Say hi to Samantha from Socially Sam. Sam loves Disney, and for her the food is a massive part of her trip. So she has put together the ultimate list for foodies planning a trip to Disney in Florida. Read on, and prepare to start planning your holiday!
If I could express to you in words just how much I love a Disney holiday, then we’d be here all day and you’d get fed up of reading after about the 27th million word. I would forego every treat, luxury, shopping trip, night out, everything, all year round to be able to afford my annual trip to Florida.
I won’t skirt around it and I’ll be honest with you, it’s not cheap. We always stay in a Disney Resort hotel, do all the parks, all the trimmings and make the most of our 2 weeks there. I know there’s loads of websites out there and guides that will tell you how to do Disney on the cheap, but really it’s still not cheap. So I prefer to just get the absolute most for my money. Hence one of my favourite parts of the whole Disney experience is the food.
So here are my top Disney dining, must see, do, experiences, hacks and avoids.
Because I’m now a seasoned Disney dining veteran I know to make sure I book when the offers are on. You know the one that’s advertised every year saying you get free dining? It’s worth it. And unless you’re taking a lot of people and going in peak season, it’s also worth upgrading your hotel to a deluxe so you get the table service meal plan. You get a table service meal, main course plus dessert and soft drinks, counter service meal and 2 snacks every day plus a refillable drinks cup. That’s a lot of food.
I worked it out on this year’s visit that we probably consumed in the region of $2000 worth of food and drink on our dining plan. And we still had credits left at the end so could easily have added another $200+ to that. Now you see why I say the free dining plan offer is well worth it.
2 Book In Advance
If you’ve taken my advice and got a dining plan then you can get early access to book your restaurants for dinner well in advance. Some of the more popular restaurants are like the stuff of legends to get reservations at so you have to be quick off the mark if you want to claim a spot. Since it opened I’ve still never managed to get a reservation at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom and I am the master of booking in advance.
Save yourself a whole load of hassle and download the My Disney Experience app and get booking well in advance. By 5pm most days the table service restaurants are full everywhere.
3 Character Breakfasts
You haven’t had a Disney experience unless you’ve done a character breakfast. Nothing will release your inner child ready for a day in the parks like a plate full of Mickey Waffles and the main man mouse himself visiting your table for a hug and a selfie. I’ve done several of the locations for these and I’m pretty settled on my favourite being Chef Mickeys located in the Contemporary Hotel right beside Magic Kingdom. The food is great, the staff are great, you get to meet loads of characters and the staff are diligent in making sure they all come to your table. There’s a great atmosphere in there and you get to have a nosey in one of the top of the range Disney hotels.
4 Signature Dining
You have to experience at least one of the signature dining restaurants whilst you’re there. And it’s on your dining plan. Make sure you check out the menus first so you know there’s something you really want on the menu. Signature dining uses 2 credits and tends to be a lot more expensive than the normal table service restaurants. We dined in 2 this year, The Boathouse and STK. Whereby I thought the food in the Boathouse was good, price wise it was only slightly more expensive than a normal table service meal. I didn’t particularly think it was worth the 2 credits. On the other hand, STK was fabulous.
The other signature dining you may need to consider is Cinderella’s Table in Magic Kingdom. Yep, you can have dinner, with the Princesses, in the Castle. Pretty magical. Well, that’s if your child is really into the Princesses. And I mean really in to. We’ve done this one a few years ago and I was kind of lukewarm about it afterwards. Actually, I was still hungry. The food was ok. Not signature level. But the queues can be huge to get in to meet the Princesses elsewhere, so if you have a little Princess that dreams of getting a selfie with Rapunzel, then this is probably a good option. Just perhaps go early so you can get a counter service meal for yourself later on.
5 Speaking of counter service meals
With the deluxe dining plan, as well as getting a table service meal every day you also get a counter service meal. There are counter service locations everywhere and a huge variety so you’ll always find something you like. I like to use the counter service for breakfast in the hotel (we now always stay at Saratoga Springs Resort). You get a good, decent breakfast to set you up for the day, unlimited coffee (you also get a refillable drinks mug with the dining plan, which is a huge plus) and then you can use your snack credits to keep you going until dinner.
I also must add that the Caesar Salad at Saratoga Springs is huge. Like huge! But amazing. I actually look forward to it before I go. I know, quite sad really that a salad excites me.
Yep, so another great plus point of the dining plan is snacks. And you get 2 per day. There is a huge range of items you can use these for: ice cream, bottled drinks, sweets, popcorn and my absolute favourite, Mickey Pretzels. These are the equivalent of a light lunch and perfect for after your big breakfast and before your big dinner. And also light on your stomach if you’re in the parks and going on rides. I should also mention Olaf ice lollies. I have a serious addiction to them.
