I know what you think of when you hear the words "cruise ship dining." Buffets. Bars. Ice cream at every meal.
And if you have special dietary needs or just don't want to go completely off the deep end, a cruise vacation can seem a little intimidating. Wouldn't it be great if someone could sneak aboard and show you the menus ahead of time?
In the word's of Maui from Disney's Moana, "You're welcome." (Yeah, my kids are listening to the soundtrack a lot too).
My family recently cruised aboard the newly renovated Disney Wonder and we had the most wonderful dining experience to suit our non-dairy, gluten-free, flexetarian party of 7. We found the key to a great experience was planning ahead and speaking up.
Eating Healthy and Special Diets on A Disney Cruise
If you give the staff a little lead time, they can really make magic happen in the kitchen. My daughter needed gluten-free meals; with notice the night before, they were able to make sure she had a plate of off-menu, gluten-free pasta waiting at dinner the following evening. No notice? They could still get her some protein and potatoes and gluten-free bread on the spot.
Most everything is cooked in butter or oil so if you prefer to have your food prepared differently, that's another note you can put in ahead of time (and since I'm providing you the menus, you'll know what you want ahead of time!)
If you tell your wait staff about your dietary needs, they will make recommendations on the menu based on what you require (our server even knew the mozzarella was not gluten-free). My father was offered dairy-free ice cream (rice, coconut, and almond) at dessert because the server already knew he couldn't have dairy. They really went above and beyond for us.
Truly, if you want something, just ask. You may be surprised by what they can do to help. I wanted cinnamon for my oatmeal at the casual dining buffet on the lido deck (Cabanas) but it wasn't present on the buffet line. You can see from the picture just how seriously they took my request for "a little cinnamon."
I asked for soy milk. I got soy milk.
I have heard complaints from a few cruisers that their dining experiences were less than stellar. When I asked if they mentioned it to the staff, they said no. These folks are not mind readers but if you speak up, they will absolutely make it right. If your entree isn't all you hoped for, send it back. They will work with you to find the best solution.
The Restaurants- How Disney Cruise Dining Works
There are 3 main dining rooms on board your Disney Cruise ship (on the Wonder, they are Animator's Palate, Tiana's Place, and Triton's). On a 7 night cruise, you will be scheduled to rotate through and eat each venue twice (and your service staff comes with you!). There is one venue you will dine at 3 times but on one of the evenings, you will receive the "Pirates in the Caribbean" menu that is the same at all three venues on that evening.
You will be delighted to know that each menu has vegan and vegetarian options, as well as lighter options that are delineated each night. And in most cases, portion sizes are VERY appropriate, rather than the super-sized portions offered at most sit down restaurants.
I will give you a rundown of the evening meals and their menus. As for breakfast and lunch (and the casual dining venues), I may have to save that for another post. Too much stuff here!
Animator's Palate offers a stunning visual experience that kids and adults alike will enjoy. Our kids were so captivated that sitting quietly and eating at dinnertime was not a problem! I won't spoil the surprise but the highlight of our dining experiences on this cruise happened on the second night in Animator's Palate. Incredible.
My favorite dishes here included the Black Bean Chipotle Cakes from Night 1 and the Sesame Crusted Sweet and Sour Tofu from Night 2. Hubby also really enjoyed the Blackened Chicken Salad on Night 2.
Tiana's offers a fun jazz club style atmosphere, reminiscent of the New Orleans themed restaurant Tiana opens at the end of Disney's The Princess and the Frog. Live music fills the space as you dine while characters wander the dining room for photo ops. And of course, the kids loved the nightly dance party (that I'm happy to say didn't happen until dinner was over).
The Grilled Rum Marinated Swordfish from Night 1 was not my favorite preparation but the corn and black beans it came with were deliciously seasoned. And the Brown Rice Risotto was more of a pilaf but I still enjoyed it. The Honey Roasted Squash from Night 2 was my favorite choice from this venue.
Triton's is an elegant dining experience with a variety of meal entrees. My favorites here included the Red Wine and Bosc Pear salad and Wild Mushroom Stuffed Pasta in Vegetable Broth, as well as the Thai Red Pumpkin and Coconut Curry.
Castaway Cay Lunch
For being held captive for lunch on a tropical island, I was pleased that aside from the standard BBQ fare, our healthier options on Castaway Cay were plentiful (not to mention the beautiful assortment of fruit!)
Here we enjoyed the marinated tomatoes with cous cous and chickpeas, as well as the vegetarian chili with corn.
Pirates in the Caribbean Night Menu
On the pirate themed evening aboard the ship, all of the dining rooms present the "Pirates in the Caribbean" dining menu. The Fennel, Orange, and Quinoa Salad was really lovely. The kids loved having roasted sweet potatoes on this night (and I love that no matter what the night, there's always fruit and vegetables with the kid's entrees). If you can get the noodles steamed instead of fried, I thought the noodle dish was well rounded. I really enjoyed the jerk seasoning, though if you get the chicken I recommend peeling the skin off to save on the calories.
What healthy eating/ specialty diet questions do you have about Disney Cruise Line?