Last week, I spent just short of five lovely days at Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) in Orlando, FL. WDW is near and dear to me, as it’s where my husband and I honeymooned almost 11 years ago now. That honeymoon was my first trip to WDW (aside from an excursion when I was two that I can’t remember, and several trips to Disneyland in my school years), and I loved it so much we’ve been back seven times since.
Sure, there are other places around the country to visit, but we keep going back to WDW for several reasons, and one of them is the excellent food, if you know where to look. Other good reasons for our continued visits are the fabulous service from truly friendly employees, how clean everything is despite the massive number of people in the parks and resort daily, and how few decisions we have to make. Yeah, I’m digressing, but only slightly. In fact, once you book your trip, the only decisions you have to make are where you plan to eat each day.
After eight visits total over 11 years, I’ve seen and experienced a broad array of dining in WDW, from sit-down “table service” restaurants to fast-food-esque “counter service” joints to snack carts to the Food and Wine Festival booths. On our first trip in December 2001, we didn’t even need to make a reservation. Quite a change from today, after the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) was introduced in 2005, when it’s hard to get a table at popular restaurants, even if you book several months in advance.
Over the next several posts, I’ll share with you the restaurants we chose and some of the meals we ate on our most recent trip (or at least the ones I remembered to photograph), as proof positive that you can find great food at WDW. A couple of things to note.
- We have what would be considered “adventurous palates” at WDW. This is not equivalent to adventurous palates elsewhere: I won’t lie and tell you that Disney doesn’t Americanize the food somewhat to appeal to a broad array of palates. But we don’t go to WDW to eat bad hamburgers, and neither should you! Even if you’re short on time and have a picky kid or two with you, there’s still good food to be had at WDW.
- Speaking of, in the interest of full disclosure: We don’t have kids, so we’re not limited by any picky eaters. But I considered myself a picky eater when we first started going to WDW (I was a flexitarian!), so while not quite the same, I think it’s sort of close.
- Don’t overlook counter-service places thinking that they’re only fast food. Some of the best goodies can be found at counter-service restaurants.
- We booked our trip only about three weeks out and made only one dining reservation for the entire length of the trip, even though we went to four table-service restaurants. And even that one ended up being unnecessary.
- Still in the interest of full disclosure: Because we don’t have kids, we’re able to easily travel in the off season, such as right after the kiddos go back to school. Because of that, crowd levels and restaurant traffic are lower for us. If you go in the middle of summer, you might have more trouble than we did.
The biggest thing to note, however, is that we do not use the DDP. In our entire time traveling to WDW, we only got it once, and that was when it was being offered free with your vacation package as part of a promotion. For those unfamiliar, the DDP is an add-on you can purchase with your vacation to make it somewhat “all-inclusive.” You get your choice of three levels (as of 2012): (a) quick-service, where each day you get two counter-service meals, a snack, and a special mug you can refill with fountain drinks at your hotel; (b) classic dining, where you get one counter-service meal, one table-service meal, a snack, and the refillable mug; or (c) deluxe dining, where you get three meals (your choice of counter- or table-service), two snacks, and one mug. (Also, a meal is defined as a multicourse event: every meal comes with a non-alcoholic beverage, and depending on your level, you also get appetizers and/or desserts.) Wait service tips and any alcoholic beverages are not included in the DDP rate.
I know we’re in the vast minority here, but the DDP just doesn’t work for us. I wouldn’t turn it down if it was free, but (a) there’s just too much food per meal, (b) even at that great value, the cost doesn’t add up for us, so we actually saved at least $150 going on our own this last trip, and (b) it doesn’t leave you with much flexibility. We like to get an entrée here, a dessert somewhere else, maybe a Grand Marnier Orange Slush at yet another place, and, well, the DDP kind of stops you from doing that, because you just end up eating everything at the restaurant you used your meal credit, and then you’re too full to get the little extras elsewhere and you don’t want to pay more for them anyway because you’ve already ponied up for the DDP.
But that’s just our experience. If you’re big eaters or just like wrapping up all your vacation expenses in a single, up-front cost, then the DDP might be for you. We were in the vast minority on this trip, not having the DDP.
Anyway, I’ve digressed yet again. Here’s a run-down of the eateries we enjoyed on our recent trip, and look for posts giving you an overview of a few of them in the coming days. (In case you can’t tell, we like Epcot a lot.)
- Sleepy Hollow (counter service, Magic Kingdom park)
- Main Street Bakery (counter service, Magic Kingdom park)
- Restaurant Marrakesh (table service, Epcot’s Morocco pavilion)
- Les Vins de Chefs de France (drink cart, Epcot’s France pavilion)
- Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar (table service but does not accept reservations, Epcot’s Italy pavilion)
- Sunshine Seasons (counter service, Epcot’s Land pavilion)
- Rose and Crown Pub (well, it’s a bar, so technically counter service, Epcot’s UK pavilion)
- Tangierine Café (counter service, Epcot’s Morocco pavilion)
- Sanaa (table service, Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village)
- Kouzzina (table service, Boardwalk Inn)
- Boma (table service, Animal Kingdom Lodge)
Oh, and the sign in the photo for this post? It’s a little Disney food humor in the line for the Jungle Cruise, one of my favorite classic WDW rides.
Other Walt Disney World posts from the Girl in the Blue Apron
Take a Culinary Trip to Northern Africa at Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion
Magic Kingdom’s Sleepy Hollow Now Serves Waffle Sandwiches
My Favorite Thing to Eat at Walt Disney World Is a Simple Chocolate Muffin