Carnival's Mardi Gras to feature street food concept, Shaq's Big Chicken: Travel Weekly

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NEW YORK -- At its Cruise into Summer event here on Tuesday, Carnival Cruise Line revealed that the upcoming Mardi Gras will have new dining/beverage concepts and new twists on older ones. 

Among the fresh venues to try on the Mardi Gras will be the Watering Hole, pitched as similar to a "fun backyard gathering spot," with a beer bar and cocktails such as a watermelon cooler and a tequila sunset.

New flavors will come from Street Eats, an open-air venue intended to bring the "ready-to-eat nature of street food to the seas," Carnival said. Dishes reflecting a variety of cuisines will come and go at three themed kiosks where items are fried, steamed or seared on a plancha.

Empanadas, falafel, bao buns, kebabs and satay are examples of what Street Eats will serve.

Carnival is taking a Funship 2.0 staple, the RedFrog Rum Bar, and refashioning it as the RedFrog Tiki Bar to capitalize on the passion for Polynesian tiki culture.  The two-level bar will be decorated with tiki heads, floral patterns and vibrant colors. Bartenders will mix drinks called Polynesian Punch, Red's Rum Runner Jumper and the Jungle Bird.

Carnival confirmed that the Mardi Gras will be home to the second Big Chicken restaurant at sea. Big Chicken was founded by former basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, who is also a Carnival pitchman and the cruise line's "chief fun officer." The restaurant specializes in crispy chicken sandwiches and made its debut in Las Vegas in 2018. The Big Chicken on the Mardi Gras will be aft on the lido deck.

Big Chicken will make its Carnival debut next year, when the Carnival Victory emerges from a $200 million redo as the Carnival Radiance.

Carnival reveals dining options for Mardi Gras

O'Neal appeared at a Carnival event in New York on June 18 to amplify Carnival's message and exchange a few light-hearted moments with Carnival president Christine Duffy. 

Kiosks representing the Watering Hole, Street Eats and RedFrog Tiki Bar were set up for travel advisors, media and other guests to try. A Big Chicken counter served chicken sandwiches named the Shaq Attack (pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slaw and spicy chipotle barbecue sauce), Shaq Daddy (swiss cheese, ham and Carolina honey-mustard barbecue sauce) and the M.D.E. (signature Shaq sauce and pickle slaw). M.D.E. is a nickname Shaq gave himself in his playing days; it stands for Most Dominant Ever.

The food at Big Chicken and Street Eats will be included in the cruise fare. 

The new bars and restaurants are all in two themed zones of the 180,000-ton, 5,200-passenger Mardis Gras. The Summer Landing, which includes the Watering Hole, is also where guests will find Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse, the combo barbecue restaurant and brewery first seen on the Carnival Horizon.

The expansive outdoor deck area will also have an infinity pool, two whirlpools, an indoor/outdoor sports bar and a hangout area for cornhole games, trivia, arts and crafts, and dance classes.

The two-deck Lido zone will be home to Guy's Burger Joint, the Seafood Shack, the BlueIguana Cantina and the Lido Marketplace, along with a Beach Pool, an Aft Tides Pool and Dive-In Movies at the Carnival Seaside Theater.

The Mardi Gras will debut in Europe on Aug. 31, 2020. It will then sail to New York for a series of cruises before heading to Port Canaveral, Fla., where the ship will do Caribbean cruises year-round.

Rebecca Tobin contributed to this report.