By David Swanson
Cruise Critic Contributor
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Carnival Miracle Dining

Food on Carnival Miracle was mostly enjoyable; we liked most of our meals in the ship's main dining room, Bacchus, and we found decent variety, and sometimes tasty food, at Horatio's, the Lido buffet option.

Note that the only two venues included in the cruise fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner are Bacchus and Horatio's. Still, for those wanting to dodge a slightly more formal setting offered by the main dining room, the Lido's buffet delivered good variety, especially at lunch, with a station designated for the cuisine of the day, a deli counter, and Carnival's ever-reliable pizza option.

Carnival Miracle's chefs can accommodate for special needs -- vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar -- with advanced notice. During the cruise booking process, passengers are given an option of choosing set meals times for dinner (5:30 or 7:45 p.m.) or "Your Time" open seating (any time from 5:15 to 9 p.m.).

Bacchus Dining Room (Decks 2 and 3): Named for the Roman god of agriculture, wine and -- oh, yeah -- fertility, Carnival Miracle's main dining room spreads onto two floors on aft lower decks. It's classic Joe Farcus style -- so, naturally, there are plenty of grape and vineyard motifs to hammer the theme home, including bulbous grape wall sconces casting a purple hue. The dining room is large, seating 1,300 -- but it feels tight, even when not all tables were occupied. Still, even though we chose "Your Time" open seating as we preferred not to share a table every night, we never waited more than two minutes for a two-top table option. Meals were efficiently served, and our occasional requests were easily accommodated by the friendly staff. Toward the end of dinner, every night, waiters perform an upbeat dance routine that gets the crowd clapping.

For appetizers, we found such fare as stuffed mushrooms or butternut squash soup ranging to more exotic items such as spicy alligator fritters and braised ox tongue (identified as "rare finds"). Available nightly: a decent shrimp cocktail or the Caesar salad, made with romaine lettuce or kale (nice touch!).

Main courses ranged in quality, but when they were good they really hit the spot. A few items we enjoyed: a pan-seared basa fillet with a cherry tomato vinaigrette, the roast chicken with herb sausage stuffing, and a filet mignon and short rib combo. There was always at least one vegetarian entree available each night (vegetable lasagna, portobello mushrooms filled with spinach and squash), along with an Indian vegetarian entree -- a Carnival specialty (watch out for the heat). Also available nightly: a salmon fillet, pork chop, chicken breast and a flat iron steak, each served with a choice of sauces. A section of the menu called Steakhouse Selections offered New York strip loin, filet mignon or Maine lobster tail, with an upcharge of $20.

Meals finish with a short menu of desserts, including Carnival's famous melting chocolate cake, a choice of ice creams and a cheese or fruit plate; a low-calorie, sugar-free option is also on the dessert menu nightly.

Bacchus was open for breakfast and dinner nightly, and on sea days for lunch. The breakfast menu touched on all the expected bases, with fresh fruits, cold packaged cereals and hot oatmeal, yogurt, bagels with salmon and cream cheese, eggs Benedict, pancakes and Belgian waffles. The lunch menu was short, but changed each sea day: fried calamari, cream of spinach soup, and garden and field greens salad were typical appetizers, with a Philly steak sandwich, chicken parmigiana and salade nicoise for entrees.

Typically, on one sea day of each cruise a brunch is offered, with an extended menu running into the lunch hour. We took advantage of this on our cruise and found a greatly expanded menu that included some of the usual breakfast items but also huevos rancheros, Caesar salads with fried chicken or jerk bacon, grilled salmon fillet and a pappardelle pasta smothered in marinara and mozzarella. We ordered the steak and eggs and enjoyed one of the best meals of our cruise, starring a filet mignon perfectly cooked to order.

Teatime was offered daily in Bacchus, from 3 to 4 p.m., with various pastries, finger sandwiches and Lipton tea.

Horatio's Restaurant (Deck 9): The theming is kept to a minimum at Horatio's, Carnival Miracle's buffet venue, with model ships recalling Captain Hornblower's exploits. Food counters and seating spread across the back half of the Lido Deck, and it's a popular venue at peak breakfast hours, and at lunch on sea days -- so popular that finding a table can be a chore. Part of the problem we observed is families arriving together, then splitting up to fill their trays, and then wandering the aisles looking for the rest of their party. We resorted to outdoor dining on the aft Serenity Pool Deck when the weather cooperated, but there aren't really tables here.

Food at Horatio's was plentiful, but we oftentimes found it to be too much like something you'd get at a cafeteria. There were a few good dishes, but most of it was mediocre. Nothing was ever bad, but much of it was heavy, sometimes overcooked and variety was often lacking.

While not a huge selection, overall there was something to please everyone for breakfast. There was an array of packaged cereals, hot oatmeal, yogurt, eggs Benedict, omelets cooked to order, sausages and bacon, French toast and pancakes. The buffet had a fresh fruit station, but the choices were limited, and often under-ripe.

During lunch, several stations opened up to provide various options: A deli station with hot and cold sandwiches, a carving station with a different hunk of meat daily, an Asian station (Chopsticks), a salad bar, a grill with burgers, dogs, grilled chicken breast and a garden burger, and a themed station that changed each day -- Caribbean, French, Italian, etc. Located near the pools, Pizza Pirate was open 24 hours, as were the ice cream and frozen yogurt self-serve machines.

