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Lets talking about the Alchemy Bar. For the most part, cruise ships all have essentially the same type of bar. Most lines have a wine or champagne bar, a pub, an atrium bar… you pretty much know what you’re getting. But back in 2011, Carnival Cruise Line decided to roll out something completely different. Recognizing the surging popularity of high-end specialty cocktails, they created the Alchemy Bar, which would distinguish itself from any other bar their ships had ever before featured and, in the process, become incredibly popular. But what is it about Alchemy Bar that makes it so special?
Alchemy Bar Background
While Carnival had begun its Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades when the Carnival Magic was introduced, it was not until the Carnival Liberty emerged from her dry dock later that year that the Alchemy Bar was introduced. Ironically, Magic would not get her own version of the cocktail bar until a drydock in 2016. Over the years, the bar has been introduced to nearly every ship in the fleet and is already listed as “coming soon” to the Carnival Panorama, rolling out at the end of 2019.
You can go to any bar on the ship for a drink. Part of what makes the Alchemy Bar so special is the experience it offers. But be warned: This is not a grab-n-go bar. You won’t find beer or daiquiri machines here. In fact, the majority of cocktails offered are likely to be things you’ve never heard of, sometimes made with ingredients you didn’t expect. The mixologists work with fresh-squeezed juices, handmade spirit infusions, and cordials to hand-craft each drink. As a result, you’re going to pay a little more for drinks here than you might elsewhere on board, averaging around $10.50 each (or $12 after 15% gratuity is added). On the plus side, the Cheers program is happily accepted, and these drinks are definitely worth the price.
Read More: 5 Reasons to Visit Carnival’s Alchemy Bar
From the moment you sit down, you’ll notice things here are a little bit different. The menu is both limited and backlit for easy reading in any light. Atop the top of the menu are words which perfectly sets the tone: “Welcome to the pharmacy… or at least the cocktail menu version of one.” What follows is several headings such as Passion Potions, Energizing Elixirs, and Cocktail Therapy. There’s even a section titled Fountain of Youth which offers, among other things, a Forty Is The New Twenty martini and, one of our personal favorites, the refreshing Cucumber Sunrise.
There are no bartenders here, but rather lab coat-wearing Master Mixologists ready to whip up a cure for what ails you against a backdrop that looks like something out of an old-school apothecary. The entertainment factor is twofold: First, there’s the fun to be had in just trying to figure out which cocktail is the right one for you. And once the selection has been made, it’s fun to sit back and watch these professionals do their thing.
For each cocktail, the mixologists methodically squeeze a fresh lime or muddle a new mint leaf. You won’t find any premixed jugs of sweet and sour mix, and even the garnishes have a flourish here. There’s almost a “Do Not Try This At Home” element at play as the mixologist sets fire to a sprig of rosemary or an orange peel, with every move they make playing a role in the crafting of the perfect drink. They don’t call it the Alchemy Bar for anything… these people are making magic every night.
Sometimes, things even get a little flashy, with the person behind the bar stacking 10 shakers with which to simultaneously pour 10 perfectly-measured cocktails into waiting glasses. I once even saw them do 12 at a time, although I may have been seeing double… did I mention that these cocktails are potent as heck?
While the people making them deserve a whole lot of credit, they are really supporting players, because the drinks are the star of the show at the Alchemy Bar. In true Carnival fashion, several Prohibition-era classics are recreated with a Caribbean flare. The Island Old Fashioned takes the familiar drink (usually made with whiskey) and gives it a twist by instead using spiced infused rum. Likewise, the Caribbean Manhattan featured some spiced brown sugar to give it an extra kick.
Read More: 7 Alchemy Bar Recipes
As we mentioned before, the Cucumber Sunrise (which includes vodka, watermelon nectar, and freshly-muddled cucumbers, among other things) is incredibly popular, perhaps because it’s not quite as intimidating as some of the more adventurous items on the menu. Another popular drink is the Martini Seduction, a swoon-worthy blend of L’Orange vodka, red passion-fruit nectar, and lime juice. Among more adventurous drinkers, the Spicy Pineapple Martini has gained a large fan base thanks to how it balances sweet and spicy in the same glass. If you’re looking for a dessert-like after-dinner cocktail, try The Deal Closer: vanilla vodka, Disaronno Amaretto, Irish cream, and chocolate liqueur.
Personally, I love Alchemy Bar’s herbal cocktails, so my favorite is the Restorative Basil Drop (vodka, basil, simple syrup, and citrus). A very close second for me, however, is The Perfect Storm, which is made two types of rum, strawberry purée, a rosemary sprig, and fresh lime. Because the bartender flames the rosemary, the Christmas-y scent makes this herbal elixir rich and inviting.
But if you really want to put the craft in “craft cocktails,” put aside the menu and go rogue. Because the mixologists are trained in flavor profiles, they know what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a unique cocktail… and they also enjoy the challenge of making something tailored specifically to a guest’s request. They’ll ask you a few questions, such as whether you prefer sweet over bitter, spicy or herbal and – based on your responses, their knowledge and the fresh ingredients they work with – come up with something catered specifically to you.
Located amidst the hustle and bustle of the promenade deck, the Alchemy Bar somehow manages to maintain an almost intimate atmosphere despite being in one of the most heavily trafficked areas of the ships they call home. The dark wood cabinetry, whitish granite counters, and playful pharmacy-themed accessories combine to create an upscale environment that’s a perfect match to the high-end cocktails being served. On most ships, the bar is located at the aft of the ship and close to the main dining rooms, making it the perfect place to stop for a pre or post-dinner cocktail.
As I mentioned before, this isn’t a place where you grab a drink and go, especially since the handcrafted nature of the cocktails means it can take a few minutes for each to be prepared. You’ll find that guests here tend to wind up talking with one another, comparing notes on the various cocktails and enjoying the show that is unfolding behind the bar. Don’t be surprised if you wind up having so much fun you miss your dinner reservation.
For something really fun, consider signing up for Alchemy Bar’s mixology class, which is offered on just about every sailing. For about $20, you’ll learn a little bit of history about several cocktails as well as the tricks of the trade… meaning you’ll never again be able to say you don’t know how to properly muddle herbs. You’ll get to try your hand at making a cocktail, taste a few and walk away with both a certificate and a coupon good for a free drink.
It’s easy to see why so many people have fallen in love with all things Alchemy Bar. With this high-end venue, Carnival figured out a way to take a favorite past time of many cruisers – drinking – and turn it into a special event. Next time you’re onboard, swing by and give it a try. As they like to say, it’ll prove to be good for what ails you.