal. I was only given one meatball and was left wanting more! Now granted, I could have ordered as much as I wanted, which is the beauty of dining on a cruise ship. For my main, I had the Chicken Parm and it was out-of-this-world amazing. I have since sailed on the Carnival Sunshine and tried the dish at their $15 specialty dining Cucina restaurant, and it was the very same dish that I got for free on Mardi Gras.
Cucina is also open for breakfast on Mardi Gras, or at least it was when I sailed. This was also something I did not realize until very late in the cruise, and I regret that because it was such a great breakfast. No matter what meal time you visit, you are sure to have very good food when you visit this wonderful restaurant.
3. Fahrenheit 555 – 9/10
Fahrenheit 555 has consistently been one of the dining highlights across the entire Carnival fleet for many years. It’s amazing that just 5-10 years ago, this was the ONLY specialty dining experience that Carnival offered on any of their ships. The location on the Mardi Gras is the largest yet in the fleet. Not only does the location contain the full restaurant, but also a nice bar just outside, where you can sit and have a drink or enjoy a glass of wine while waiting for your table.
The food is just as incredible as the ambiance. My go-to choices are always the Lobster Bisque for the appetizer, the Spiced Ribeye with Mashed Potatoes and Sauteed Mushrooms as a side, and the huge Cheesecake for dessert. For the money you pay, currently just a $38 upcharge, you can not find a better meal. I think this is the BEST steakhouse at sea, and I have tried the menu on several of Carnival’s ships. Make sure this is at the top of your must-try for dinner when you sail on the Mardi Gras.
2. Rudi’s Seagrill – 9/10
Finally – a good seafood restaurant on board a Carnival ship! I know, I know, there has long been the Seafood Shack, with its hefty upcharge for an offering that Carnival used to offer for free (miss you, Fish & Chips). But this is a legitimate seafood restaurant! The brainchild of Consultant Master Chef of Holland America Line, a subsidiary of the larger Carnival Corporation, Rudi Sodamin, the restaurant offers a large selection of seafood dishes. With its blue and airy atmosphere, the restaurant has an incredible ambiance from the moment you walk through the door.
For my starter, I opted for the Calamari, which is a personal favorite. I also requested to have an additional starter, which was the Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese. Y’all. This was worth the price of admission itself. One of the creamiest mac ‘n cheese dishes I have ever had, along with the huge chunks of lobster, it was perfectly prepared. You must try this dish if you ever step foot onboard an Excel Class ship (Mardi Gras, Celebration, Jubilee).
I opted for the Surf ‘n Turf for my entree, which provided me with a little bit of filet and a little lobster tail. If I went again, I would likely just get the Lobster Tail or some other seafood dish, as I felt like I did not get enough of either surf or turf for it to be worth it. I chose the White Chocolate Bread Pudding for dessert, and this was the only thing that I did not care that much for the entire meal. I would choose a different option next time. However, I would 100% return to Rudi’s for a nice dinner on the Mardi Gras, no questions asked.
1. Shaq’s Big Chicken – 10/10
If you were to have asked me before going on the Mardi Gras which eatery I was most excited about, I would have told you this one. If you asked me now which one I cannot stop thinking about, I would tell you the same thing!
This is the best addition that Carnival has made since they introduced Guy’s Burger Joint in the early 2010s. And, with Shaq’s onboard, I hardly ever even ate a Guy’s burger! Shaq’s of course specializes in chicken – from chicken biscuits in the morning to chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders for lunch and dinner. Located on the aft of the ship, just outside of the Lido Marketplace, Shaq’s also offers delicious sides such as coleslaw and potato salad. Not to mention the incredible fries that are served alongside the chicken!
I believe I ended up eating SOMETHING from Shaq’s just about every day on my cruise. I enjoyed everything from the chicken biscuit, with its warm buttery honey biscuit to the wide range of sandwiches, from a plain regular to a spicy Uncle Jerome’s.
Everything was incredibly delicious, and truly a 10/10 experience each time. If I were you, I would run to Shaq’s immediately upon boarding the Mardi Gras. It is the best place to eat on the entire ship, and you will not be disappointed with what you find.