Shaquille O'Neal has a chicken restaurant on a cruise ship, and it's excellent
"Can you dig it?" reads a sign near the entrance to one of several new restaurants onboard Carnival Cruise Line's newest ship, Mardi Gras. But this isn't just any eatery. It's Shaq's Big Chicken restaurant -- the brainchild of former NBA basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, whose likeness happily smiles down from the wall next to the query. Like Shaq himself, it's over-the-top good.
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What you need to know
The first at-sea outpost of O'Neal's land-based Big Chicken chain, this location is found on Deck 16, aft, near the Tides Pool, which makes it the perfect place to grab lunch if you're spending the day splashing or sunbathing.
The window-service counter serves Naked Truth chicken, raised without cages, hormones or antibiotics. You can choose from a selection of white or dark meat crispy (or grilled, on request) chicken sandwiches or white meat chicken strips with fries. Want to start your chicken feast early? Big Chicken also offers breakfast (until 3 p.m. for super late risers).
One of the best parts of the whole experience is that the food is included in the ship's cruise fares, so you won't pay an extra cent. Plus, you can go back as many times as you'd like. (For reference, sandwiches and chicken strips at Shaq's land-based restaurants, found on the U.S. West Coast, run roughly $7-8, while sides are in the $3 range.)
The venue has tables nearby, but because it's outside, it's not climate controlled. You can snag a seat in the air-conditioning at the Lido Marketplace buffet next door, however.
Big Chicken is rumored to be open all day, but check the Carnival Hub app or the printed daily schedule for hours of operation.
So, what, exactly, will you find on the Big Chicken menu? Here's the rundown.
Most Dominant Ever (M.D.E.): crispy or grilled white or dark meat chicken sandwich, Shaq sauce, pickles, fries
Shaq Attack (spicy): crispy or grilled white or dark meat chicken sandwich, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slaw, spicy chipotle barbecue sauce, fries
Uncle Jerome (spicy): Nashville hot chicken sandwich, lettuce, mayo, pickles, fries
The Big Aristotle: crispy or grilled white or dark meat chicken sandwich, muenster cheese, crispy fried onions, bacon, sweet and smoky Memphis barbecue sauce, fries
Chicken strips: crispy, hand-breaded white meat chicken strips with fries
Sides: choice of potato salad, house-made sweet and spicy pickles and/or jalapeno slaw
Sauces: choice of barbecue ranch, Memphis barbecue, Shaq sauce, buffalo hot and/or ketchup
Chicken and Biscuit (breakfast): crispy white-meat chicken breast on a biscuit with chili honey glaze syrup
Biscuit and Egg (breakfast): egg on a biscuit with choice of cheese and either sausage or bacon
Three Cheese Omelet (breakfast): egg omelet with cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss cheeses
I'm super picky when it comes to meat. At the first sign of gristle, tendon or anything remotely similar, my stomach turns. In fact, I once went completely vegetarian for about a year after a particularly unpleasant fast-food experience (until I realized I missed bacon and can't stand tofu). So, when I tell you the chicken at Big Chicken is good, you know you can trust me.
Not only was I able to eat every single bite without incident, but I went back for seconds and then the next day for breakfast. (Seriously, try the Chicken and Biscuit. You can thank me later.)
The selection isn't huge, but what's available is tasty, filling and high-quality, which is amazing, given the fact that it's free. If you're someone who's a meat-eater, definitely check it out if you're onboard.