Review: Carnival’s Bonsai Sushi
With so much attention being paid to Bonsai Teppanyaki, which was recently rolled out on the Carnival Horizon, we thought it might be a great time to revisit the restaurant from which that venue was spun-off, Bonsai Sushi. Originally introduced on the Carnival Breeze way back in 2012, Bonsai Sushi has been included on every new ship introduced by the line since.
It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular spot, as it’s equally great for a relatively quick bite or a full-blown sit-down dinner. On sea days, Bonsai Sushi is open for lunch, while on port days it tends to open around 5 p.m., meaning that when you come back from a shore excursion feeling a little peckish, it’s the perfect spot to grab something that will hold you over until — without filling you up before — dinner. And since it generally stays open until around midnight, it’s also a great place to hit when you get the late-night munchies.
Ships On Which You’ll Find Bonsai Sushi:
- Carnival Breeze
- Carnival Dream
- Carnival Horizon
- Carnival Legend
- Carnival Pride
- Carnival Sunshine
- Carnival Vista
- Carnival Panorama (coming in 2019)
I’ll admit, I was sort of reluctant to try Bonsai Sushi. For some reason, I found it hard to imagine getting fresh sushi made with quality ingredients on a cruise ship. After all, sushi is a little different than, say, a juicy steak or a plate of pasta. Eventually, however, I was convinced to give it a try… and man, did they manage to overcome my skepticism. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was on a Carnival ship and I didn’t swing by at least once for a roll or two.
The restaurant recommends making a reservation, but generally speaking, I haven’t found that to be necessary. (The same can not be said, it’s worth noting, for the Bonsai Teppanyaki restaurant on Carnival Horizon. There, you will 100 percent want and need a reservation!) Rarely is the restaurant so full that the host or hostess in charge of seating guests will have to turn you away. That’s a good thing, because I find that for many people, Bonsai Sushi is often a spur-of-the-moment stop as opposed to something they plan for in advance. That said, if you know you want to dine here at a specific time, it certainly doesn’t hurt to swing by and make a reservation.
While on most ships, Bonsai Sushi only features indoor seating, a surprisingly expansive (and incredibly comfy) outdoor dining area has been added to the venue on both Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon. The overall atmosphere is soothing, with lots of pale wood surfaces, orange highlights, hanging lamps and soft, ambient music playing. Unlike some of the more boisterous restaurants on board, this tends to be a space where you can have a quiet conversation.
During my most recent visit, I opted to sit at the sushi bar, which was perfect since I was dining solo. Even if I was eating with someone else, I’d likely try and sit in the same spot, as I love being able to watch the chefs prepare everything.
If you’ve ever been to a sushi restaurant, you know pretty much what to expect here. And while menus may vary from ship to ship and prices can change, here’s a run-down on the basic offerings and their approximate costs. Remember, vverything is priced ala carte, so you can pick and choose based entirely on your appetite.
Appetizers include miso soup, ginger salad, edamame and a variety of meat skewers, all of which are priced at $2 each. There’s also a to-die-for slow-braised wagyu beef short rib for $4, while by-the-piece sushi items will cost around $1.50 each.
The California Roll and the Spicy Tuna roll clock in at $5 each, with the Bang Bang Bonsai Roll and Tempura Roll slightly pricier at $7 each. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial to share, such the Ship for 2 ($22) includes soup, ginger salad as well as the Bang Bang Bonsai, a California Roll and six pieces of assorted sushi. There’s also the Omakase — which is Japanese for “I’ll leave it up to you” — is specifically designed for those sitting at the sushi bar. Ringing in at $15 for one diner or $22 for two, this is perfect for those who have both an appetite and an adventurous spirit, as the chef will basically create a series of tasteful dishes specifically for you and featuring the freshest available ingredients.
Something I’ve never tried but which definitely caught my eye (and made its way onto the “things to try next time” list) is the noodle bowl ($7) that is served with fresh veggies. You pick the type of noodle and meat (including, for vegetarians, mushrooms) to be mixed into a dashi vegetable broth. You can also elect to add egg or, for an addition $2, tempura vegetables.
You can see the whole Bonsai Sushi menu here.
The menu, chopsticks and water glass are all waiting for you when you are seated. One of the servers will come over to you and explain how the menu works and answer any questions you may have. There is a pencil on top of the menu that fill in what you’d like.
I went with the ginger salad, spicy tuna roll, and shrimp tempura. The sushi chef prepares every dish to order, so you know you’re getting fresh food and not something that was pre-rolled yesterday.
They also have crafted cocktails themed for the venue and Japanese beers. Of course, they’ll also fill your water glass as often as you like (although sometimes, getting the server’s attention once they’ve delivered your meal can be a bit of a challenge). Some of the dishes can be on the spicy side, so it’s not necessarily a bad idea to bring a bottle of water in case you suddenly find yourself needing to put out any minor internal flames!
The peak dining time for Bonsai Sushi seems to be between 7 and 9 pm, and I’ve noticed the restaurant seems busier on formal nights, probably because it’s a nice option for people who want a sit-down dinner but don’t necessarily feel like dressing up to hit one of the main dining rooms or higher-end specialty restaurants. This is definitely a restaurant where casual and comfortable rule.
You’ll notice that members of the crew can often be found eating here, which might well be the highest recommendation a ship-board restaurant can possibly get. (If my personal opinion holds any sway, take into account that on my last cruise, I ate at Bonsai Sushi three times… and happily would have gone back for more.) As I mentioned before, reservations aren’t required, but if you want to lock in a specific day or time, it’s not a bad idea to make one.