One of my favorite things about a vacation is the food. Away from home, calories and carbohydrates suddenly become a distant memory, so instead of feeling guilty about choosing fettucine alfredo as your entree, you can eat all of it and order a slice of white chocolate raspberry cheesecake – topped with whipped cream – for dessert. However, when my husband and I planned our first trip to Disney World together, I had low expectations for the culinary choices I would encounter there. I figured, “Disney World isn’t about great food; it’s about great fun interspersed with mediocre burgers and fries.”
Well, let me just tell you – I was wrong! The food was one of our favorite things about our Disney vacation! If you are debating whether or not to include the Disney Dining Plan in your Disney vacation package, my advice is to go for it. We decided to splurge, and it was well worth it! The only catch is that you have to stay on Disney property (and again, I say splurge, and take advantage of all the perks that come along with staying on site). The basic idea of the Dining Plan is that for each day of your vacation, you get one counter service, one snack, and one table service meal. When we read about everything that came with the meals, we figured it would be way too much food to eat. But with all the walking we did, we had no problem eating anything and everything we could get our hands on.
One other thing I should mention about our trip is that we were joined at Disney World by my brother and his wife. Going with another couple made it all the more fun, especially at meal time. And since we sat down to order off a menu just about every night, the four of us had plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company – and try each other’s food!
Seven months is a long time to wait before posting a recap of my Disney dining experience, but even after all this time, I can remember it all like it was yesterday. That’s how good the food, the service, and the atmosphere were! Since I only started this blog in May of this year, I have a lot of Disney joy to catch up on. Stay tuned for more about my favorite rides, why I love the Wilderness Lodge, and more. But for now, here’s a look at my Disney World trip strictly in terms of the food:
Wednesday, December 13
- Lunch: Roaring Forks (Wilderness Lodge’s cafeteria-style eatery that features breakfast, snack, and light meal options) – After arriving in Orlando around 11 a.m. and checking into the WL, we decided to grab lunch before heading over to Magic Kingdom. We weren’t expecting much, so we were pleasantly surprised by how good our sandwiches were. I had turkey and brie, and he had roast beef and blue cheese. We also shared a snack item, apple slices with caramel dip, which was also delicious.
- Dinner: Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe (A counter service restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland) – We had planned to eat at Terrace Noodle Station for dinner, but unfortunately it was closed the week of our trip, so instead we ended up eating burgers from this future-themed cafe. The burgers were surprisingly good, mainly due to the huge bar of toppings, including lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, jalapenos, etc. To be healthy, I ordered carrot sticks as my side instead of fries, and they were nice and crispy. There are plenty of places to order burgers at Disney World, but from what I understand, Cosmic Ray’s is one of the best. Another nice thing about our dinner here was that we sat outdoors, in an area that overlooked the path leading from Tomorrowland to Cinderella’s castle. The view of the castle at night was truly magical, and with the temperature in the low 70s and a slight breeze blowing, the atmosphere was near perfect.
Thursday, December 14
- Lunch: Yakitori House (a counter-service restaurant at Epcot, in the Japan area of World Showcase) – This restaurant’s atmosphere was more impressive than its food, but the food was good enough that I would eat there again. Once again, we sat outside, in an area meant to look and feel like a Japanese garden, complete with hanging lanterns, a koi pond, small bridges, and lush greenery. Our sushi rolls and Tonosama Combination (teriyaki chicken thigh, Sukiyaki beef, mixed vegetable tempura with shrimp and steamed rice) were a tasty light lunch that reenergized us for the rest of our day, instead of making us feel sluggish or overly full like a heavy pizza or burger meal might have.
- Dinner: Le Cellier Steakhouse (an excellent table service restaurant in the Canada area of World Showcase) – If you don’t eat at any other restaurant at Disney World, eat here! We had a wonderful dining experience in this cozy, dimly lit steakhouse. After running around through a literal downpour of rain for much of the evening, it was so relaxing and rejuvenating to sit down for an hour and enjoy some truly delicious food. Some of the highlights: cheddar cheese soup (their signature dish), filet mignon with mushroom risotto, and house-made raspberry and lemon sorbet.
Friday, December 15
- Lunch: Pizzafari (a counter service restaurant at Animal Kingdom) – This colorful, fun restaurant is very much in keeping with the animal theme, with its butterfly chairs and its cheerful tribal music. The food was pretty good here (I had an Italian sandwich, a salad, and a frozen strawberry lemonade cup), and we continued our outdoor eating trend. Eating outdoors was definitely the way to go, since the echoes of pizza-eating children bounced off all the walls in a cacaphony of noise inside.
- Dinner: Coral Reef (a table service restaurant in the Living Seas area of Epcot) – The main draw of this seafood restaurant is its wall to wall, floor to ceiling aquarium. It did create quite a relaxing dining experience. We saw schools of colorful fish, a sea turtle, a shark, and some sting rays swimming past while we ate our dinner. However, if you are looking for excellent seafood, you have to look elsewhere. It seems that the restaurant spends more time creating the unique underwater ambience than on preparing their dishes. The food wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t as memorable as some of the other restaurants’ selections were. Our dinner consisted of crab claws and lobster bisque (appetizers), blackened catfish and pan seared tuna (entrees), and butterscotch crème brulee and cheesecake (dessert). Of all the items, the one that stood out was the lobster bisque.
