by Richard H. Wagner
One of the most frequent comments that I hear about the Carnival ships is that the food
in the main dining rooms is good. I certainly agree with that assessment. But then, given
the quality of the main dining rooms, what enables specialty restaurants to work on these
The Emerald Steakhouse is the specialty restaurant on the Carnival Glory. As such, it is
an extra-tariff, reservations-only, alternative to the ship's main dining rooms for guests
who are seeking to diversify their onboard dining experience.
Helping me explore this dining experience was Jorge Solano, Cruise Director on Carnival
Glory. I had interviewed Jorge when he was Cruise Director on Carnival Triumph and
knew him to be a straight forward person. (See interview) Moreover, I also knew that he
had a background as a restaurateur.
Indeed, at one time Jorge was a successful restaurant owner in South Florida. A
life-threatening illness, however, made him decide to give that up and pursue his dream
of becoming a professional comedian. He spent ten years touring clubs and performing
on cruise ships. After being a guest performer on some of the Carnival ships, he
accepted an offer to become a cruise director. This allows him to combine his
managerial abilities and his skills as a professional comedian. In fact, one often hears
guests say on his ships: "The cruise director was funnier than the comedian."
"Not only do I have a background in restaurants but I like to eat great food," he pointed
out. Accordingly, in the various ports and other towns that that Jorge visits, "I go to all
the steakhouses and this [the Emerald] has become my number one. You get truly
five-star service and five-star food. The service, the ambiance, it is just a combination of
everything. On any given night, it is like going out on date night - - you come up here
and you truly enjoy it."
Specialty restaurants began appearing on Carnival ships with the Carnival Sprirt in 2001
and have appeared in each subsequent Carnival ship. As a result, there are specialty
restaurants on the Spririt class, the Conquest class and on Carnival Splendor and Carnival
Dream. The eight Fantasy class ships, Carnival Destiny, Carnival Victory and Carnival
Triumph do not have specialty restaurants.
In the beginning, the idea was to give Carnival passengers an opportunity to have a
restaurant experience like those on luxury cruise ships or upscale shoreside restaurants at
an affordable price. Since the emphasis was on luxury, the specialty restaurants were
called "supper clubs" evoking the image of the black tie venues in 1930s movies.
More recently, the supper clubs have been converted into "steakhouses". In these more
casual times, formality and glamour are not high on the agenda of most passengers.
However, a premium dining experience focusing on popular dishes is still attractive to
One casualty of the conversion was the live music that was a standard feature in the
supper clubs. Now, the bandstands remain empty all evening as do the well-polished
dance floors. I doubt, however, that many passengers notice. In any event, these
vestiges of the past are still pretty to look at.
The Emerald is located high on the ship, one deck above the ship's buffet restaurant. In
fact, there are stairs leading up to the Emerald from the buffet. However, the main
entrance is on the port side of the Panorama deck landing of the midship elevator bank.
The room itself is U-shaped with floor-to-ceiling windows on the port and starboard
sides. In the summer when it remains light out longer, the windows offer spectacular
views as the sun sets. There are tables by the windows in each arm of the U as well as a
row of free-standing tables. On the interior walls are a series of banquette tables.
Both of these dining areas are simply decorated. The décor on each of the Carnival ships
follows a central theme. On Carnival Glory, that theme is colors. Accordingly, the décor
of the Emerald is green. For the most part, this is a deep, dark green that says luxury.
However, the darkness is broken by a narrow line of green neon lights that run like a
border around the room. It is a stark but not glaring contrast that enlivens the room by
giving it a modern feel.
At the aft end of the room is the base of the U, which connects the two dining areas. On
the port side is a bar while on the starboard side is an open galley. The latter provides a
little theater as the guests can watch while the chefs go about intently preparing the meals.
Some theater is a key part of a premium dining experience. Part of the enjoyment
comes from seeing that the staff is taking you and your meal seriously. It is not merely a
question of ending up with a good tasting meal. Instead, it includes a performance in
which the staff (i.e. the maitre d', waiters and sommeliers) shows respect for the guests'
knowledge and discernment by sharing their expertise with the guest while still being
deferential. While not everyone may be an expert gourmet, the staff should treat
everyone as if they were.
