This is my 4th and final review of the “staycation” cruises we did this summer. We were on board the beautiful Disney Magic for 3 nights, and it was lovely to be back! This was my 9th Disney cruise, with the majority of those being on the Magic, but it was my first time aboard a Disney ship as a gluten-free cruiser.
For full disclosure, I love Disney cruises! I went on my first in 2011, when my children were 12 and 13, and carried on cruising with DCL as we all loved it so much. The cruise line also holds special memories for me, as I met my husband on a Disney ship, some years later we became a couple on a Disney cruise, then we went on our honeymoon on the Disney Fantasy! All good things come to an end though, as prices for DCL have risen rapidly, and made it unaffordable for us in the main. However, with DCL coming to the UK for a series of staycation cruises over the summer, we decided to have one more family Disney cruise, and check out their gluten-free dining options.
The Magic is quite a small ship, particularly when compared to something like MSC Virtuosa which we travelled on earlier this year. I quite like that about her, definitely saves the legs when walking! From the outside, all of the Disney ships look like very traditional cruise liners of old – none of these chopped off rear ends like a lot of the bigger/newer ships have. I love the look of them from the outside.
Her interior is in an art deco style, although I’ll be totally honest and say if you’ve cruised other ships, particularly some of the more glitzy ones, you might find some of the spaces, including the atrium, a little bit plain. There are obviously lots of Disney touches, some more in your face than others. You don’t need to be a complete Disney addict to cruise on and enjoy the ship, but if you completely hate it, it’s probably not the line for you!
At full capacity, the Magic can hold just over 2700 passengers. I’ve got no idea how many were on our sailing, but it was definitely nowhere near that. It didn’t feel crowded, and we had no problem getting seats anywhere. Anyway, enough waffle from me about the ship, I’ll pop some pictures up showing her in all her glory, then move on to the important thing, which is the food!
Booking and Prior to Cruising
I booked the cruise over the phone. With Disney, it’s best to book on opening day, as prices go up and they do sell out really fast. As I’ve done so many cruises, I have Gold status in their Castaway Club, which meant I got to book a day or two ahead of the people with no status. It still took about an hour and a half to get through though! I informed the agent that we were both coeliac, and that I was also vegetarian, so it was noted on the booking. Because I’m a little bit untrusting, and would rather things were noted twice than not at all, I also followed this up with an email saying the same thing. The email address for this is: email@example.com
As we boarded we were welcomed on board by our family name (every family is announced as they enter and you can choose whatever name you want them to call out!) and a little welcome dance from Mickey and Minnie. From there, we were directed to our muster station, which you had to attend and scan a QR code with your phone showing you had been. Unfortunately our cabins weren’t yet ready, so we had to take our carry on cases with us to our lunch place of choice. As we were cruising as a larger family group rather than the usual two of us, the consensus was that people wanted to eat at the buffet.
Cabanas is the name of of the buffet on the Disney Magic, and is situated at the back of deck 9 (the pool deck). There was no queue to go in, and I told the server giving out plates that two of us were coeliac. He immediately told us to wait, and that he would get somebody out to assist us. It didn’t take long for a manager to appear. He told us to walk up and down the buffet to see what we’d like, then he would essentially take our order, and get it made for us. He also confirmed that the salad bar was safe for us, apart from the croutons (and it was being served by a cast member, as was the rest of the buffet).
The buffet wasn’t huge, and as a vegetarian, there was very little choice. I noticed mac and cheese, and some vegetable side dishes, but not a lot else. The manager explained that there was gluten free pasta available, so I could have a vegetarian pasta dish made, and also offered to go and speak to the chef to see about anything else. I ended up having a ‘warm salad’ dish made for me, which was actually very nice. My husband had meat and vegetables, all made freshly for him, and we both ordered some fries as well.
About halfway through the meal the manager returned to our table, as he wanted to let me know that they also had the Impossible burgers and Beyond Meat sausages available, which are both vegetarian and gluten free. He had even gone to the trouble of having a sausage cooked for me, and put it in a gluten-free roll along with some french fries. I wasn’t about to turn down more food, and I was so surprised and happy he’d gone to so much trouble it would have been rude not to eat it!
The gluten-free dessert options were ice-cream, jelly, fruit or chocolate mousse. I’m sure more would have been made available had we have asked, but I was stuffed from my lunch, so didn’t need anything else.
