This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at The Most Unique Dining Experiences at Walt Disney World. Nobody enjoys eating at “The World” more than us. From family friendly desserts like the Kitchen Sink sundae at Beaches & Cream, to iconic snacks like the Premium Mickey Bar, to extreme eats like the Animal Kingdom poop snacks, to table service restaurants like Art Smith’s Homecomin’ or Jiko – The Cooking Place, food may have actually replaced attractions in what we look forward to the most on our Disney vacations. Can you blame us though? WDW has some of the greatest restaurants you will ever go to, with several one-of-a-kind experiences that you will never get back at home. So today we’re going to take a look at the six most unique dining experiences on property, starting with…
# 6 – T-REX (Disney Springs)
T-REX is a true dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Yes, it is basically “Rainforest Cafe, except with dinosaurs” but here’s a little secret…dinosaurs are cool. While there are several Rainforest Cafes across the country, there is only one T-REX, and it is located in Disney Springs. T-REX has over-the-top theme park level theming, an excavation site for kids to dig up fossils, a Build-A-Dino area, pressed penny machines, and a total sensory overload.
There are various themed dining rooms within T-REX, but also an area with bar seating.
There are so many incredible photo-ops throughout T-REX.
One thing to keep in mind; T-REX is not your go to place for a quiet date night. In fact, T-REX may be the loudest restaurant in all of Walt Disney World, and if you’ve ever been to a breakfast buffet like Chef Mickey’s or dined at Whispering Canyon, you know how much ground that is covering. So while you won’t be able to have a table wide conversation discussing the various plot points of the latest episode of Moon Knight, you will be able to see the kids at your table having the time of their lives.
What’s the most shocking about T-REX is that the food is actually good. No, it’s not going to win any Michelin stars, but places which attract kids like the Pied Piper know they don’t have to try because the little ones are going to make you take them anyway. T-REX puts in the effort. The menu is varied and you will not go home hungry.
While the kids will enjoy their dinosaur themed souvenir cups, adults may want to try a Cotton-Tini. This drink combines cotton candy, a staple of theme parks, with alcohol. This is a true marriage made in heaven. T-REX offers different varieties, but we went with the Candy Apple Cotton-Tini. Cotton candy is put into the glass, while the bartender mixes the cocktail in a shaker. The cocktail is then poured over the cotton candy and you get to see the liquid completely absorb the candy. It is a very sweet tasting drink and don’t be surprised to see a good amount of sugar at the bottom of the glass when you are done. As a bonus, you get to keep the shaker as well!
So you have the stunning fish tanks…gigantic moving dinosaurs…and even an Ice Cavern room which constantly changes colors. It is going to take one heck of a dessert to draw your kid’s attention away from all that is going around them, but the Chocolate Extinction delivers on that end. Here is the description of the dessert:
A gigantic portion of chocolate fudge cake served with ice cream, whipped topping drizzled with fudge and caramel sauces and sprinkled with Butterfinger crumbs. Enough for four!
They had us at Butterfinger crumbs. In fact, we might have ordered a side of steamed asparagus with our entree if they sprinkled it with pieces of Kit Kat, or a baked potato with some powdered Snickers on top. The Chocolate Extinction itself is impressive, and you get a show when it is served. In the middle of everything on the plate is a container of dry ice that provides a great smoke effect that cascades over the food. There are several large portions of the fudge cake (think of giant brownies), and the Butterfinger crumbs sprinkled liberally around the plate were as good as advertised. We enjoyed the treat in the Ice Cavern room, and the changing of the lights combined with the smoke effect was really neat to see. Unfortunately, you do not get to keep the cool shaker which contains the dry ice, but you will get plenty of looks from neighboring tables when this is delivered to your table.
# 5 – Space 220 (EPCOT)
The newest restaurant in EPCOT is… out of this world (sorry for the pun there, but we just came from a T-Rex menu which was loaded with about 1,000 prehistoric puns, so we are still in that frame of mind). In all seriousness though, whereas T-REX has guests traveling millions of years in the past, Space 220 takes guests into the future and has us dining on a space station located 220 miles above Earth. The Space 220 entrance is located directly next Mission: SPACE, while guests then “travel” up into outer space.
