If you are planning your first cruise, you are probably curious about how Disney Cruise Line dining works.
Even if you are an avid cruiser with other cruise lines, the rotational dining method that DCL utilizes at their restaurants may seem confusing at first.
My family and I really enjoy the way Disney Cruise Line allows you to rotate between main dining rooms throughout your cruise. Each dining space is wonderfully themed, and it is fun to spend time in each one!
In this post, I will explain what you need to know about rotational dining, and I will provide some dining tips to aid in your planning process!
- Is food free?
- Breakfast and Lunch Options
- Dining Options for Dinner
- Disney Cruise Dining Rotation Explained
- Early or Late Dining
- Change Dining Time
- DCL Dining Tips
Is food free?
If you are new to to cruising with Disney Cruise Line, you may be wondering if the restaurants onboard the ship are included in your cruise fare.
Although each ship does provide fine dining options for an additional cost, most of the food onboard is completely free for guests.
In addition to having access to free food, guests with Disney Cruise Line receive some beverages for free as well. You can order drinks such as water, soda, juice, tea, coffee, and milk all at no additional charge.
You will also find drink stations near the buffet on the pool deck. These self service stations provide the beverage options listed above.
If you’re curious about the drinking water on the ships, my family finds that the tap water onboard tastes great. The water is filtered and completely safe to drink.
Breakfast and Lunch Options
If you are planning a Disney cruise, you may be wondering what options are available for breakfast and lunch. You also may be curious about the breakfast and lunch times. Below, I will detail the free options you will find on the ships.
Since room service is available 24 hours a day, you can request in room dining options like sandwiches, salads, burgers, pizza, hot dogs, and much more during lunch, dinner, or late night hours.
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These lunch and dinner items may be ordered during any time of day BESIDES the breakfast hours. Guests sailing with Disney Cruise Line can order breakfast items from the room service menu from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Some of the choices you will find for breakfast include muffins, donuts, toast, and cereal.
*Note that even though most room service items are free, it is customary to leave a tip when they arrive.
Each of the Disney cruise ships offers breakfast and lunch options in one of its main dining rooms. You can check the Personal Navigator or your Navigator App to determine the times available for breakfast and lunch each day.
The above Personal Navigator is a sample from the Disney Magic. You can see that the dining room, Lumiere’s, is open for breakfast (8:00-10:00 AM) and for lunch (12:00-1:30 PM).
This main dining room option is free for guests aboard the Disney cruise ship.
Each of the Disney ships provides free options for breakfast and lunch on its pool deck. These counter service dining options are great for those looking for a quick bite to eat.
During breakfast, you can find options like cereal, fruit, oatmeal, yogurt, and pastries. During lunch, you will find family favorites like pizza, hotdogs, salads, wraps, and sandwiches.
These quick service restaurants are free of charge, and they are great for those wanting a casual meal near the pools. You can find more detailed information about the food options on the pool deck in this post:
My family’s favorite place to enjoy breakfast and lunch on a Disney cruise is the buffet at Cabanas. Cabanas is a casual restaurant located on the same level as the pools.
Since this buffet style dining venue offers a variety of foods, it’s the perfect spot for families who have picky eaters. Even those guests who are looking for gluten free, vegetarian, or vegan options can find plenty of items at Cabanas.
Dining Options for Dinner
If you are looking for free places to eat dinner on your Disney cruise, you have several different options.
In Room Dining
As mentioned above, you can order from the room service menu 24 hours a day, including at dinner time. This is a great option if you are looking to enjoy a low key evening in your stateroom.
Another option for free dining during dinner hours is the pool deck. One of the counter service restaurants will be open for dinner and even late night dining. This is a great option for those families wanting to enjoy the pools and outdoor movie.
In addition to lunch, Cabanas is also open for dinner MOST evenings during your cruise. Instead of buffet style, dinner at Cabanas is ordered from a menu.
*Note that Cabanas is NOT open for dinner on the first and last evenings of your cruise.
Main Dining Room
The most popular spot to enjoy dinner is in one of the main dining rooms. Each of the Disney cruise ships is home to three different dining rooms. These venues each provide fabulously themed atmospheres, and some even offer live entertainment while you dine.
For example, Animator’s Palate on certain ships provides a color changing show where the walls of the restaurant change from black and white to full color as you dine.
On the Disney Magic, guests can enjoy live entertainment in the form of singing and dancing at Rapunzel’s Royal Table. Characters like Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, and The Pub Thugs even stop by your table for a meet and greet while you dine.
Disney Cruise Dining Rotation Explained
Now we can get into the actual process of Disney Cruise Line’s dining rotation. I will explain the process below, but I wanted to mention that you can call and request a specific dining rotation for your cruise.
To do this, you would call Disney Cruise Line a month or two before you are sceduled to set sail to give your requested rotation. I have personally never done this since my family doesn’t really prefer one rotation over another.
Also, it’s important to note that even though DCL will try to grant your request, it is not guaranteed.
When do you find out your dining rotation?
When you check in at the terminal on embarkation day, you will be given a Key card for each member of your travel party. This Key to the World Card will display your family’s dining rotation.
Here is an example of my Key card from our last cruise. You can see the letters LAARL at the bottom. These are the beginning letters of the restaurant names to which we were assigned.
Each Disney cruise ship has three main dining rooms. So, if you sail on a 3 night itinerary, you would visit each dining room once. Notice in my example above, the Key card is from a 5 night cruise. Therefore, we obviously ate in certain dining rooms multiple times.
