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Guest Review: Ten Tips for Disney Cruise Dining with a Toddler

Welcome to guest author Julia Mascardo with an informative review and GREAT TIPS for dining with a toddler aboard the Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship!

In any given week, toddlers may decide that they want to eat everything offered to them — or they may want to dine on goldfish crackers and string cheese for every meal.

When you are on land, it isn’t a major problem to make sure your toddler’s whims are met even if you are on vacation. But the idea of spending a week at the mercy of a cruise ship’s galley might make a parent reconsider the idea of cruising.

After spending a week aboard the Disney Fantasy, I found that with a little advance planning, toddler dining on a Disney cruise can be an enjoyable experience—for parents and children alike.

Even if your child doesn’t get desserts at home, you probably will want to allow a little indulgence when on board -- like this decorate-your-own-cupcake dessert!

Here are my top 10 tips for making the most of Disney cruise dining with a toddler:

1. Pick your battles

When adults are on vacation, they eat in ways that they wouldn’t eat at home. The same can be said for toddlers.

If you have certain rules that you want to enforce on ship, let your servers know. For instance, if your child must have three bites of vegetables before any macaroni and cheese, they can bring out a plate of vegetables for those required three bites and then bring out a “next course” of pasta.

Flexibility with rules can make life easier, however. If you are okay with treats like doughnuts for breakfast and French fries with every meal, that flexibility may make the experience more pleasant for everyone.

Buffets offer opportunities for your child to pick what he or she wants to eat— and for you to decide what you put on the plate.

2. If you don’t see it, ask

Our daughter drinks milk with every meal. But milk was not listed on the room service menu as a drink option for lunch or dinner, and was not visible at the buffet restaurant Cabanas for lunch.

Milk is available, but sometimes you need to ask where to find it.

One quick question to a cast member and I found that room service will not only will deliver milk, but you can set up for a daily scheduled delivery at a specific time if desired.

For lunch at Cabanas, milk is stored behind the manned salad bar station. All you have to do is ask a cast member, and he or she will dig it out for you.

3. If you must have it, bring it

Some obvious toddler foods are available neither in the dining rooms nor in the limited onboard stores.

Cheerios, goldfish crackers, juice boxes, and string cheese are some good examples of toddler staples that you will not see until you make land in a foreign port (paying their prices) unless you bring them yourself.

If your child is flexible, some of these can be handled with creative substitution: for instance, juice in a cup instead of a box or fresh mozzarella from the buffet instead of string cheese.

A typical child’s meal can include familiar favorites served with Disney flair.

4. Even the most entertaining dinner can still be a two-hour meal

The dining experiences at Enchanted Garden, Animator’s Palate, and Royal Court on board the Fantasy were exceptionally fun for all ages, but the meals were always more than an hour and sometimes as long as two hours.

Although an ample supply of crayons and kid’s menus to draw on are provided, we brought a small bag of inexpensive toys to supplement the dinnertime entertainment.

For the longest meals, we brought out an iPhone with an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (with headphones or the volume set low so as not to disrupt the enjoyment of others) to make it through the dessert course, and we went on frequent walks of the dining room.

There is no shortage of crayons provided at the evening meal.

5. Bring a stain stick and zip-top bags

No matter how careful and neat your child is, accidents happen. If your child is used to a hard sippy cup, it can be very easy for them to squeeze the lid off of the paper cups served at meals.

Although there are shipboard laundry facilities, you may find that the best way to handle slopped sauce or spilled juice is with a stain stick or by sealing it in a zip-top bag (so it doesn’t get other clothes dirty) until you get back on shore.

6. Special requests are okay

Anyone who has dined at Disney before knows that cast members will go the extra mile to help with unusual meal requests. This goes far beyond just avoiding allergens or dietary requests (vegetarian, Kosher, etc.).

Want pasta with no sauce? No problem. Need to make sure that foods aren’t touching on a plate? Just ask.

Mickey pasta, no sauce? No problem!

High chairs and booster seats are both available upon request, as are toddler-size forks and spoons.

And don’t think your child must eat off the children’s menu. Soup, sides that come with entrees, and even adult desserts are good options if your child wants to explore what mom or dad are eating. If your child doesn’t like it when it is served, you can still ask for something else.

Ordering an “adult” option, like potato and leek soup, can be a nice change of pace for a toddler.

7. Eat in room or in shifts

Every parent has been there—your child needs a nap and needs it now! For us, naptime seemed to hit while we were getting ready for lunch.

On board, 24-hour room service is included with your cruise cost, but you can also bring down plates of food from Cabanas or Flo’s to eat in your room if you prefer.

We also experimented with eating lunch in shifts: one of us staying in the room with the napping child while the other grabbed lunch and then swapped off.

Room service can be a great option for snacks as well as meals.

8. Schedule adult time

During our cruise, we took the time to eat dinner at Palo. Not only did this provide us with a chance to have a wonderful meal, it was a much-needed break and sanity check.

Nothing says adult time like a pair of martinis! (Balsamic Grande, left; Chambord Mojito Martini, right)

9. Check with childcare about meal options

The on board nursery does provide meals for children staying during mealtime hours. When you drop your child off, you can ask whether food will be provided during the stay and what food is on the menu.

You can also provide solid food snacks for your child, but no cooked food or products containing peanuts or nuts are allowed. Don’t be surprised if your child is having so much fun that she doesn’t want to stop and eat what you send, however!

10. Remember, you are on vacation

Children pick up on stress, so be ready to handle any issue that comes up without having a parent meltdown. With a little forethought and planning, you can make every moment of your cruise vacation a positive memory to last a lifetime!

Have you dined with a toddler aboard a Disney ship? Let us know if you have any additional survival tips!

Julia Mascardo is an editor and work-at-home-mom. Julia, her husband Erwin, and two-year-old daughter Lily enjoy exploring all things Disney. Julia has recently launched a blog for Animal Kingdom Fans devoted to all things related to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and resorts.

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7 Comments

  1. Jaia says:

    Thank you so much for the tips! We are hoping to take our toddler with us on a cruise next summer (he will be three) and it’s nice to hear about positive experiences.

  2. marcellina says:

    I also am loving this because we are hoping to take our first cruise ever sometime during fall of 2013. My son will be almost three at the time and I think he’s going to love it! Thanks again for the tips!

  3. Marcia says:

    THANK YOU. We leave in less than a month for our Fantasy cruise and you provided some awesome tips I didn’t know.

  4. Erin C says:

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful tips!

  5. Meg says:

    Thank you so much for this article! We’re cruising to Alaska on DCL with our 20 month old (at the time of sailing), so this really helps us with planning. Thanks so much!

  6. Laura says:

    If you are having an adult dinner at Palo or Remy, make sure to let the Oceaneer staff know at drop off. They will do everything in their power to not disturb you during your dinner.

  7. Janell says:

    THANK YOU! This is the exact information I need to know for our cruise in two weeks. It’s good to know that walking around the dining area is an option during dinner (we have an explorer), and it’s also good to be forewarned that dinners can be long.

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