Over at Universal Studios Florida, guests riding E.T. Adventure are given an “interplanetary passport” before going into the attraction. For Space 220, guests are given a “Space Elevator Boarding Pass” for their flight up to the restaurant.
The elevator simulating your travel into space shows EPCOT growing smaller and smaller via a screen on the floor and the station growing closer upon approach on a screen above.
Upon stepping off the elevator, guests are in the space station where a hydroponic garden of lettuce (with serious Living with the Land vibes) is gently rotating. If the hydrolator-like elevator ride to space didn’t get you hyped, the view of spinning, sterile lettuce will.
The atmosphere once inside the Space 220 dining room is off the charts. It is sleek, ultra modern, and the closest many of us will ever come to experience something like the Galactic Starcruiser (which, SPOILER ALERT, we just may see later in this very article). Pictures do not do the experience justice as Disney completely nailed it.
Gotta say, this picture below is a literal dream come true for 10-year-old me.
The presentation for Space 220 food items gets high marks, and the menu definitely has more adventurous fare compared to a restaurant like T-REX.
But there is also food for the “picky eaters” as well.
One of the true “best kept secrets” at Walt Disney World is various card collections that are available to guests for free. There are “wild about safety” cards featuring Timon and Pumbaa, Disney Transportation Cards, and now we have Space 220 trading cards available with kid’s meals. Now it’s Standard Operating Procedure in the theme park blogging world to order kid’s meals, even if you are an adult. However, Space 220 is one of the only restaurants at WDW which has a strict “kid’s meals are for kids” and are only available to those aged 9 and under.
# 4 – 50’s Prime Time Cafe (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
50’s Prime Time Cafe at DHS is one of the few interactive restaurants at Disney, and by that we mean the diners are part of the “show.” The entire restaurant is themed to an old timey kitchen, complete with black and white TVs. With chicken noodle soup, meatloaf, Mom’s old fashioned pot roast, and Cousin Megan’s traditional meatloaf, the menu is themed to home cookin’ meals that many of us had growing up. The servers are always in character, such as “Cousin Lilly” or “Uncle Bob,” and will playfully nag you during the meal, so don’t forget to eat those green beans! With great theming, a tasty menu, and the chance to possibly see a family member get an “airplane” of food brought to their mouth, 50’s Prime Time has to be experienced at least once because there is nothing quite like it in your hometown.
The fried chicken at 50’s Prime Time Cafe is right at the tippy top in all of Walt Disney World, which is high praise because there is some stiff competition.
However, A Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes is such a great idea and practically everyone at TouringPlans wishes every restaurant did something like this. It was a good portion of fried chicken, meatloaf, and pot roast, with a big scoop of mashed potatoes. The pot roast could easily compete with the Beef Bourguignon at Chefs de France, which is not nearly as satisfying.
We mentioned earlier in the article about the real “best kept secrets” at Disney being fun things that guests can get for free that really can give you that magical moment while on vacation. Guests getting a score of 999,999 on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Disney’s Magic Kingdom can get a Galactic Hero sticker, while those dining at 50’s Prime Time Cafe and eat all their vegetables just may become an official member of the Clean Plate Club. Little things like this can make such a huge difference in a family’s vacation.
# 3 – Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
The Animal Kingdom Lodge may be our favorite resort on Disney property. Among other things AKL has to offer; it has rooms in which guests can look out at live animals, has one of the best collections of onsite restaurants at WDW including Boma and Jiko, and also has authentic African art found throughout the resort. Did we forget to mention zebra domes? You can never forget zebra domes. While AKL may be off the beaten path for most WDW guests, one restaurant worth going well out of your way to experience is Sanaa. Located in Kidani Village, Sanaa is the only restaurant at AKL which has a view looking out onto the beautiful savanna and all the animals. The decor of the restaurant is wonderful, with the chairs having backs echoing African tribal shields and lighting fixtures based on nests that Weaver birds would make. The dining room floor has beautiful representations of acacia trees while the entire room is filled with art, which is appropriate since Sanaa is the Swahili word for artwork. Sanaa is hands-down one of the most gorgeous restaurants in all of Orlando.
