When it comes to family dining at sea, cruise ships have come a long way from chicken fingers and buffets. While Disney Cruise Line leads the way in combining family entertainment with meal time, there are great kid-friendly dining experiences on other cruise ships, too. Plus, for families who enjoy eating in the main dining room, many cruise lines offer services where the kids’ club staff will come to the restaurant to pick children up for evening activities while parents relax with an after-dinner drink and dessert. Here’s a look at eight cruise ship dining experiences that stand out for the whole family. (And if you’re looking for buffets and chicken fingers, all of these ships offer that, too.)
1. Animator’s Palate – Disney Cruise Line
One of the signature dining experiences on every Disney Cruise ship is Animator’s Palate. The dining room itself is an innovative show room with walls adorned with hand-drawn scenes and characters from familiar animated films. Over the course of dinner, the drawings change from black and white to color and eventually “come to life” in an animated show. The Animator’s Palate show varies slightly from ship to ship, with “Undersea Magic” on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy featuring Crush, the sea turtle from Disney·Pixar’s Finding Nemo. In “Animation Magic,” families become animators themselves on the Disney Magic and Disney Fantasy, allowing you to draw your own character and watch it come to life on the screen.
2. Tiana’s Place Restaurant – Disney Wonder
Fans of Princess Tiana from Disney’s Princess and the Frog should book a cruise on the Disney Wonder and dine on southern-style dishes such as shrimp and grits, Cajun sea bass, and fresh beignets. Tiana’s Place exudes a French Quarter supper club atmosphere with a live jazz, swing, and blues band performing during the meal. Princess Tiana and Louis the alligator join in the show and lead a street party parade straight out of the Louisiana Bayou.
3. Rapunzel’s Royal Table – Disney Magic
Fans of Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled should look into sailings on the Disney Magic. On board, you’ll find Rapunzel’s Royal Table, a dining experience that transports families to the Kingdom of Corona. During the meal, Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and the mischievous Thugs from the Snuggly Duckling provide a festive celebration of Rapunzel’s birthday and the anniversary of her return to the kingdom. The Tangled-themed menu includes a Maximus Salad, Flynn Rider Platter, and Rapunzel’s Fry Pan Sweet Bread.
4. Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast – Carnival Cruise Line
Do you like green eggs and ham? You can try them on a boat. You can eat them while you float. Carnival Cruise Line has an elaborate, imaginative, Green Eggs and Ham breakfast that celebrates all things Dr. Seuss. Tables are adorned with Cat in the Hat decorations, and characters such as Thing 1 and Thing 2, Sam-I-Am, and the Cat in the Hat himself, make appearances for photos. There’s an extra charge of $5 per person for this meal, but you’re not limited to a single item from the menu. Just like in the main dining room, you can feel free to order extra entrees or sides. If you think your family is interested in the Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast, plan to sign up as soon as you board the ship—reservation slots go quickly.
5. Guy’s Burger Joint – Carnival Cruise Line
Kids and burgers go hand-and-hand, and Carnival Cruise Line has partnered with Food Network personality Guy Fieri to create the “best burgers at sea.” On most ships, Guy’s Burger Joint is located on the pool deck, making it easy for families to grab lunch during their mid-day water fun. The menu features five large burgers with super, melty, cheese (S.M.C.) and served on a buttery bun. Those wanting to make their own creations can head to the toppings bar for a custom burger. Of course, all dishes are served with hand cut fries and “hit” with Guy’s Signature Seasoning. There’s no extra charge for Guy’s Burger Joint, as it’s included with the cruise fee.
6. Johnny Rockets – Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Another popular burger joint is found on many of the Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Johnny Rockets is a 50’s-themed restaurant that features a singing and dancing wait staff, along with signature burgers, shakes, and fries. The retro diner is on over a dozen Royal Caribbean ships, and requires an additional charge to eat (above your cruise fare). Families can order as much of any food on the menu for $6.95 per person, but drinks and milkshakes cost extra. On the Oasis Class ships, you can eat breakfast in Johnny Rockets for free, and it’s often much less crowded than the buffet. Breakfast items include eggs, pancakes, French toast, and sandwiches served on an English muffin.
7. Breakfast with Stanley – Princess Cruise Line
In 2017, Princess Cruise Line introduced a bear mascot named Stanley to honor Stanley B. McDonald, the founder of Princess Cruises. Around that same time, Princess Cruises added a “Breakfast with Stanley” specialty dining option. This bear-themed breakfast includes your meal, plus a visit from Stanley himself dressed in his captain’s finest. This character celebration must be reserved in advance and costs $10 for adults and $10 for children.
8. Cirque Dreams and Dinner – Norwegian Epic and Getaway
For families with older kids and teens, two Norwegian Cruise Line ships offer a theatrical dining experience under the Cirque Dreams big top. “Cirque Dreams Epicurean” is on board the Norwegian Epic, and includes a three-course dinner with crowd-warming performers. After the meal comes a 45-minute Cirque show with jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring acts that rotate throughout the year. The Norwegian Getaway features “Cirque Dreams and Steam” that also includes a three-course meal. The steampunk-themed show features jugglers, acrobats, and aerialists. Both dinner shows require an additional charge.
9. Create Your Own Chocolate Bar – MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima
Families can create their own chocolate bar on the MSC Cruises‘ Meraviglia and Bellissima for an after-dinner treat (or afternoon snack). Head to Jean Philippe Chocolat & Café, where chocolatiers will help you design a custom chocolate bar made fresh right in the shop. Parents and kids use an iPad in the shop and start by selecting the type of chocolate they like: dark, milk, or white chocolate. Then, they select some fillings like nuts, caramel or cookie pieces and top it off with choices like sea salt, marshmallows, and candies. Guests can even personalize the bar with their name and stamp an illustration of the ship right on top. Jean-Philippe Maury is a world pastry champion who held the position of executive Pastry Chef at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel in 1998 and Aria Resort & Casino in 2009.
Dave Parfitt lives in Rochester, New York, with his wife and two daughters. A runner with a PhD in neuroscience, he lived in numerous Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. cities before taking a college job in the Finger Lakes. He’s traveled worldwide, but a Walt Disney World trip with two budding princesses is the trip that elicited the family travel wanderlust. He shares his vacation tips and tricks on AdventuresbyDaddy.com.