As prices increase at Walt Disney World, many people have expressed a desire to spread out beyond Disney and explore other theme parks in the area. Although each theme park has its own unique activities that make a one-on-one comparison difficult, there are some places where a direct comparison can be useful. At both SeaWorld Orlando and Epcot, there are restaurants where you are able to dine with an underwater aquarium view of sea life: Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld and Coral Reef Restaurant at The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion in Epcot. Here’s how they stack up with each other after a lunch visit to each.
Like many Disney restaurants, it is highly advisable to have a dining reservation for Coral Reef. Although there may be some availability for walk-up dining, it is a very risky proposition. When we arrived at Sharks and asked if they had any availability for a walk-up on a Saturday afternoon, the hostess looked at us like we were crazy. They had plenty of availability, and reservations are only absolutely required during peak attendance times.
It may seem weird to say that the two aquariums looked considerably different, but the lighting in them really makes a difference. The aquarium at Sharks seemed more like the ocean, while Coral Reef had a bluish tinge to it. For adults, the ability to view the tanks from throughout the restaurant was excellent at both restaurants. Unfortunately, if you’re seated on the second level and up against the dividing wall between the first and second levels at Coral Reef, some of the wave shapes of the wall are high enough that a child sitting in a chair can’t see over them to view the aquarium. My daughter opted to stand for most of the meal to watch the fish—and I couldn’t blame her on that. There is also something very “vintage” about the décor in Coral Reef. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it seemed dated somehow when compared with Sharks, which was more sleek and modern feeling. Both are beautiful settings in their own way, however.
The big focus of Sharks is, well, Sharks. In the tank, members of the shark family and a few fish that can cohabitate with them are about all you will see. At Coral Reef, you see many different kinds of sea life in the main tank in addition to sharks, such as sea turtles and fish. As mentioned above, the lighting was different, and for my eyesight, it was better at Sharks for viewing the sea life as it swam by.
Sea World in general doesn’t put focus on dining experiences. After all, Sharks is the only table-service restaurant in the park. As a result, the menu is a bit lack-luster compared to what I’ve come to expect from Disney restaurants. For the appetizers, the options were a shrimp cocktail, mussels, coconut chicken tenders, a “Godzilla” sushi roll, and spinach and artichoke dip. The prices for the appetizers ranged from $11-15. We got the spinach dip, and while the dip itself was passable, the pita chips that it was served with tasted like someone took a bag of store-bought pita chips and put them through the deep fryer until they were lightly burned. What was more appealing was the dinner rolls served as a bread course. Nothing fancy, but at least they were more edible. The appetizers at Coral Reef were in the same price range, but were a step above for originality. They included items like charbroiled octopus, heirloom beets with goat cheese cream, and a spinach dip that included crab. But because Coral Reef included bread, like Sharks, we skipped the appetizers.
It is a given that dining at Disney is expensive. What surprised me is that Sharks was actually more expensive than Coral Reef. Entrees at Coral Reef ranged from $19.99 for the vegetarian marinated grilled vegetables and vegetarian chick’n breast to $32.99 for the New York Strip. It is important to note that there were no vegetarian options on the menu at Sharks aside from an obligatory “signature salad”. The actual entrees ranged from $29 for the Chicken Portabella up to $36 for either the Rib Eye Steak or the Ahi Tuna. At Sharks, I tried the Tempura Shrimp with bok choy and rice ($30) and my husband got the Grilled Salmon with caper butter, rice, and vegetables ($32). At Coral Reef, I went with the Seared Mahi Mahi with Laughing Bird shrimp, hearst of palm, rice, and a coconut-lime sauce ($27) and my husband went with the Pan-seared Salmon with sweet pea risotto, blue crab, tomato asparagus relish, and lemon espuma ($26). First, the good – none of the meals were bad. That said, the food and presentation was certainly better at Coral Reef, and for significantly less.
Overall, each of these restaurants provide the unique opportunity to dine in a setting that is amazing and beautiful. For me personally, the availability and ambiance in Sharks was better than Coral Reef, but the food and prices at Coral Reef were better than Sharks.