The Disney Food Blog explores an analysis of costs and experience at the table-service restaurants in the Studios. If you’re a fan of Disney and food, come visit us over on the blog!
The question arose on a recent live WDWToday podcast about whether the restaurants at the Studios are some of the best values on property. I set out this past week to determine whether you can eat hearty, have fun, and save cash at the Studios, or whether you’re better off heading elsewhere in the World.
First, let’s define “value.” There are three components to a meal in Walt Disney World that can make it worth eating:
- Cost: is the menu a good deal for the money?
- Experience: can you get this type of theme or entertainment elsewhere?
- Food: is the grub any good?
Scoring high on any of these scales can make a restaurant worth the trip, but if a dining spot can land on top of more than one scale, it’s a winner in my book. Through this post we’ll look at where each DHS table-service dining location falls on these three scales and determine, overall, if the Studios restaurants are a good value.
Hollywood and Vine
Cost: Pricing at Hollywood and Vine is comparable to other theme park buffet character meals, including Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom and Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom.
Experience: Hollywood and Vine Restaurant is basically an art deco Denny’s with some Hollywood memorabilia on the walls. The architecture is no reason to visit. Characters here include Playhouse Disney favorites Leo and June from the Little Einsteins and Jo-Jo and Goliath from Jo-Jo’s Circus (characters are rumored to be changing soon — though the new folks are still Playhouse Disney mainstays), and if your kid is enthralled with Playhouse Disney, this restaurant gets experience points. However, if your kid is just as happy seeing — or would rather see — Mickey and friends or Pooh and friends, there is absolutely no reason to go to Hollywood and Vine.
Food: This is the only place where Hollywood and Vine scores highly. The food, actually, is quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed the selection of breads and pastries, the warm apple crumble and bread pudding that were out for breakfast, and the south-of-the-border flair of some of the hot dishes.
Overall: Go instead to Tusker House or Crystal Palace, which score highly on all three of our “is it worth it?” scales. However, if you’re already beholden to the Studios for the day, this is a decent meal that isn’t going to break the bank.
50’s Prime Time Cafe
Cost: You can get a very filling, hot lunch here for around $15 and even a steak dinner won’t cost you more than around $21. Prices here are comparable to or lower than those at similar restaurants in other Disney World theme parks (Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Biergarten and San Angel Inn in Epcot, Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom). Food portions are large, too, so I deem this a great value-for-money deal.
Experience: The experience here is like none other in the World. You’re seated in a 1950’s kitchen, with vintage black-and-white TVs scrolling through clips of your favorite mid-century shows. But the best part of the experience is that your server — who happens to be playing the part of your cousin, Aunt, or Uncle — is always in character. Eating here means you’ve got to be ready for just about anything to happen, including standing in the corner for putting your elbows on the table or having the whole restaurant watch your husband perform “I’m a Little Teapot” because he didn’t eat all his vegetables. Hilarity ensues — even if you’re the target.
Food: The food here includes your favorite staples from your childhood — fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, and chicken pot pie — with a few new favorites, like a stuffed pepper and an olive-oil poached salmon, thrown in. In my experience, the food has been fine. Not spectacular, but worth the money. The fried chicken can’t be beat, and I always eat all of my green beans.
Overall: This place is a winner. While so many Disney restaurants are being outsourced to other management companies, you can tell that this restaurant came right off of the Disney drawing board. The good food and fun atmosphere is a combination you won’t find anywhere but here. It’s well worth a trip out of your way to the Studios.
Hollywood Brown Derby
Cost: The closest comparisons to the Brown Derby in another theme park would be Coral Reef and Bistro de Paris at Epcot. Brown Derby pricing is very similar to that of Coral Reef for lunch, and it’s a bit higher for dinner. Bistro de Paris is, admittedly, a slightly higher-echelon restaurant, but Brown Derby’s prices are several dollars lower than Bistro’s for dinner. Based on my experience, it was priced right for a mid- to high-end Disney restaurant.
Experience: For those of you who enjoy Disney attention to detail when it comes to history and themeing, this restaurant will be perfect for you. From the caricatures on the wall, to the replicated art deco decor, to the tiny brass derby hat lampshades, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked into the golden age of Hollywood. Rich maroon booths wrap around white tablecloths, servers anticipate your needs, and you really do feel like a bit of a celebrity. Kids — unless yours are experts in design — won’t care about this place, and might even find it boring. Adults, though, should feel pampered.
