First time Disney cruisers are sometimes nervous about what their kids’ dining experience will be like onboard. With sit-down restaurant meals pre-scheduled every evening, will the kiddos be bored? Will you be stressed about their behavior? Will they (or you) actually end up eating?
Here are ten tips that can help you have the best time possible dining with kids on Disney Cruise Line.
1. Ask for EXACTLY what you want. (And it may not be on the menu.)
Disney Cruise Line has a fair amount of latitude to customize meals in the main dining rooms. Does your child want entree A served with the side dish from entree B, just ask. Does he want just the side dishes? Just ask. Does he need fruit at every dinner and that’s not on the menu? Just ask.
Obviously not every form of customization is possible, but many are.
2. Inquire about the meals’ entertainment and assess whether it is right for your family.
Entertainment is routinely offered in one or two of the main dining rooms on every Disney Cruise Line ship. This might be live music (like at Tiana’s Place on the Wonder or Arendelle on the Wish), viewing scenes from films (like at the Marvel venue on the Wish), participating in interactive artwork (like at Animator’s Palate on several ships), or talking with a cartoon turtle (like at Animator’s Palate on several ships).
Some children may be overwhelmed by the entertainment, meaning that maybe you should skip dessert and leave your meal early. Others may be devastated if they miss the entertainment, meaning maybe you should linger over coffee even if you’ve finished eating.
Take few minutes to search for YouTube videos of the entertainment on your ship or ask guest services or your serving team to help assess what’s right for your family.
3. Tell your server the timing of how you want your kids’ food presented.
Disney Cruise Line’s default practice for families with small kids is to bring the children’s meals to the table as soon as possible, often well in advance of when the adults get their food. This may mean that kids are done eating and ready to move on to the next activity before their parents are. This might work for some ravenous kids, but other families may find that this pacing interferes with everyone’s enjoyment of their meal.
If you’re traveling with small children, it’s up to you to communicate with your serving team about your preferred service timing. Do you want the kids served before the adults? Do you want everyone served their entree at the same time? Let your servers know what works for you.
4. Ask your server to only offer specific beverages to your kids.
Many families have rules about beverages – which may stem from nutritional or financial concerns. The main dining room beverage options include milk, water, juices, iced tea, and numerous Coca-Cola products, as well as some smoothies and mocktails available at an additional charge.
If you only want your kids to drink milk or water, ask your server not to mention other options.
5. Request the right seating time for your family.
Disney Cruise Line offers two seating times in their main dining rooms, typically at about 5:45 and at about 8:15. There are pros and cons to both options, either might be right for your family. While choosing the wrong seating won’t totally derail your vacation, it can impact everyone’s ability to sit still for a lengthy meal and their interest in consuming a healthy dinner. Make your request when booking your cruise or on DCL’s online check-in page.
6. Decide which version of the menu you’d like to have your kids see.
Disney Cruise Line publishes menus in two categories: child meals and adult meals. While servers typically offer the child version to kids under about age 10, there is no requirement that younger children order a kids’ meal. Similarly, you don’t have to order from the adult menu. If your child might want shrimp and lobster and you might want chicken nuggets, ask your server for both menus. Or you can even ask that your child only see the adult version.
7. Bring small distractions to dinner.
DCL meals can be long. They typically take at least an hour and often more like an hour and a half. This may strain the attention spans of younger kids. Bringing small distractions like coloring or sticker books, mini puzzles, or even an iPad (with headphones) may help everyone enjoy their time at the table for a bit longer.
8. Ask your server to leave the bread off the table.
Every main dining room dinner on Disney Cruise Line starts with a bread and a spread being automatically delivered to your table, often 10 or minutes before any more substantial food arrives. Some children pounce on the bread, leaving no room for protein or veggies. If you’d like to avoid this situation, ask your server to leave the bread off your table.
9. Ask for your own table. (Or not.)
Some parents of younger children, neurodivergent, or introverted children may have concerns that their children’s behavior might impact strangers dining at the same table. If the thought of dining with another family brings you stress, then you’re welcome to request your own table during the DCL check-in process. These requests are not guaranteed, but are often honored.
We’ve found that requests on the Wish are least likely to be granted, but we’ve had great success on all the other DCL ships.
On the other hand, dining with strangers may provide a calming influence to some children. Older kids may enjoy speaking with new people. You’ll have to assess your family’s temperaments to decide which option will work best for your needs.
10. Skip the main dining rooms, sometimes.
The Disney Cruise Line main dining rooms get lots of hype, but they’re not the only way to eat dinner. If a big sit-down dinner seems like too much of a muchness, you can opt for room service or grab a slice of pizza by the pool deck. You can even throw out all the rules and just eat ice cream sundaes for dinner.