October 2011: Disney parks have four levels of dining: Full-service restaurants/buffets, fast food, limited food and dessert, and street vendors.
These could be a sit-down restaurant or upscale buffet, which is arguably not “full service.” Due to its in-the-park location, however, don’t expect five stars. With the possible exception of some restaurants in Epcot’s World Showcase, “fine dining” inside a theme park falls short of many upscale diners’ expectations. To turn dinner into a true break, consider leaving the park and eating at a nearby resort restaurant. Even there, though, expect many patrons in T-shirts and shorts.
Note, however: Some full-service restaurants/buffets offer character dining, which means Mickey Mouse, Winnie-the-Pooh, and/or other toons visit each table. It’s a great way to give kids face-time with favorite characters, just as it’s a terrible choice for a quiet respite from the crowds.
For Walt Disney World reservations up to 180 days ahead of time inside or outside the parks: (407) WDW-DINE. Popular spots fill early (very early in busy seasons), and if little Suzy will simply die if she can’t eat in Cinderella’s Castle, expect rigor mortis to set if the family has not booked space at least a few months ahead of time. Some people unsure of their plans reserve a table at two different restaurants under two different names and phone numbers. It’s unsavory and unfair to others, but the double-bookers figure they’re not locked into a specific theme park on July 2 based on a reservation they made Jan. 4. Note: In October 2011 Disney rolled out a $10 fee for 20 restaurants resort-wide if you made a reservation, fail to show up, and didn’t cancel. The change only impacts one restaurant in most parks, but three in Epcot. This not only deters double-booking at high-demand eateries, but it also forces guests to remember the reservation they made in January when they show up in July.
Fast food restaurants
You get in line, order food, and sit in a restaurant with hundreds of tables, though Disney breaks most of its mega-sized eateries into small rooms. Each fast-food restaurant has a theme, such as seafood, Mexican, or burgers, but all offer at least one healthy entrée and non-themed offerings. Most sandwiches come with French fries or a healthy alternative, such as raw carrots or apples. Food feels less pre-packaged than McDonald’s but not much. Meal prices: Around $9.
Limited food and dessert service
A handful of permanent sites in each park serve hot dogs or ice cream or baked goods. In most, you can order something with enough calories to call if a full meal. Prices less than $9.
Vendors throughout the parks serve ice cream, turkey legs, popcorn, and other snacks. Prices vary.
All Disney restaurants offer a kid menu, vegetarian selections, and most accommodate special orders, including Kosher. If you have food allergies, ask – each restaurant has a complete list of ingredients. Disney does not add MSG (monosodium glutamate) to food. All but the small vendors take credit cards.
Note to drinkers: The Magic Kingdom does not serve alcohol, but other Disney parks offer full bars in most sit-down restaurants and stand-alone bars in some locations. The teetotaler Magic Kingdom began its life liquor-free at California’s Disneyland based on specific instructions from Walt Disney himself, who viewed “family park” and “saloon” as mutually exclusive endeavors. Serving firewater in the Magic Kingdom now would, perhaps, be a slap in the face to the company’s founder. (However, the amount of alcohol consumed inside Walt Disney World boggles the mind.)
FAQOrlando.com has an independent listing of restaurants inside each Disney park that can be used to plan ahead or, via a smartphone, while inside the parks. For specific restaurant info, go to: