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 set-seating dining, it's 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" made it fun and exciting to go to dinner.
There are three main restaurants on Magic (Animator's Palate, Lumiere's and Carioca's), and every cruiser gets to dine in each of them at least once (twice on weeklong cruises). With rotational dining, 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 evokes 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. Two dinner shows are displayed using high-definition flat screens on the walls. "Drawn to Magic" depicts the evolution of animation in a fun storytelling way, as character sketches come to life. But on "Animation Magic" night, which is only on sailings of at least seven nights, diners create their own magic, drawing characters that appear on the screens interacting with real Disney characters. The menu offers a variety of seafood, beef and pasta choices. Our fish was a bit dry and bland-tasting, but the atmosphere easily made up for it.
Carioca's, which replaced Parrot Cay during the 2013 refurb, is the line's Brazilian-inspired dining room. As soon as you enter, visions of Brazil abound in the South American-style decor, brightly colored festival lanterns and wall mural of Rio de Janeiro's skyline. Menu choices tasted authentic, without being overbearing for those who might not be used to South American cuisine. We ordered the Cuban salad and mahi mahi -- which were accented with flavors like avocado, pineapple and coconut -- and both were not only delicious, but also elegantly presented. The caramel pina colada also was quite satisfying, as were the portions. While all dining rooms offer a fair amount of gluten-free options, Carioca's had the best quality fare with warm, soft bread and flavorful entrees.
The actual rotation you are assigned makes little difference in the overall dining experience, except that you might 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're not guaranteed.
There are three fast food locations on Deck 9, which is where most of the outdoor action is found. There, you can grab a bite without changing out of your swimsuit or interrupting your child's fun time in the pool. Pete's Boiler Bites serves burgers and chicken tenders from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Pinocchio's Pizzeria serves slices from 10:45 a.m. until 6 p.m. (noon to 3 p.m. during visits to Castaway Cay), and Daisy's De-Lites serves fresh fruit, salads, wraps and cookies from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Complimentary self-serve ice cream and smoothies for a small fee can be found at Eye Scream and Frozone Treats throughout the day, but be sure to check your Personal Navigator for specific times.
Palo, the adults-only fine dining bistro, levies a $30 per-person charge for both dinner and its popular Champagne Brunch (which includes a glass of champagne for passengers 21 and over). Located aft on Deck 10, this intimate restaurant is decorated with handmade Italian glass finials and table lamps, a calming color scheme of burnished ochres and blues, and windowed walls on three sides. You'll find wonderful Italian/Mediterranean cuisine to rival that of any similar upscale land-based dining establishment. The brunch features a cold buffet with seafood and meats, breads, salads, cakes and desserts, plus a hot made-to-order selection of eggs, meat and fish. Book early, as the restaurant is small; while dinner is available nightly, the brunch takes place only three times per seven-night cruise.
Another restaurant that was added in 2013 is Cabanas, which replaced Topsider Buffet during the refurb. Inspired by the film "Finding Nemo," it offers more space than the previous venue, seating up to 503 passengers. Breakfast includes usual favorites, including made-to-order omelets, meats and bakery treats. The lunch menu changes frequently but includes the standard soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers. For dinner, passengers can order signature dishes off the Main Dining Room menu, as well as other cooked-to-order items. Dining times vary for each meal, so be sure to check your daily planner for specific hours.
Preludes, a quick-service snack bar just outside the theater on Deck 4, serves pretzels, chips, cookies and candy in addition to bar drinks, bottled water and coffee during live performances.
Room service is 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 soups, salads, sandwiches (cold and hot), burgers and pizza. In-room breakfast is continental only and relatively boring, ordered via a card that's hung outside your cabin door the night before. Suite passengers get hot breakfast options and dining room meals delivered when requested.
Note: Disney offers soft drinks (Coca-Cola products) free of charge 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.