Venice continues to top many lists as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Many whom travel to this land often seek out the most popular mode of transportation around this ancient city, the gondola. The term “palo” describes the pole held by the capable gondoliers as they maneuver their way through the most famous canals in the world. It also describes the colorful poles that line the waterways in Venice. In celebration of the importance of Italy and Italian culture, Disney Cruise Line sought to create an experience inspired by the Italian cuisine provided to those travelers seeking out authentic Venetian dishes. They named it Palo.
Disney’s desire to honor Italy comes from the fact that the two original DCL ships, the Disney Wonder and the Disney Magic, were constructed in the nation of Italy. This Venice-inspired restaurant aims to bring the diner the full experience of an Italian culinary adventure. Away from the hustle-and-bustle of the traditional rotational dining, Palo remains tucked away in the most aft portions of the fleet with glorious views of the open sea all around. If timed just right, restaurant-goers may experience the beautiful sunset as they dine.
Disney designed Palo as an adult-only dining option for those wishing to remove themselves from the busy (and often loud) dining environment and enjoy a quiet dining experience. They further strive for an elegant night of dining by utilizing a dress-code, meaning that some traditional cruise wear may not be acceptable. Recently, our family traveled with DCL during one of their 7-day voyages to the Eastern Caribbean and experienced a remarkable meal at Palo.
First, I must provide a warning. When dining at Palo, bring your appetite. The chefs and servers seek to provide the diner with an experience they may not soon forget. Multiple courses fill the evening including antipasti, bread services, appetizers, main entrees, and of course, dessert. Upon entering Palo, servers greet their guests immediately and begin the experience with conversation about the cruise adventure. As one walks through the lobby, a beautiful chandelier hangs above the entryway. Palo is shear luxury, from the beautiful carpeting to the floor-to-ceiling windows providing the amazing view. Fresh cut flowers sit upon each table. The Palo crew leaves absolutely no detail out and no need is considered minor. For example, for diners drinking iced tea, Palo provides ice cubes made out of frozen iced tea so that melting doesn’t dilute the beverage.
The antipasti course includes favorites such as: prosciutto, marinated olives, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and a personal favorite, the parmesan reggiano cheese with a drizzle of their balsamic vinegar. This course, along with the delightful bread service, provides the diner with a delicious taste of things to come. Dinner could stop here and most would be satisfied with the meal provided.
Restaurant patrons often utilize the cliché “melt-in-your-mouth” when they try to describe a great meal, even though the phrase does not carry the literal meaning. Nevertheless, Palo serves one particular appetizer that will literally do that, the soft potato gnocchi which I have ordered every time we’ve dined at Palo. This dish does not disappoint. The gnocchi are tossed in a piennolo tomato sauce and garnished with kale and caramelized grape tomatoes. The piennolo tomato is a sweet, grape variety grown in the southern region of Campania, around Mount Vesuvius.
As the belly begins to expand, entrée time arrives. Some within the party ordered the grilled prime beef tenderloin which was served with pancetta potatoes, sautéed spinach, and either a red wine reduction sauce or a gorgonzola cheese sauce. I didn’t order this dish during this visit but I have had it in the past. During my previous visit to Palo, I found the beef both tender and flavorful. I also found that both sauces combined make for an added burst of goodness and calories.
My wife ordered the butternut agnolotti, a stuffed ravioli served with sage-brown butter and topped with amaretti and buffalo mozzarella. The chef prepared the dish perfectly given the fact that she likes pasta just past al dente. The sweetness of the sauce complimented the savory nature of the buffalo mozzarella. This is quite impressive given that she is a person that rarely strays away from a red sauce.
I rarely stray from my favorite dish — the osso bucco. The staff slow roasts a center cut of veal shank and serves it with a gremolata and Milanese risotto. When I’m asked, “What do you want for your last meal?” the answer is simple and obvious. The veal is so tender, the lightest pressure from your fork slides through the meat. The shank contains a tremendous amount of flavor and the risotto complimented the meal perfectly. The server even places a small spoon beside your dish. The first time I ordered this dish, I was confused about the purpose of the spoon. For those brave enough to try, the spoon scrapes the marrow out of the bone for the diner to try. The marrow provides a spoonful of pure, mouthwatering flavor.
Just prior to your entrée arriving, the server asks about any plans for dessert. This is mainly due to the fact that one of the dishes Palo specializes in, the chocolate soufflé, takes a considerable amount of time to prepare fresh. Palo serves the chocolate soufflé with a vanilla bean gelato and both vanilla and chocolate sauces. After the soufflé arrives, the server teaches the guests how to “finish” the preparation. The guest cuts a hole into the soufflé with a utensil and then pours either the chocolate or vanilla — or for some both — sauces into the soufflé. During a previous cruise upon the ship, the crew of Palo provided us with a trial of a new soufflé, an amaretto version. Although the chocolate soufflé is absolutely divine, I have found that I prefer the amaretto soufflé which is served with an espresso gelato and the traditional vanilla sauce. Thankfully, Disney added the amaretto soufflé to the regular menu and guests now enjoy this version as well.
For a restaurant to be successful, quality food cannot stand alone. That food must be served by experienced staff that provide the guest with a memorable experience. Each time our family dines at Palo, we feel amazed that the service just keeps getting better. Again, no need is considered minor. During our last cruise, eight of us dined together as a family and empty plates never remained on our table and our glasses never became empty. Our server made recommendations for both the experienced Palo guest as well as the novice guest. My grandmother dined with us at Palo and my son helped her cut her beef tenderloin. A server passing by caught the situation out of the corner of his eye and immediately came to the table and took over for my son. The Disney difference is in the attention to details.
While most of the DCL dining is included in the cost of the cruise, a meal at Palo does require a reservation and a slight upcharge of $30 per person plus gratuity. For Castaway Club Platinum members, DCL provides an included meal at Palo. Some ask if the experience at Palo warrants the upcharge. Overall, Palo has become the best dining experience I have had within “the Disney bubble,” either on land or on sea. I believe that Palo is well worth the added cost. It is a fine dining experience highlighting the flavors of Italy. Plus, given the upcharge, guest shouldn’t be afraid to order that extra appetizer or dessert. In the case of my son, the extra three desserts. The incredible service, food and atmosphere prevails during each of our Palo dining experiences and this is why it has become a must-do on our cruise adventures.