Disney Cruise Line’s rotational dining has long been considered an innovative perk in the cruise industry. The concept allows cruisers to rotate through three main dining rooms over the course of their cruise, with the same servers accompanying them to each one. Since dining is a big part of cruising, travelers who are new to Disney Cruise Line often have questions about it. Without discussing food quality, let’s explore some of the benefits and drawbacks of the experience.
As with anything Disney touches, the main dining rooms on each of its cruise ships tell a story. The scenes unfold among striking décor, enhanced with various interactive elements, music, or performances. This is more than a meal in a pretty restaurant. Your dinner experience is most certainly an extension of the evening entertainment aboard the ship.
Pro: Serving Team
Working with the same team each night means that the servers learn your preferences and any unique nutritional needs. For those who are creatures of habit, having a Diet Coke with extra ice ready on the table each evening can be a nice touch. Those with allergies are relieved to inform their servers of any restriction once rather than rehashing it night after night. Some diners even develop a relationship with their serving team that lasts long after the cruise has ended. The familiarity leads to a more comfortable environment overall.
Pro: Standing Reservation
If you have ever stressed 180 days (now 60-days) ahead of your Walt Disney World vacation to make dining reservations, then you’ll appreciate the benefit of effortlessly having a table to sit at each night with no wait or lack of availability. An added convenience is that the showtimes of the theater performances are scheduled to coincide with the dinner times. Therefore, the late-seating guests can attend the first show, while the early-seating dinner guests can catch the second show. This also serves to relieve congestion at the shows.
Con: Serving Team
The serving teams I have encountered each have assigned duties and my experience is that they won’t stray from those. So, if your drink has still not arrived by the time your dinner does, your head server is not going to get it for you. That is the drink server’s responsibility. It is an odd arrangement that can create tension, especially knowing you are stuck with each other for the length of the cruise. And sometimes people just don’t jive. Of course, you have the option to go to Guest Services to request a new team.
Tipping is always a complex topic. U.S. travelers are accustomed to tipping 15%-20% of the cost of a meal and Disney Cruise Line calculates a per guest, per cruise amount to reflect that. This calculation is noted prior to your cruise so that the tip for your meals is not an unexpected expense at the end of your cruise. However, this is an optional expense that cruisers can request to have removed from their bill. This must happen with some regularity because servers have been known to be very forward in stating they are not paid much and rely on those tips for their income. Unfortunately, it is an awkward and unnecessary exchange when you already have every intention of tipping.
It’s easy to lose track of time on a cruise as you bounce between the ports, AquaDuck, movies, and various other activities. When this happens, you might be happy to grab some pizza or burgers by the pool or stop into Cabanas. However, if you miss your dining rotation time, you lose the option of the main dining room that evening. This also causes the dining staff to worry about their tip for the cruise. I once had a server call my stateroom after skipping the dining room the first two nights. He wanted to make sure we intended to dine there at all. Perhaps tipping on the first night, for the whole cruise, would alleviate that pressure for all parties involved.
However you choose to approach dining on your next Disney Cruise Line vacation, make sure it is how you and your family will enjoy it the most. Check out the Disney Cruise Line forum on Disboards.com to read about the experiences of other travelers. In the meantime, I’ll be curious to see if any major dining changes are in store when Disney’s newest ship sets sail in the summer of 2022.