Disney Prep- Dining

There are SO MANY different options for dining at Disney.  There’s not really a wrong way to do it or anything, but I will tell you what we like to do.

You will probably do most of your eating at counter service restaurants.  They are your average walk up and order restaurant and most of them serve just about the same normal food.  Hamburgers, chicken fingers, french fries, the like.  Sometimes there is something more interesting.  There is always at least one vegetarian option and a children’s menu with about three options on it.  This food will cost more than your average hamburger as you are paying for being inside a theme park, but it isn’t bad.  Unless your family is hungrier than average (like my family is with Matt in it), you can probably get away with ordering one less item than you have people and sharing.  For example, for a family of four, order two adult items and one kid’s meal and share them around.

Counter service restaurants get crowded during lunch hours (duh, Jen), so it’s best to try to hit them around the edges of mealtimes.  So either eat at 11:00am or 1:30pm.  Don’t eat at noon!  With more than one adult around, it can be really helpful for one adult to go get the food and one to go get a table and start getting everyone settled down.

Sit down restaurants are also a really great option.  I highly recommend scheduling some sit down restaurants.  You will almost always need a reservation before you get to the park in the morning.  Disney does not save any room in their restaurants for walk-ins.  So if they are booked up, you either have a reservation ahead of time or you don’t eat there.  My recommendation is to schedule a sit down restaurant for lunch.  During breakfast, you still have a bunch of energy and children are all itchy to get going.  Lunch is a great time to sit down in a cool restaurant, have someone bring you unlimited refills of ice water, and recharge for the rest of the day.  We have a lot more pleasant days when we break for a nicer lunch.  It forces you to rest a little bit.  Dinner reservations are also great, but you are going to pay a little bit more than at lunch and everyone is going to be more tired and have less patience.

Character dining is also my best recommendation for seeing characters.  The character meals cost a bit more (but what at Disney doesn’t?) but you will get to meet all the characters that are appearing at that meal with one on one time.  Often more than once too.  At one meal we went to on the last trip, each character came to our table at least three times.  (And with four characters, that meant we got more than twelve visits in about forty minutes.  Totally worth it.)

For specific character dining reservations:

For princesses- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall- it’s much easier to get a reservation here than at Cinderella’s Royal Table.  It is located in Norway at Epcot and the inside of the restaurant looks like a big banquet hall.  They have a buffet for appetizers, kind of what I expect is an Americanized version of Norwegian appetizers.  Lots of sliced meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, shrimp, rolls, salads, etc.  Lovely.  Then you order off a menu for your main course.  They have things like salmon, meatballs, and chicken.  I had the pasta option last time and it was lovely.  (I didn’t enjoy the meatballs quite as much.)  Some kind of leek cream sauce or something.  Quite delightful.  They have a standard kid’s menu as well.  Dessert is family style.  They bring out a big platter of desserts and put it in the middle of the table.  Also lovely.  When we’ve been there, there have been five princesses each time.  The first time we went, they had Belle, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel, and Mary Poppins.  (Mary Poppins is not a princess, but whatever.)  The second time, we had the same ones, minus Mary Poppins but with the addition of Snow White.  (Much more satisfactory to Elizabeth.)  When you come inside, they lead you to a little room set up for pictures and a professional photographer takes your picture with one of the princesses.  (It’s been Belle for us both times, I believe.)  The photo package is included in the cost of your meal and someone will bring the pictures out to you before you are through with your meal.  The other four princesses circle the room while you eat and come to your table one at a time.  They will pose for pictures, sign autograph books and chat.

