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Carnival Cruise Line is launching its biggest ship next year, so it makes sense the operator is looking to raise the bar with a well-known name in dining. It's an approach the line has embraced in recent years.

Carnival Cruise Line’s upcoming megaship landed a big name in the food world.

Emeril Lagasse — New Orleans chef, restaurateur, and former Food Network host — is teaming up with the cruise operator to open his first restaurant at sea on Mardi Gras, which launches next year. The announcement is the latest marketing move by Carnival to partner with well-known personalities as a way to make a connection with travelers who are new to cruising or to the brand.

Carnival announced Wednesday that Emeril’s Bistro 1396 will be a 60-seat venue in the ship’s French Quarter area, one of six themed sections. It will serve New Orleans specialties such as gumbo, po’ boys, red beans and rice, and bananas foster. Named after the cruise line’s first ship in history, Mardi Gras will have capacity for more than 5,200 passengers at double occupancy, a record for Carnival.

“When we decided that we were going to name the ship Mardi Gras and going to include New Orleans as a featured neighborhood or zone on the ship, and began to talk about what that would look like, obviously when we got to the food, Emeril was the guy,” said Carnival President Christine Duffy. “We’re just really excited that he’s excited about doing this.”

At a lunch event Wednesday, Lagasse showed off some of the items that will be on the menu — his signature barbecue shrimp with rosemary biscuits, oysters Rockefeller, crab meat po’ boys — and inspired Duffy to ask for one item to be added, a king cake filled with caramelized banana jam.

The idea, Duffy said, is for the venue to be relaxed and casual rather than a fine dining experience. Each item will be priced individually, with prices ranging from $2 to $12, and the restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“I’m about bringing as great of food as I can to the table,” Lagasse said. “It doesn’t matter where that table is.”

He has some history with tables in unusual locations: Lagasse designed meals for NASA astronauts in 2006.

On Wednesday, he was considering cruise ships yet another frontier.

“It’s a great opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done,” he said. “I think it’s a fun project and I think it’s an exciting challenge to do great food at sea. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The First Wave

There was a time when Carnival Cruise Line avoided teaming up with other well-known brands, instead relying on its own brand as the Fun Ship line. Then came Guy Fieri.

As part of a 2011 initiative called Fun Ship 2.0, the cruise operator added a venue in partnership with the Food Network star called Guy’s Burger Joint, as well as games from Hasbro and comedy programming from George Lopez. By next year, Fieri’s burgers will be on every Carnival ship; a new concept, Guy’s Pig and Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, is on several ships and coming to more.

Children’s activities and areas with a Dr. Seuss theme followed Fun Ship 2.0, and last year retired basketball star Shaquille O’Neal signed on as CFO, or “chief fun officer.”

Carnival said late that year that O’Neal will bring a version of his Big Chicken restaurant to a cruise ship, Carnival Radiance, next year.

Like Guy Fieri’s restaurants, Duffy said she sees potential for Emeril’s Bistro to go beyond one ship.

“We think this is a great match, we think this is the start of a great relationship,” she said. “I’m really excited about this particular concept on this particular ship, but even beyond, where this can go.”

This story has been updated to include the correct number of seats in the bistro.


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Photo credit: A rendering of Emeril's Bistro 1396, which will be on Carnival's upcoming ship, Mardi Gras. Carnival Cruise Line

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