Sooo… everyone knows that one of the best parts of good travel is the food. Food makes a place’s culture, it connects you with its people, if done right its an experience to share in itself, and its smells and flavors bring back memories of the whole trip and experience for years to come… but what about Disney? It’s a theme park… let’s be honest, while fun, most of the food while running around with Mickey Ears on is traditionally thought of as “okay but not that great.” Fortunately, Disney has done its best to challenge that perception at all of its parks… I’ve blogged numerous times singing the praises of our beloved Napa Rose at Disneyland, as well as a few other dining hot spots in the parks and in Downtown Disney – and Walt Disney World has really made a name for itself with its dining program altogether.
First of all, you should know that if you’re planning to visit Walt Disney World, you want to make your dining reservations as soon as possible… not like, a week out – we’re talking six months out. Yes, for all in the general public, the dining window for a given day opens 180 days in advance – and for many of the more popular restaurants, that day will book out. In fact, that’s the reason that all guests staying on property are given a 180 day booking window PLUS up to 10 days of stay, or generally their entire stay on property – so that they get a few days’ head start on the general public when making those coveted reservations. If you’re like me, I can hardly plan out what I want for dinner tonight, let alone six months from now, but if you want to try some of the hot spots at Disney, this is what you need to plan for. I should add that if you can’t plan that early, you shouldn’t despair – it’s still very possible to get reservations by checking regularly (meaning at least daily), especially in those last few days before you dine, as people who had to make plans early and then make changes are constantly cancelling or adjusting their reservations. The best way of course, to deal with this is to book with a travel agent, preferably one who knows Disney (you knew the plug was coming, didn’t you) – in all seriousness though, I think a travel agent has some of the biggest value with Walt Disney World, where getting up at 6 AM EST or 3 AM PST the day your dining window opens is a necessity for that perfect plan, you want someone who knows their stuff (and scores you extra hours of sleep!)
Ground Zero for WDW Dining Planning
In any case, once you’ve made those reservations and arrive and sit down to enjoy, what you should you expect? We had some amazing meals that exceeded our expectations, and also have some places we want to revisit. For Thanksgiving dinner, we enjoyed Boma Flavors of Africa at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We love the ambience overall at this Resort, and a large part of the Cast comes from Africa and are so sweet and amazing. We loved the buffet here which mixed traditional Thanksgiving fare with an African flair and cultural influence… many trips were made for the lamb curry stew, and the amazing assortment of desserts. The wine list came from Africa as well, and the bottle our family selected was delicious.
Boma Flavors of Africa
Boma is beautiful!
Friday, our big meal was at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. If you’re an introvert like most of our family, including the kiddos, this may do you in 🙂 but it’s a hoot and was a lot of fun. You pre pay for this meal when you book, as it’s popular and they are trying to dissuade people from holding seats without committing. It’s all inclusive for the buffet, along with beer/wine/sangria for the adults, which is a big hit. The ribs and homestyle BBQ fare were quite tasty, right down to the pie for dessert. Best of all is the entertainment, which features a country western band, character photos & autographs with Western Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, and Goofy, a talented performer with horseshoes and lasso, and best of all – a non stop dance party with the Disney gang. While it took my kids a bit to warm up, my daughter got very into the hoedown gig by the end of the night… and after a few glasses of the included wine, all of the adults were right there with her.
It’s a party dance scene at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ!
Saturday featured Quick Service breakfast at Be Our Guest, which we experienced for lunch last year… this is a beautiful restaurant at Magic Kingdom featuring the castle from Beauty and the Beast. Each room has a different theme. Breakfast and lunch are Quick Service, while dinner (the hardest to score), is sit down, features photo ops with the beast, and serves wine. We can vouch both quick service options are quite tasty – not “amazing”, but quite nice. We think other places offer a lot more food value/quality for the money, but the ambience here is worth experiencing once. Later Saturday, we did a Candlelight Dining Package at Via Napoli in Epcot’s World Showcase. This restaurant is, we feel, a true gem that is often overlooked. The pizza (we tried prosciutto and melon, along with the 4 cheese) was absolutely amazing, as were the canollis and service. Everything is true Italian style, including thin crust, It suits every one’s palate, and is extremely reasonable for the quality and quantity of food you receive.
Themed room at Be Our Guest
Lunch at Be Our Guest
Try the Gray Stuff – It’s Delicious!
Candlelight Dining Packages are Worth It! Great Seats!
Sunday, our big meal was at the famous Ohana over at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, where everyone truly is family – the wait staff calls you “Cousin” and welcomes each family with applause. Here, you can do a character breakfast with Lilo and Stitch, or a Brazillian BBQ style dinner in the evenings. The meal, like most sit down in WDW, is family style, featuring huge trays of appetizers and side dishes to share, along with fresh chicken, shrimp, and steak brought to your table on skewers. Dessert was enormous bowls of homemade vanilla ice cream and rice pudding, which I don’t usually care for but indulged in big time here. Non alcoholic beverages are included, or you can order from the bar for an extra charge. The ambience here is generally loud as the night goes on (though we had no issues with our early reservation) and the entertainment is hilarious – the kids or keiki are brought out into the aisles to do a broom and coconut race on the hardwood floors, and the entertainer also sings Hawaiian music. As big fans of Hawaii, we loved it and enjoyed the food as well.