For Mickey and Friends- Our top choice is the Garden Grill at the Land.  It is also located in Epcot, above the Living with the Land ride.  The food is FANTASTIC, in my opinion, better than the Akershus food, which is still Very Good.  The Living with the Land ride is a boat ride through the Epcot gardens and some of the food served at the restaurant is grown there.  It is all family style and all you can eat.  The adults get a beautiful salad and rolls to start.  The next course is usually turkey with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, a beef with a chutney type thing, and a (sustainable, of course) fish with a rice pilaf.  You get one of each on your initial order and then you just ask your waiter to bring you more of whichever you like.  And you may continue asking for more until you are full.  The child’s dinner is a chicken leg, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, and sweet potato fries.  Again, as much more of anything you like.  For dessert, the adults get some kind of fruit crisp.  I’ve had apple, peach and raspberry, and rhubarb.  The child’s dessert varies more- one time it was a cookies and cream mousse and the next it was a red velvet cake.  (The mousse was shaped like Mickey Mouse and the cake was shaped like the bug from the electrical light parade.)  You can order more than one dessert if you’d like as well, and feel free to ask for the child’s dessert for adults, Matt always does.  In our experience, the characters at this dinner tend to be Mickey, Chip, Dale, and Pluto and they have always come to our table more than once.  (At Akershus, we’ve only had the princesses come around once each.)  The Garden Grill is now only open for dinner, at 4:00pm, and that made it a bit more troublesome to get reservations for.  (One quick note- we were once the first family to check in for our 4:00pm reservation and they brought all the characters together for a family picture, something they only do once a day for the first family to arrive.  So if you have a 4:00pm reservation, check in early and stand right there.)

We are relatively new to the character dining, so those are the only ones I can remember that we’ve done so far.  (Well, we did a couple of others on our honeymoon, but that was a long time ago and I was interested solely in the food then, not having a character loving Dibits around.)  However, I know that the Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom usually has Winnie the Pooh and Friends, if you are looking for another boy friendly option.  We are also trying a few new ones on this trip.  At Hollywood Studios, we are having breakfast with the Playhouse Disney characters (it’s Jake, June, Handy Manny, and one I’ve never even heard of- Agent Oso or something?) at Hollywood & Vine.  We are doing Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom for the first time.  We are having breakfast at ‘Ohana at the Polynesian with Lilo and Stitch (and I think it has another character or two as well, maybe Mickey, I’ve forgotten?)  We also have a reservation at The Garden Grove (not to be confused with the Garden Grill above) at the Swan and I think that has Mickey and Friends as well.

Now, a change of topic- the Disney dining plans.  I am not much help here, as we have never purchased one.  They are only available now to guests staying at the resorts.  And we haven’t stayed at the hotels in many years now.  All I can tell you really is that we would probably buy one if we had the option.  I also believe that you don’t necessarily have to buy one for each member of your party (but don’t quote me on that), so we would probably buy them for Matt and I and let Elizabeth scavenge off our food.  I believe you get a certain number of meals each day and a set number of snacks.  And as I understand it, your meal includes a drink and a dessert each time.  I have often heard people say that the Disney dining plan almost has too much food in it. But like I said, no personal experience.

Overall, my Disney eating suggestions are to eat breakfast before you get to the parks in the morning, have a sit down lunch in the park (not necessarily every day, but that is where I would put my sit down dinner money), and eat at your hotel or off site in the evenings for dinner, unless you are traveling with just adults or older children that can take a longer day in the park.

Many people advocate leaving the parks for meals because they claim that the Disney food is overpriced and you will save So! Much! Money! by eating elsewhere.  Well, yes, kind of.  But you will still be eating in restaurants in Orlando that realize that you are within driving distance of Disney, so they aren’t going to be really cheap.  And I think you save more in time and inconvenience than you lose in money by staying on site.  Certainly, if it is mealtime and you aren’t on Disney property yet, eat before you get there.  But I do not suggest leaving the parks simply for meals.  Far too inconvenient and a waste of time.

Ooh, I almost forgot!  There was a question yesterday about food allergies.  Again, no personal experience, but I have heard that Disney is likely to be one of your best ever experiences at eating in a restaurant with food allergies.  If you make a reservation, let them know at that time what your food restrictions are.  And I’ve heard that they will confirm it with you when you arrive and that the chef will come out to your table to discuss it with you.  For counter service, I know they can also accommodate food allergies.  You will need to plan ahead a bit more, instead of just visiting whichever counter service restaurant you are near at mealtime, but they will be happy to accommodate your requirements.  Again, call ahead.  I believe they require 24 hours notice, but I would call when you are making your plans ahead of time just to be safe.  They can also handle kosher meals and other similar restrictions this way, with advance notice.

Next time, we shall discuss non-meal food at Disney.  Any questions, either in advance about snacks or about today’s topic?  Any restaurants that you are interested in that I didn’t mention?  I’ve eaten in LOTS more than I talked about today.