Quick Serve Eateries (Deck 9)
As with the other cruises we’d done over the summer, Disney has a number of places where you can eat if you don’t fancy going to the buffet or the main dining room for lunch. The Duck-in Diner offers burgers, hot dogs, french fries and chicken tenders. You can get all of these options gluten free, which is amazing! As soon as you mention you’re gluten free, a manager is called to take your order. This is the same process that is followed at any of the quick serve places, and it is brilliant. They take it down as an ‘allergy order’, everything is written down, and you’re asked if there is anything else they need to know about as well as GF. I always mentioned being vegetarian, that way they know to take care to avoid cross contamination with meat.
The order is then prepared separately out the back in the kitchen. We ended up having the same manager take our order at all of the food places over the three days, so he quickly got to know us by name which was nice. Rather than waiting around, he would ask each time where we were sitting, and bring our food to us.
We only ordered once from here – after all there is only so much food you can try and fit in in 3 days! My husband said the GF chicken tenders were really good, and I enjoyed the vegetarian GF burger that I had, along with GF burger bun.
Pinnochio’s Pizzeria is obviously self explanatory. Pizza, pizza and more pizza! We indulged in these a couple of times as they were really nice. Same process as before with the manager coming to take our order, and it being prepared separately. There is a notice on the counter saying that they do gluten-free bases with a disclaimer at the bottom about not being able to confirm anything is free from cross contamination. Any coeliac will know and understand that any food places, unless they have a 100% gluten free kitchen, will say this.
We felt very safe and secure with all food preparation and procedures followed. As with other cruise lines, Disney have special allergy chefs, along with a specific area of their kitchens where only the allergy orders (including quick serve food orders) are prepared.
The final quick serve eating place around the pool area is Daisy’s Delites. Here they attempt to offer healthier options than the fast food places, and you can get sandwiches, paninis, salad bowls, fruit and cookie. I was told by my favourite manager that they could make everything there gluten free. Wow! I had a cheese and spinach panini from there one morning (I had to test something out for the blog, right?!) and it was really good.
What’s even better, and a tip I learnt from one of the Facebook groups I was on for the summer UK Disney cruises was that they had gluten-free cookies there. And oh my, they were good! As well as being GF, they were also dairy free and nut free. Even more importantly, they were delicious!
Even if you just want a pre-packaged cookie, they call the manager to hand it over to you. That is how seriously they take allergies/intolerances and specific dietary requirements. My adult son had some fruit one afternoon, and I decided I really wanted some grapes. I’m a bit fussy, and only like green ones. Anyway, the manager was called, and sent down to the kitchen for fresh grapes. Unfortunately, after 10 minutes, red ones appeared. The manager was so apologetic (totally not his fault), and then asked if we would mind if he changed his gloves, took some green ones from the bowl and washed them for us. I’ll be honest, that’s what I would have expected to happen in the first place! This is just one little example of how Disney went above and beyond with their service. It made my husband and I feel like they took gluten-free dining and preparation so seriously, and also want their guests who do have these dietary requirements to not feel as if they’re missing out.
A couple of other places were you can get snacks are Eye Scream, which serves soft serve ice-cream, and Cove Cafe, situated by the adult pool. We didn’t get chance to check out the ice-cream, although I anticipate that it would have been fine, and if not able to eat it, they probably would have sent down to the kitchen to get some that we could eat!
Cove Café sells paid for coffee and other refreshments. They have a cabinet full of sweet treats, which in the past (prior to being GF) I have enjoyed, as they are completely free. I did have a quick look in there, and whilst everything was labelled up, there was nothing gluten free on offer. I didn’t get the opportunity to explore this any further as it was quite busy the one time we went in. My husband did get a coffee from Cove Café and asked about the gluten free snacks and they said they could get some – then while his coffee was being made some fresh snacks and cakes arrived and he was offered a rice krispie cake which he was told was GF.
Pre-Ordering Meals in the Main Dining Room and MDR Menus
We didn’t bother going to the restaurant to try and pre-order our first nights meal, as it didn’t seem worth it to be honest. As you’ll see from the menus below, there are gluten-free options listed on all of them (although none that were also vegetarian, but I’m getting used to that!). Having cruised Disney many times before, I know just how important service is to them, so I had every faith we’d be able to sort something out for that first night (which we did).
At that first dinner, we ordered breakfast for the next morning in the main dining room, and also dinner for the next evening. We could have ordered lunch too, but we decided to go with one of the quick serve options. On our last evening, we actually ordered our breakfast for the buffet the following morning as well (although I know we could have gone there and ordered what we wanted and had it cooked for us).
