One of many tempting snack options on Main Street
Before we get to the topics I promised you in my last blog, we first have to discuss your WDW dining experience. If you find these tips helpful please like my blog and/or encourage others to follow. I’d like to know that my effort is worth it and I am helping fellow Disney travelers.
One of the advantages of staying on property is that you can book your dining reservations up to 180 days prior to arrival. You can book the 10 days following your check-in date on day 180 as well. This is why new and popular experiences may be unavailable when you attempt to make a reservation. I could not find anything online about when you can make reservations when staying off-property. If anyone has feedback on that, please leave it on my blog.
Having a great meal at WDW is possible, although it takes planning. Your first step is to visit http://www.allears.net. It’s a great site where Disney fanatics can review restaurant menus and provide ratings and comments about their dining experiences.
After a dozen visits, I have my own dining favorites that I’d like to share with you.
Magic Kingdom Park
- Casey’s Corner – Counter service at the end of Main Street USA (fairly close to the entrance). This is a great spot for lunch. Hot dogs are the main attraction. Have a member of your party scout out seating while you order, since that can be an issue during busy periods.
- Cinderella’s Royal Table – A truly magical experience where numerous Disney Princesses visit your table for autographs and photo ops. The meal offered is 3 courses, with 3 options presented (last time I visited).This experience costs some bank, but its well worth it if you have children under 10.
- The Plaza Restaurant – Sit-down restaurant with American fare. It’s not exceptional, but it’s good and not as kid overrun or expensive as other options in the park.
- Liberty Tree Tavern – I am still upset the characters are no longer there, but if you feel like Thanksgiving fare and want to stuff yourself, this is the place for you. At dinner, your meal will start with a salad, you’ll then get a selection of turkey breast, carved beef and sliced pork with 4 different yummy sides. For dessert, apple cake and ice cream. I am getting hungry just reading the menu!
Epcot World Showcase
- Chefs de France – This is one of our favorite restaurants, but we enjoy the lunch menu more than dinner. First, it’s a better deal and secondly, the selection appeals more to our taste. It’s a pretty restaurant with a view of street performances and a great 3 course lunch option which never disappoints.
- San Angel Inn– This is the restaurant the Small World ride takes you past. The food is truly exceptional and the ambiance has a unique Mexican feel. I prefer eating dinner here and often visit twice during our stay. The Pollo a las Rajas is amazing.
- Restaurant Marrakesh– Middle-Eastern food which makes you feel like you are in another country. Belly-dancers often perform. It’s not quite as good as some of the options we have in Detroit, but it’s an enjoyable to visit.
- Via Napoli– One of the best priced options if your family shares one of their large pizzas. It’s not your typical pizza, it’s more like a flatbread, but it’s good and the ambiance of the restaurant is appealing. We usually go here for lunch, but I could see it being nice for dinner as well.
- Le Cellier Steakhouse – Another favorite. It’s worth going for the free pretzel bread alone. Their filet mignon is among the best I’ve had. You have to book this restaurant well in advance, sometimes I’ve tried 60 days before arrival and could not get a table. If using the Disney Dining plan, you will have to use 2 credits.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
We haven’t had as much success here. The Brown Derby’s atmosphere and nostalgia make it interesting, but I never found anything on the menu I particularly liked. Mama Melrose’s menu looks good, but it seems overly expensive so we’ve never actually ate there. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater has a great theme. You dine in cars like you are eating at a drive in movie. But the food is terrible and their menu limited. Perhaps you’d have better luck with just getting dessert there. When visiting, we typically get counter food at the ABC Commissary or more often, take the boat back to Epcot’s World Showcase. If there’s not a long line for the boat, which is the case near park closing, the travel time between the 2 parks is considerably less than you’d expect.
This is another area that doesn’t have the best dining options. To be fair, we haven’t tried any of the new restaurants that have popped up in recent years. We most often eat at the Lodge, going to a buffet called Boma. If members of your party only like simple American fare it will not be the best choice. There is so many unique things to try I usually get sick, which is one of the reasons we don’t go here every trip. The desserts are fabulous and there is a small selection of kid fare available for those that prefer mac and cheese. Some of the meat can be hit or miss, given the expense of the buffet it can be a disappointment. However, there are other items you will enjoy which should make-up for it. For a complete list of items, go here: http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/dining/diningdetail.cfm?restaurant.id=197
Other recommended dining options
- Big River Grille and Brewing Works in Disney’s Boardwalk area and one of our favorites, the ESPN Club, which does not take reservations. Both are more reasonably priced than some of your other options and have a good selection to choose from. The ESPN Club is full of TV’s, making watching “the game” easier than anywhere else in Disney.
- Chef Mickey’s buffet at the Contemporary – Definitely worth it if your kids are into meeting characters. The dessert options at the buffet were damn good, but I don’t remember the rest of the food so much. I just know it wasn’t bad enough to cross it off our list.