Food: As is often the case with Disney’s signature restaurants, the food is exquisite. This is the kind of meal you savor. While we weren’t wild about the desserts (they’re often a bit too “pre-packaged” for us), we’ll be talking about the wonderful meal for a long time.
Overall: Book it. Go now. I’m ashamed to say that it took me as long as it did to try this restaurant. It’s absolutely worth the cost, and I would probably pay a bit more. The ambiance is lovely (though it can get loud and echo-y), and the service was good. This is worth a trip — or two — to the Studios. We’re lucky to have such a great spot available right in the middle of a theme park.
Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant
Cost: Again, this is another restaurant in the Studios serving big meals for little prices. There are three lunch menu items under $15 and nothing over $23 on the dinner menu, including the steak and seafood meals. Cost is similar to 50’s Prime Time Cafe.
Experience: The imagineers have done it again. This place doesn’t just have themeing — it’s an attraction in itself. You sit in cars to eat. You’re underneath a starry sky. 1950’s carhops wait on you. You watch clips of black and white, mid-century monster and zombie movies while you eat. And that’s not all. When you wander out to the restrooms, check out the drive-in movie props, movie posters, and little Disney details lining the walls of the “studio.”
Food: The menu is short and standard: ribs, shrimp and pasta, burger, chili, milkshakes, etc. But they do have a tofu dish and a steak dish, at least. And the food isn’t bad at all. It’s not a five-star meal, but it’s not take-out, either. In fact, in my experience, the food here has gotten a lot better than it was about 4 years ago. Your kids will love it, and, my guess is, you won’t mind it either.
Overall: This is a solid restaurant, a good experience, and worth the trip. You won’t want to eat here every time you visit Disney World, but it’s a not-to-be-missed experience at least once. Based on cost and experience, it’s a true Disney dining gem.
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
Cost: Compared to the similar Italian restaurant on property — Tony’s Town Square in the Magic Kingdom — the cost here is pretty much in line. Flatbreads at both places are overpriced at around $13, and dinner steaks will run you prices in the low 20’s. The shrimp and pasta dish is $1 higher at Tony’s at the moment. That said, compared to Epcot’s Tutto Italia, which has been panned by many as overpriced and bland, Mama’s is a steal.
Experience: The restaurant is tucked back into the Streets of America and Muppets sections of the Studios, so it can be hard to find. The overall experience isn’t outstanding; the theme is difficult to discern (read the blurb on your menu if you want to know what they’re going for), and there aren’t regular shows to keep you entertained. Mama’s has, however, begun to send Hollywood Studios streetmosphere characters around to the tables during meals, which gives a fun feel to the place. I watched one family interact with a Hollywood Director for quite a while, and he had trinkets and toys for the kids, which they loved.
Food: I’ve had several experiences with this restaurant, and my best description of the food is “inconsistent.” Sometimes it’s great, sometimes I feel like I’m at a bad Olive Garden. My most recent experience was a great one for me, but not-so-great for my husband. My chicken pipette with cream sauce and veggies was delish; his chicken parm — a dish I highly recommended from my last few trips — was overcooked and blah. You never know what you’re gonna get here.
Overall: Meh. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but consider booking an ADR at Tony’s Town Square instead of Mama’s on your next trip. The food at Tony’s is bland, but the Lady and the Tramp themeing and potential of seeing a Magic Kingdom parade from your table will probably delight your family more than the indeterminate themeing and inconsistent food at Mama’s.
So ARE the Studios Restaurants a Good Value?
Overall, yes. They’re comparably if not lower-priced than similar restaurants in other parks, and the true-to-form themeing of the Studios comes through in its restaurants. Plus, you won’t find any horrible food here — everything’s at least decent, and I find most of it pretty good.
But what makes the Studios a great dining park is that it has a little bit of everything: character buffet; mid-priced, well-themed restaurants; and a high-end signature dining experience. Only Epcot offers as diverse a dining experience as the Studios — Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, as they’re lacking signature dining experiences, can’t compare.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!