Dining aboard Disney Cruise Lines is a different experience than aboard most cruise ships. Many cruise lines have a single large dining facility where people are scheduled for certain times each day to help stagger the service times for the kitchen to accommodate . This works rather well however the visual experience tends to be the same each day, particularly if you also take a breakfast or lunch meal at the usual buffet served in the same facility. Disney decided to take a radical approach when they launched DCL a dozen years ago with ‘rotational dining’. They have 3 smaller, separately themed dining areas aboard with a fourth ‘adults only’ upscale facility. You have the same table number and dining time (‘early’ at 5:30 or ‘late’ at 8:30) each evening however you move from one dining facility to another each evening. In a pleasurable twist, your serving staff moves with you each evening. By the second or third night out they know if you want a cocktail before your meal and what type of wine you prefer with your food plus any other ‘special needs’ you may have. This provides for a friendly and engaging experience with your serving staff while providing a completely different dining experience each evening with the additional benefit of smaller groups of people eating at the same place and time. Where you are dining is printed on your ‘Key to the World’ mentioned earlier.
Our dining began at Lumiere’s, a French cuisine restaurant inspired and themed from the movie/Broadway production Beauty and the Beast (it’s named after the French-speaking candelabra character in the film). It very lavish with lots of gilding, heavy draperies, high ceilings and elegant entry platform area. There are huge chandeliers down the centerline of the entrance each with a crystal red rose.
The next restaurant in our rotation is perhaps our favorite; Animator’s Palate. This place rather defies description… but I’ll try. Aside from a great menu of diverse dishes, the environment is a large part of the attraction. Scattered around the restaurant are sketches and drawings of animation through 100 years of Disney art. Many are the ‘wallpaper’ while others are being displayed on various digital screens on the wall. Large paintbrushes act as columns to hold up the roof. The brush portion of the columns are in color and change over time with subtle shifts in accent lighting. Our serving staff has shifted outfits from last night’s traditional garb for a 4-star facility to a white shirt/black vest with more animation art stitched out on it. Just about desert time, the entire place transforms… the walls suddenly are color versions of the the black and white sketches taking on a depth and richness not seen previously as well as all the black and white movies and pictures become color. When the staff comes out to deliver the desert menus their outfits have also transformed to full color versions of the artwork that decorated their vests and shirts. the wall trick is rather fascinating to see. When you get close to the wall you realize its perforated with thousands of holes. When the transformation happens they fade down the lights illuminating the walls and there’s an entire color version of the walls BEHIND the perforations that are then lit… so that’s what you see… very cool magic
The final restaurant is Parrot Cay (pronounced “Key” for those not up on their island-speak, mon) This is a bright, casual, laid-back bit of Jamaican foodie-fest, ideal for the more common Caribbean cruising this ship is generally doing. The menu is spicy and exciting and the servers have moved to loud, colorful shirts and crew pants and it’s easy to imagine you are no longer in the Mediterranean. The fare is a nice switch-up from the heavier eating at the other two venues. There is still a robust variety of foods with all the locations offering vegetarian fare standard as well as beef, poultry and fish. Every meal comes with starters, soup or salad, main course and signature desserts.
You may notice some of the photos look significantly better than others on this page… all courtesy of Renee Peoples Photography… she captured some very cool shots of all the restaurants, with my iPhone pic of Parrot Cay being the jarring exception… though it kinda fits the slightly whacky joint!
Finally, there is the ‘plus’ restaurant that many cruise ship have aboard. On the Disney Magic this is PALO, a southern French cuisine venue located on the upper deck in the aft portion of the ship. It sports width-of-the-ship curved widow-wall presenting a gorgeous view off the fantail of the ship and requires prior booking reservations. The restaurant charges an additional $20./person rather than being ‘all included’ as all the other eating aboard cruise ships. Prior to sailing each person is permitted only one reservation during a sailing at Palo’s and some of the most popular times are booked out quickly by concierge guests and others with priority privileges. Invariably, the restaurant has some additional capacity and you can attempt to book additional seating opportunities each day if you desire. This is a dress-up environment, though not formal. The other regular restaurants are ‘cruise casual’ but Palo’s expect men to bring a jacket (no tie required!) and ladies usually out-dress us guys anyway. The menu does not disappoint! Our regular tablemates (we sit at a table for four and share it with another couple) are originally from Belgium and have lived in the Provence region of France for a number of years. They owned and operated a successful restaurant specializing in regional cuisine and are on this cruise celebrating the sale of the property. They are immensely pleased with the Palo selection, preparation and level of service as well as the great tasting foods. It’s a big meal as far as we are concerned but cannot argue with the quality and attention to details!
Other fun places to eat around the ship include:
Topsider Buffet: Yep! There’s always a buffet somewhere… This is where the early breakfast buffet takes place for folks wanting a bit to eat before heading ashore for the day. They generally open at 7:00am or earlier if we make port early. Nothing surprising with a typical cafeteria-style speed and convenience except they have an omelet bar at the back that makes pretty good made-to-order stuff.