Trip Preparation: Dining Experience
*When Disney World reopens there are a number of restaurants that will not reopen. For a list of these restaurants click here.*
With over 398 restaurants, dining at Walt Disney World can add a whole other element to your trip. It also adds a whole other element to your trip planning. Especially if you’re going for the first time. This post is dedicated to making the muddy waters clear for you so you can make a good decision of where you want to eat while vacationing at Walt Disney World. I’m going to do this by explaining the different categories these restaurants fall into. There are two parent categories with sub categories that fall under them. The two parent categories are Table Service and Quick Service. You’ll notice on the Walt Disney World dining page all restaurants are labelled as one or the other. Table service is just that. This is your traditional, walk up to the check in desk and wait to be seated. Upon being seated you will receive a menu and then be served by a server. At a quick service venue you will order at a counter. Sometimes you will then pick a seat and they will then bring you your food on a tray. Sometimes you wait for your food at the counter. The basic clarity is quick service comes on a tray and table service does not.
188 of the restaurants on Walt Disney World property are labelled as Quick Service. On the Walt Disney World Dining page there are three categories of quick service: counter service, fast casual and food truck. This isn’t very well differentiated. Food trucks are clearly a food truck but everything else seems to be lumped in as fast casual and counter service. These restaurants can be a multi-itemed breakfast, lunch and dinner place or they can offer a few speciality snacks. One of the best ways to tell if the restaurant listed carries meals or snacks, without going in and looking at the individual menus, is by looking at the picture. If the picture indicates they serve burgers and fries you can guarantee they will offer something that will suffice for a meal. Now one of the reasons these are labelled quick service is because these restaurants are NOT fast food. These restaurant offer delicious meals with variety and taste. For example you can get a Spicy Italian Beef Sandwich, served with provolone cheese and horseradish mayonnaise at the Artist’s Palette at Disney’s Saratoga Springs. These quick service restaurants offer the speed you may be looking for during a Disney vacation. You may not want to spend over an hour in a restaurant. You want to spend all your time on rides, parades and stage shows. With a quick service restaurant you can be in and out within 20 minutes. At a quick service restaurant you keep your cost down but also receive good, quality fulfilling food for a good price. For example at Geyser Point Bar & Grill, located at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, you can enjoy a Grilled Salmon BLT with a side for $12.99. My biggest suggestion when it comes to quick service restaurants is to plan which ones you would be interested in eating at before your trip. Add it to your wish list on My Disney Experience so you can keep track of which eateries interest you and your party. That way you won’t end up the day of wandering around aimlessly looking for a quick service restaurant and not finding one that suits your needs. To remind you, check the pictures on the dining page of the Walt Disney World website. If there’s a picture with a burger and fries or salads you can count on this restaurant carrying more than snack offerings.
132 restaurants fall under the Table Service category, with 8 subcategories: Buffet/Family style, Casual Dining, Character Dining, Dining Events, Dessert Events, Dinner Shows, Fine/Signature Dining and Unique/Themed Dining. Now some restaurants fall under a couple of these categories with some having as many as three sub-categories under their restaurant name. Buffet/Family Style restaurants are restaurants that have buffets either for every meal or at breakfast time. Some offer only a buffet, such as Cape May Cafe, where as others offer a choice of a buffet or a plated meal, such as The Wave of American Flavours at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Some of these “buffets” are more all you care to eat style, where they bring the food to your table and will continue to replace what’s been consumed, found at Whispering Canyon Cafe. In all these cases they are definitely Family style. They are relaxed and fun. A great place to really enjoy your meal as a family. 27 restaurants are labelled Casual Dining. At all of these restaurants you can expect to have a number of choices on the menu and that it will be reasonably priced ($15-35 dollars per meal). With the exception of Cinderella’s Royal Table, Character Dining is also a Buffet/Family style restaurant. Now don’t assume every Buffet/Family style is character dining. The restaurants that have character dining carry a higher price tag, because they include a personal meet and greet with a few characters. This is a great use of your dining plan. There is at least one such restaurant at each park, and a few scattered around the resorts. These are very popular so be sure to be ready when your reservation window opens. With the growth of dining culture, Disney has introduced Dining Events. Some of these events coincide with nighttime shows and parades, whereas others involve meeting chefs and imagineers. These events carry a large price and don’t include your park admission. Dessert Events fall into the same category as dining events but they only include desserts. All of these events, with the exception of the Cake Decorating Experience at Amorette’s Patisserie involve a special seating for a viewing of a nighttime show or parade. So you’re paying for exclusive seating as well as food and beverages. There are two dinner shows. One is at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and one is a Disney’s Polynesian. These dinner shows are on specific nights and need to be paid ahead of time. These meals are all you can eat. Everything including the tip is a part of your purchase price. Fine/Signature Dining is found all around Walt Disney World property with some located at parks and others located at deluxe resorts. At these restaurants you are going to experience high quality service. With servers who are knowledgable about the cuisine and drinks served. The food is world-class. Now some of these restaurants have a dress code so be sure to check the restaurant’s page before leaving your room. Expect to pay top dollar for your meal, with dishes ranging from $40 to 80. If you’re on the dining plan these meals cost 2 table service meal credits. Lastly, Unique/Themed Dining encompasses a wide variety of restaurants. These restaurants may have special decor, interactive elements or cuisine from another country. To sum up, there are a variety of different kinds of table service restaurants at parks and at the resorts.
There are lounges and pool bars that fall under restaurants. Some of these serve appetizers or snacks. There are a few restaurant lounges that serve the restaurant’s whole menu, such as California Grill Lounge. There are some lounges that don’t serve any food at all, such as Outer Rim at the Contemporary Resort.
Needless to say there are plenty of styles of dining. Whether you’re looking for a low-key sit down restaurant or a live dinner show there is something for you and your family on your Disney vacation.