Saturday, December 16
- Lunch: Pinocchio Village Haus (a counter service restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland) – This is my favorite place to eat in the Magic Kingdom. We ate here twice, once for a snack, and then for this lunch, which consisted of surprisingly good veggie pizza and some delicious chocolate cannoli. Both times we sat upstairs on the outdoors balcony. From there, you can really enjoy the sounds of this area of the park. We watched Cinderella’s Carousel and the Dumbo ride’s many flying elephants, but we were far enough away from it all that we could enjoy our conversations. The activity from below was more like background noise. The indoor seating at Pinocchio Haus is equally inviting. There are different rooms and levels, all with their own benefits and points of interest. I still remember sitting in the area that has a window overlooking It’s a Small World, when my family went to Disney World in 1985! So, yes, I have a sentimental attachment to this little German-style eatery, but I don’t see how anyone could walk in and not love it.
Lunch on the balcony of Pinnochio Haus: (click thumbnail for larger view)
- Dinner: Les Chefs de France (a table-service restaurant located in the France area of Epcot’s World Showcase) – Although we spent the afternoon at MGM Studios, we decided to have a late dinner at Epcot rather than eat at MGM. (From all of my research, I found that the restaurants at MGM pale in comparison to all that Epcot offers). So, we stayed at MGM long enough to experience Fantasmic and then hopped on a bus to Epcot. This required a lot of walking, but that helped us work up an appetite for the huge meal we were about to eat. Les Chefs de France had a nice atmosphere, and our server was very friendly. We were glad to learn from him that all the servers at the restaurant were recruited from the original restaurant in France. This lended an air of authenticity to the atmosphere and the food. And what delicious food it was! Our appetizers were french onion soup topped with gruyere cheese – delicious! – and a plate of assorted cheeses, our entrees were perch and beef tenderloin (so tender and flavorful that even now my mouth waters to think about it), and our desserts were a chocolate tarte and crème brulee. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone, but especially to couples dining without children. (The tables are quite close to each other, so for that and other reasons, it isn’t the most kid-friendly restaurant). An added bonus to our late dinner was that we were able to watch the beginning of Illuminations from our table. Since it was our third night to see the spectacle (by the way, it was by far my favorite of the firework/light shows at Disney), we walked out of the park after finishing our dessert rather than staying to watch the end.
Sunday, December 17
- Lunch: Snacks at MGM Studios - Since we were running out of meal options (after using two counter service meals on our first night and doubling up on our table service meals to eat at California Grill – see below), we decided to skip lunch and instead just picked up snacks as we made our way through MGM. MGM is my least favorite of the four main parks, and I can say the same of the food it offers.
- Dinner: California Grill (a Disney signature restaurant, which means that we each had to use two of our table service credits to eat here. It was well worth it!) – This was by far our most memorable dining experience. Located atop the Contemporary Resort, California Grill was excellent in every way – the food, the service, and the views. I could gush about it for pages, but I will try to contain my enthusiasm. First of all, this was our anniversary dinner (the whole purpose of our trip was to celebrate our five-year anniversary – any excuse to go to Disney World, right?). One of the perks of going through a travel agent (we used Small World Vacations), is that our agent made all of our dinner reservations for us, and let them know that this was an anniversary trip. So, shortly after we were seated in the smaller, quieter, and therefore more romantic Wine Room (we requested to be seated in there when we arrived), our waiter brought us complimentary champagne and wished us a happy anniversary. That was a very welcoming way to start our meal. From there we enjoyed an array of delicious and beautifully presented culinary masterpieces: big and flavorful sushi for an appetizer, lamb and scallops for entrees, and a cheese plate and a banana/butterscotch custard creation for dessert. We were there for two hours, and our server never rushed us. We took our wine out to the observation deck to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks, and it was very impressive from up there. Once back at our table and eating dessert, we were able to watch the Epcot Illuminations show. That was the 4th time we’d seen it, but from a different vantage point. One final word of praise for our California Grill experience was our mode of transportation. We rode a small boat to and from the Contemporary Resort from the dock at Wilderness Lodge. It was quick, easy, and once again, relaxing! Who knew that Disney World could be such a relaxing place?
Monday, December 18
- Lunch: Tusker House (a counter-service restaurant located in the Africa area of Animal Kingdom – very close to the Safari ride) – This was our final meal at Disney World. :( I honestly can’t remember what I ate. Perhaps a turkey wrap and some corn chowder? The food seemed to be a bit healthier than at other places in Animal Kingdom, but there was nothing too special about it. We preferred Pizzafari over Tusker House. But the African village feel of this restaurant and the surrounding area made it a fun place to dine.
After a few hours in Epcot that afternoon, it was time to take our shuttle to the airport to head home. Needless to say, our dinner at the Orlando Airport Chili’s was less than impressive after all the excellent food we enjoyed at Disney World.
I hope that some of you reading this were reminded of your own dining experiences at Disney World, or for those of you trying to decide where to eat on your upcoming Disney vacation, that you are able to narrow down your many choices based on this information. Here are a few final words of advice based solely on my dining experiences in December 2006:
- Best Restaurant: California Grill
- Least Impressive Restaurant: Coral Reef
- Best Snack in Magic Kingdom: cream-cheese filled sugar-cinnamon pretzel
- Best Snack in Epcot (that is covered by the Dining Plan – most of the World Showcase food is not): Apple streudels and coffee, or pretzels and beer, in Germany. (Nice atmosphere, too.)
Bottom Line: If you are going to Disney World without children you should highly consider taking advantage of the Disney Dining Plan. No amount of food is too much for a Disney-sized appetite, and you will get to sample all kinds of different cuisine. If you have two or more children, you may want to consider more economical dining options. Whatever you decide, I am sure you will have a fantastic time!