Beautiful Ohana, including open fire kitchen
Brooms and Coconut races are a blast!
We capped off our Sunday with drinks at our California favorite, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto… the best cocktails at the Disney Resort. The style in Florida was a bit different – they have a slightly varied menu, and aren’t as flexible in calling rums or substitutions, but everything was still delicious and the service was amazing. We even had a spilled drink that the waitress replaced free of charge! Overall, as I mentioned, our Cast Member experience was simply delightful at Disney.
Shrunken Zombie Head and Hippo-Mai Tai at Trader Sam’s
Monday evening, we tried out the Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom – a hot spot for Thanksgiving Dinners given the colonial decor and theme. We loved how each party’s home was included in welcoming them from the “colony or territory of….” when seated. As history buffs, it was great to sit in the Betsy Ross room and do a little mini education for the kiddos while we waited for our family style meal of turkey, potatoes, gravy, and veggies. Dessert was a warm cookie with ice cream and quite delicious – think BJ’s bazookie. Liberty Tree Tavern recently started offering American beer and wine (only offered at a few select locations in Magic Kingdom, and not at all at Disneyland Park), and we took advantage with the BV cab, which was just fine for the occasion.
Tuesday evening was a treat – it was a date night for Mr. Cain Travel and me! We hit up the California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, a place we’d enjoyed nearly 10 years before for our 2 year anniversary, and now we are going on 12! It was just as lovely as we remembered, with incredible views of the Magic Kingdom and surrounding Resort, a lovely sunset, and impeccable service. We really loved the sushi as a starter, the cocktails, an incredible wine list with many of our Napa favorites for a reasonable price, the fresh Alaskan cod (only offered on the menu in December) and filet, and even the port and some chocolate dessert. Hey, when you’re kid free on vacation in Disney and you don’t have to drive anywhere, you have to live it up, right? In any case, while we still give Napa Rose the edge, this place is our number two overall Disney Dining experience nation-wide so far, and is definitely somewhere we want to return again on future visits. We really want to try brunch here, which is supposed to be amazing!
View of MK from CA Grill
Delicious sushi platter with handcrafted Mai Tai
Spicy Sushi and Champagne
Our last day finished strong in the food department, with a fun Bon Voyage brunch at Trattoria al Forno. We’d discovered Trattoria the year before with a fantastic breakfast for our Candlelight Dining Package – and were shocked we were one of the only ones in the restaurant. The food was/is fantastic, as is the french press coffee, and so is the friendly staff. However, to bump up publicity, Disney introduced characters at breakfast time, and now it’s hard to score a seat in the place, Our four-year old was in pure heaven, enjoying her time with Flynn, Rapunzel, Eric, and her beloved favorite Ariel. Each character really spent time with each family and made the experience memorable, more so than we’ve had in past experiences. Great food plus a happy preschooler with special memories made for a pretty fantastic meal!
Steak and eggs – I’m in!
The Charming Flynn Rider
All in all, I think our entire family was pleasantly surprised with our Disney dining experience. We didn’t have any meal that disappointed us or we felt was completely out of realm for the price value. A family member with us had a dietary allergy, and every restaurant was fantastic about accommodating that and making sure everything was safe, with plenty of options. We would love to go back to the Epcot World Showcase. This area in itself is a foodie heaven – home to the Food and Wine Festival, and Festival of Holidays, there is so much to experience here. We could literally spend a week just eating and drinking “around the world” – the fact that each host country has authentic Cast there to answer your questions makes it even better. We did make several stops at the Mexico margarita bar, as well as the beignet bakery in France. Wow. That’s all I can say for both experiences – ordering the Fiesta in Mexico will get you cheers from the Cast, and the beignets are nothing like your typical doughnut… can we say chocolate filled goodness in a light puff pastry. But I digress :-).
Festival of the Holidays is an amazing treat
Not a “sweets person”, but these beignets are incredible
For complaints, I think the only big downside was the fact that so much of the nicer sit down dining is now family style, with a set menu, and you cannot order specific items or for a specific taste. While I understand the need for this logistically, and the quality of food was still mostly good, it was frustrating to (a) have to pay full fare for a hit or miss newly 4-year-old to eat and (b) be limited on what was available when forking out a decent chunk of change for a meal. The other bummer is of course the stress in planning so far in advance for meals – dining becomes what you must plan extremely early and plan around for your whole vacation, which I think is one of the most (modern) stressful parts about Walt Disney World in general.
If you need help with your dining plans, or any of your WDW planning, I’d be more than happy to assist! I think your palate and stomach will be pleased! 😉