Sanaa also happens to be the home of one of the all time greatest foods at WDW: the Indian-Style Bread Service. With five different types of breads and nine varieties of “accompaniments” (which may or may not be the Swahili word for dipping sauces) this is one appetizer that needs to be on your Disney Bucket List. The rest of the menu is worth exploring as well, with many unique options that are far removed from chicken fingers, hamburgers, and pre-made flatbreads,
Sanaa is off the beaten path, but it is worth your time and effort, and is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. How many places can you dine while looking out at a giraffe or a zebra?
The restaurant also has a good sized lounge and bar area, so you can always stop by for some food and drinks without a reservation.
# 2 – Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom)
Remember we talked about location earlier? Cinderella’s Royal Table has the ultimate location, inside Cinderella Castle smack dab in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. This is the place many children (and adults) dream of being inside, and it lives up to the hype. The entire process is a memorable one, including the walk up the stairs to the actual restaurant. There are so many little details in the building, and fun surprises for the kids throughout the entire dining experience.
Cinderella’s Royal Table is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For lunch and dinner, guests are choosing one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert from the menu.
The current pause of character interactions at Cinderella’s Royal Table does come with one benefit, it is much easier to get a reservation than it ever was before. You also won’t leave empty handed as guests receive a Cinderella autograph card and either a magic wand or sword. Like the Clean Plate Club sticker at 50s Prime Time, in the larger scheme of things this is a really small addition to the meal that adds a huge amount to the overall experience and makes it feel special. Is it ‘worth it”? That is a question often asked of many Disney restaurants, but especially ones that come with a price point of $62 for adults and $37 for kids (lunch and dinner). Personally, I think as a “Disney fan” you can’t put a price on the atmosphere at Cinderella’s Royal Table. You are dining inside Cinderella Castle and there is something to be said for that.
# 1 – Sci Fi Dine-In (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
We admit that the menu at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at DHS is not going to win any foodie awards. In fact the food would have a hard time cracking the top half of WDW sit down restaurants. However, this list is about unique experiences and Sci-Fi delivers that and then some. The restaurant simulates diners being at a ’50s drive-in movie theater at night, and does so spectacularly. Guests are seated in a faux classic American car, which is an attraction in and of itself. Meanwhile all the cars are facing a giant movie screen playing classic clips from the 1950s. Our best bet? Get some appetizers and a couple milkshakes and just enjoy yourself. The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is what immersive theming is all about. The food may not be memorable, but the experience itself is something you will remember for years to come while telling people back at home, “you won’t believe where we ate at…”
One thing Sci-Fi does really well is burgers, and they constantly change specials with their “Feature Film” selection of specialty burgers.
The house-made Sci-Fi candy bar dessert is legit and worth going out of your way for.
Honorable Mention – Dinner with Gaya (Galactic Starcruiser)
On the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room just off the atrium; but while breakfast and lunch are served buffet style, dinner is the real highlight and the dining room is transformed through lighting and entertainment.
When Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge first opened out in Disneyland, the hottest item was not a single piece of merchandise created for the land, but instead was a themed spork that was used in Docking Bay 7. Despite being a relatively impractical tool to eat your meal, the spork just look cool and definitely felt like “Star Wars.” However, so many of the sporks were taken by guests that Disney stopped putting them out as silverware to use and started charging for them. The table settings for the Galactic Starcruiser dining experiences have that same coolness factor as the sporks.
The food offerings are certainly unlike anything you will find in a traditional Disney restaurant. For the Dinner with Gaya show, food is served in a style that is more akin to “family style.”
The performances by Gaya and her band are everything you want and then some, drawing raves from across the board (be sure to check out Blog Mickey’s Starcruiser review). It’s great news that the Hoop Dee Doo dinner show is coming back to Fort Wilderness, and a show similar to Dinner with Gaya would be a gigantic hit if implemented in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.
The Dinner with Gaya show takes place during night one of your Starcruiser experience. For night two, there is a Taste Around the Galaxy dinner. No dinner show element, and instead of food being served family style, it is more of a tasting menu.
So there you have it: The Most UNIQUE Dining Experiences in Walt Disney World! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.