Friday, November 18, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: Palo Brunch

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I've saved the best for last. For real. The optional (extra fee) adult-exclusive dining experiences on the Disney ships are well worth it. On the Disney Magic, you have Palo which features northern Italian cuisine. It's a cut above the rest. A meal here is well worth the trouble it can take to get a reservation. On our previous cruise we elected to have brunch AND dinner at Palo, but this time around we only managed to squeeze in a brunch. It was fabulous however, made even more fabulous by our one-of-a-kind server Sasha. I can honestly say he was one of the best servers I've ever had at any restaurant ANYWHERE. He not only was able to tell my sister how far along she was in her pregnancy, but he correctly identified the sex of her baby, which she had just found out days earlier by ultrasound. The man has skills. Not only for predicting the sex of your unborn child, but also for feeding you with amazing food until you're about to burst. He made our brunch experience incredibly special. Thank you so much, Sasha! We hope to see you on our next cruise.


The brunch at Palo consists of a ridiculously awesome cold buffet section which includes everything from seafood (shrimp cocktail, stone crab claws, Alaskan king crab legs, smoked salmon, smoked salmon mousse, seared ahi, caviar), a make-your-own Nicoise salad station, breads, cheeses (unique ones like port wine-infused cheddar, etc), charcuterie (and I'm talking the good stuff), pastries, and loads of desserts. In addition to the buffet stations, there is also hot food made to order. Everything from their unique and delicious pizzas, to egg dishes, pasta, fish, and meat dishes. Pretty much everything under the (brunch) sun. Here are some mouth-watering photographs of this not-to-be-missed brunch experience aboard Disney Cruise Lines...

From left to right: Caprese salad, stone crab claws, Alaskan king crab legs, smoked salmon mousse; Virgin mary shooters with baby shrimp, assorted cold salads

Clockwise from left: Hot items made to order; some dessert offerings; breads, cheeses, and charcuterie

My first selections from the buffet... there would be more to come :)

A la carte items (clockwise from top left): pizzas (gorgonzola, grape, and port wine reduction, spicy sausage minus the sausage, and sun-dried tomato and goat cheese); oysters Rockefeller; chicken Parmesan with risotto; eggs Julia (w/ smoked salmon)

Some selections from the dessert buffet (my favorite was the insanely decadent chocolate confection  to the left)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: "Special" Menus and Excursion Dining

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Disney is known for its attention to detail. If you've ever been to any of the theme parks, you know what I'm talking about. The same can be said for their cruise line. Not only does Disney offer the 3 main dining room menus, but there are several theme nights in which guests partake throughout their journey. Here are the theme nights for their 7 day cruise on the Disney Magic, along with some of the menu highlights...

Prince and Princess Dinner: Inspired by, you guessed it, the fairy tales that make Disney so special. Dishes like "Belle's" Scallops au Gratin and Roasted Filet of Beef Wellington definitely suggest a fairy tale worthy meal. Overall, this menu was fun for us. I thought my meat was a bit overcooked for the temperature I had asked, but otherwise, the meal was pretty solid. My ice cream sundae was a perfect end to the meal.

"Belle's" Scallops au Gratin

Roasted Filet of Beef Wellington

Princess Aurora Sundae (with Rocky Road)

Pirates IN the Caribbean Dinner: Perhaps everyone's favorite theme night! Not only do you get a special menu with offerings like Black Beard's Jumbo Crab Cake, Jack Sparrow's Barbecue Marinated Beef Short Ribs, and Captain Hook's Macadamia Nut-Dusted Mahi Mahi, but you also get a party in your dining room, limbo stick and all, and a fun open-air party after dinner culminating in an at-sea fireworks show. It doesn't get more fun than that :)

Black Beard's Jumbo Crab Cake

Jack Sparrow's Barbecue Marinated Beef Short Rib

Treasure-of-the-Seas Grilled Shrimp and Seared Scallops

Sweet Temptations: Rum-Soaked Chocolate Cake, Fruit Cobbler, and Floating Island

Captain's Gala Dinner: Often considered the "fancy" meal of the week. Items like Oysters Rockefeller and Baked Lobster Tail are a pretty big draw. I also love how well you are served by the dining room staff. Our server removed my lobster meat from the tail for me to save me any trouble in doing so myself. They will also cut up food for the kids. It's a really nice perk and we certainly appreciate every bit of attention they offer to making our meals so special.

Baked Lobster Tail

Warm Chocolate Lava Cake

Till We Meet Again: The last dinner of the cruise is one that will hopefully bring you back for more. It is another one of our favorites, with items like Sesame-Crusted Tuna Sashimi, Crawfish and Lobster Bisque, and their tasty Seafood Linguine Pasta, along with a stand-by Yachtsman Steakhouse Center Cut Grilled Beef Tenderloin, you will surely want to come back to experience more of Disney Cruise Line, more of their outstanding service, and more of the delicious food.

Sesame-Crusted Tuna Sashimi

Crawfish and Lobster Bisque

Seafood Linguine Pasta

Sweet Temptations: Chocolate Decadence, Celebration Cake, Cappuccino Mousse

Mickey's Island Jam Breakfast: As a special treat during your cruise, everyone gets to partake in a breakfast experience in which your favorite Disney characters actually visit you at your tables as you enjoy your meal. It's great for little kids and big kids alike. The food isn't anything special compared to some of the better breakfast selections available at both Lumiere's for a la carte service and even Topsiders Buffet, but it's all about the character experience here :)


Cookie's BBQ: On Disney's private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, guests are invited to partake in a casual lunch at Cookie's BBQ (or Cookie's BBQ Too). Here a selection of burgers, hot dogs, and ribs, along with many sides, fresh fruit, ice cream, cookies, and cake are the perfect beach side meal.