At dinner, some of the menu items offered in the main dining room were replicated here, but the atmosphere was much quieter, with subdued lighting. While the main section closed up around 9 p.m., late-night snacks were rolled out from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Room service: A limited menu is offered for dining in your cabin at no charge before 10 p.m. This proved most useful in the morning on port days, when Horatio's filled to the gills just as the ship was pulling in to dock.

Continental breakfast options were outlined in a tag we could leave outside our door the night before. Among the items we could choose from: packaged cereals, bread and pastries, yogurt, fruit (bananas or melon), juices, tea and coffee. The lunch choices, ordered by phone, included seven different hot and cold sandwiches (served with potato salad or potato chips), two salads, a veggie platter and three desserts -- all of them complimentary.

Fee Dining

We were disappointed in the number of alternative dining venues. There is a steakhouse, which carries a surcharge, but such options as BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint (available almost fleetwide now) are not in the Carnival Miracle mix.

Nick & Nora's Steakhouse (Deck 10); $38 for adults, $12 for kids: We love the Carnival steakhouses and look forward to this meal on each cruise. Nick & Nora's is located under Carnival Miracle's see-through red funnel dome, at the top of the Atrium. Just walking up the airy Plexiglas staircase to the two-story restaurant set us in the mood for a special experience. Despite costing extra, we found the price reasonable for the quality and quantity of food, the elegant place settings and the doting service by (usually) Eastern European wait staff. There's also a dress code: No shorts, no ripped jeans.

Appetizers at the steakhouse are tuna tartare with avocado, French onion soup, shrimp cocktail and a terrific Caesar salad prepared tableside, as well as smoked and ice fresh oysters served with apple mignonette, beef tartare with shallot salad on country toast, Berkshire pork belly with apple and walnut preserves, and a crab and mushroom risotto.

The entree list runs the gamut of steakhouse favorites -- 14-ounce broiled New York strip, 18-ounce grilled prime cowboy steak, 18-ounce spice-rubbed ribeye, 9-ounce filet mignon, plus broiled lobster tail, grilled lamb chops and roast chicken. New to the menu is a 10-ounce wagyu flat iron beef and pan-seared Dover sole. Side dishes include baked potato with trimmings, Yukon gold mashed potatoes with wasabi horseradish, sauteed mushrooms, onion rings, garlic rapini, and various sauces such as bearnaise and chimichurri can also be ordered on the side. The dessert list is rich and the complimentary espresso and cappuccino were perfectly prepared and a nice finishing touch.

All in all, Nick & Nora's is a memorable experience, beautifully presented, with steaks cooked precisely, and certainly a good choice considering the limited options on Carnival Miracle. Reservations are advised, but the venue is pretty large, so last-minute is usually OK. It's also worth checking out the special embarkation deal -- typically an inexpensive bottle of wine is thrown in for cruisers dining at Nick & Nora's the first night of the sailing.

Chef's Table (location varies); $75: Offered once or more (depending on demand) each sailing, the Chef's Table is an imaginatively presented meal aimed at foodies, and limited to just 12 or 14 people each time. It carries a steep add-on fee, which includes wine with the seven-course meal -- so expectations are fairly high. For the most part, they were met.

The evening lasts about three hours, and starts with a tour of the Bacchus Dining Room galley, along with hors d'oeuvres and sparkling wine, as well as a peek at how Carnival's famous chocolate melting cake is prepared (it's a surprisingly simple recipe). The group then moves to an adjacent space for the meal -- for us it was the dance floor of Dr. Frankenstein's Lab, the ship's disco. But immediately on arrival here we noticed an air-conditioned scent permeating the room, leading to our biggest complaint: The smell of stale cigarette smoke, which colored the meticulously prepared cuisine.

Menus vary from sailing to sailing; we were served such delicacies as a crab stack with corn custard, a sea bass crusted in chorizo, and wagyu beef served with a bone marrow souffle. The plates arrived looking like a million bucks, with contrasts in color and texture, delicate garnishments and precarious towers. For the most part, the food was good, but there was definitely more emphasis placed on presentation and service. Wineglasses were refilled on request, a choice of a merlot or pinot grigio. There were card tricks between courses, and the evening finished with a photo of our table-mates to take home, autographed by the executive chef.

Reservations are required for the Chef's Table, and seats for the first table usually fill by embarkation day. If the kitchen sees demand, they might add a second or third Chef's Table evening, so it's worth putting your name on the waitlist, if one is offered.

Sushi at Sea (Deck 2); a la carte: Carnival Miracle does have one other fee-added option, and that's the sushi and sashimi stand near the casino. The small selection was priced a la carte: $1.50 per piece with rolls ranging $5 to $7.50. The sushi bar opened at 11 a.m. on sea days, at 3 or 4 p.m. on port days, and remained open till 10 p.m. nightly.

Fountainhead Cafe (Deck 2); a la carte: The java joint aboard Carnival Miracle sold a variety of espresso-fueled drinks, including spiked coffee options, plus fee-added milkshakes, cookies and monstrous cakes served by the slice.

Room Service: Items that incur a charge include personal-sized pizza, chicken quesadillas, chicken wings, spicy fried shrimp, French fries and a banana split -- at $5 to $6 each. All items incur a charge of $2 to $6 between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

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