On the first night of our recent Disney Cruise Line voyage, my husband and I were seated in the main dining room next to a family who was cruising for the first time. As the dinner service began to unfold, they had questions for our server and needed guidance along the way as to how the whole experience was going to unfold.

As I sat there assessing their needs, it occurred to me that I was in the same boat (ha ha) on the first night of my first-ever Disney Cruise Line vacation back in 2004. There are definitely questions to be answered, and if your first Disney Cruise Line vacation is coming up, some of these answers may help make that first night in one of the main dining rooms even more magical than it already is. Knowledge is power, right? Let’s tackle some of the things that first-time cruisers need to know about dining onboard the DCL ships.

First things first: each evening, your serving team (Server and Assistant Server) will follow you to your assigned main dining rooms.

This is different than on other cruise lines, and it allows your serving team to really get to know you and your likes and dislikes. Don’t be surprised if the team greets you by name as you approach your table on the first night of your cruise. I vividly remember walking into Parrot Cay (now Rapzunel’s Royal Table) on the Disney Magic on our very first Disney cruise and being welcomed by name by our server, Sompong. It’s your serving team’s goal to provide you with an excellent guest experience, and the foundation is laid before you even walk into the dining room. They’ll memorize names, and favorite drinks and/or dishes, and they’ll make you feel like family right away.

With the exception of dessert, your dinner order is taken for the entire meal at one time.

I know that you and I may shy away from placing our entire dinner order at one time while at Walt Disney World for fear that our entrée will arrive well before we’re done with our appetizer course, but you can rest easy here on Disney Cruise Line. Your server will indeed ask for your entire order in one fell swoop, but your server will make sure that your meal is paced out to perfection. Your entrée will not appear until your appetizer plates and utensils have been cleared from the table, and so on.

Speaking of your dinner order, let’s talk about what that entails.

Even if you’ve never stepped foot onto a cruise ship, you’ve likely gotten the hint that food will be playing a starring role during your voyage. Cruising equals abundant food, and it’s always a good thing to bring your appetite with you to dinner. When you arrive each evening, you’ll be greeted with a different menu from which to craft your meal. You’ll be asked to choose an appetizer, a soup or salad, and entrée. After your entrée dishes have been cleared, you’ll have the chance to order dessert.

You can order more than one dish. For real.

Torn between two entrées or appetizers? Your server will give you their recommendations, and will likely suggest that you simply get both dishes. You read that right: if you’d like more than one dish, you are more than welcome to order them. No one will shun you; this is part of your cruise fare, and you’re the captain of your ship (well, not really, but you know what I mean). You do you. My favorite dish in any DCL main dining room is the Fried Brie with Cranberry Chutney in the Dream and Fantasy‘s Royal Palace/Royal Court. Please ask for at least two orders of that glorious fried cheese. You’ll thank me later. I promise.

Let’s talk dress code for the main dining rooms.

It’s your cruise, and even more now than in the past, this pertains to everything you might do while onboard a DCL ship, even when you’re eating in the main dining locations. Disney Cruise Line’s current dress code policy for the three main dining rooms is: “In general, most onboard dining locations are ‘cruise casual,’ so casual attire, such as shorts and T-shirts, is permitted, with the exception of swimwear and tank tops.” Back in the day, the dress code at dinner didn’t skew toward the cruise casual side of things, but as the years have gone on, and cruising has transformed, things have (graciously) changed. Of course, if you like dressing up for dinner, go for it. Do what brings you the most joy while on vacation. I fall into the “it’s fun to dress up for dinner” category, while my hubby leans toward the more casual side of things, and both are a-okay in DCL’s eyes.

Pre-pandemic, each cruise itinerary would have cruise casual nights, a pirate-themed night, and an optional formal (or dressier) evening or two, depending on the length of the cruise. These are emphasized to a lesser degree these days. Some guests definitely still go all out for Pirate Night, so if being a pirate while onboard a Disney ship is on your must-do list, be sure to bring along your best pirate garb, but the formal themed evenings are less important. Cruise casual is ruling the day (well, technically, the evening).

It’s worth noting that the dress code does lean more toward the fancy side of things in the adult dining locations. The current dress code for these locations is this: “Adult-exclusive restaurants aboard Disney Cruise Line ships are elegant dining experiences. Guests are requested to dress in a manner consistent with the restaurant’s sophistication. Formal or semi-formal attire is recommended. Dress casual attire with a polished look is permitted (such as dress pants, jeans in good condition, collared shirts and blouses and lifestyle shoes). Clothing such as T-shirts, swimwear and sports attire is not permitted.”

If your little one needs good food fast, your server can take their order first.

Little ones need what they need when they need it, and sometimes their tummies just aren’t on the same timeline as the rest of the family’s. Your server can take the order for your kiddo and push their meal out faster if you so choose. Sometimes having a few fries will help young (or older) ones to settle in and enjoy the main dining room experience.

Speaking of dining experience, your time in the DCL restaurants will be just that.

Depending on which dining room you eat in on a given evening, something will happen. The environment or set pieces will change, the serving team’s costumes could change, or a Disney character might interact with the guests at your table either in person or via nearby screens. Your meal is meant to be an event, and it’s a lot of fun to discover the fun details along the way. If you’re dining in Royal Palace or Royal Court, be sure to take a walk around the dining room after your meal to notice all of the princess-y design details that have been woven into everything. Animators’ Palate has equally fabulous details tucked here, there, and everywhere. It’s so much fun to stop and savor the little things.

Not finding something you’d like on the menu? The Disney Cruise Line chefs have got your back.

It’s so much fun to try new and different things on a cruise, but if you’re just not finding something that floats your boat (been there, done that), simply skip down to the “Lighter Note Offerings” section of the menu. You’ll always find a beef, chicken, and fish dish, as well as a vegetarian and possibly lamb dish in the Lighter Note Offerings section. The Lighter Note Offerings will vary just a bit every night, and will offer something familiar and comforting for guests who just aren’t drawn to the themed entrées.

Love your server? You can request them when planning future sailings!

If you fall in love with your server, you can request them when booking future cruises. Have your reservation number in hand, and give DCL a call to officially place your request. On embarkation day, you can also head to the dining desk to touch base with a crew member about your request. Keep in mind that your request might not be possible, but I’ve always found that the dining team does all that they can to make magic for you and your traveling party. Our very favorite server? Sompong from Thailand. He’s simply wonderful.

I could go on and on, but these are answers to some of the very biggest questions that you might have when planning your first Disney Cruise Line vacation. Of course, here at DCL Fan, we love to remind you that the expert Dreams Unlimited Travel agents are here to help you plan your DCL voyage, and they can help answer any additional questions you might have.

If you have additional dining advice that you’d like to add, please do so in the comments section below!

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