My Advice on Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

disney cruise early vs late dining time

Disney Cruise Line has long been synonymous with unparalleled family vacations, offering a perfect blend of entertainment, relaxation, and exploration. When it comes to dining, Disney takes the experience to a whole new level with excellent service, delicious food, and enchanting character interactions.

So you may wonder, how to choose between Disney cruise early vs late dining time. I’m here to guide you! We recently found ourselves facing a similar debate and I’m excited to guide you the pros and cons of each seating based on our experience as a family with three kids and a grandparent on 5 night voyage.

Disney Cruise Line’s approach to onboard dining is nothing short of extraordinary. Join us as we dive into the magical world of Disney Cruise Line’s dining options, sharing our experiences, tips, and all the delightful surprises that await you and your family. We recently went on the Disney Dream with our family, my mom, and friends.

Whether planning a future voyage or simply craving a taste of the Disney Cruise culinary experience, this blog post is your invitation to savor the flavors and stories of a family adventure at sea. Follow along to see the pros and cons of each dining option to help guide you to pick the best time for your family.

Pro Tip: If you are traveling with babies and toddlers, you want to ensure you are booked on the first seating of the night.

Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

🚢Cruise Supplies🚢

Disney Dining

Disney Cruise Ships operate rotational dining on their ships. It may seem odd, but I liked the process. You start at one specific restaurant on night 1 and meet your servers. The crew will stay with you throughout your magical vacation. Your family or vacation group will rotate between all the Disney restaurants, and your servers follow you. This is very helpful as they learn about food allergies, drink preferences, and how to serve you best. Also, you have the same table number for the entire trip.

There are themed restaurants such as Animator’s Palate and the Royal Palace. The different restaurants have its unique cruise fare so you can try new things at no additional charge. If someone were torn between two appetizers on our trip, our wait staff would bring us both to try. The head server can assist with any questions you have about the menu as well.

Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

Main Seating

On cruises in the Americas, the early seating is 5:45 and ideal for young children with early bedtimes. Before tucking in those little ones, you can still enjoy a delicious meal with fantastic service. Or, if your kids are a little older or have later bedtimes, you can enjoy dinner before heading to the night’s show. 

Pro Tip: If you are traveling with babies and toddlers, you want to ensure you are booked on the first seating of the night. FYI- this is a popular dinner spot, so consider booking your trip well in advance. We waited a bit to confirm our reservation, and by the time we paid, all the early dinner spots were gone. In the long run, we loved the later dinner, but it was a good lesson learned. 

As a side note, the early dinner on European cruises starts at 6 pm.

Enchanted Garden on Disney Dream

Second Seating 

The second dinner slot on the Disney Cruise line typically starts at 8 pm on cruises in the Western Hemisphere and 8:30 pm in Europe. On our first Disney cruises, we were novices and ended up with late seating by accident. We ended up loving the late dinner option for several reasons. In case you wondered, we traveled with 5, 8, and 10-year-olds.

First, early dinner cuts into your afternoon exploring the ship or excursions. For instance, the pool deck emptied by late afternoon as families prepared for early dinner.  Luckily, we had plenty of space to spread out in the pool and the best chair options to watch the kids or Disney movies on the big screen. The hot tub wasn’t packed, and the water slide line diminished greatly. 

Disney cruise pools empty by late afternoon

In addition, an early dinner would shorten your time on Castaway Cay. We boarded the ship in the last 15 minutes and still had time to play on the main pool deck. If we had early dinner, we would have missed some activities, such as snorkeling on Disney’s private island. 

If you have older kids, late dinner is the way to go. If they are hungry in the late afternoon, grab something from the quick service before it closes or order free room service to carry over till the big meal.

Enchanted Garden

Lastly, we loved the option of the early show. We could stay on the pool deck, shower, and make it in time. We also would split if some didn’t want the show, then they could keep playing while others attended it. Finally, we appreciated that our dinner crew wasn’t rushed to get us out before the next wave of guests came in for dinner. 

🚢Are you trying to decide if a Disney Cruise is worth the cost? See why our family loves cruising with Disney over Carnival and Royal Caribbean? Click HERE!🚢

Dining Tips

When do you know your dining rotation?

