Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Disney Cruise Food

Well, I did the unthinkable! I spent the New Year’s celebration aboard a Disney Cruise ship, The Wonder. I was with my wife and 31 of her family members! As you can guess, for most people the main focus of the trip was the kids. My main focus was the feeding frenzy that accompanies cruising. There where 2700 cruise ship guests (meaning our group made up more than 1% of the total guests aboard).

First off, I would like to commend Disney on doing a good job in designating adult only sections of the ship and not making them overly Disney, no Goofy-brew or Donald Daiquiri’s. Just Stella and Jameson on the rocks for me.

In deference to vacation slide show nightmares of the past, I will not bore you with the details of the cruise itself. Just know that my wife and I enjoy spending time with family but cruising of any sort is not my or my wife’s ideal vacation. But being fun loving people who like to drink, we can enjoy most situations with adequate liquid provisions.

First I want to make a general statement on the food: It was really, really good wedding food. What I mean is that you can tell it was mass-produced and cooked in steam trays and ovens but all in all it was satisfying and had decent flavor. I am not talking three star dining, but I have had worse food right here in San Francisco. I would dare say that the food was better than the food at Chow. There where two distinct food services on the boat, day and night. The cruise had all the normal fare during the day, pizza, hot dogs, burgers and so on. Disney did a good job of providing healthy alternatives to fried foods; they had wraps (of course, uggh) and many different types of salad. The night was taken up with a sit down 3-course dinner (well actually you could order as many courses as you wanted) at a set time in a fine dining setting. I will mainly focus on the dinner course as there was nothing exceptional (I use that term loosely) served during the day, with the exception of the mid-day buffet that was over-flowing with steamed shrimp, clam chowder, rare roast beef and piles of sushi. The shear quantity and variety of food being served is worth noting.
We have to approach discussion of dinner with a handicapping system, meaning, the highest rated food on the ship, a lobster bisque, will get an “A+” but on dry land the same dish would earn a solid “B”. By the way, halfway through the cruise I took a tour of the main kitchen, an impressive spectacle, but the two main things I learned are: First, there is no gas on the ship, so everything is done in either, an electrical oven, deep fryer or in a steam table. They do have a flat top and an electric grill to finish food but most of the cooking is done through those three methods. The amazing thing is that they managed to cook most dishes properly, the tuna was pink in the middle and the beef was medium. I mean I could have used things rarer, especially the duck, but hey, at least they’re trying to do it right. Secondly, they have a dish washing machine that can clean 1200 or 12,000 (I can’t remember which, but it was enough) dishes in 10 minutes. That caused massive kitchen envy in my wife and I.

The presentation of the food was nothing short of spectacular, which made a number of mediocre dishes somehow palatable, and the dining room did have some interesting features.

Here are a few of the dishes we ate at sea;

∑ Gruyere souffle with a tarragon and roasted pepper sauce- this was a good dish but the souffle was too cakey - B-
∑ Tempura- Bad batter, no panko. - C
∑ An aspic with calamata olives, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese- Surprise of the trip, this was great, sweet and tangy, nice texture too - A
∑ Beef consume’ with beef “ravioli”- Not really a ravioli more like a wanton, the broth was great, the Ravioli was okay - A-
∑ Lobster bisque- Smooth, full of lobster flavor, nice mix of cream and alcohol - A+
∑ Pan fried tuna with Paella- Fish cooked well, but the Paella was a little dry- A
∑ Beef Wellington- beef cooked well and mushroom paste was very flavorful, pastry could have been a little flakier but still good-A
∑ Lobster tail on creamed celery root- lobster a little dry but they came around and pored butter over it. I guess here I’m grading the butter. - A
∑ Shrimp cocktail- shrimp frozen- B-
∑ Escargot - Not enough garlic but texture was good- A
∑ Vichyssoise – Needed one more straining and a little more cream- B
∑ Scallops in scalloped potato - This was an odd dish. It was sort of like shepherd’s pie with scallops, needed less potato but good flavor overall. - A-
∑ Duck sort of a l’orange - Great sauce and roasted cabbage, duck was a little over cooked - A-
∑ Various desserts - Cakes were no good but everything else was great (see pics). Again, nice presentation.

The chefs were not re-inventing the wheel here; they wanted to give a broad group of people solid food that they could relate to. I think they succeeded. I mean let’s face it the woman wearing the puffy-paint Mickey sweat shirt and speaking with a thicker twang than Kenny Rodgers isn’t going to be wolfing down the escargot (alright, them’s fighting words, but I calls it like I sees it). When you serve 2700 people a night you make the food for the 1500 in the middle and let the people on the ends of the food appreciation spectrum work it out. Even a food snob like me appreciated the effort and I feel relieved that I can honestly say to the hard working cooks on the Disney cruise-ship Wonder that the food was pretty good.

P.S. The best dish we had the entire time we were on the boat was something my sister-in law’s Filipino parents got from the Filipino head chief they befriended. It was chicken adobo. It was spicy and full of great flavors. Wish they’d put it on the menu.


Eryn said...

I don't understand why nobody has commented on this, it's a wonderful break down on the food.

I was searching for something to address the quality of the food on a Disney ship & you have put my mind at ease. I wish THEY were a little more forthcoming (maybe I just haven't stumbled upon it yet) about the menus on board.

I guess I just worry about being held hostage by french fries & chicken nuggets. ;)

Thanks for this post, even though it's 4 years old now, I enjoyed it.

Mental note: Befriend a chef.

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