Cruising is almost sanonomous with eating. In fact unlike other vacations, food quality is one of the key factors used to determine a cruise ships rating. On a cruise ship you get the rare opportunity to dine out and try new things without having each tasting hit you in the wallet. For most cruise lines, dining is part of the overall price of the trip so you can eat to your hearts content, savor in an array of cuisine at each meal, and take your palette on an adventure. All without having to cook a thing yourself.
My introduction to cruise specialty dining
In recent years, a rise in cruise ship specialty restaurant’s has emerged. These offer upscale dining at an additional fee over and above your regular cruise purchase price. Upon hearing about this other dining option, I was skeptical. Why someone would spend additional money for a meal when the main dining room fare was varied, delicious and satisfying?
However, after one particular cruise experience, my husband and I overheard a woman literally gushing about the cuisine at one of these specialty restaurants. She stated it was the best meal she has ever had and continued to wax poetic about every dish, drink and breadstick she consumed. I was curious but still not convince that it could be that much better.
Last year, our family enjoyed a short 3-day cruise with another family. We decided to treat them to the specialty Italian restaurant aboard the “Disney Magic.” The price was affordable, roughly $30 per person additional, which is about what you would spend at a local steakhouse. However, the quality, incredible flavor and presentation was nothing like we ever expected. It was literally the best meal we have ever had!
The restaurant was called Palo, named after the signature long poles used by gondoliers in Venice. On our most recent cruise aboard “the Magic” me and my husband made a special point to revist this amazing culinary memory. However, you don’t have to be sailing “the Magic, Palo can be found aboard any Disney ship. To book your dining experience for brunch or dinner, you can do so when you board or at the Disney cruise website. Using your reservation number you can reserve your table roughly 90 days in advance.
Dress code for Palo is dress pants or slacks and a collared shirt for men, and a dress, skirt or pants and a blouse for women. Jeans in good condition are allowed by why would you? You can wear jeans everyday.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is calm, serene with a great view of the ocean. Once seated you are introduced to your server who pretty much waits on you hand and foot. I marveled at the waiter’s uncanny talent of knowing when to check in at your table and when to allow you time to enjoy your dishes. The first course is an appetizer of anti-pasto, various cured meats, cheeses, olives and bread. I could have filled up on this all by itself. It was so good.
We are not big wine drinkers but your wait staff are happy to recommend a wine selection to pair with your meal. Likewise, I have heard the wine specially made for Palo is very good. For the appetizer, I had selected the gnocchi and my husband had a shrimp dish. On our prior trip, since we were a large group, we pretty much tried everything and it was all amazing! So do not worry if you have a hard time deciding the waiter will have you try both.
By this point it is easy to fill up on appetizers and anti-pasto, but hold back because the entrée and dessert are coming. Before the main event, there is one more stop at the dishes Italy is know for…pasta. If I had to pick my favorite dish of the dinner the Butternut Squash Angelloti (Ravioli) would be the winner.
Silky, pillowy pasta dough enrobed a sweet buttery, flavorful filling, topped with bits of almond cookies. It was probably the best dish I have ever had in my life! Yes, it was that good. (I am trying desperately to recreate it at home BTW.) If you book at Palo you can not leave without trying this dish. It is memorable.
Next up was the entrée. There is a nice range of fish, beef and chicken dishes, like Osso Bucco and Beef Tenderloin. I was fortunate on our last experience to have the opportunity to sample most of the main dishes offered. Honestly, they are all incredible. You really can not go wrong no matter what you choose.
For me the standout was the fish. The server brings you a gorgeous roasted fish and gracefully debones it right there in front of you. It actually made me think of my childhood and my dad who use to debone fresh caught fish for me. But he struggled and mashed up the flaky meat while the waiter pulled the whole bone out effortlessly. Not only was this fish beautifully presented it (like everything else at Palo) tasted incredible. It was light, flaky savory and flavorful. I am not a huge fish eater but this made me a convert.
Finally, we get to my favorite part of any meal. The dessert. Being a sweets lover I couldn’t wait for this. Considering how great the entire meal was I actually felt like they could do little to top all of these amazing dishes.
The perfect combination of hot and cold, crunch and creamy, with a deep, rich chocolate flavor. It is a perfect little ramekin holding the decadent contents of this dish. Along side you find the yin and yang of sauces, chocolate and vanilla. As your mouth waters your server breaks the surface of the soufflé and pours in the hot sauces. Then finally places a circle of vanilla ice cream which starts to melt and mix upon impact. It is perfection in dessert form.
The only problem we experienced with our first time to Palo was not over eating. We were so overwhelmed by how good the food was we over indulged…on everything. By the end of the meal we were stuffed and had to waddle out of the restaurant. Me and my husband resisted that urge this time. Instead we paced ourselves thoroughly enjoying every moment, every taste and savoring every bite.
If you every have the opportunity to have dinner at Palo do not pass it up. Next time we are heading for there brunch.