Did you know that Disney Cruise Line might seat you with another family at dinnertime? Recent discussions on the DCL Fan Facebook Page and over on DISboards regarding the practice of combining parties for dinner took place, and this is what you need to know.
Disney Cruise Line – and many other cruise lines as well – may combine small to medium sized parties into one table during the dinner service. This means that you may be seated with another family or party that you do not know.
DCL traditionally does a very good job at match-making for potential tablemates. They look for parties with kids who are similar in age and gender. For adults sailing with no kids, Disney tries to pair friend groups to other friend groups or couples with other couples similar in age.
This practice has gone on for decades in the cruising industry, and most cruisers love it. Many families report meeting lifelong friends this way, some of whom continue to stay in touch and travel together on future cruises.
Remember: Disney Cruise Line has rotational dining. In addition to keeping your serving team each night, your dinner partners will be with you every night of your cruise.
Why Does Disney Cruise Line Combine Parties at Dinner?
Cruise lines combine parties at dinner because fewer tables are easier to manage. Also, there is limited space in the onboard dining rooms with limited options for table configuration. Larger, long tables are a staple in many dining rooms on DCL, especially on the perimeters of the spaces.
Can You Request Certain Tablemates?
Absolutely! If you are traveling with a large group, have Disney Cruise Line or your travel agent arrange for your parties to be linked together for activities and dining.
Can You Request to Dine Alone?
Absolutely! Though this time it is a request, not a guarantee. You can always make a note of your preference to be seated alone. This is a request we put in place when we cruise, and Disney has honored it.
How to Check Your Dining Assignment (Prior to Dinner)
You can only verify your table assignment once you are onboard. If dining alone is as important to you as it is to us, check on your seating assignment prior to dinner.
Find your table assignment right on your Key to the World card. On embarkation day, instead of heading straight to Cabanas for lunch, consider having lunch in one of the lower-level dining rooms, like Enchanted Garden. This gives you the chance to speak with a server who can help you locate your table (to possibly see how many chairs there are), or they can send over a Head Server to confirm if your request to dine alone was honored.
Alternatively, dining teams are usually available for consultation upon embarkation (typically in the dining room adjacent to the atrium lobby). Servers and Head Servers stationed there should be able to verify your seating assignment.
Doing this before dinner can help you avoid any awkward moments meeting the dining companions you didn’t actually want to have.
What Can You Do if You Want Your Own Table But Have Been Assigned Tablemates?
Disney Cruise Line wants you to enjoy your vacation and will do their best to get you the table you want. Be polite and patient as they work to find you a new table.
If your preferred dinner service is full, you can ask if changing dining times will help. If you still cannot be accommodated at a table on your own, there are alternatives to having dinner in the main dining room.
Check out this post on Dining Options When Rotational Dining Doesn’t Work for You.
Or, you can give it a try. Who knows? Maybe the party you are assigned to sit with didn’t want to sit with strangers either. You can bond over your mutual dislike of the practice. Go in with an open mind; you never know!
My Experience with Unknown Tablemates
I know some cruisers love meeting new families this way, and while I do want anyone reading this to be open to having unknown tablemates, I also wanted to share my experience in the hopes that someone out there might learn how to handle this situation, or at least get a good little laugh at my expense.
Disney really does a great job of pairing parties together. On paper, we were a perfect match with our tablemates. My husband and I were sailing with our three kids. The other family also had three kids – two boys and a girl all the same ages as my kids. Perfect, right?
Unfortunately, after the initial polite small talk, continuing the conversation was difficult. Our older kids weren’t meshing with the other kids, and wanted to bail on dinner altogether (we did try to get our younger daughter off to the Oceaneer Lab as soon as possible, though even that was a struggle).
Let me state for the record that they were a perfectly nice family. I like to think that we are also a nice family. Beyond that, we simply had little in common – except that I don’t think either of us wanted to dine with another family. The conversation was strained and the dinner service was exceptionally slow on that sailing.
I write this to say that it is ok if dining with strangers isn’t your thing. I think had this been a 3- or 4-night sailing, this experience would have been fine. However, on a 7-night cruise, it could have been borderline torture. But there was a silver lining to this awkward cloud. We discovered Cabanas provides a lovely table service dinner where you can walk right up and be seated alone. We gave ourselves permission to ditch the pre-prescribed dining schedule and skip a few dinners (we informed our servers ahead of time that our plans didn’t permit dining at our assigned time).
Knowing we had dining alternatives took some of the pressure off us. We didn’t feel forced into dining with strangers because it was a choice.
My Tip: If Your Match IS Not Working Out
If you were open to dining with another family, and the match isn’t working out, ask to speak with your Head Server. It is their goal to have happy dinner guests. They are the Crew Member who can reassign you to another table, dining rotation or dinner service time.
It is anyone’s guess if Disney Cruise Line will continue their matchmaking ways once post-pandemic sailing resumes. Combining parties at dinner may be a thing of the past. There is just too much we don’t know about the latest infection prevention protocols and practices. It will be very interesting to see.
But what are your experiences with dining with new tablemates? Please share them, especially if this practice has worked out for you.