Other Excursions: Depending on excursions you select for your ports of call, lunch is sometimes included. On our visit to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, part of our tour included a visit to the beautiful beach at Cane Garden Bay. Here, along with hours of fun in the sun (and surf), we dined on a Caribbean buffet meal which included options of chicken, fish, or ribs (all island style), rice and beans, vegetables, and Caesar salad (not so Caribbean, but not bad either).



Monday, November 14, 2011

Disney Cruise Line: Rotational Dining and Quick Dining Options

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I recently had the pleasure of embarking on a magical Disney Cruise vacation with my family. It was my second Disney Cruise and still as fantastic as the very first time. Disney currently has 3 vessels in its arsenal: the Disney Magic, the Disney Wonder, and the Disney Dream. The Disney Fantasy will be a new addition next spring. Although we're very anxious to check out the newer ships, the Disney Magic holds a special place in our hearts. Through the next several posts, I will discuss some of the food that we experienced on our trip. If you are considering a Disney cruise in the future, this will be a great way to get a sneak peak of what's in store for you. If you get sea sick and/or have no desire to go galavanting around the beautiful ports of call (I can't imagine this being a valid reason not to go), then let this be a mini visual vacation for you. Please enjoy :)


Rotational Dining: Each of the Disney ships has 3 main dining rooms between which your party rotates based on a pre-set schedule. Each of those dining rooms has a standard dinner menu inspired by the theme of the restaurant. There are also several "special" menus that are sprinkled in between, and will be enjoyed when you are in any one of the given dining rooms simply based on your rotation. Today's post will briefly discuss and share some of the options from the 3 main dining room menus. I will discuss the "special" menus in a later post. On the Disney Magic, the 3 dining rooms are Lumiere's, Animator's Palate, and Parrot Cay.

Lumiere's

My favorite of the 3 standard menus is that at Lumiere's. It features French cuisine, and the galley team does a knockout job at preparing the food here. Each dinner menu features 4 courses, and you can select an item from each category. A couple of the stand-out appetizers include the escargots (marinated in herbs and finely chopped mushrooms in garlic butter) and the duck confit (served with dried prunes and candied walnuts). I also really loved the French onion soup (you'd be shocked how many places actually can't get this right), and the tomato basil soup and avocado-citrus salad were favorites among my family. For entrees, the three-cheese lobster macaroni was my pick, but the lamb shank was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and would have been my second choice. "Sweet Temptations" are offered as a dessert option at every meal. In lieu of making a single selection from the menu, a small tasting of 3 pre-determined desserts can be chosen. On many occasions, this was the way to go, although from time to time I/we picked individual desserts.

Appetizers (Clockwise from Left): Chilled Jumbo Shrimp, "Gaston's" Escargots Gratinee, Duck Confit

"Mrs. Potts" French Onion Soup

Entrees (Clockwise from Left): Three-Cheese Lobster Macaroni, Slowly Braised Lamb Shank, Lumiere's Seared Sea Bass

Sweet Temptations: Chocolate Mousse, Creme Brulee, Praline Petite Choux

Animator's Palate is special in that it includes a show as part of the experience. On the older 2 ships (Magic and Wonder), the show involves screens that light up around the room as songs from those Disney films play in the dining room. On the newer ships, Animator's Palate has gotten a makeover that includes a tour around the dining room with the amazing turtles from Finding Nemo. The menu here is pretty upscale as well. My ahi tuna tartare was a great start to the meal, while my Asian marinated beef tenderloin was absolutely cooked to perfection. A final appearance by Sorcerer Mickey defines Animator's Palate as a truly whimsical experience filled with magic, both on your plates and in the air all around you.

Animator's Palate Show Dinner

Ahi Tuna Tartare

Asian Marinated Beef Tenderloin

Sweet Temptations: Strawberry Sable, Double-Fudge Chocolate Cake, Cranberry and Orange Cheesecake

Our least favorite in general is Parrot Cay. I honestly think this is a common opinion. The menu is more island-themed, and in general has less highlights for our palates. In our particular case, we experienced an off night during our meal here (meat not cooked to the temperature desired and/or not trimmed properly is an example). Our food overall was disappointing. Disney, being the people-pleasers that they are, fully made up for this fact throughout our cruise by regularly sending people (such as the chef de cuisine) to our table to check in on us, and even surprised us with some chocolate-covered strawberries and a written apology in our stateroom. We felt very much taken care of, and knew that Disney valued our opinion and didn't want us to be unhappy with our meals in the future. Gotta love that customer service.

Parrot Cay

Baked Crab Dip Martinique

Mixed Grill

Quick Dining Options: The ships also have several quick dining options that can stand in for meals or snacks as desired. These options include Pinocchio's Pizzeria, Pluto's Dog House (where I simply could not resist indulging in SEVERAL tacos over the span of the week), and Goofy's Galley. Also, the Topsider's Buffet is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner option in lieu of a more formal setting elsewhere. All of these treats are free of charge, completely included in the price of your cruise ticket.

Taco and Fries from Pluto's Dog House


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