By David G. Molyneaux, editor, TheTravelMavens.com
For that special occasion, a romantic evening with wine, Carnival Cruise Lines has one of the better deals at sea -- a top-deck steakhouse with a nightly menu of steaks, chops and seafood, personal service and an intimate atmosphere that is the equal of a fine-dining, big-city experience.
The reservations-only restaurants, on Carnival's newest ships, offer a wine list that includes special vintages.
On the Carnival Valor, the steakhouse is called Scarlett's, inspired by the heroine in "Gone With the Wind." Each of Carnival's supper clubs has a different name and decor. The Carnival Liberty has Harry's, the Carnival Pride has David's, right.
A night at the steakhouse is not for everyone on a seven-day Caribbean cruise. There isn't room. Besides, some passengers would find the dinner too slow. Meals move leisurely through multiple courses. Men are asked to wear a jacket, but it is not required.
Carnival charges $30 a person to eat at Scarlett's, which includes the tip.
Some passengers say that once they pay their cruise fee, which includes all meals in the ship's dining rooms, they don't want to pay extra to go to a specialty restaurant.
But if you are looking for a quiet evening away from the clamor of the big dining rooms, this restaurant is a winner.
My meal at Scarlett's -- crab cake appetizer, Caesar salad, thick veal chop and a rich chocolate dessert -- was prepared and served superbly. What was left of my bottle of fine California cabernet (I splurged at about $50) was delivered the next night to my table in the main restaurant.
The 2,974-passenger Valor, which cruises weekly into the Caribbean out of Miami, plays on a heroic theme. The background of Americana runs from the Eagles Show Lounge (inspired by the U.S. national bird) and the One Small Step Dance Club (celebrating astronaut Neil Armstrong) to Rosie's Restaurant (highlighting the World War II riveters).
To make a Steakhouse reservation or see a menu on Carnival steakhouses. Carnival recommends making a reservation before your cruise.
Editor note, February 2009: The following paragraph was filed in December 2006, but Georges Blanc no longer is affiliated with Carnival ships. Carnival's John Heald explains that a majority of Carnival passengers were not interested in "fine dining" items that Blanc created for the main dining room. I liked the Blanc menu; however, my experience on Carnival ships -- post Blanc -- is that while the menu choices are less fancy, they continue to be of high quality. I am impressed with the food on Carnival ships, especially when you consider the cruise rates charged by Carnival.
At Scarlett's and throughout the Carnival fleet, French chef Georges Blanc has made a major contribution. Blanc, who is known for his sauces at his six top restaurants in France, provides training for Carnival's master chefs in Vonnas, France, and aboard ships in the Carnival fleet. Blanc was aboard the Valor for a cruise out of Miami in December 2006. Each night in the Valor's main dining room, I was impressed by Blanc's entree of the evening -- from lean duck to spicy jerk chicken -- or an appetizer, including an outstanding vichyssoise with asparagus.