Sunday, 23 January 2011

Dream Dining


After the initial look at the new Disney Dream at Port Canaveral, it was time to spread out a bit further and see what else this grand 128,000-ton colossus had in store.

Our first item on the agenda was lunch, so we headed for the Cabanas restaurant up on Deck 11, an extensive indoor/outdoor buffet option that serves both breakfast and lunch. The style of this venue will come as no surprise to most regular cruise-goers, and, while it is not as cramped as the versions on original ships Disney Magic and Wonder, it is still a bit awkward to negotiate the cafeteria-style serveries. The seating areas are comfortable, though, and space never seemed to be a problem on our cruise (albeit with only around half the full passenger number).

The food choice was also quite wide, albeit a bit thin on the salad side of things. A wonderful blackened mahi-mahi was my top choice, along with an Asian stir-fry. There was also a fresh carvery station and plenty of typical fast-food options to keep the kiddies happy!

Between Cabanas and the main pools is a series of Quick Service Restaurants - Luigi's Pizza, Tow Mater's Grill, Fillmore's Favourites, Frozone Treats and Eye Scream. Nothing startling here, but all good, fresh food, and some very tempting sandwiches and paninis.

The grown-ups can also relax with a speciality coffee or tea, plus a pastry, at the Cove Cafe, which is definitely my idea of a soothing sea-going retreat (their Americano was also absolutely delicious!).

The real dining highlight of the Dream, though, is their unique rotational dining system, whereby families and couples have dinner at one of the three main restaurants each evening, with their serving team accompanying them at each one. Even though we had only two evenings aboard, we managed to sample all three by having breakfast in the Royal Palace, the fairytale-style dining room, with its plushly-upholstered 'throne' chairs and French-themed menu. To my view, this was the least eye-catching of the three, but that is only a relative term for Disney, where everything is so thoroughly themed.

Animator's Palate is the grand 'show' restaurant, a vibrant animation centre where the walls come alive with interactive features such as Turtle Talk with Crush (from the Finding Nemo film), a hilarious chance for kids (and some adults) to 'talk turtle' with the surfer dude from the East Australia Current.

The food style is supposed to be Pacific Rim, but we had a Wild Mushroom risotto, endive salad and Black Cod (me) and Sirloin Salad (Susan), none of which seemed especially 'Pacific' to us. Susan's tomato appetiser was surprisingly poor, with much of the tomato unripe and almost inedible. We may not have made great choices here, though, as most people felt the food in Animator's was among the best on the ship.

Our second night was in the superbly evocative Enchanted Garden, a grand setting 'inspired by the Gardens of Versailles,' and, to my mind, much more romantic and 'fairytale' in its style and theming. A lovely central fountain, gentle mood lighting and superb exterior decor make this a wonderfully different and relaxing dining area, and we also had an excellent dinner here.

My sea bass was beautifully succulent, and I also sampled a side order of the caramelized sea scallops which were positively melt-in-the-mouth good. Susan's marjoram-scented organic chicken was another taste extravaganza, while the lobster ravioli and beet carpaccio appetizers were equally satisfying. Portions were also relatively modest, which we like, and we didn't leave either restaurant feeling we were over-fed.

Desserts were good without being overwhelming (we had cruised most recently on the Crystal Symphony of Crystal Cruises, where desserts are an absolute stand-out feature, hence Disney was up against an impossible comparison standard here), but the little after-dinner petit fours at Enchanted Garden were another minor taste sensation (little cubes of exotic fruit and chocolate fudge).

In keeping with most cruise lines these days, Disney also offers an alternative dining experience at real speciality restaurants (for adults only). Palo is a larger version of the same Italian-themed restaurant on Magic and Wonder, with the addition of an outdoor terrace and bar area. It serves both dinner and an imaginative brunch, both at an additional $20/person surcharge, but it is usually well worth it.

Finally, the 'ultimate' dining option is that offered by Remy (above), Disney's first true gourmet experience. And, if Palo is the five-star option, Remy is six-star-plus, a creation of Michelin-starred French chef Arnaud Lallement and Disney's own uber-chef, Scott Hunnel. Sadly, we didn't get to dine here but we did get the chance to sample a couple of the restaurant's French-inspired dishes, a langoustine in Caesar sauce, and smoked bison, both of which were the kind of deep, palate-pleasing sensations that could easily be dangerously addictive.

The one drawback here is that the Remy cover charge is a whopping $75 per person, easily the most expensive of any alternative dining restaurant at sea, and their five-course wine-tasting menu would add another $99/head to your bill. However, if you look at it as the chance to dine at a 2 Michelin-star restaurant, where you would be unlikely to get change from $200 for a three-course meal, then you are certainly getting value for money here.

It seats just 70 a night (dinner can last up to 3 hours here) and there is a separate pre-bookable dining room for eight, and it also serves the best champagne cocktail in the world as your welcome-to-Remy aperitif - Tattinger champagne with a nip of pear vodka, a touch of dried apricot, half a blueberry and mint. Just sensational. However, if this appeals to you for your first Disney Dream cruise, you will need to book as early as possible, as this is likely to be a sell-out for every night of every cruise for the foreseeable future.

The other feature of Disney dining is the service, which is among the most personable and family-friendly at sea. Our four servers over the 2 evenings were from the Philippines, Jamaica, Scotland and Costa Rica, and all had a great touch that made the occasion memorable. There were a few grumbles from other media that the wait staff hadn't quite got their act together yet, but we never encountered anything less than the typical Disney enthusiastic-but-efficient style.

And, given that this was their first real test, it bodes well for the months and years to come.

OK, that's the low-down on Dream meal-times, stay tuned for more about this amazing ship in the next few days...