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There are LOTS of dining options at Disney World! You can eat:
- FREE (by getting a free Disney Dining Plan offer – these have been around a lot the last couple years – you WANT TO SNAG ONE!)
- Cheap by bring in your own food (one year we packed a whole suitcase with breakfast bars, PB & J for lunch, and snacks for the kids – it worked just fine!)
- Thrifty by eating mostly at counter serve locations with only an occasional sit-down meal (which although a lot of fun, can take up precious park time too!)
- Extravagant by eating at 1-2 sit-down places a day and enjoying all the scrumptious options available. Lucky you!
If you are on the Disney Dining Plan you get 1 counter service, 1 snack, and 1 sit-down meal a day (these include character meals!) You may say there are three meals in a day, but you can easily stretch this to cover all meals and most people have snack credits left over! Here are some hints & tidbits if you use the dining plan:
- The dining plan credits are on your room/park pass (looks like a credit card) – no need to have tickets or anything
- All the credits show up at once and you can use them in any order you want. So if you are staying 5 nights, 6 days you would get 5 snacks, 5 counter service, and 5 sit down meals credits all on your card. You could eat all your snacks in one day if you like, but then they are gone!
- Sit-down restaurants require reservations & they book up REALLY fast!! You can book 180 days in advance and YOU SHOULD! You can always cancel later.
- You need to arrive 20 minutes or so early so allow enough time to get there – especially if it is not in the park you are at (Note: A valid theme park ticket is necessary to eat at a park – so if you are in Animal Kingdom you can’t just go over to Hollywood Studios for lunch)
- There are a few places that require 2 sit-down credits: Cinderella’s Castle, dinner & a show, and some fancier restaurants like in Epcot. See the brochure for full details. There aren’t very many, but I wanted to make you aware of them.
- Not all snacks you see may be included on the plan. Look for the DDP logo. But it never hurts to ask =-)
- A counter service meal includes your entrée (and side), drink, and dessert. Trust me you will get tired of the dessert – it seems that they just order a lot of like 3 choices and you will find the chocolate cake especially at what seems like every counter service location. But then again, it’s free =-)
- NOTE: Gratuity is NOT included (that applies to sit-down meals)
- To make your plan stretch to all 3 meals you can
- Use snack credits for bakery items in your hotel or at Main Street Bakery – think giant cinnamon rolls YUM!
- You can share meals =-) There are a few locations that have particularly large portions that could be shared! Especially on a day when you are eating at a sit-down buffet! Plus you have snack credits to fill you up!
These are now included with the standard Disney Dining Plan (2012). If you don’t get the dining plan each resort offers an option to buy a refillable mug for about $15. The mugs themselves are cute and we love using them once we get home. There are several colored lids/handles so you and your family members can tell each others apart. (Our family gets 2 and shares) Once you buy it you can refill it at YOUR HOTEL ONLY as much as you like for the duration of your stay. If you are a big coffee drinker (like my hubby) you may need this to get you going in the morning. Then when we’d come back so swim in the afternoon or evening we’d fill it up with lemonade, tea, soda, or even hot chocolate. Milk is not a refill option. All Star Pop Century does not offer Root Beer as a soda option (that drove me nuts!) If you aren’t there long or don’t plan on going back to the hotel to use the pool these are probably not worth it for you!
- Auntie Gravity's - Fruit Smoothies (or ice cream) in Tomorrowland just before the Speedway (MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Aloha Isle - Pineapple Float in Adventureland by Swiss Family Robinson Tree House (MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Boulangerie Patisserie in France – delicious pastries! (EPCOT)
- Ice Cream in Colonial America – large servings (EPCOT)
- Frozen Lemonade (various locations in all parks) – very refreshing on a HOT day!
- Villains Treats (fudge, caramel popcorn, flavored slushies, and more) Sunset Blvd & Main entrance (HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS)
- Main Street Bakery – delicious baked goods LOTS of choices! (MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Mrs. Potts – HUGE sundaes in Fantasyland to the left of Snow White’s Scary Ride (MAGIC KINGDOM)
Favorite Counter Service:
- Pecos Bill in Frontierland near Splash Mountain - BBQ sandwiches, wraps, burgers, salad bar – large portions & LOTS of seating! (MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Pinocchio Village in Fantasyland near It’s a Small World – personal pizzas with salad side – large portions (MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Backlot by Star Tours - burgers, turkey sandwich, Santa Fe Salad - FREE drink refills (HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS)
- Toy Story Pizza Planet – Pizza & fun theming by The Muppets – large portion (HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS)
- Cosmic Rays – looking for some ‘real’ food? Her you can get 1/2 chicken, BBQ, wraps, or burgers in Tomorrowland – large portions & LOTS of seating! (MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Flame Tree BBQ – good BBQ & portions (between dinosaur ride & Nemo show) (ANIMAL KINGDOM)
- El Pirate y El Pico – Mexican food with huge salad bar for Taco Salad – limited seating (opposite Pirates of the Caribbean)(MAGIC KINGDOM)
- Yak & Yeti – DELICIOUS Asian food; large portions! In Asia to the left of River Rapids. (ANIMAL KINGDOM)
- The Garden Grill (Soarin Pavilion, EPCOT) – We kind of picked this restaurant on a whim to fill up an extra meal credit we had, but The Garden Grill is now one of my top favorite restaurants at Disney!! The restaurant is inside The Land Pavilion on the second floor. The restaurant actually rotates while you eat (one complete time by the time we were done eating). The food is out of this world!! I was a little turned off at first because it is a set menu – I kept thinking what if I don’t like what they are serving. Have no fear there is LOTS of food & LOTS of choices! The food is grown right inside The Land Pavilion – you can see Epcot’s amazing gardens on Living with the Land Ride. You will get an amazing salad, several kinds of fresh bread, your choice of drink, platter with several different kinds of meats, several platters of veggies, and then we had an AMAZING peachberry cobbler. The food is served family style and they will bring you more of anything you want! The wait staff was amazingly helpful and friendly – they really went out of their way to take care of us! As if the food, rotating, and staff wasn’t enough – this is a CHARACTER MEAL! Because this is a smaller restaurant and not as crowded (for some strange reason) the characters spend more time at your table interacting with you & most likely you will see them twice!! PLUS you will get to see Mickey in his overalls – it was too cute. We saw Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. Don’t overlook this gem!!!
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway, EPCOT) – If you have a little Princess this is the place for you! Instead of waiting in line to see all the different princesses come have a delicious meal in this stunning Norwegian Banquet Hall and see all your child’s favorites at one time! To save on time you can get a reservation for 1 hour BEFORE the park opens (you get in to the park before it is open to the public) so that you will be done just in time for the attractions to open! The other great thing about this meal is it is the only meal with various princesses that is only one credit! We opted for the American breakfast to save time, but they have Norwegian food for lunch & dinner. For breakfast we were served a platter of warm food (eggs, sausage, etc.) that they offered to refill for us. Then there was a cold buffet with baked goods, cheeses, fruit, and yogurt. When you are called to eat you will go meet & take a picture with Belle (the only time you will see her). Later, when you are eating you will be brought a picture package – unlike packages at other restaurants this is INCLUDED in your meal! Make sure your kids have their autographs ready because the princesses (typically Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, and Ariel) will be by to visit one after another. At some point during your meal they do a ‘dance’ where they parade through the tables. Your kids can join in on the procession – my kids thought it was great fun! (TIP: I would take a picture or save your recipe in your portfolio to have it added to your photopass CD)
- Biergarten Restaurant (Germany, EPCOT) – We loved this beautifully themed restaurant. You feel like you are on terrace of a restaurant at night in the black forest area of Germany. If you time it right you can even have dinner & a show. There is German music performed inside which includes music, interesting instruments, and an opportunity to dance (my kids LOVED this!) The food itself is delicious! You will be shown to your table (where you will most likely sit with other families). After your drink orders are taken you can go up to the buffet filled with delicious German salads, main dishes, and scrumptious pastries. Fill up while you enjoy the beautiful scenery & show. I would definitely come back!!
