This past weekend, I was at a party chatting with a friend about her upcoming trip to Disney World. She asked for my dining recommendations. Before she knew it, I had pen and paper out, my My Disney Experience app on my phone open, and it was about thirty minutes before she could get a word in the “conversation”. I had a LOT of recommendations.
We’ve been to Disney twice already with our children, and have five days booked for this summer, as part of our larger road trip. While I wouldn’t consider myself a Disney expert, I did speak to a lot of people for personal recommendations and read a lot of blogs before each of our trips. I was very interested in where to eat to have the best family experience.
You can make dining reservations 180 days from the start of your stay. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make dining reservations ahead of time, and as soon as you can. When you make a reservation, they will ask for credit card information to hold the reservation. There are various cancellation policies based on the venue; some restaurants give you up to five days, and some are within 24 hours of a reservation. There are also a few dining options that will require you to prepay for your meal. Disney has various dining plan packages at various price points, and include snacks, quick service meals (you order at a counter, pick up your food, and find a place to sit), full service (buffet and menu options), and formal dining. Note: Disney Dining Plans are only available if you are staying on a Disney owned property.
Full Disclosure: I would not consider the following a comprehensive list of all restaurants, just a list of my family’s most memorable meals. if you want a full list of Disney Dining options, check out their official site here. The site will also give you info on the dining plan packages and pricing.
My family’s favorite restaurants at Disney World:
In Park Dining: Note: You’ll need to have park tickets to visit one of these establishments
Magic Kingdom: Cinderella’s Royal Table: Where else will you have the opportunity to dine inside a castle with the company of Cinderella, Snow White, Aeril, Jasmin and Aurora. Each visit starts with a meet and greet with Cinderella and photo session. Each child will also receive a souvenir: magic wands for girls and swords for boys. For all three meals, you’ll order an entree but they’ll also bring plates of food to share. Tip: Breakfast is more affordable than lunch and dinner (esp. if you’re not on the dining plan) and it’ll get you into the park before it officially opens. Notes: There is a Memory Maker photo op before you are seated and you will need to prepay for this reservation.
We enjoyed Crystal Palace so much we went twice in two days! The restaurant is bright, airy and located at the end of Main Street, at the intersection of three parts of the park. You’ll be visited by Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore, and Piglet. The buffet is well done, with a wide variety of options, and there was something especially upbeat about the atmosphere, which is inspired by Victorian greenhouses.
Epcot: Coral Reef Restaurant is definitely a stop for the fish lovers in your group. Each table has a view of a saltwater tank that 80 different species of fish. Even though most of the menu is seafood centered, there are options for carnivores. We went for lunch and, since it’s in the middle of Future World, it was a perfect respite for tired feet.
Germany’s Biergarten: Everyday is Oktoberfest and it’ll be fun to try some new food options for a buffet. There is a show (about) every hour (so you’ll get to see one while you’re eating) and they encourage dancing on the stage directly in front of the band. Plus, tiered floors will ensure everyone has a good view of the stage and band. Note: There are some large communal tables, so if you’re a smaller party, you might share a table with another group.
Hollywood Studios: The Hollywood Brown Derby was definitely the splurge of our trip, but well worth it. Once inside, you truly feel that you’ve been transported back to Hollywood in the 1950s. Our dining plans allowed everyone to receive three courses, and we were stuffed by the end of the meal! It was fun to check out all the caricatures of famous “stars.”
Animal Kingdom: Tusker House is a great alternative to the usual "suspects" for a buffet, which includes a lot of African inspired dishes, plus visits from Safari Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy. It’s located in the middle of the park and a good break from the safari and rides (definitely go on the safari!).
Resort Dining: You can drive to some locations, or take the Disney operated monorail, bus system, or boat launches. You do not need park tickets to dine at these locations.
Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort: It’s the only place you can see the “original five” aka Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. We got lucky both times we visited, and were the “Family of the Day”. This meant we got to “open” the restaurant with Mickey, had a special table, photo op with Mickey, signed MIckey’s autograph book, and received souvenir placemats. They have frequent dance parties throughout the meal. Notes: If you have an early reservation for breakfast or dinner, ask the receptionist if you can be Family of the Day. The restaurant is accessible by monorail if you’re inside the parks, or you can drive or take Disney operated buses or boat launches. Memory Maker Photo Op before you’re seated for a meal.
Mary Poppins tea or breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian: The Supercalifragilistic Breakfast is a delightful choice with the most options I have seen for a breakfast buffet. The entire resort is beautiful, but 1900 Park Fare is especially fancy, and includes visits from Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter (he’s a hoot!), and Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. Notes: It’s accessible by monorail if you’re inside the parks, or you can drive or take Disney operated buses or boat launches. Memory Maker Photo Op before you’re seated for a meal.
Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge: The Lodge itself is breathtaking and worth a visit (take the boat launch for great views of several Disney properties and a nice break from the monorail). You might have fun giving the staff a hard time, but rest assured, they’ll give it right back to you! (Their sarcasm is intentional) And, as EVERYone who gave me advice said, you just gotta ask for ketchup. Notes: It’s accessible by car, Disney operated bus, and boat launch from the transportation center or the Contemporary Resort.
Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review at Fort Wilderness: Full confession, we haven’t been yet, but it’s on our list for this summer. The show is suppose to be super fun, and well worth the price (or two meal credits). There is a full BBQ meal and a two hour interactive show. Notes: There are three set times for each day and you will need to prepay for this reservation.
Disney Springs: We have not been to Disney Springs since it was redone in 2015. You can drive, or take the Disney operated buses. When it was known as Downtown Disney, we visited in 2014 and spent a few hours taking in the sites and shopping. The Disney store (the largest, most comprehensive store with ALL Disney merchandise imaginable) is located on the property. We had a good, “quick service” lunch at the Earl of Sandwich. You can bring your food outside and people watch at a picnic table.
One final note: When you make reservations, they’ll ask if you’re celebrating anything special. Be sure to tell them of birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions- they’ll make an extra effort to help you celebrate. And, as they always say, everything is subject to change.