Essentially, Disney will do all they can to accommodate any request. They want their passengers to be happy, and that includes with their food choices. If you want something off menu, as long as you give them notice, they’ll do it. Before having to be gluten free, I’d cruised DCL and have fantastic memories of them serving me platters of mozzarella sticks just because I said I enjoyed them. I asked our servers if they could be made gluten free, and for dinner on evenings two and three, was served awesome GF mozzarella sticks!
Just like with the care and attention they show in the quick serve places, Disney really do go that extra mile to ensure that you are well fed and happy!
In general all of the menus are available on the DCL app. They do have paper ones available for dinner, so that you can pre-order. I imagine that they would do for lunch as well, but I didn’t manage to get any, as we didn’t go to a MDR for lunch. Unfortunately no breakfast menus either, but what I will say is that they will cook you anything you want. Definitely make sure to ask for the gluten-free Mickey waffles, and/or the gluten-free buttermilk pancakes. Both were delicious!
Main Dining Room Dinner
Before I talk about the food, I need to explain how dining works on Disney ships. DCL do something called “rotational dining”, which is a totally different concept to any other cruise line.
Each Disney ship has three main dining rooms (included in the fare), and when you board, you are given your dining rotation (which used to be on your boarding card, but is now on the app). This indicates which dining room you’ll be in, and what table number you’ll be sat at. For example, on the Disney Magic, the three restaurants are called Lumieres, Animator’s Palate and Rapunzel’s Royal Table. On our cruise card (we were lucky to have it printed on there, as it changed to app only shortly afterwards) it said LAR 50. This meant that we were in Lumieres on night 1, Animator’s on night 2, and Rapunzel’s on night 3, and were sat at table 50 in each restaurant. For longer cruises they simply repeat the rotations.
The best part about this is that your serving team stay with you, and also rotate round the restaurants with you. This means that each night, you will be looked after by the same server, assistant server and head server, so they really get to know you and your preferences/requirements.
There are two sittings, on this cruise we chose first sitting, which was at 6pm. When we arrived, our serving team introduced themselves, then went round the table confirming who was who, and had notes relating to any dietary requirements (obviously if you don’t inform Disney beforehand, then they’re not mind readers so won’t know this!). They correctly had it listed that both my husband and I are coeliac, and that I was also vegetarian.
I love the way that Disney do rotational dining, I think it makes life so much easier, particularly if you have dietary restrictions. You’re not constantly having to explain that you’re gluten free like you do on other cruise lines, and it takes away that feeling you can often get of being difficult, or feeling self-conscious.
Anyway, on to the food! Each evening we were given gluten-free rolls, which were served separately to the rest of our table. The servers would confirm if the dip was gluten free (on each of our 3 nights it was) and we were given a separate portion just for us, as well as individual butter portions. The first evening there was the usual discussion about what I could have, as no main course were vegetarian. Good old GF pasta was offered (it’s a good job I love pasta!), and was very nice.
At the end of the meal it was explained to us that we could order any meals we wanted for the next day, so we decided on breakfast and dinner. I had read about the GF Mickey waffles on the Facebook groups, so I asked for those, and my husband asked for GF pancakes and bacon. For dinner, I asked if they could make me gluten-free mozzarella sticks for starters, followed by mushroom risotto (with no parmesan) for main. We then asked if they could adapt one of the desserts on the main menu to be gluten-free and vegetarian (no gelatine) for me. What actually came the second night was a little bit different, but they’d tried!
For our last night I’d asked if the vegetarian main could be adapted to be GF, which they did, and they also made the dessert GF and vegetarian as well. Plus they gave us a second dessert, which was an ice-cream sundae with broken bits of GF cookie crumbled through it. Delicious!
As I’ve previously said, if there is nothing suitable on the menu, or even if you don’t like the options, they will try their hardest to make whatever you want.
Main Dining Room Breakfast
Each morning, at least one of the main dining rooms is open for sit down breakfast, as well as the buffet. For the first two mornings, we chose to do a sit down breakfast with some of our family members. We ordered the evening before, so simply told out servers that, then waited for our food to arrive.
There is some gluten-free cereal available, but there was only one choice. This is down to supply issues, which the whole country is struggling with right now, I understand that under usual circumstances there is more of a choice.
Servers go round offering pastries whilst people are waiting for their main breakfast. I asked if there was anything gluten free, and a short while later the server returned with a couple of pre-packaged chocolate muffins. These were from the “We Love Cake” brand, and were actually really light and moist (completely different to the muffins we were able to get on our Princess cruise!).
If you’re on a Disney cruise, you HAVE to try the gluten-free Mickey waffles! These were so good served with lashings of syrup! My husband had pancakes with bacon and syrup, and said they were really good. We could have had a more traditional cooked breakfast, but we saved that for our last morning!