Snacks can also be used in Starbucks. That’s just like a bonus in itself. And nearly everything in Goofy Candy is classed as a snack so it’s great for getting big bags of sweets to take home as gifts. Just watch the weight limit on your bags. I did once get stung with this one after buying loads of sweets for the family kids using up my snack credits. It cost me about £60 to get my bag on the plane home. Tip, you can convert unused counter service meals to snacks. I think it’s either 3 or 4 snacks per meal.
7 Use Disney Springs
This is more of a personal preference probably because I have an older child. One of the main reasons we stay at Saratoga Springs is because it’s only a few minutes walk across the bridge to the Disney Springs area which has a ton of great restaurants, shops, entertainment and cinema. Unless there’s a specific reason to dine in the parks in the evenings, like for example you are staying for the fireworks, I prefer to head to Disney Springs. The range is great, you feel like you’re on a night out and, the big one for me, the parks later on are full of tired children that tend to not want to sit and eat their dinner and would much rather be in bed. I know that sounds slightly pedantic, but I just prefer to eat my lovely dinner at night not surrounded by over tired kids.
Ok, now on to some of my favourite restaurants…
This is a new addition to the Disney Springs area and part of the signature dining range. They are a chain and I’d been to the one in London before and been impressed. Orlando was just as good. The food was amazing, although just be aware that most main courses come as they are and you need to order and pay for fries, veg, salad etc if you want it. We both had filet steaks, daughter a 6oz and me a 10oz, she had plain fries and I had truffle fries. The loaves of bread are fresh baked and delicious. For dessert, I had a warm cookie, which was huge and daughter had a trio of ice cream cones. A true test is always would I go again? A very big yes to this one.
9 Raglan Road
I’ve been here so many times I’ve lost count. It really is a Disney favourite. And, as the name suggests, Irish. The food is always great and even if you’re not on the dining plan it’s still pretty reasonable. There is also entertainment on every night, usually in the form of a band and traditional Irish dancers. You can have your meal and then stay on for the entertainment. I’d recommend the Fish and Chips, but the Shepherd’s Pie is good too, and so is the Stew, and the Chowder oh and the Bangers and Mash are pretty good too. Ok, you get it. It’s all good.
10 50’s Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios
Think of the set from Happy Days and staff that call you their cousin and shout you in for dinner. They tell you off for your elbows being on the table and expect you to eat your greens. This isn’t a fancy food place by any stretch of the imagination. It’s old fashioned comfort food. But still good. And an entertaining environment. My favourites here would be the fried chicken followed by the cheesecake. The pot roast or the chicken pot pie are also worth a try.
11 The Best of the Rest
After those, I struggle to come up with absolute must do restaurants because quite simply there are tons of them. You need longer than 2 weeks there to get around all the really good places, but then again, it’s also the perfect excuse for going back again next year. So here are my top recommendations to fill your stay with:
- Paradiso 37 – the Mahi Mahi is amazing (Disney Springs)
- Planet Hollywood – just for the freak shakes and the huge screen shows (Disney Springs)
- Rainforest Café – the volcano! (Disney Springs + Animal Kingdom)
- T-Rex – ask for the ice room (Disney Springs and book well in advance)
- Beaches and Cream – just ignore your calorie intake (Beach Club)
- House of Blues – the biggest serving of fried chicken I have ever seen! (Disney Springs), plus if you’re just adults visiting they often have great bands on late at night, no kids!
- The Plaza – great for a more substantial later lunch or fireworks viewing spot (Magic Kingdom)
- Rose and Crown – British pub, serving really expensive British beer, served by Brits. But the foods good too (Epcot)
- Bongos – just for the smell of the barbeque (Disney Springs)
- California Grill – probably up there very close to the top signature dining spots (STK grabs the top spot for me) but it’s located at the top of the Contemporary so the views are amazing. The food is really good too, but perhaps not for kids. This is a grown ups night out. (Contemporary Resort)
12 Fork and Dine
The AMC cinema in Disney Springs has a dining option called Fork and Dine. They have special theatres just for diners, with table service, full menu, massive comfy seats and a button you press whenever you want something. Then you just pay at the end of the film. You can arrive 30 minutes before the film starts, get comfortable at your table, order, be served and be onto dessert or popcorn, or both by the time the main film starts. And if you want a drink or popcorn refill you just press the button and it’s brought to you. The only thing that’s missing is the pause button for if you need the loo mid film! It’s in Disney Springs but not covered by your dining plan, but we love it and just for the sheer novelty it’s worth a visit.
