Inside the tricked-out cooking classroom on Carnival’s new ship
Is cruise giant Carnival going upmarket?
You might think so after a peek at the low-cost cruise operator’s latest shipboard attraction, a high-end cooking classroom of the sort that's typically only found on the fanciest cruise vessels.
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Dubbed Carnival Kitchen and located on Carnival’s just-unveiled Carnival Panorama, the space offers nine state-of-the-art, marbled granite cooking stations for two; a tricked-out instructor’s station; a cooking show-like closet filled with cooking gadgets; and a dedicated dining area.
As I saw during a preview of the Los Angeles area-based vessel in advance of its first weekly sailing to Mexico, Carnival Kitchen is a serious cooking venue. Sitting in on the very first class to be held in the room — a lesson in baking apple pie — I watched as an instructor and several assistants took participants on a hands-on, hour-long journey through every step of the pie-making process from hand-making a crust to cooking the filling.
In a high-tech touch, the instructor’s station was covered by a camera that projected what she was doing onto iPad-size screens at every participant’s cooking station. Each station had all the ingredients and cooking accoutrements needed for the pie-making project, and every participant made his or her very own pie as the hour went on, ending with a finished (though not yet baked) product.
While making an apple pie isn’t the most complex of culinary tasks, this was a surprisingly sophisticated and enriching experience for a Carnival ship. Carnival is, after all, the line that has made its name with such fun-focused frivolity as poolside hairy chest contests.
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Speaking with me after a ribbon cutting for the room, Carnival president Christine Duffy said the concept was directly driven by interest from customers. The line had offered some cooking classes in the past using existing space in onboard steakhouses that turned out to be a hit, she said. Plus, Carnival always is getting requests from customers for the recipes for its onboard dishes.
“It’s due to popular demand,” Duffy said. “We have such amazing talent in our culinary team … [so] we said, let’s just create a dedicated space where people can actually come cook themselves and have a great experience with their family or whoever they’re traveling with.”
Located on one of the main interior decks of Carnival Panorama, between the ship’s casino and comedy lounge, Carnival Kitchen will be home to more than a dozen distinct classes where you can learn to make such classic Carnival main restaurant dishes as the perfectly gooey-on-the-inside Warm Chocolate Melting Cake that has become legend among Carnival fans and the saffron risotto served in Carnival’s Cucina del Capitano Italian restaurants.
There also will be courses in sushi rolling and pizza making, in addition to pie baking. Classes will last one to two hours and cost between $30 and $59 per person.
Carnival Kitchen’s dining area will be used in the evenings for demonstration classes that include a themed dinner. This effectively gives Carnival Panorama one more restaurant than exists on two earlier ships in the same Vista Class series — and a very exclusive and intimate one at that. As with regular classes during the day, the evening class-and-dinner experience will be limited to 18 people at a time.
Duffy said Carnival’s next ship, Mardi Gras, will have an even bigger cooking classroom. Mardi Gras is due to debut in August 2020.
While several lines have offered cooking demonstrations on ships for years, upscale cruise operator Oceania Cruises generally gets the credit for unveiling the first truly hands-on, custom-built cooking classrooms at sea. Both the line’s 1,250-passenger Marina and sister ship Riviera, unveiled in 2011 and 2012, respectively, debuted with a 12-station Culinary Center.
Other lines that have since added multi-station cooking classrooms on ships include luxury operators Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The debut of Carnival Kitchen is just one element of a bigger focus on culinary offerings at Carnival as it prepares to unveil Mardi Gras, the first of a new series of Carnival ships that will be significantly bigger than the line’s current vessels. Carnival has partnered with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to develop a New Orleans-themed Creole eatery for the ship, called Emeril’s Bistro 1396. The line also has been expanding its offerings of restaurants designed in partnership with The Food Network’s Guy Fieri. Both Lagasse and Fieri were at the Carnival Kitchen ribbon cutting.
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Christened last month in Long Beach, California, by Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White, Carnival Panorama is the first new Carnival ship to be based on the West Coast in two decades. It's now sailing weekly voyages to the Mexican Riviera out of Long Beach that feature stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. Fares start at $474 per person, based on double occupancy.