Food For Thought

You don’t visit a go-kart place to ride roller coasters. Nor do you go to Walt Disney World Resort to dine out at restaurants.

Or do you?

That is almost certainly not…no way…your main objective for a visit.

But lots of people recommend various places to eat at Disney.

Some even claim that food is the very highlight of their trip.


Perhaps they need to get a life.

Disney dining can range from hot dogs to long, sit-down gourmet meals.

But most of us don’t really go there to dine.

Since we all do have to eat, however, here are some practical answers to help you enjoy the food you eat there (and it can be very good, even excellent, but let’s also add costly).

Dining at Disney: Answers

Question: What’s the best advice for eating at Disney or other theme parks?

Answer: Bring your own food as much as possible. That frees you from lines and paying generally higher prices than you would otherwise face outside of theme parks.

Q: But what if you are eating at the park?

A: Of course, you will do it. Just about everyone does. And it can be a lot of fun. You probably know this already but if you want a real relatively relaxed and sit-down meal, you should probably make a reservation. This is the case even in slow seasons when the park is not full to capacity. This is particularly true at Disney, though it is not a bad idea at other parks as well. Making Advanced Dining Reservations or ADRs at Disney by phone is simple and efficient. You can also book on line. Generally, reservations can be made 180 days in advance. Some restaurant booking times are longer, and some shorter.

Q: Why consider a Disney dining plan? Aren’t they expensive and unnecessary?

A: Variations include plans for pre-paid snacks or full meals. This depends on whether you are a single, couple or several-person family. You will have to choose but most guests find these plans are not only convenient but save them money. There’s even annual membership plans for frequent visitors. These can give you 20 percent off food and beverages, including alcohol, at most restaurants and lounges. They also offer free valet parking at resorts. If it’s money savings you want, don’t forget that the tourist industry in Orlando is eager to provide you with coupons and other discounts when you are away from Disney.

Character meals

Q: What about character meals? My kids are clamoring for them? Aren’t they boring and expensive?

A: Certainly not boring. You and your family can eat breakfast, lunch or dinner with Mickey or Minnie and everybody else. It does cost more but it’s also an experience that is usually worth the price.

Q: We don’t care about the price. We just want the best places to eat while we’re there.

A: For serious (and hungry) meat-lovers: Try Ohana at the Polynesian Resort. Servers make it easy on you by coming to your table with skewers of steak or pork, shrimp or chicken. This is not a buffet but there’s no limit to how much you can get.

For new experience cravings: Boma in the Animal Kingdom Lodge has won major food awards. The buffet is unusual for Central Florida because it is African-themed. A lot of offerings not found elsewhere. Many choices for vegans as well.

For the more conservative: Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort has buffets with many traditional foods. A good place also to see the characters. It’s just a short walk here to Cinderella’s Castle. And that’s also as good a place as any to start your day at the park.

For steak lovers: Le Cellier in Epcot is one of the best places for steak anywhere in Disney. World-class food at French Bistro gourmet (read expensive) prices.

For real gourmets: Just about everyone rates Victoria & Alberts as among the best anywhere.  Expect it to be expensive. But this is real fine dining not commonly found at theme parks or even outside of them (try Paris).

Minimizing restaurant risk

Q: I am experimental and open to any dining experience, or eating anywhere, I should say. But my partner is fussy and does not want to take any risks at restaurants. That means we always go back to the same places. We visit several times a year. Can you help me?

A: Sure. This answer is for Disney but it can be applied anywhere. Stick to one basic place on your first visit, somewhere you both like. Then, make it a point to try one or two other places. But take a careful look at the menus. Avoid risks. And we hope your partners, he or she is not the same way at trying out new rides.

Q: My partner is a sci-fi nut. He eats it, breathes it and only goes to movies about it. He also only reads science fiction. Where can I take him to eat at Disney?