13 Get Out!
If you do stay away from Disney or sometimes venture away there are some great eating places in nearby Kissimmee along the 192 or head to International Drive. There is every option you can think of minus the Disney crowds. But again, be warned, they do get really busy during peak season.
For off-site eating I would recommend a trip to Bahama Breeze, just soooooo good. Ihop for pancakes, located on International Drive. Bubba Shrimp at City Walk, Universal Studios, and last but by no means least and one of my favourite chain restaurants that I hunt out everywhere (most recently I tried the one in Dubai and it was just as good), Cheesecake Factory. If we had them in the UK I would have a serious problem. All the main courses are great but lets face it, we go there for the cake. The white chocolate and raspberry is on another level. The portions are huge, but somehow there’s never any leftovers.
And finally, two to remember…
14 Maybe Avoid
There aren’t many places I wouldn’t go back to, as I tend to find the Disney dining standards are in general very high. But there are a few places that didn’t really float my boat:
The Boathouse (no pun intended) Good but not signature dining and the staff weren’t really very chatty. This may sound a pedantic point, but, I’m a single parent travelling alone with my child. Sometimes the only bit of adult conversation I get is with the server at dinner. Please don’t shun me because I’m not a table of 6 who you’ll get a bigger tip from.
Fireworks Dessert Party These aren’t included in your dining plan and I think the one we did in Magic Kingdom was $50 each. It wasn’t worth it. I have a nut allergy and they assured me when booking I’d still have a great selection and it wasn’t an issue. They pretty much gave me a plate of fruit and gummy bears and told me not to touch anything from the buffet. Daughter made a few trips to the buffet but for $50 I expected a more wow factor and a better view. The whole point is that you’re supposed to get a great view of the fireworks. You don’t. It’s obscured.
I suggest you save your money, get treats from the Main Street Bakery using your snacks credits, find yourself a spot to sit right in front of the castle at about 8pm. Have a little picnic and when the fireworks start at 9pm you’ll have the best view in the house.
Mama Melrose in Hollywood Studios We did this Italian as part of the Fantasmic dining experience: dinner and then a reserved seat at the Fantasmic show. I wasn’t impressed with the food and the service was rushed and disinterested. We’d have still gotten a good seat at Fantasmic anyway.
Splitsville at Disney Springs This is the dining part of the bowling alley. It’s a nice place and always busy and the food, on the whole, is quite good. But the servers on both my visits here have now done enough to put me off. I felt like I was being rushed to finish and hustled for the tip.
I’d been sat down maybe 30 seconds and the server tried to take my order. I wasn’t ready. He then came back 20 minutes later to take my order. When the food came, yep that was fine, but within 2 minutes he was over again to leave us dessert menus. Five, yes 5, times he asked me what I wanted for dessert while I was still eating my main course. When I did order dessert, he’d brought the bill, with the tip demand before the desserts had even come. I didn’t sign the receipt until I’d finished my dessert. After he had checked another 5 times if I’d done that and left his tip.
I realised there was a group of girls on the table behind he was more interested in finishing work to go out with. We were his last table. Boy did I take a really long time to finish that dessert and he only got a $2 tip.
15 A note on tips
Sorry, slight digression, but the tipping thing gets annoying everywhere. Every single server, everywhere, feels the need to tell you how much you are to tip them when you pay. It’s even printed on your receipt. Because you’re on Disney dining you scan your magic band and then sign like you would a credit card. They try and get you to charge the tip to your room. Do not fall for this one. They will charge the higher amount and you’ll have a big bill when you check out.
Instead, do cash for the tip and judge yourself how much to pay. Yes, go with the guidance, but I knock money off if they’ve tried to hustle me for it. Or they’ve literally just plonked the food down in front of me and done nothing else. If I get good service then they get the full tip.
My Disney Food Addiction
In all honesty, I’d go to Walt Disney World Orlando every year forever. The resort hotels are world class. There is loads to do but you can also just relax by the pool and eat your way into a food coma. I’d go every year just for the food alone! Like I said at the start it is expensive but if you make the most of it I think you do get good value for your money. It probably is my favourite foodie holiday, but that’s before I tell you about the Sunday Brunch at Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados! Now that is wow! But that’s another story for another day. Right now, I’m craving a Mickey Pretzel and an Olaf ice lolly!
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SHE LOVES: I didn’t know I needed mouse shaped waffles, but I want them now! Thanks Sam for sharing x