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Tuesday 23 October 2012

Deck 10: Getting into the ‘Carnivore’ Spirit

Carnival Spirit arrives in Sydney (Carnival)
Roderick Eime

The arrival of Carnival Spirit into Sydney has set the city abuzz and media is all a-twitter about the largest ship ever to home port in Australia.

This middle-aged writer joined hundreds of excited young travel agents and a number of media for a one night sampler cruise last Friday and it was clear from the outset, it was going to be party time.

We’ve heard all about the “Aussification” (pro’s and con’s) and Green Thunder, but what about some of the less obvious aspects of this massive vessel?

Nouveau dining - Carnival CruisesI seldom cruise on the large ships and even less frequently with Mrs Travel Reporter (a big ship debutante) in company, so it was an enlightening experience in many respects. One of the most anticipated events was dining in the newly re-christened Nouveau Restaurant, otherwise known as Supper Club or Steakhouse throughout the Carnival family. This is the bookings-essential, $35-surcharge, fine dining, vegetarian-free experience way up on Deck 10 and accessible via a breathtaking, transparent staircase from the deck below.

Guests are greeted by immaculately coiffed and attired hostesses and seated at all correct, silver service tables, so I’m glad I ironed my shirt and brought a tie. Dress up for this occasion, it won’t hurt. Dress code: Cruise Elegant

While the menu remains consistent with other Carnival vessels, the wine list has certainly been tweeked for local (read: parochial) tastes with the addition of AU and NZ reds and whites.

“The Australian and NZ wines are the first to sell out,” laments the sommelier, “no-one seems interested in the French or Californian wines.”

Maybe because most Aussies know nothing about foreign wines and are a bit nervous to venture outside our comfort zone. Talking about ‘comfort zone’, bring on the steaks!

Our waiter manoeuvres a weighty trolley up to our table, full of prime cuts and proceeds to recite a carnivore’s anthem. I listen politely and then declare cowardly “Let chef decide. Whatever he’d cook for himself.” Madame rolls her eyes. She’s heard this before, but with such a daunting array, it’s a timid strategy of mine that never fails. An Ahi tuna tartare with Houghton’s Wisdom Sav Blanc to begin, followed by the [drum roll please] 500g spice-rubbed, prime rib eye with pepper sauce. Medium rare, of course. Good call chef. Mme chooses the petit 250g filet mignon with lobster tail. “Perfect”. A Rufus Stone Shiraz chases it down. It turns out to be one of the best steaks I’ve ever had, perfectly cooked, ideally seasoned. My only wince was it came on a cold plate, although every other plate on the table was piping hot. Desserts are to die for. Chocolate ‘sampler’ be damned, it’s a dish for two.

Thinking this must be several cuts above the regular dining experience, I am able to consult cruise veteran, John Pond, who just sailed in with Spirit from Hawaii.

“I can tell you,” John declares with some authority, “the meals downstairs are none too shabby either, particularly the prime rib and roast duck, plus the thin crust pizza (on the buffet deck) is always fun at midnight.”

Takeaways: Choose ‘anytime dining’ before you board, try room service (small charge) and you MUST do Nouveau at least once.

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