When the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder debuted, they both came equipped with Parrot Cay, a restaurant with Caribbean-themed menu and decor, and a bird call-laced sound track. While not exactly an epic fail, it wasn’t long before cruisers decided they could easily skip dinner at Parrot Cay in favor of Palo, or even :::gasp::: fast food from the pool deck. This will all change with Tiana’s Place.
The Appetizer of My Tiana’s Place Review: Setting the Scene for the Review to Follow
First, some history: Parrot Cay was converted to Carioca’s during the Magic’s 2013 “reimagining,” which meant the handwriting was on the perch for the Wonder’s Parrot Cay as well. In the case of Carioca’s conversion, they replaced one parrot with another (José Carioca, a beloved-but-second-string Disney character from the 1940s). Now, however, Disney has replaced a parrot with a frog. That’s Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, the animated feature released in 2009.
It had been somewhat disappointing that, for the Magic, Disney simply attached Jose Carioca’s name to a fairly nondescript decor package. This time around, Disney Imagineering has gone several steps beyond, because in proper Disney Parks fashion, Tiana’s Place has a back story, characters, and music, lifted right from a Disney animated feature.
Was Disney’s The Princess and the Frog a hit on the same scale as Frozen? No, though it certainly didn’t do badly. However, synergies can be everything. As Disney’s themed restaurants go, Tiana’s Place has a cooked-to-order back story. A fair portion of the film is set in New Orleans restaurants, and waitress/aspiring chef Tiana dreams of owning her own establishment (Someday, my prix fixe will come…). You’d almost think the screenwriters had a themed dining experience in mind from the start!
Oh, The Princess and the Frog has found its way into the parks and the cruise line in other ways, most notably at Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, where the street entertainment has included The Princess and the Frog production numbers for quite a while. And then there’s the Golden Mickeys stage show right here on the Disney Wonder, which added a Princess and the Frog segment a year or so back. (I doubt that change was a complete coincidence, but Disney’s not talking.) Princess Tiana even makes an appearance center stage in the show’s finale, right after Mickey and Minnie, which, I suspect, is a brand-new addition to the show. If, as I did, you happen to attend The Golden Mickeys just before dining at Tiana’s Place… talk about a perfect setup! You may as well call it “Tiana’s Night.”
To me, one of the most noteworthy features of Tiana’s Place is the live music (check out the video of it!). Now, one of the joys of dining on Disney Cruise Line, as at Disney’s parks and resorts, is that there’s no shortage of great, recorded Disney music. However, live performances at dinner are less common. This is definitely a first for the cruise line, and I’m hard-pressed to think of many examples for the rest of Disney Parks and Resorts (well, I’m a bit of a Disney geek, so actually, I can think of a fair number). At Walt Disney World there are the Hoop De Doo Revue and Spirit of Aloha dinner shows, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, the German entertainers at Biergarten, the pianist at Casey’s Corner, the belly dancer at Restaurant Marrakesh, live music at ‘Ohana and Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian, and the live harpist at Victoria and Albert’s (sorry, Sonny Eclipse at Cosmic Ray’s does not count). Disneyland has the famed Golden Horseshoe Saloon, of course. I’m sure there are more examples, so feel free to chime in. Still, those are a drop in the bucket when you consider the big picture.
The Main Course of My Tiana’s Place Review: The Actual Review
Our dining rotation brought us to Tiana’s Place on the first night out from Galveston. I have to admit I stole an early peek (and many photos) while the Wonder was still tied up to the pier. What I saw was a more-than-pleasant surprise. The hallway leading to Tiana’s Place is now a brick-walled New Orleans alley trimmed in green wrought iron. Those with sharp eyes may even spy a small poster that tells the restaurant’s back story. Once through the entrance you’re immersed in a classic, French Quarter environment with avocado green tablecloths, white high-backed chairs vaguely reminiscent of bent cane, brass chandeliers with glass hurricane lamp shades, hanging baskets of ferns, deep red carpets with a green trailing vine overlay, lots of white on the walls, and a fair amount of gold accents. The far end of the room now includes a low stage, set with an upright piano and acoustic bass.