- 1900 Park Fair at the Grand Floridian- This is your emergency option if you can’t get into Cinderella’s Royal Table or you are trying to keep expenses down. The Floridian is enjoyable to visit, particularly around Christmas, and has shopping and a lobby experience that surpasses other deluxe hotels. There is also a viewing area for fireworks you can enjoy even if you are not a guest.
- Whispering Canyon Café – In Ft. Wilderness Lodge. Kids are invited to circle the restaurant, hopping along with hobby horses toys periodically as you eat. As a result, the restaurant has a fun western atmosphere unique to Disney. The main offering here is family style BBQ skillets.
- Beaches & Cream Soda Shop– Located near the pool at Beach Club, you feel like you stepped back in time 60 years. The ice cream sundaes are exceptional, but I do not recommend purchasing the over-sized kitchen sink sundae. Even for 4 people it is too large and I bet not as good as some of the other options. Burgers and other casual fair are also good here, which is nice when you are growing tired of $100+ bills. You can also get your Disney refillable mug topped off. Buy it on the first day of your stay, so you get your monies worth of soda/coffee/ice tea/lemonade/hot chocolate refills. You can buy just one and share it with other members of your party occasionally, although I am sure this is against the official rules.
Why I don’t purchase the Disney dining plan
On the dining plan, you are likely to eat much more than you normally would. You also cannot purchase the plan if you are staying off-property.
Here is a handy chart which presents your dining plan options. For a full list of perks associated with each dining plan, go here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/planning-guides/in-depth-advice/disney-dining-plan/.
When purchasing a Premium or Platinum Dining Package, you will receive non-food related benefits. With the Platinum Package you receive:
- One spa treatment per adult.
- Unlimited Admission to Disney Park Tours
- Admission to Cirque du Soleil La Nouba (Downtown Disney)
- One evening fireworks cruise.
I literally could go on forever. The problem with this plan is that touring Disney is hard work. You are walking and standing throughout the day, often sweating profusely in 90 degree + weather. Or if you are like me, you may be doing that in 70 degree weather! At the end of the day, resting by the pool may seem much more attractive than enjoying these extra perks. You can also purchase tours and firework cruises on your own. Price out what you are most interested in a-la-carte. Chances are, it will make more sense to purchase a lessor plan (or no plan at all).
2015 DISNEY DINING PLAN PRICING:
|PER ADULT, PER NIGHT
(adults are 10 years and older in Disney prices)
|PER CHILD, PER NIGHT
(children are 3-9 years old in Disney prices)
|Quick Service Dining
Personally, I want to be able to enjoy table-service when I’d like but don’t want to feel obligated to over-indulge. If you do the math, the dining plan may be more than you otherwise would spend. A great illustration of this can be found here: http://www.wdwinfo.com/disney-dining-plan.htm.
Many of the experiences I list on my blog require more than 1 dining credit. For a list of which restaurants/shows require you redeem 2 dining credits go here and look for the purple 2 icon, to the right of the restaurant’s name: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/media/wdw_nextgen/CoreCatalog/WaltDisneyWorld/en_us/PDF/2015Dining.pdf
Example of options that require 2 dining credits include: Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hollywood Studio’s Brown Derby, Le Cellier Steakhouse, Hoop-De-Du Revue, and several others. Depending on what you order, it’s quite possible the expense of the restaurant will not truly be twice that of other table restaurants (only requiring 1 credit).
If you know you would enjoy eating your way through Disney or feel comfort in knowing your exact meal expenses in advance, the Disney Dining Plan makes sense. Particularly during slower periods, when the meal plan may be included for free with your hotel and park tickets. I prefer instead Tables of Wonderland, but depending when you visit this also may not make sense for you.
What is Tables of Wonderland?
- Through this program you will save 20% off your meal, including alcohol.
- There are 100 participating restaurants at WDW.
- Up to 10 guests dining with the member, can be included in the 20% discount.
- Cost is $100 for non-Florida residents.
Why purchasing Tables of Wonderland (TOW) may not make sense for you:
- You are automatically giving the server an 18% gratuity when table dining.
- There are black-out dates during the year. Research these before purchasing the card.
- You also receive discounted meals if you are a Disney annual passholders. These discounts are typically 10%, but do not include every restaurant. You are also limited to 3 additional guests in your party, whereas TOW allows additional guests. Like Tables of Wonderland, the annual passholder discounts are subject to black-out dates. Go here for a list of participating restaurants: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/passholder-program/passholder-benefits-and-discounts/dining-discounts/
- You must be a DVC member or an annual passholder to purchase the card.
- Some restaurants only accept the card during certain meals (for example, only lunch).
- Not accepted at Downtown Disney.
Wondering when it makes sense to purchase an annual pass? See my next blog, coming soon.