A: The obvious answer is the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theatre in Hollywood Studios. The atmosphere is what it is all about (even more than the burgers, fries and milkshakes). You eat in 1950s style cars under the lights (no matter what time it is). It’s a “blast from the part.” Think of the movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Blob.” If you don’t like hamburgers, they also offer steak and pasta. Food for everyone and anyone (even outer space invaders).

Q: My partner likes Italian. Where do you recommend?

A: You can’t go far wrong at Via Napoli in Epcot. Among the best pizza you will ever order. But also the usual Italian array of lasagna and big chunks of crusty bread. Nice atmosphere, too. Will remind you of Southern Italy.

Famous Disney dishes

Q: I’m not a gourmet but I know Disney is famous for Dole Whips. They’re a great pineapple frozen item. We love them. But what else are can’t miss quick food items recommended at Disney?

A: In the summer, strawberries at Epcot. Many of them come from Central Florida. Huge, tasty.

Does ice cream taste better here? Answer: on hot days, sure. Sorbet from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom is traditional and tasty.

Cupcakes. They are huge. Often seasonal flavors depending on time of the year.

Frozen Lemonade and Raspberry Lemonade drinks. Some combine the two for a real slushy thirst-quencher. Cheshire Café near the Spinning Teacups is one good place to find them (and watch them spin as well).

Pretzels. Disney parks have a variety of pretzels to meet your palate’s needs. There’s even sweet cream cheese pretzels. If you have not tried them, give them a couple of bites. A great snack as you walk the park.

A toasted ham and cheese croissant from Boulangerie Patisserie in Epcot’s French Quarter is a good substitute for the traditional hamburger. Try the lemon tarts as well, another long-standing favorite here. Vive La France.

House-made chips are common at the resorts. But they are uncommonly good. Crisp. Salty. Very appetizing.

Healthy salads. Disney has not ignored the public attitude towards healthier food. So there are a lot of salads offered. One of the best: the Smoked Chicken Salad from Flame-Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom. It’s hardly a snack but more like a meal with tomatoes, beans and lettuce covered with chipotle dressing.

Humble food as well

The humble baked potato. Not so humble here as comfort food.

Q: How about a restaurant with an evening view of the fireworks?

A: A good choice is the California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Resort. Fresh California style dishes, but expensive. The fireworks are free and the view is great.

Q: There are lots of new restaurants which I find confusing. What is an old standby place that serves good basic food at normal prices where we will get decent food without getting disappointed?

A: The Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom has long been a staple. They offer an a la carte menu for lunch and a family style buffet at dinner. The Tavern Pot Roast is good comfort food. You can eat two meals here in one day, and it should not disappoint you in any way.

Q: Where can I get a Thanksgiving style meal when it’s not that time of year?

A: Again, the Liberty Tree Tavern at dinner serves turkey and pork with corn bread stuffing.

Q: There are dinner theatres all over Orlando but what would you recommend at Disney?

A: The Hoop De Doo Musical Revue Dinner Show at Ft. Wilderness is a favorite —   for good reasons. It combines a classic “hootenanny” with singing and dancing audience participation. The good is good by dinner theatre standards. Old standbys like fried chicken and barbecue ribs.. The strawberry shortcake is famous on its own. Unlimited beer, wine and sangria add to the relaxed good will atmosphere.

Don’t forget the turkey

Turkey Legs. Oh yes, here and at every country fair. Smoked to perfect goodness.

Q: My kids love cookies. So does my partner. So do I, for that matter. Where can we find the best ones?
A: Sorry to duck (Donald style) this question. But the answer is anywhere. There is not a bad cookie anywhere at Disney. If you don’t believe us, ask any kid.

Q: Where is the best concentration of restaurants so I can walk to them and see which one we prefer?

A: Walt Disney World is full of restaurants, as you know, but the World Showcase at Epcot has the largest concentration of them. Each country has its own sit-down place to eat (except for the US). Each of Disney’s 22 themed resorts also has its own restaurant. So if you are staying at one of them, you can eat right there.