I was impressed when the place was empty, but Tiana’s Place really comes to life at dinner time. Tiana, dressed as a 1920s-era cabaret entertainer, is on hand at the podium to greet arriving guests, and she works the room throughout the meal to ensure everyone’s having a good time. When she isn’t on stage to emcee the entertainment, she’s table-hopping. The current house jazz trio, The Crawfish Crooners (another band will replace them in January 2017), plays a nice range of jazz melodies on piano, bass, and sax, drawing from The Princess and the Frog, Dixieland and Jazz Era standards, and classic jazz-influenced Disney tunes including, “The Bare Necessities,” “Cruella DeVil,” and “Everybody Wants to be a Cat.” The band is on stage for most of the meal, taking just a long enough break that guests can have a bit of quiet conversation.
But hey, this is a restaurant! What about the food at Tiana’s Place? Simply put, this is the best New Orleans-style meal I’ve had at a Disney restaurant. I started with “Prince Naveen’s Cajun Charcuterie Board – cured pork shoulder, duck rillette, duck pastrami, saucisson, Cajun egg, spiced mustard and pickles.” This is the kind of thing you might see in a gastro pub or similar foodie establishment. The assortment of sliced meats and accoutrements was brought to the table on a small slab of black stone, the savory meats at proper, room temperature. And it came with the cutest little French baguette, just slightly thicker than a bread stick. My hat’s off to anyone who can bake a loaf that small and not have it come out as hard as a pretzel. So, my meal was off to a great start.
I followed that with “New Orleans Seafood Pepper Pot – a Creole bouillabaisse with calamari, shrimp, scallops, and flat leaf parsley.” Some of you may know I’m a seafood fanatic, and few forms of seafood make me happier than a good seafood stew. This one certainly made me very, very happy. Though the serving came in a tiny, covered crock… like a jewelry box, very good things can come in small packages. I’m not sure why they call it “pepper pot,” as it wasn’t at all peppery (unless you count finely-diced green and red bell peppers). The medium-thin seafood broth was generously flavored with saffron, as a true bouillabaisse should. And that satisfying soup covered a pair of big, plump, perfectly poached sea scallops and a couple of equally delectable shrimp. Yes, there were also tender bits of calamari, but the shrimp and scallops were so good, I hardly noticed the squid. Bottom line, none of the seafood was rubbery or flavorless, which, unfortunately, is the often case when restaurants put shrimp and scallops into a soup. Someone in that huge, mass-production kitchen really knows and respects his or her seafood.
One good seafood temptation leads to another. For my main course at Tiana’s Place I chose “Cajun Spiced Sea Bass on shrimp jambalaya with crisp fennel salad and remoulade.” Again, my hat is off to whoever runs the kitchen’s fish station! Though the serving seemed small, it was incredibly satisfying. A generous hunk of lightly seared, moist and flaky sea bass sat atop a small bed of Creole-style rice cooked in a spicy, red seafood broth. “Juicy” and “rice” aren’t usually terms that go together, but that’s the word that’s stuck in my mind. The fish was actually mildly spiced; the real spice was saved for a pair of seared shrimp served alongside the jambalaya, as tasty as any I’ve had in quite a while. (I suspect these are the same shrimp used for the shrimp and grits appetizer – definitely a good reason to order that, too, should you have the opportunity – it sure looked good from where I sat.) The only disappointment was the shaved fennel, which was nearly flavorless. If it had been more flavorful I would have complained that there was too little of it – as things stood, it was little more than a garnish, and like too many garnishes, failed to enhance the main ingredients. My dinner companion ordered the roast beef, rare. The forkful I tried was perfectly alright, but why someone with fairly adventuresome tastes would order something so simple when there were so many other temptations on this menu…
By the way, Tiana isn’t the only character on hand. Louis, the large, over-stuffed ‘gator from The Princess and the Frog is also in attendance. He visits tables in the company of a crew member whose only job seems to be to prevent Louis’ wagging tail from playing havoc with the glassware at neighboring tables.
Just when you think the evening’s been thoroughly entertaining, Tiana, Louis, and the band take to the stage to lead the dining room staff and guests in a Mardi Gras parade that snakes its way around the room, several times. Dinnertime parades have become something of a cruise line tradition, but this one has to be the best, thanks to that energy boost from Tiana, Louis, and the Crawfish Crooners.
Then our server brought out the dessert list, with a menu cover that depicts a dimly-lit bayou scene from The Princess and the Frog. Then our server told us to press a little red dot in the upper left corner, and voila, the scene was now dotted with little blinking fireflies (well, tiny LED lights)! At first, I couldn’t help but think of over-priced greeting cards that play Happy Birthday, but I was in such a good mood by then that it qualified as “surprise and delight.”
