Tiana’s Place Aboard the Disney Wonder
There are countless Disney movies that don’t get the love they deserve and I feel The Princess and the Frog is one of them. It features stunning old-school animation (i.e. the non-computer kind), has a beautiful score, and the best part for us travel lovin’ people, it has a non-fairy tale locale, New Orleans.
It was released in 2009 and obviously got majorly eclipsed by a certain “sisters tale” that came out in 2013 (I’m sure you all know which Disney movie I’m talking about that could probably be “let go” (don’t worry, that’s it for my puns in this post). However, imagine my immense surprise but also excitement when I learned that one of the new additions coming to the Disney Wonder cruise ship when it went into dry dock last fall would be Tiana’s Place, the restaurant. As in not only named after the sweet Disney princess with the Southern drawl, but one actually modeled after the restaurant the character of Tiana dreams of one day opening in the Crescent City (and finally does at the end). But the even cooler part? There would be live music while you dined, a first for the Disney Cruise Line.
So after the Alaskan landscape, which is what I was looking forward to the most (as is I’m sure everyone else who goes on an Alaskan cruise), Tiana’s was a close second. So whether you’re new to the Disney Cruise Line experience or are a veteran who just hasn’t had the chance yet to experience dining at Tiana’s Place, I thought I’d write a post on what it’s like and my overall thoughts.
Disney Cruise Line veterans know all about rotational dining, but for the benefit of anyone new, onboard all of the Disney Cruise ships, there are three main restaurants you will rotate among. If your cruise is longer than three nights, you then start back at the restaurant you dined at your first night. Don’t worry if you’re eating at the same restaurant three times on your seven night cruise; there are different menus each night.
For my Alaska cruise, I was actually assigned to dine at Tiana’s Place three times. However, we only ended up eating there twice as the second Tiana’s night we dined at Palo. Your dining assignment is totally random, fyi, although on your first day aboard the ship, you can always try to change it.
The ambiance and decor
After going aboard and grabbing lunch, Tiana’s Place was the first area I checked out on the ship. Thankfully the doors were open and I didn’t mind one bit poking around and exploring, camera in hand. I knew that come dinnertime, the whole of the restaurant would be utterly mobbed with kids, waiters, and everything else you can think of under tow, so now seemed as good a time as ever.
Tiana’s Place is located on deck 3 aft (the rear of the ship). Its entrance way immediately makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to New Orleans, what with the red bricks and Mardi Gras beads dangling from the sign. The inside of the dining room is probably one of my favorites of all the Disney Cruise ships (well, the Enchanted Garden is a close second). There wasn’t anything uber New Orleans style-wise in here, but it just meshed with the images I’ve seen of the Deep South at the turn of the last century.
I really liked the frog and lilypad lights. Like so much of the decor on the Disney ships, they were very subtle and understated.
There’s also a sign letting you know that the Crawfish Crooners will be performing at night. More on them below!
Okay, so New Orleans/Cajun food lovers (i.e. diehards) will probably scoff at the food served in Tiana’s Place ( not authentic or spicy enough) but keep in mind it’s a family cruise line with scores of kids so yes, it’s probably going to be a bit bland for some palates. However, the dining and kitchen staff does aim to please so if you requested hot for your Cajun Spiced Sea Bass, I’m sure they can accommodate.
Appetizers ranged from Boudin Sausage Fritters to Sauteed Gulf Shrimp and Grits complete with Andouille Sausage to Prince Naveen’s Cajun Charcuterie Board, which is what I ordered. It was delicious. There was also a New Orleans Seafood Pepper Pot. D was disappointed there was no gumbo on the menu but it seems that even from just last fall, Disney is still playing around with its Tiana’s Place menu.
I thought the entrees were a bit sparse on the authentic New Orleans fare. There wasn’t one item that was 100% New Orleans/Cajun (i.e. an iconic dish). Options included Charlotte La Bouff’s Bucatini Pasta, Big Daddy’s Roasted Prime-Rib of Beef, the Cajun Spiced Sea Bass, and a Roasted Creole Half Chicken. The chicken is what I ordered but when I asked to substitute the buttered chard for another vegetable, that somehow translated to me not getting the accompaniments of pecan bread pudding or toasted corn, so my meal was chicken and plain broccoli, (and why my dining experience was a major low this cruise).
My favorite part about the meal food-wise was the desserts because being a New Orleans-style eatery, of course Tiana’s Buttermilk Beignets were on the menu, complete with a delectable chocolate espresso dipping sauce. If there’s something wrong with you and you don’t go for the beignets, there’s also items like a White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Praline Sauce and a New Orleans Bananas Foster Sundae.
Just a note: As I mentioned above, there are always different menus every time you dine at the same restaurant, so if your cruise is longer than three nights, the “true” New Orleans/Cajun offerings will be had on the night that it’s Mardi Gras there.
One of my gripes with Disney cruises is that they often have the same characters on parade. Well, at Tiana’s, it’s not just Tiana in her princess green ball gown, but also in her snazzy 1920s flapper dress, bobbed hair and all. We had a wonderful table near to the stage and our first night dining there, we were able to meet her and take pictures. “This” Tiana is only around at Tiana’s Place, making her character a unique offering for the Disney Wonder ship.
And of course there was Louie. I was a tad disappointed when he didn’t come over to our section of the dining room our first night there. However, I later learned that one night he makes his rounds on one side of the dining room , a second night on the other side. We did indeed meet one of the best trumpet players ever this side of the Mississippi.
As I mentioned above, never before on a Disney Cruise ship has there been live entertainment with your meal (although you would think at a place like Carioca’s there would be, I mean hello, The Three Caballeros?). So with the enhancements added to the Wonder last fall, Disney Cruise Line definitely seemed to not only want to add a unique restaurant, but also a unique offering.
The Crawfish Crooners are a New Orleans-style jazz band who played for approximately an hour during two sets throughout the show. Songs ranged from true Dixieland favorites to Disney tunes performed in a jazz manner (i.e. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious). My favorite was probably the song from the Princess and the Frog movie, “Almost There.” Louie came out with his “trumpet” and occasionally Tiana would go on stage, give some shouts and even start singing (the woman playing her had a beautiful melodic voice, both speaking and singing).
On the night of the Mardi Gras party, beads were passed out between the dinner and dessert courses and then a parade was started with the head servers leading it, ultimately ending in a limbo event. My slight gripe is that the three main dining rooms are already incredibly loud and chaotic. Obviously adding live music, parade lines, etc, well, it’s definitely an even crazier and noisier dining experience. That’s why a quiet evening away at Palo is always a must.
Tiana’s Place is probably one of the best ideas Disney Cruise Line has had in a long time. There’s no better way to have one of your older movies shine than in the form of a dining venue that hundreds of people visit every night. The whole experience is decidedly unique and definitely a memorable gem of your cruise vacation. I hope in the future, Disney takes more of its often forgotten stories and adds them to its ships in some capacity.