On the cruise, you can log into the Disney Navigator App and see your table number and nightly rotation. You will also be able to check the menus too.  If you travel with a group, your entire group will move together if your reservations are linked.

Changing your Dining time

If you miss your preferred dinner slot, immediately get on the waitlist and check frequently. It may not change before you board. As you wait to check in for the cruise, you can start to access the chat features on the Disney cruise app. Try reaching out to guest services and requesting a change. 

If you can’t secure the early seating, consider time zones, too- our cruise left out of Miami. We live on the East Coast, so there is no time change for us, but if you live further west, a later dinner may be an easier transition for your kids.

Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

Main Dining Restaurants on each Disney Ship

🚢Disney Dream- Animator’s Palate, Enchanted Garden and Royal Palace 

🚢Disney Magic- Animator’s Palate, Lumiere’s and Rapunzel’s Royal Table

🚢Disney Wonder- Tiana’s Place, Animator’s Palate, and Triton’s

🚢Disney Fantasy- Royal Court, Enchanted Garden, and Animator’s Palate 

🚢Disney Wish – 1923, Worlds of Marvel, and Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure.

Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

Room Service

If you are exhausted from your day at sea or your little ones need an earlier bedtime, consider ordering room service. In particular, squeezing those in with younger kids may be difficult if you want to enjoy the earlier show or pirate night. Order room service to ensure you can soak in all the Disney magic before bedtime! There’s no additional fee for room service, so take advantage of this great amenity.

FAQ: Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

🚢Is there a dress code?

Some other cruise lines host a formal night at sea, but not Disney. In my experience, the dress code was a wide range. Some families dress nicely in summer attire of dresses, button-up shirts, and polos, while others are very informal. On Pirate night, the majority are in some costume. 

We wore beachy attire for dinner. My mom, daughter, and I were in dresses for many nights while my boys and husband wore polos with shorts. The dining rooms are cooler, so bring a light jacket if you get cold easily.

One afternoon, we visited Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for my five year old daughter, so she came to dinner all dolled up as a beautiful Belle. If you are on the fence about splurging on the experience, check out my review of this magical transformation.

Disney buffets for breakfast and lunch

🚢Is there additional costs at dinner?

The main additional cost is in alcoholic beverages. They have signature drinks for each restaurant, and I found the prices very affordable.

You can opt for some meals or the Royal tea at an additional cost.

🚢 Do you tip the wait staff?

At the end of the cruise, each room is given small envelopes to tip all crew that served them. This would include your crew for meals as well as housekeeping. We had our kids give the tips to our wait staff at the end of the last meal. Typically, your servers are phenomenal, and you will want to tip them.

🚢 Can kids attend the kids club during meals?

You can feed your child separately and send them to the kids’ club if you prefer a quiet meal. Also, many kids love the Oceaneer Lab and want to spend hours there.

🚢 Can you bring alcohol on board?

Guests 21 and older can bring an unopened 6-pack of beer or two unopened bottles of wine on board. You can do this at the trip’s start and at each port of call.

In Conclusion: My Advice on Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time

In conclusion, deciding between early and late seating on a Disney cruise is a personal choice that can greatly influence your family’s dining experience. Whether you opt for the convenience of an early dinner that allows for post-meal activities or prefer the flexibility of later seating, both options offer exceptional Disney service and culinary delights. Ultimately, the best choice depends on your family’s unique preferences and daily schedule.

Regardless of your decision, the memories you create together while sailing the high seas with Disney will undoubtedly be magical, filled with enchantment, and unforgettable for years to come. So, go ahead and select the dining time that suits your family best, and prepare for a voyage full of adventures and bonding moments that will last a lifetime. I hope my guide on Disney Cruise Early vs. Late Dining Time helps you plan your next great adventure.  

⭐Disney Resources⭐
Is a Disney Cruise worth it?
Best Ages for a Disney Cruise
My Guide On Disney’s Rotational Dining
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on a Disney Cruise
Best Shoes for Disney for Families
Best Disney Shoes for Women