So, on to dessert at Tiana’s Place. That New Orleans classic, beignets, tops the list, and it’s hard to move farther down the list, despite the presence of other sweet New Orleans goodies, like a Bananas Foster sundae (alas, one of my companions at table found it a disappointment). At the bottom of the list was the Signature Dessert, “Southern Style Pecan Nut Tart with bourbon caramel sauce.” I figured, “If it’s the Signature dessert, it has to be worth trying,” but I also had to have the beignets. So, in classic cruising style, I ordered both. Quite honestly, the beignets ought to be the Signature Dessert. That pecan tart was quite nice, an individual pastry shell filled to the top with chopped pecans and garnished with a little squirt of rich, chocolate mousse. My disappointment was that it wasn’t particularly sweet. In other words, this is not your grandmother’s Southern Pecan Pie, or a pecan praline. It’s a refined, adult pastry for those who find ice cream sundaes to be way too sweet.
Back to the beignets… Heavenly! Two warm nuggets of deep-fried, doughnut-y goodness. A gorgeous, deep brown, crispy-tender crust and a warm, light and fluffy interior, more wondrous than a fresh Krispy Kreme, generously dusted with powdered sugar, without a hint of greasiness. That would have been enough (well, a paper bag full might not have been enough), but it came with a luscious, dark chocolate-and-coffee dipping sauce. Did I say heavenly? Let me say it again! Heavenly!
Altogether, Tiana’s Place brings a unique, thoroughly enjoyable dining experience to the Disney Wonder. It makes me wonder which ship will be next to have a similar dining upgrade.
Tiana’s Place Menu
- Boudin Sausage Fritters – minced pork and boudin sausage breaded and fried, served with bourbon aíoli
- Prince Naveen’s Cajun Charcuterie Board – cured pork shoulder, duck rillette, duck pastrami, saucisson, Cajun egg, spiced mustard and pickles
- Sautéed Gulf Shrimp and Grits with andouille sausage, grilled green onions and a smoked barbecue sauce
- Ahi tuna Tartare with mango, pine nuts, radish, and wasabi
Soups & Salads
- New Orleans Seafood Pepper Pot – a Creole bouillabaisse with calamari, shrimp, scallops, and flat leaf parsley
- Mama Odie’s Creamy Tomato Soup with chopped cilantro
- Iceberg Wedge with pepper jack cheese, bacon, tomato, basil and a creamy Thousand Island dressing
- Pickled Gulf Shrimp and Satsuma Orange Salad with confit red onions, spinach leaves, and frisée lettuce
- Eudora’s Artichoke Ravioli with sautéed spinach, lemon butter, sage, and pecorino cheese
- Honey-Roasted Butternut Squash with celery and bell peppers simmered in tomato sauce with greens and white rice
- Charlotte La Bouff’s Bucatini Pasta with pancetta, oyster mushrooms, eggplant, spinach, peas, basil, and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Cajun Spiced Sea Bass on shrimp jambalaya with crisp fennel salad and remoulade
- Roasted Creole Half Chicken with toasted corn, pecan bread pudding, buttered chard, and chicken jus
- James’s Roasted Port Tenderloin – sliced pork tenderloin with white rice, and greens on an andouille sausage stew
- Big Daddy’s Roasted Prime Rib of Beef with a double-baked potato, broccolini, roasted carrots, and a red wine veal sauce
- Herbed Brioche with roasted onion dip
Lighter Note Offerings
- Warm Water Lobster Salad with avocado, butternut squash, fennel, endive, grapefruit, jicama, hazelnuts, and citrus dressing
- Grilled Grain-fed Sirloin Steak *
- Slow-Roasted Breast of Chicken *
- Oven-Baked Filet of Salmon *
- Above items served with garden vegetables and choice of white rice or baked potato
- Tiana’s Buttermilk Beignets dusted with powdered sugar and served with chocolate espresso dipping sauce
- Chocolate Doberge Gâteau – six-layer sponge cake filled with chocolate Chantilly crême
- Mama Odie’s White Chocolate Bread Pudding with praline sauce and vanilla ice cream
- New Orleans Bananas Foster Sundae – French vanilla ice cream with rum-flamed caramelized bananas and whipped cream
- Signature Dessert : Southern Style Pecan Nut Tart with bourbon caramel sauce
- No Sugar Added : Lemon Raspberry Mousse Bombe – citrus lemon mousse embedded with fresh raspberries
Read more about the new places and changes in our article, “Disney Wonder Reimagined: Live Report on Changes.”