The staff of the Emerald fulfilled this task very well. After we received the menus, the
waiter brought out a platter containing in their raw state the various cuts of meat that
were available. These bore little resemblance to what one typically sees in the butcher
counter at the local supermarket. They were markedly different in size, marbling and in
age. The waiter then explained what each cut was and how the chefs would prepare it.
This was all done very seriously in deference to the goal of producing a special meal
tailored to each guest's tastes.
Befitting a steakhouse, the Emerald's menu focuses on beef. (See menu) However, it
also includes broiled lobster tail, grilled lamb chops, lobster ravioli, sea bass and
"My favorite dish, after I have tried them all, I believe is the porterhouse." Jorge opined.
This 24 ounce cut encompasses both the strip loin and the tenderloin. It is often said to
be the most flavorful cut.
Still, I decided to go with the filet mignon. This is a personal favorite and when it is
done right, it is tender and tasty. Also, it is often ranked as the top cut of beef and any
restaurant claiming to be a premium venue should be able to cook it and do it well. I
frequently order it in cruise ship specialty restaurants in order to be able to compare one
venue to another.
The Emerald offers fillet mignon both on a stand alone basis or in a surf and turf
combination with broiled lobster tail. The latter was tempting but the filet in the surf and
turf is a smaller filet. I decided that I wanted the full size.
Side dishes balance and frame the main course. Emerald offers baked and mashed
potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, broccoli and creamed spinach. "No matter what you
have, you always have to have the wasabe mashed potatoes," ruled Jorge. No dispute
here. Add the creamed spinach for your leafy green vegetables.
To accompany the meal, the Emerald has a selection of sparkling wines, white wines and
red wines by the glass. There is also a list of wines by the bottle that includes a number
of reliable wines, especially in the champagne area. The prices are not out of line. I
went with a glass of the Kendall Jackson merlot.
The first item to arrive was, of course, the appetizer. Emerald offers several of the more
popular appetizers. One that has become surprisingly popular in recent years on cruise
ships is escargot and Jorge testified to their excellence on the Glory.
I went with the less adventurous shrimp cocktail. These can be quite bland if they
consist of small, tired crustations on wilted lettuce. However, the Emerald shrimp
cocktail featured large fresh shrimp, crisp vegetables and a decent sauce - - a good start
to the meal.
When I began cruising, it was on the QE2 and they always had a soup course as well as
an appetizer course. Having been so conditioned, I usually order a soup as well as a
starter even though it is rare to see the soups listed as a separate course on a cruise ship
menu. Emerald offers two soups in amongst its list of starters - - French onion soup and
lobster bisque. Both soups are deservedly popular. However, lobster bisque is often
tricky to get right. It involves getting the right blend of herbs, butter and either sherry or
cognac. In the Emerald, it is cognac and the soup did not disappoint.
The true test of course is the main course. In the case of a large filet mignon, it is very
easy to have a burnt exterior and something bordering steak tartar in the middle.
However, the chefs at the Emerald did not fall into this trap. The outside was nicely
charbroiled without tasting like cinders. Meanwhile, the interior was warm, tender and
Earlier Jorge had warned: "You have to leave room for the chocolate sampler." I had
experienced this array of cakes, ice reams and mousse in the Pinnacle Steakhouse on
Carnival Splendor and knew that he spoke the truth. However, I had not heeded the
warning and only wanted something light to finish the meal. To this end, I ordered the
fruit plate. This turned out to be an array of fresh berries and sliced fruit presented in a
martini glass. It was tasty and refreshing.
In sum, the Emerald Steakhouse succeeds because the food is a step beyond that served
in the ship's main dining rooms, which, as noted earlier, is good food. In addition, the
steakhouse is a different type of dining experience that can add variety to a cruise
The menu is not designed for those seeking to explore the frontiers of gourmet cooking.
Rather, it concentrates on popular classics and the chefs do them very well. Similarly,
the room itself is not spectacular in its décor but rather is straightforward and upscale.
Once could not have a comparable dining experience ashore for the $30 per person cover
Cruise ship specialty restaurant review - - Carnival Glory - - Emerald Steakhouse
The Emerald's bar.
The chefs in the open galley.
The fresh fruit plate.
The writer with Jorge Solano,
Cruise Director of Carnival Glory in
the Emerald Steakhouse.