Q: If money is no object, what is the very best all-around restaurant?

A: You really can’t cite just one, though Victoria & Albert’s may be the closest. Universally praised by critics and casual diners. This will probably be the most expensive meal you ever ate. The menu changes regularly. A good place to first try Osetra Caviar (over $100 a serving). Your dining location is the kitchen itself at the Chef’s Table. A custom meal that will cost over more than $200 a person. But you get to meet the chef, of course. Boma and Jiko at the Animal Kingdom are both highly rated, and the Flying Fish and Spoodles at the BoardWalk get among the highest marks.

Q: What are the best restaurants for our kids?

A: Kids adore (there’s no better word) anywhere with characters. But some other favorites include the Rainforest Café and the T-Rex Café, which have sights and sounds and visuals that keep kid’s attention.

Q: The very best character meal place?

A: Chef Mickey’s breakfast and dinners at the Contemporary Resort may very well be the best. No surprise. They may also be the most popular with almost 2,000 guests each morning. Yes, a little crowded. Bloggers have also rated the Crystal Palace Buffet among the best.

Q: Best spot for a romantic dinner?

A: Almost certainly, Victoria & Albert’s. Not only food that includes 10-course dinners in the small Queen Victoria’s Room with only four tables, but also an upscale overall atmosphere.

Q: We are wine fanatics. Can you get a good meal with a lot of wine choices at Disney? Where?

A: Jiko – the Cooking Place at Animal Kingdom has 65vintages or one of the most extensive collections of South African wines outside of that area.

Q: What’s the best for seafood?

A: May be Ocean Prime, a supper club atmosphere offering fresh ocean-caught fish. The service is usually superb as well. But Fulton’s Crab House should also satisfy any seafood lover.

Brunch lovers welcome
Q: We’ll be visiting in the winter and would like to eat outdoors? What would you recommend?

A: The terrace at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge overlooks a lake and waterfall. It reminds diners of a national park.

Q: What do you recommend for a Sunday brunch?

A: For a themed brunch, the House of Blues has southern food that may be just short of excellent but the digestion is aided by gospel and foot-stomping morning music. The food is OK, too, but the entertainment (like Disney itself) is worth the trip.

Q: Our entire family loves all-you-can eat. And we do eat a lot. We like to start the day off right with a hearty breakfast. What are the best buffets at Disney?

A: It depends on not only your taste but your budget as well. But buffets are popular with not only singles and couples but value-conscious families. So here are some suggestions:

Start the day with a breakfast of American favorites served family style at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway Pavilion.

Or start the day at the Captain’s Grille at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. Widely ranging breakfast dishes.

Chef Mickey at the Contemporary is a long-time favorite. A great selection of breakfast foods but also a great atmosphere because of the many characters on hand. Reservations required months ahead and it will still be crowded.

The Crystal Palace is similar to Chef Mickey.

Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a place where you don’t just get a choice of tomato or orange juice. You might try West African Frunch, which has several fruit juices. You get the idea: not exactly just ham and eggs or spinach quiches. Try Bobotie, a combination of beef, egg, cream and potatoes. But if you’re less daring, you can also get waffles and pancakes. And maybe the best coffee, Kenyan style, anywhere in any theme park.

1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian Resort has excellent French Toast and Blueberry Waffles with build your own omelets.

Buffets all day long

Q: What about dinner buffets?

A: Boma, again, Animal Kingdom Lodge. A wide selection of foods hard to find anywhere else. And don’t forget another familiar one: Chef Mickey, which some diners maintain takes the cake for dinner, you might say.

Also for something different: the Biergarten Restaurant with authentic German food and a celebration atmosphere every day, year-round. Boisterous music and merriment. You’ll learn to like bratwurst, red cabbage and pork schnitzel. Lunch and dinner served. ###