Disney Magic Dining
The genius who devised the unique dining scheme on Disney ships should win an award for creativity on the seas. Although we enjoy traditional two-seating dining, it is rare that we actually show up in the dining room every night on a seven-night cruise, often choosing room service or the casual buffet at least once. Magic's special "dining rotation," though, made it fun and exciting to go to dinner. We plan a date night at Palo or a night at the buffet that's based on a restaurant we might not care if we miss or, on a four-night cruise, for the night we'd be at the same restaurant twice.
There are three main restaurants on Magic, and every cruiser gets to dine in each of them at least once (twice on weeklong cruises). You remain at the same table number with the same dining companions and servers, but show up at a different location each night. Dining times are set at 5:45 and 8:15 p.m.; as always on family-friendly cruise ships, the earlier dining times cater to families with young kids, so plan accordingly.
Lumiere's is the fanciest and most traditional dining room of the three, with Art Deco decor and a French-inspired menu. The restaurant is inspired by luxury liners from the heyday of transatlantic crossings.
Animator's Palate uses Disney's unique ability to create magic from the mundane: the restaurant starts out in stark black and white, but during the course of dinner, it changes slowly into a room filled with color. At one point, near the end of the meal, the various screens around the restaurant come alive with a montage of Disney animations past and present. When the waiters reappear to take dessert orders, their black vests have been replaced with brightly-colored ones, delighting the youngsters at the table. There is a nice variety of seafood, beef and pasta choices on the menu.
The third restaurant, Parrot Cay, is a bright and cheerful Caribbean marketplace-themed dining room. There you'll find waiters singing "Hot Hot Hot" and engaging the kids, who join a mid-meal conga line to dance around the floor. Parrot Cay is also open for breakfast and lunch buffets.
The actual rotation you are assigned makes little difference in the overall dining experience, except that you may dine in the first dining room on your rotation more than others, depending on the number of nights in your cruise. Preferred rotations can be requested at time of booking, but they are not guaranteed.
The food is very good, and the portions are ample. Everything, from soup stock to breads and pastries, is made onboard. With such an emphasis on quality, we found it surprising to be served only peel-packs of margarine at even the most elegant of meals in the main dining rooms.
Younger kids can order off a separate children's menu; our young tablemates, 6 and 8, said that the viscous-looking macaroni and cheese was "yucky," and no one seemed to like the thick pre-packaged-looking pizza, but they enjoyed everything else. The adults really appreciated the range of salads and fresh vegetables offered at each meal and found the variety of seafood, meats, pasta and fish excellent and beautifully prepared. Many of the desserts were so-so, but by the time we got to them, we were full enough not to mind.
Topsider's, the casual dining restaurant, serves breakfast and lunch buffets. It is open for dinner, as well (excepting the first and last evenings of the cruise), and serves freshly tossed salads, grilled steaks and fish, in addition to selections from the main dining room menus. The location, high up and aft, is terrific, but the indoor layout is cramped and difficult to maneuver -- one of the rare poorly planned spaces on the ship. On nice days, you can dine outdoors overlooking the stern.
There are three fast-food locations on Deck 9, which is where most of the outdoor action is to be found. There you can grab a bite without changing out of your swimsuit or interrupting your child's fun time in the pool. Pluto's Doghouse serves burgers, fries and fabulous crispy, juicy chicken breast tenders, a big hit with everyone. Pinocchio's Pizzeria serves slices day and night, and Goofy's Galley is very popular for its salads, sandwiches and paninis, as well as fresh fruit and soft-serve ice cream.
Palo, the adults-only fine dining bistro, levies a $20 per-person charge for supper and for its popular Champagne brunch. Located aft on Deck 10, this intimate and brand-new-looking restaurant is decorated with handmade Italian glass finials and table lamps, a calming color scheme of burnished ochres and blues, and window walls on three sides. There you'll find wonderful Italian/Mediterranean cuisine to rival that of any similar upscale land-based dining establishment. We swooned over the portabella mushroom with polenta appetizer, which was large enough for a meal. All of the fish and seafood dishes were superb, as was the perfectly prepared filet mignon. The brunch is an even better bargain ... Champagne, cold buffet with seafood and meats, breads, salads, cakes and desserts, plus a hot made-to-order selection of eggs, meat or fish. Book early: the restaurant is small, and while supper is available nightly, the Champagne brunch takes place only three times per seven-night cruise.
Room service was fast and efficient. The people who take the orders are obviously used to dealing with kids, and they seem to enjoy the exchange over the phone. The menu is relatively simple, with cold sandwiches (including focaccia with zucchini and portabella mushroom, and a chicken fajita wrap), salads and a variety of hot items, including hot dogs, lasagna, pizza and burgers. There is not much flexibility in the menu, but when we requested warm milk to go with our hot chocolate packs, it was cheerfully delivered along with yummy chocolate chip cookies. In-room breakfast is continental only and relatively boring, ordered via a pre-hung door card the night before.
Suite passengers get hot breakfast options and dining room meals delivered when requested.
One thing to note is that Disney broke the barrier and is now offering soft drinks (Coca-Cola products) free of charge. They are available at meals and at the 24-hour drink station on Deck 9 aft, but if you get them from a bar or room service, you'll still have to pay.