People who love a five-star restaurant consider it a priority on at least two or three nights. In fact, everyone should plan at least two decent, relaxed dinners over a one-week vacation. An evening with seared salmon, wine, and candlelight gives bodies time to unwind from a frenzied theme park pace. However, two nice dinners leaves 19 other meals to contend with, and these meals tend to focus more on refueling than relaxing. You want these meals to be decent, but you don’t expect table d’hote.
Expect in-depth descriptions of each sit-down restaurant on Disney property in the days/months/years ahead. In the meantime, remember that restaurant descriptions don’t mean much once you’re inside Walt Disney World when “sitting down” becomes more important than crème brulee.
This is how it works for most visitors: They realize they’re hungry. The Fast Pass for Space Mountain is effective in 30 minutes, and it gives them a one-hour window to ride. They crunch numbers: 90 minutes to find a restaurant, eat, and return. They could wait until after they ride Space Mountain, but that means dinner is at about an hour away, and they’re hungry now. Besides, they’ll get another Fast Pass anyway, which just recreates the problem.
As a result, restaurant location weighs heavily. If the place five minutes away is 3 stars and the place a 30 minutes away is 4 stars, tired travelers opt for proximity rather than palate.
Here are decision-making aids for selecting a restaurant while somewhere on Disney property:
1. For table service dining, it’s not just wise to make a reservation ahead of time, it’s mandatory for popular restaurants. Disney accepts reservation up to 180 days in advance. To make a reservation, call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463), or book online. If you don’t have a reservation, call ahead before walking across a park or driving to another resort.
2. Each economy resort (the ones with “All-Star” in their name) has only a food court, and they’re all the same. The food is okay compared to fast food joints, mediocre compared to any nearby sit-down restaurant.
3. All other Disney hotels, moderate and luxury, have at least one decent sit-down restaurant, with the top draw in each one roughly comparable to the level of the hotel, meaning each luxury resort has the best. Disney’s top restaurant – and only five-star, dress code one – is in The Grand Floridian.
4. All moderate hotels (Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, Coronado Springs) have a decent food court and a sit-down restaurant. The sit-down restaurants are all good to very good, but they don’t reach culinary greatness.
5. All luxury hotels offer a food court, many times with one or two offerings themed to the hotel. Most also have at least two other restaurants – the top-of-the-line one along with a second sit-down restaurant in the less expensive/good-to-very-good category.
6. The campground is an exception. It has no food court (groceries for campers in the gift shop) and a single buffet restaurant that is decent and reasonably priced. (Since it connects to the Magic Kingdom by boat, it’s a fair option for a theme park get-away.)
7. Epcot has the best sit-down restaurants, not to mention the most. Chefs in World Showcase come with credentials, and food quality – as a reflection of the host country – is taken seriously. If planning to spend money on only a single sit-down dinner, make it Epcot.
8. Magic Kingdom has decent food, but many sit-down restaurants also feature character meals in which Mickey and friends flit from table to table. If looking for an adult-oriented sit-down dinner, hop the monorail to the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian.
9. Hollywood Studios has no mind-blowing restaurant, but it does have a handful with decent food and service.
10. Animal Kingdom has only one sit-down restaurant inside the park, the new Yak & Yeti, though a Rainforest Café sits just outside the entrance.
11. Most of the restaurants elsewhere on Disney property are owned by someone else, including the ones in Downtown Disney. Rule of thumb not always true: If the restaurant is themed (Rainforest Café and Planet Hollywood, for example) the food is okay but not great. If the restaurant looks like a restaurant, the food is generally better.