We went for a buffet breakfast on our last morning, as I had a feeling it would be quiet (it wasn’t advertised as being open on the app!), and I was right. At dinner the previous evening we had pre-ordered, but you can also turn up to the buffet and the usual rules for Disney apply – tell them you’re gluten-free and they’ll get a manager out to take your order. In our case, we let them know that we had pre-ordered, and after a short while, our breakfast was hand delivered up from the main dining room (having been freshly cooked) by our lovely head server from the Main Dining Room – talk about personal service!
Anyway, we both went for ‘proper’ food to set us up for the journey home. I was over the moon that after three different cruises with different lines over the summer, I could finally have a vegetarian gluten-free sausage for breakfast! The hash browns were also gluten free, then there were the usual egg choices as well as bacon for my husband.
From previous experience, Cabanas is usually packed full of cruisers on the last morning, but as I said, it wasn’t advertised as being open on the app (but I had seen it mentioned in the Facebook groups, so checked with our servers the previous evening). The whole experience was actually really relaxing because it was so quiet, and a lovely last breakfast with family before disembarking.
With it being all on the app, I again don’t have a copy of the room service menu. And with so much food on offer, we didn’t actually get time to try room service. However, from what I read of the many reviews of the summer sailings, there are numerous coeliac passengers who reported being able to enjoy room service food and treats. From our personal experience eating around the ship, I would fully expect to be able to get a number of the dishes on the menu as gluten free. I happen to know (from previous experience!) that you can get cookies delivered, so at the very least they could send up up a plate full of the wonderful David’s GF cookies.
There are no real drink packages on Disney cruise ships (other than bottles of wine for dinner), but DCL do allow you to take on 2 bottles of wine or 6 beers per person (and on standard cruises where you actually stop at ports, you are allowed to re-stock). We both took on our allowance, so didn’t buy any alcohol on board. However, I did investigate, and had it confirmed by one of the bars that they have the gluten-free Daura Damm on board. Useful to know, and three out of the four lines we’ve travelled have it on board, which is great new. Come on Princess, follow the other cruise lines leads!
In spite of my previous knowledge of DCL compared to other cruise lines, I’ve tried to be as impartial as possible when reviewing the gluten-free dining options. Whether I’ve been successful or not I don’t know! However, I can honestly say that the pair of us were blown away with just how well Disney caters for anyone that needs to be gluten free (and I’ve read similar things from people with other intolerances/allergies etc).
The rotational dining definitely helps, because you get to know your servers, and them you. On other cruise lines, it’s not uncommon to be sat in different areas of the dining room and have a different server every time. This means explaining over and over again your requirements, which can get a little bit wearing sometimes, particularly when you encounter some language barriers. On Disney, the pleasantness and chattiness of the serving team doesn’t seem forced at all, and they all genuinely want to make you as happy as possible. The service is impeccable, and although we’ve had some good experiences on our other cruises this summer, this far surpassed any of them.
Having a manager who’s job it is to take all the “allergy” orders at the quick serve places is a brilliant idea, and I would love to see other cruise lines adopt this to help their coeliac and allergy passengers safely get food. It was the same in the buffet, having one person who’s sole job it was was to walk you up and down the buffet then take your order for it to be cooked separately is so reassuring. There was none of the rush we’ve felt on other cruise lines, where a chef comes out and whizzes through everything at warp speed!
I’m not even going to separate this into a positives and negatives section like I have with the other three staycation cruises, as there really was nothing negative to say. If I was being really picky, then I guess the lack of gluten-free vegetarian and even vegan options by default is disappointing, although I am by now used to it. This isn’t just a cruise ship problem though, it’s restaurants in general. There seems to be a general assumption that anyone who is gluten free can’t possibly have any other dietary requirements, such as being vegetarian or vegan. That’s just a little rant for my personal circumstances though. And while there may not be options printed on the menu, Disney proved with every meal that they are more than happy to accommodate all of those needs.
I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out how impressed we were with DCL! When I think back to our first cruise of the summer with MSC through to this one, there is simply no comparison. P&O were pretty good, and Princess not bad, but Disney were a different level. I can’t recommend them enough for a fantastic gluten-free cruise experience, it was simply outstanding.
Of course, the sticking point of this might be the cost of the cruise in the first place. DCL cruises tend to me more expensive than the majority of other cruise lines, and other than these summer staycation cruises (which were a one-off) are limited in the cruises they have departing from the UK. The Magic will be back over next summer, doing her European cruises, so if you want to check out where and when, it’s worth having a look at the DCL website.