- The Crystal Palace – (Magic Kingdom) This is a favorite for me, and not just because since I was little I’ve been a big Pooh fan! The Crystal Palace is right at the end of Main street, in front of the castle and is inside what looks like a Crystal Palace – the restaurant is beautiful and full of natural light. The all you care to eat buffet is delicious, filled with lots of choices: hand carved meats, salads, entrees, frozen yogurt machine, 20+ desserts, and drinks brought complimentary to your table. It is one of (if not the) least expensive sit-down meals at Disney World. Which surprised me with how good the food was plus it IS A CHARACTER MEAL! You will most likely see Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet. They rotate around the restaurant throughout your meal – expect in the 45 minutes you are there to see everyone once. At some point the characters will do a parade and the kids can walk around with the characters – my kids always liked that! The other really cool trick is that it opens for breakfast 1 hour before the park does. So you can get in early (with your reservation number) and actually stop briefly in front of the castle and get a picture of your family with NO ONE else in the park – cool huh!!) Plus you won’t ‘waste’ any park time as you will be done eating just in time for the park to open!
- Tusker House Safari Breakfast (Africa, Animal Kingdom) – This is the BEST buffet breakfast at Disney in my humble opinion!! You can get as much as you can eat of Mickey Waffles, fruit, Krispie Crème donuts, eggs, breakfast meats, crepes, hashbrowns, yogurts, cold meats, etc. The entire restaurant is GORGEOUS!! It is to look like an African restaurant and it is beautiful. The super cool characters (with them in their Safari clothes) are only at breakfast. Just like a couple other favorites this restaurant opens 1 hour before the park opens. With your reservation number there is a private turnstile to allow you to get in the park early (allow 15-20 minutes to walk all the way to the back of the park). Before you are seated you will take a picture with Safari Donald (the only time you will get to see him) – the picture will be offered later in your meal for a hefty price tag (in my opinion) to purchase. The other characters, Daisy, Mickey, occasionally Pluto, and Goofy will be by to say hi during your meal. Like other character meals part way through they will parade around the dining room with the kids – the kids get to play an African musical instrument while parading. We enjoy this breakfast, character interaction, beautiful restaurant, and location close to one of the main attractions the Safari so much that we have eaten here every time we’ve visited Animal Kingdom!
- 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian Hotel) The Grand Floridian is just a quick hop, skip and a jump away from the Magic Kingdom or Epcot on the free Monorail (a good chance to ride the monorail if you, like us, opted for a less expensive hotel). The hotel itself is beautiful and chances are you will hear someone tickling the ivories of the main lobby as you enter. Make your way to the 1900 Park Fare on the first floor for your Happily Ever After dinner with Cinderella characters: Step Mother, Annastasia, Drizella, Prince Charming, and Cinderella. The restaurant also offers breakfast (with Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and other Wonderland guests) and Tea (with Wonderland characters). The all you can eat buffet was actually pretty unexciting. The food was fine, but bland. Expect to find some carved meat and ‘typical’ American sides. Nothing stood out as good; the service was also okay, but not great. The location was pretty, but not as spectacular as some of the other dining options. What stood out where the amazing characters! They all stayed in character reminding our children to keep their elbows off the table, that the Prince was coming, etc. I had read beforehand that if little girls dressed like Cinderella they stood a good chance of getting picked to dance with Prince Charming (no parade at this restaurant, just a chance to dance with Prince Charming or Cinderella). Minnie did indeed get to dance with the prince. But what made this evening magical & unforgettable was my son Goofy. I found him the cutest Prince Charming costume on Ebay beforehand. So the step mother and step sisters kept asking him if he had a big kingdom, a wife, etc. Then when it came time to dance Drizella came back from the other room to dance with Goofy! She danced in the most hysterical and ridiculous way (totally in character)! It was HILARIOUS!! The entire dining room was laughing and no one was watching the main event – Prince Charming & Cinderella. To top it off she gave him a big lipstick kiss on the forehead. It was the most memorable night EVER – I will never forget it! So don’t expect to be wowed with the food, but if your kids love Cinderella you might want to go!
- 50s Prime Time Café (Hollywood Studios by Indiana Jones Stunt Show) This is my new favorite! This darling restaurant feels like you’ve stepped back to the 50s. In the lobby you can relax in the living room of a typical 50 s homes complete with a black & white television playing Leave it to Beaver. Once it’s your turn to eat your server will introduce themselves as Cousin (their name) You will go eat in their kitchen in front of the TV like back in the 50s. But this restaurant is WAY MORE than just a super cute place to eat. The food is AMAZING with HUGE portions!! I had a mixed meat plate that was enormous and so tasty. PLUS if you are on the dining plan you can order a big shake as your drink!! I ordered a Root Bear Float as my drink . Plus you get to order dessert. I got the Smores dessert which was amazing. Grandma got the biggest Sundae I’ve ever seen – WOW! Throughout your meal you server (excuse me Cousin) will come check on how things are going. She will remind you to keep your elbows off the table, to eat your veggies, if kids are bickering she will tell them to stand in the corner or that they may have to do the dishes (all in good fun). We got a HUGE kick that Grandpa was the one not eating all his veggies (simply because the meal was SO HUGE) and getting ‘fussed’ at. This is simply too cute & delicious to miss! Whether you are on the dining plan or not plan on stopping here for an amazing meal!
- Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – If you are adventuresome or just want an excuse to see the AMAZING Animal Kingdom Lodge than try Boma. Boma is an all you can eat African buffet. You will find soups (try the delicious Peanut Soup), lots of salads, carved meats, breads, African dishes, traditional dishes, all cooked in a wood-fire rotisserie grill. But don’t forget to leave room for the exquisite selections of desserts – YUM might be an understatement! The restaurant itself is stunning. I LOVED the food – so flavorful and delicious! If you are less adventurous you can eat the traditional entrees, things from the kids section (don’t worry no one will notice) or just enjoy the amazing desserts! One of my favorite things about this restaurant is you get to see the STUNNING Animal Kingdom Lodge. You will want to allow 45+ minutes to wander and look at the wood carvings throughout the lobby, sit in a wood rocking chair and stare out the window, or to go outside to see what animals are nearby. There is always something out there – if you are lucky you will get to see a Giraffe up close. There is typically an employee at the observation area to answer questions guests have about the animals. The $300/night rooms are out of our price range, but it is sure a beautiful lodge with an amazing view! This lodge is a little out of the way. Make sure to allow plenty of time to get there. Would we go again? It was an amazing experience with delicious food, but as it took a big chunk of time out of our day we would probably try something else next time. But you will definitely want to go once!
- Fantasmic Package at Hollywood & Vine – Honestly the only reason we picked Hollywood & Vine was it was the only one of the three participating Fantasmic restaurants that had availability (that was 160 days out!) . If you are planning on seeing Fantasmic (and you should it is AMAZING!!) this is a great option to not stand in the CRAZY long & stressful line to get in the show. People are pushing, it is hot, you have to wait a long time as the show fills up and runs out of room, etc. With the package you get a ticket that allows you to go in a private entrance and walk right in to reserved seating!! I will ALWAYS do a Fantasmic package from now on! As far as Hollywood & Vine it is also one of the least expensive restaurants at Disney and has a great selection of flavorful traditional dishes. It will not WOW you, but it doesn’t disappoint either. It is a good dinner. The atmosphere is fine, nothing spectacular. The waiter was exceptionally good and refilled my Root Beer 8 times I think! Would we go back? I think we would try to do one of the other Fantasmic Restaurants next time, but if they didn’t have availability or we were paying for it out of pocket we SURE WOULD!
- Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort) – Chef Mickey’s is another super quick, free trip on the Monorail (fun for those of us who do not want to pay the $365/night cost to stay at a hotel right on the Monorail) The monorail goes right in the middle of this hotel so the inside of the hotel is a HUGE open space. It is cool and leaves a WOW feeling. The downside is that the restaurant, also in the open aired lobby, is pretty noisy. As you enter you will take a picture by Chef Mickey’s plate (they will later try to get you to buy the expensive, but cute picture – we resisted). I have to say that I thought the costumes of the characters were darling! We also got to see a LOT of characters: Donald, Minnie, Goofy, Mickey, and Pluto! The food was okay, just typical buffet food. The dessert station was pretty impressive and included a make your own Sundae with scads of topping options! There is a main area in the restaurant with the buffet and a couple tables and then I think 3 dining rooms off of the main room. We got stuck with a table in the buffet area so our experience wasn’t great. It was noisier, crowded, the characters made weird stops or breaks right before us so it was hard to be back from the buffet in time to see them. We also didn’t get to participate in the parade =-( I questioned our spot when we sat down, but was not offered a choice – if this happens to you insist on moving!! We probably would have liked it better (still not one of my favorites, but better) if we were in a different spot. At the end I did talk to a manager who ended up giving us an adult meal free (not helpful if you are on the meal plan which luckily we weren’t on that visit). So you might want to try it – good characters if you are in a room, the food was okay, desserts were good. I am a little soured by the experience so I don’t think we would go back…. but who knows!