Even though you may be eating in the same dining room, the experience is completely different. For example, we ate in Animator’s Palate on the Disney Magic during nights 2 AND 3 of our cruise.
During night 2, we had the regular dining menu for Animator’s Palate, and we experienced the special Sorcerer Mickey show. We were also assigned to Animator’s Palate on night 3, but this was Pirate Night.
Therefore, we had a special Pirate Night menu, and the servers provided entertainment to go along with this theme.
During dinner on your first night, you will meet your server, assistant server, and head server. These three individuals will rotate dining rooms with you throughout the cruise.
So even though you may be dining in a new location each night, your serving team will remain the same. The assistant server is typically the first to arrive at your table each evening, and he/she will take your drink order.
The server is the one who takes your food order, and the head server is kind of like the manager. He/she walks around making sure everything is running smoothly.
Early or Late Dining
Before I get into the details about your dining time, I want to start from the beginning with the Disney cruise booking process. When you initially book your cruise with DCL, you will be prompted to choose between Main Seating and Second Seating.
Depending on the ship and itinerary you choose, Main Seating should take place at around 5:45 PM. Since the Broadway style shows on the ship tend to start around 6:15 and 8:30, those who dine at the early time would go to the later show.
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I’m going to give you a heads up that the Main Seating time fills up fast and is often “sold out” unless you book your cruise far in advance. If you continue reading below, I will give you some tips for getting into the Main Seating time.
The Second Seating dining time usually begins at around 8:15 PM. Now, if you are cruising with a toddler or small kids, you may be thinking there is no way your family can eat at 8:15 at night.
I totally agree with you! So, I’m going to explain a few ways to make this work for you. Before you freak out about being put in Second Seating, consider the time zone in which you will be sailing.
The Disney cruise itineraries that visit the Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean typically follow Eastern Time. Therefore, if you live in say the Central Time Zone, 8:15 PM is really only 7:15 for you.
If you think your family can handle this second seating time, I’ve actually heard that people prefer it. The dinners are a lot less rushed and much more quiet.
Also, if you eat during Second Seating, you get to attend the earlier live show in the theater. The theater during this show time can often be much less crowded as well.
Change Dining Time
If the time zone trick still doesn’t make the Second Seating assignment work for you, these are the steps you can take to change your dining time.
Get on the Waitlist
After you finish booking your cruise, call Disney Cruise Line and ask to be placed on the waitlist for Main Seating. They will tell you that this is not guaranteed. Also, they do not send an email confirmation about your request.
Because I am a planning/control freak, I always call DCL again a few weeks later just to clarify that I’m actually on this waitlist. Once you have done this, Disney will sometimes (eventually) move you to Main Seating before you sail.
Again, they won’t email you to let you know. You will just log in to your online account one day, and it will say Main Seating.
Check Your Account
This brings me to my next solution. Because I’m a crazy planner, I tend to check my account on the Disney Cruise Navigator App daily. On my most recent cruise with DCL, Main Seating randomly became available on the app about 30 days before we were scheduled to set sail.
I just happened to log in one morning and see this option. So, make sure you check your account regularly so you don’t miss Main Seating if it opens. I don’t think it was available for very long.
Make Changes Onboard
If you have done all of these things and they did not work, you can go to the dining changes meeting after you board the ship. When you check in on embarkation day, you will receive a Personal Navigator explaining the cruise schedule for this first day.
This Personal Navigator will list a meeting time and location for those who need to make dining changes. You just show up to the location during the time listed and wait in line until it’s your turn.
Once you are able to speak to the crew member in charge, he/she may be able to add you to the Main Seating time right then.
DCL Dining Tips
These are some of my top Disney Cruise Line dining tips:
- Request a High Chair/Booster Seat– If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, you can request a high chair or booster seat in your account on the Navigator App.
- Note Food Preferences– You can make a note of certain food allergies and preferences (like vegetarian) directly on the app. I will note here that my husband has a gluten intolerance, and this was not an option on the app. However, once onboard the ship, he was able to tell the dining servers, and they easily accommodated him.
- Kid’s Menu Requests– The kid’s menu rotates kid-friendly favorites like chicken fingers, hamburgers, pasta, macaroni & cheese, etc. Your kids are welcome to order off of the adult menu as well. And your servers can take care of simple menu changes for you. For example, both of my girls asked for broccoli as their side item each night even if it wasn’t listed.
- Ask Your Servers– If you’re not sure what to order, just ask your serving team. They always give great recommendations since they know the menus so well!
- Request a Private Table– If you are concerned about the seating arrangements and eating with strangers, call DCL before your cruise to request a private dining table.
- Dinner Attire– You will see all kinds of outfits in the dining rooms onboard, so you really can’t go wrong no matter how fancy or casual (with reason) you want to dress. Just make sure to take a cardigan or jacket with you if you tend to get cold because the dining rooms can be quite chilly!
For more information on what outfits to pack for your cruise, you can check out this post:
Final Review of Disney Cruise Dining
I really enjoy the concept of rotational dining. It’s nice to visit multiple dining rooms on your cruise, especially since Disney is so great at theming these spaces.
We also really enjoy the dinner entertainment that is provided at certain venues. The live music and dancing help keep the kids (and sometimes toddlers) entertained throughout the meal.
I hope this helped explain how Disney cruise dining works!
Feel free to comment below to let me know how you feel about rotating restaurants!