We'll help you find good food without going broke or tripping over one of the World's many culinary landmines. More than 100 restaurants operate within Walt Disney World, including about 70 full-service restaurants, 26 of which are inside the theme parks. Collectively, Disney restaurants offer exceptional variety, serving everything from Moroccan to Texas barbecue. Most restaurants are expensive, and many of them serve less than-distinguished fare, but the culinary scene gets better every year.
Getting It Right
Although we work hard to be fair, objective, and accurate, many readers, like this one from Coudersport, Pennsylvania, think we're too critical of Disney restaurants. He writes:
You are tough on all Disney dining.... Everyone has to eat while there, so it benefits no one to be this critical. Lighten up a little bit and make your dining recommendations in the same spirit as the rest of the book.
In a similar vein, a Charleston, West Virginia, woman came out swinging:
Get a life! It's crazy and unrealistic to be so snobbish about restaurants at a theme park. Considering the number of people Disney feeds each day, I think they do a darn good job. Also, you act so surprised that the food is expensive. Have you ever eaten at an airport? HELLO IN THERE? . . . Surprise, you're a captive! It's a theme park!
And a mom from Erie, Pennsylvania, struck a practical note,
Most of the food [at Walt Disney World] is OK. Certainly in our experience, more of it is good than bad. If you pay attention to what other visitors say and what's in the guidebooks, you can avoid the yucky places. It's true that you pay more than you should, but it's more convenient [to eat in Walt Disney World] than to run around trying to find cheaper restaurants somewhere else. When it comes to Walt Disney World, who needs more running around?
You can find good deals if you know where to look, and there are ethnic delights here that are rarely found outside America's largest cities.
As you might infer from the previous reader comments, getting our dining coverage right is a bit of a challenge. While researching and reviewing restaurants may appear to be a straightforward endeavor, we can assure you that it is fraught with peril. We have read dining reviews by writers who turn up their noses at anything except four-star French restaurants (of which there are a whole lot fewer than people think).
Likewise, we've seen reviewers who totally avoid Thai and Indian restaurants (among others) because they don't understand those cuisines. We've read reviews absolutely devoid of criticism, written by "experts" unwilling to risk offending the source of their free meals. Finally, we've seen reviews in dining guides that are wholly based on surveys submitted by diners whose credentials for evaluating fine dining are mysterious at best and questionable at least.
How, then, do you go about presenting the best possible dining coverage? What is the best way to get it right? At the Unofficial Guide, we've elected to begin with highly qualified culinary experts and then balance their opinions with those of our readers.
To be as fair and thorough as possible, we display our readers' collective opinion of each restaurant right alongside our dining critics' evaluations. We also encourage you to fill out the dining survey in the back of this guide so we can include your opinions in our tabulations. If you want to share your dining experience in great depth, please contact us.
It's the Economy, Pluto
As the recession impacts the number of travelers visiting the World, Disney is scrambling furiously to make up for lost revenue. Unfortunately, this translates to higher and higher prices at Disney restaurants. Main-course prices at some restaurants have risen more than 35%; plus, Disney levies a "dining surcharge" during the summer mid-May through mid-July) and other busy times of year. Recently we dined at The Wave Restaurant at the Contemporary Resort and ordered a wine that retails for about $10.95. It was $9 a glass (!) - about a five-times markup. Believe us, if you rent a car and eat only dinner each day at non-Disney restaurants, you'll more than pay for the rental cost.
Dress is informal in all theme-park restaurants, but Disney has a "business casual" dress code for some of its resort restaurants: dress slacks (or dress shorts) with a collared shirt for men and jeans, skirts, or dress shorts with a blouse or sweater (or a dress) for women. Restaurants with this dress code are:
- Jiko - The Cooking Place at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Flying Fish Cafe at the BoardWalk
- California Grill at the Contemporary Resort
- Citricos and Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian Resort
- Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge
- Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort
Walt Disney World Restaurants adopted a nonsmoking policy several years ago, after Florida voters passed an amendment to the state's constitution that also prohibits smoking in restaurant lounges. Freestanding bars—those that get less than 10% of their revenues from food sales—are exempt.
Food Allergies And Special Requests
If you have food allergies or observe some specific type of diet like eating kosher, make your needs known when you make your Advance Reservations. Does it work? Well, a Phillipsburg, New Jersey, mom reports her family's experience:
My 6-year-old has many food allergies, and we often have to bring food with us to restaurants when we go out to eat. I was able to make reservations at the Disney restaurants in advance and indicate these allergies to the reservation clerk. When we arrived at the restaurants, the staff was already aware of my child's allergies and assigned our table a chef who double-checked the list of allergies with us. Each member of the waitstaff was also informed of the allergies. The chefs were very nice and made my son feel very special (to the point where my other family members felt a little jealous).
A Few Caveats
Before you begin eating your way through the World, you need to know:
- Disney World table service restaurants are extremely popular, and many of them book up with Advance Dining Reservations months in advance. If you want to sit down and be waited on for a meal in the World, read our content on Advance Dining Reservations.
- Theme-park restaurants rush their customers in order to make room for the next group of diners. Dining at high speed may appeal to a family with young, restless children, but for people wanting to relax, it's more like eating in a pressure chamber than fine dining. If you want to linger over your expensive meal, don't order your entire dinner at once. Order drinks. Study the menu while you sip, then order appetizers. Tell the waiter you need more time to decide among entrees. Order your main course only after appetizers have been served. Dawdle over coffee and dessert.
- If you're dining in a theme park and cost is an issue, make lunch your main meal. Entrees are similar to those on the dinner menu, but prices are significantly lower.
- Disney adds a surcharge of $4 per adult and $2 per child to certain popular restaurants during weeks of peak attendance, including President's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, plus every day from mid-June through mid-August (i.e., summer vacation). The following restaurants participate in the gouging:
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Princess Storybook Meals)
- Boma - Flavors of Africa (breakfast and dinner)
- Cape May Cafe (breakfast and dinner buffet)
- Chef Mickey's (breakfast and dinner)
- Cinderella's Royal Table
- The Crystal Palace
- The Garden Grill Restaurant
- Hollywood & Vine (Play 'n Dine character buffets)
- Liberty Tree Tavern
- 1900 Park Fare
- 'Ohana (breakfast and dinner)
- Trail's End Buffet at Fort Wilderness
- Tusker House Restaurant