- Cinderella Royal Table – (Magic Kingdom) I think everyone is curious about what the castle is like inside. I know I was. So with free dining we decided to do a super special, once-in-a-lifetime meal at the Castle (Note: It does require 2 dining credits) The castle itself does not disappoint. The winding staircase, huge stained glass windows, vaulted ceiling with kingdom flags, elegant place setting, blue goblets, and exquisitely presented food will delight you! The dining room itself is rather small (probably why it is so hard to get reservations here!). When you are announced you will take a picture with Cinderella (the only time you will see her). You will be brought several pictures that are FREE with your meal. After you go up the staircase (past the bathroom in case you need it) you will be seated. The kids are given a wishing star and a magic wand for girls and a sword for boys. You will order form I believe 5 choices each of a 3 course meal that will delight the pallet and impress you visually too! As you are eating the princesses will be announced one by one: Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and Belle (why she wasn’t in her evening dress for the castle surprises me!). I actually thought this was one of the weakest character interactions of our entire trip! I am sure it depends on who you get, but I much preferred the interaction at Akershus where it was cheaper!!! Part way through they have Jiminey Cricket say on the loud speaker something about wishes coming true and the kids do something with their wishing stars – it was fine, but not anything amazing. Minnie did enjoy her kids menu choice for dessert – decorate your own cupcake. So would we do it again? Probably not. The castle was amazing and super cool to say we’ve eaten there – once. The food was delicious. But with the poor character interactions and the expensive cost ($60/adult & $36/kid or 2 dining credits) I don’t think we’ll feel the need or urge to do it again.
- Cape May Café (Beach Club Resort) Another excellent breakfast buffet is found at Cape May Café. At first glance it seemed a little inconvenient to get here for the character breakfast as you can’t take a bus right here – you’d have to take a bus to a park and then from the park get on a new bus to the hotel. Because of the time of our breakfast we decided to just take a taxi which the front desk helped us arrange. That was actually super easy and a minivan taxi picked the 7 of us up and for $5 got us to the Beach Club Resort in a couple minutes. The resort is beautiful – if you have some time you may want to just stroll the grounds or take a look at the antique car by the entrance like my hubby enjoyed. The food was VERY good! They had all the traditional hot breakfast foods, pastries, yogurts, cereals, plus eggs benedict, and a couple other surprises. We saw Goofy, Minnie, and Donald all in their beach attire – super cute! The characters were relaxed and took their time with our kids. Donald even did a little dance with my son that he talked about ALL DAY! The characters even made it half way around again in the 40 minutes it took us to eat breakfast. Would I do it again? It was a great breakfast, great character interaction, easy/cheap taxi ride – SURE THING!
Menus & Pricing:
If you are like me you wanted to see what things actually cost to compare. Or check out the menu to make sure that there is something that sounds good. Here is a fantastic site - Allears.net – you can see see Menus, Pricing, and Reviews on all the Disney Restaurants (both counter service & sit-down).
*Please visit Disney’s website for any updates, changes, and current ride closures/refurbishments.
LOOKING FOR MORE?!?
Check out other helpful topics in the Dreaming of Disney Series below!
- When to take your kids (what is the 'perfect' age)
- Planning for your trip (time of year, how long to stay, Disney hotels, and affordability/deals)
- Tidbits (20 tips from the best place to see Mickey to strollers to super cool Disney features you may not know about)
- Dining: My top picks for snacks, quick meals, and reviews on 12 restaurants (including character meals)
- Magic Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland, CA
And if you are ready to book your next magical vacation may I recommend:
Lori Watson, of Watson Vacations, is a stay-at-home, homeschool mom to 5. Watson Vacation's services are always FREE to you when you book your Disney/Sandals/Cruise/or any other vacation stay with us and our prices are the same as if you'd book directly through Disney and other vendors! Why use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner? We offer so MUCH more for free! Our concierge services include (but aren't limited to) resort booking, dining reservation arrangements, ticket purchases, special events, special park itineraries and planners to help you avoid crowds. We also offer weddingmoon and honeymoon planning, family reunion planning and Much MUCH more! For your FREE, no-obligation quote, email Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/
watsonvacations She looks forward to helping you plan your **MAGICAL** getaway!