People are sometimes surprised to learn that an elegant afternoon tea is a standard dining option on the ships of Carnival Cruise Lines. Afternoon tea is generally thought of as being very British and is associated with a genteel restrained lifestyle. Carnival is geared towards Americans and has achieved unparalleled success in the cruise industry with a style that emphasizes light-hearted, often boisterous, fun. Despite this seeming disparity, look in the Fun Times on a sea day on a Carnival ship and you will find that afternoon tea is being offered.
In fact, I had one of the most intellectual and cultured afternoon teas that I have had on any cruise ship on Carnival Triumph. It was held in the Oxford Bar, which is decorated like an English great house. I was seated with two young ladies who were taking a cruise after finishing their university studies. One had written her thesis on early 19th century British literature while the other had written hers on binary stars. I knew something about the former topic and so could converse about that and nothing about the latter but was willing to learn. In any event, we had a very intellectually stimulating conversation on rather esoteric topics while various Tudor and Stuart monarchs looked on from the portraits on the walls.
I once asked a Carnival executive why the line had afternoon tea on its ships. He explained that it is part of Carnival's philosophy of presenting guests with the spectrum of cruise experiences. Afternoon tea has been part of the passenger ship experience since the days of the transatlantic ocean liners. If he or she so desires, a guest on a Carnival ship will be able to say: “yes, I experienced that on my cruise.”
On Carnival Breeze, the afternoon tea is held in the Blush Restaurant, one of the ship's main dining rooms. As above, the Carnival teas used to be held in one of the lounges or bars but in recent years the teas appear to have migrated to the dining room. This is consistent with the industry trend and is probably much easier on the staff.
The guests attending the tea were seated at large tables at the aft end of the upper level of the restaurant near the windows overlooking the ship's wake. Since most of these tables seated eight to ten people, it was unusual for an entire table to be occupied only by people who knew each other. Thus, you were able to meet and speak with new people over the course of the meal.
Afternoon tea is essentially a meal in three courses. It consists of small sandwiches, scones and finally cakes and pastries. It was invented by the Duchess of Bedford in the 19th century in order to hold her guests over in the long interval between breakfast and late evening dinner. Lunch was not usually eaten in her circle in those days and if you are planning on having afternoon tea on a modern cruise ship, it is wise to skip lunch. It is a lot of food.
Shortly after everyone was seated, waiters appeared asking what type of tea each guest preferred. They had wooden boxes containing a variety of different tea bags to choose from.
While this was going on the food started arriving. Waiters circled the tables with trays of sandwiches and pastries. There was also a large cart maneuvering between the tables, which seemed to act as the mother ship. Thus, the service was very prompt but as a result, all of the different courses arrived together.
When I was studying at university in England many years ago, I was taught that there was a precise order to be followed in presenting afternoon tea. First, you have the sandwiches, then the scones and finally the cakes and pastries. If it was not practical for the waiter to bring these in order, the three courses could be presented together using a three tier tray. It would then be up to the guest to eat the courses in the proper order.
Alas, all that appears to have faded into history. Today, the rule seems to be to bring everything at once. It causes the little plates that are used during tea to overflow. However, people today seem to prefer that rather than risk a moment's delay in getting the next course.
The food that the waiters brought was very good. The sandwiches extended beyond the traditional finger sandwiches to include such things as smoked salmon on slices of French bread. There was also an excellent chocolate cake.
For me, the scones are the best part of afternoon tea. However, they have to be served with the proper accompaniments. Just plain, scones are generally just dry biscuits. However, cover them with clotted cream and strawberry preserves and they become delightful.
The staff seemed unfamiliar with scone protocol. A waiter came around with a server full of clotted cream but only ladled out a single teaspoonful for two scones. Upon urging, he happily deposited more on the plate.
Along the same lines, I had to ask for the strawberry preserves. This apparently solved a mystery for the staff as I heard a newly enlightened waitress pass on to a colleague: “The trays of jam are for the scones!” Quickly an individual portion arrived.
Once all the ingredients arrived, the scones were quite good. The staff had no problem in bringing more. Indeed, they were very attentive in offering more food to the guests.
The meal lasted the better part of the hour as people lingered on talking. Gradually, as the tea and the seconds and thirds of cake disappeared, the guests made their way out.
All in all, it was a good tea. Someone had clearly thought about the afternoon tea as the food coming out of the kitchen was quite good and suited to the occasion. The service was attentive and friendly although somewhat unfamiliar with afternoon tea etiquette. But, if the goal was to allow the guests to enjoy the experience of partaking in afternoon tea, Carnival Breeze met the objective.
Click here for our interview with the captain of Carnival Breeze
Click here for our interview with the cruise director of Carnival Breeze
Cruise ship restaurant review - - Carnival Breeze - - Carnival Cruise Lines - Afternoon Tea