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Your Guide to the Best Food and Wine Pairings on a Cruise

A cruise is a chance to embark upon new horizons— new destinations, new sights, new friends, and, of course, new flavors! Mastering the art of wining and dining isn’t easy, but here at Carnival, we like to think we’ve got it down. It’s not just about enjoying some truly delicious food and wine; it’s about the delectable delight of finding the perfect pairing.

Today, we’re here to give you a rundown of some of the best cruise drinks and food pairings onboard a Carnival cruise vacation with a little help from pros like Eric Brown, Director of Beverage Operations with Carnival, and Certified Cicerone! Ready, set, sip!

Complementary vs. Congruent Wine Pairings

Okay, now for the main event— the art of choosing the perfect pairing. From the bold flavors of a Pinot Noir or Cabernet to the crisp bubbly taste of prosecco and champagne, get ready to find the perfect balance of sipping and savoring. But before we start pairing, Eric thinks you should know that pairings can be either complementary or congruent.

A complementary pairing is one in which your chosen wine has an opposite flavor profile than your food. Think steak and red wine— the high fat content of the meat contrasts the wine’s tannins (compounds in wine that make varietals fuller-bodied, and also highlight fruity and savory notes), which also soften the fat and release more of the meat’s flavor.

A congruent pairing is one in which the food and beverage share a flavor, like dessert paired with sweet wines, or a spicy red varietal paired with smoked meat. Just make sure that neither overwhelms the other— the purpose of a congruent pairing is to make the food and beverage enhance one another.

Red Wine

We’ll tell you a little secret: the trick with red wine pairings is finding a dish that enhances the bold flavors without overpowering them. Hearty, rich dishes are still fair game— in fact, they’re preferred! Strong tannins pair beautifully with foods rich in flavor and tenderness. When in doubt, just remember that reds should be more acidic than the food you pair it with. Here are some of our top onboard pairing picks for red wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Prime Cowboy Steak – Steakhouse
    • Broiled Filet Mignon – Steakhouse
    • Steak Tartare – The Chef’s TablE
  • Merlot
    • 18-Hour Beef Brisket – Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse
    • Tuna Tartare – Steakhouse
  • Zinfandel
    • Stuffed Mushrooms – Steakhouse
    • Grilled Lamb Chops – Steakhouse
  • Pinot Noir
    • Beef Carpaccio – Steakhouse
    • Baked Onion Soup – Steakhouse
    • Herb Crusted Lamb – The Chef’s Table

White Wine

While red wine pairings require harmony between bold, rich flavors, white wine pairings have to find the perfect balance between sweetness and acidity. Light and citrusy dishes will feel right at home next to varietals like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and more. If you’re looking for the perfect white wine pairing, check out our recommendations below:

  • Chardonnay
    • Farm Chicken – Steakhouse
    • Roasted Halibut – Rudy’s Seagrill
  • Sauvignon Blanc
    • Fresh Seafood Ceviche – Emeril’s Bistro 1397
    • Shucked Fresh Oysters – Emeril’s Bistro 1397
  • Pinot Grigio
    • Blue Mussels – Rudi’s Seagrill
    • Young Lettuce – SteakhousE
  • Riesling
    • Shrimp Po-Boy – Emeril’s Bistro 1397
    • Broiled Lobster Tail – Rudi’s Seagrill


Not sure where you stand on the great red vs. white wine debate? No worries—we say rosé all day! Go for a versatile rosé and pair it with a wide variety of dishes on the Carnival food menu, from spicy curry to fresh salads–it’s sure to perfectly contrast whatever dish you choose. We recommend checking out onboard lunch hotspot Big Chicken, where you’ll find a menu handcrafted by Shaquille O’Neal, aka Carnival’s very own Chief Fun Officer! Delight in tender and crispy chicken dishes that are uniquely spiced, yet delicately flavored. Pair your glass of rosé with the spicy Shaq Attack, or the sweet and smoky taste of The Big Aristotle.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines pair exceptionally well with pasta dishes or more Asian-inspired flavors, like the ones over at Cucina Del Capitano or Bonsai Teppanyaki. Round out the perfect meal on a sweet note with a sparkling dessert wine, perfect for an end-of-night cheese board or sweet treat from the Lido Marketplace

Can You Bring Wine on a Cruise?

So, can you bring your own wine onto a Carnival cruise? Short answer: yes. Long answer: passengers 21+ can bring one 750-ml bottle of sealed/unopened wine or champagne on embarkation day ONLY! For reference, a 750-ml bottle is the size of a standard wine bottle. Fortified wines like port, sherry, and vermouth are not allowed onboard. Click here to read more about our liquor and beverage policies!

Welcome to a World of Wine

Ready to dive into flavors from across the globe? Boy, do we have the package for you! Sip your way through new varietals or indulge in your favorites with Carnival’s two noteworthy Cruise The Vineyards packages, featuring esteemed wines from Argentina, Armenia, California, Chile, France and more. Choose a wine, any wine! This is an offer anyone can enjoy! The best part? Your beverage can be enjoyed anywhere on the ship, whether you’re taking a spin around lively bars like Piano Bar, Casino Bar, Havana Bar, or pairing it with something delicious at the Steakhouse or Dining Room! Click here to learn more about how to navigate the wine selections on a cruise.

You didn’t think we’d stop there, did you? Let us remind you: no one does food like Carnival! That’s why during your cruise vacation, you’ll have every opportunity to discover unforgettable flavors, delectable dishes and unique ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else. Click here to learn more about how our Chief Culinary Officer, Emeril Lagasse, brings your taste buds on a vacation of their own with great flavors at sea.

A Carnival cruise lets you set sail into a whole new world of flavors— whether you’re savoring the crisp lightness of a white, the full-bodied richness of a red, or the delightful in-between taste of a rosé or sparkling wine, this is your time to dine.

Wrapping Up

You and a Carnival cruise? Now that’s a pairing made in heaven. Start your adventure by checking out our Cruise The Vineyards package for an exclusive selection of wines from around the world.