The parks might be at the heart of a Walt Disney World vacation, but a trip to the Florida resort can be as much about the dining experience as the rides. There are countless restaurants across the property varying widely in price, cuisine and ambiance. Options run the gamut from quick-service carts slinging popcorn and jumbo turkey legs to a AAA Five Diamond award winning dining room. But, how to choose the best Disney World restaurants?
To make planning a bit easier, here are a few personal favorites based on more than a decade's worth of multi-annual Disney trips – mostly centered around eating.
Reservations can be made by calling (407) WDW DINE (be sure to tell them if someone is celebrating a birthday/graduation/anniversary etc.) or online. Also, make the restaurant aware of any dietary restrictions. Disney's full service restaurants are extremely accommodating – typically chefs will discuss any food needs and craft a special meal, or walk guests through a buffet line so nobody in the party is left out. Kosher meals can be requested in advance, or are available at some counter locations.
Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Best Family Style: 'Ohana
Given that 'Ohana means "family" in Hawaiian, it's not surprising that this restaurant would be perfect for families. Set in the back of the Polynesian Resort's main building, 'Ohana comes with stellar views of the Magic Kingdom and Bay Lake, plus appearances by Lilo and Stitch at breakfast. All meals are served family-style, meaning in large communal portions that are all-you-can-eat. At breakfast enjoy scrambled eggs, fried, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and bread. Dinners, prepared over an open grill at the central show kitchen, are substantial. The meal starts with <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/ohanas/" target="_hplink">'Ohana's</a> special pineapple-coconut bread and a salad tossed in honey-lime dressing. After appetizers of sweet, sticky chicken wings and crispy pork fried dumplings come the skewers - waiters with long spears of grilled shrimp, chicken, pork and steak circulate the restaurant shaving off unlimited proteins directly onto guests' plates. These are served with even more side dishes - peanut noodles and vegetables - and a trio of dipping sauces. It's a lot, to be sure, made even more over the top by a desert of bread pudding topped with bananas, caramel and ice cream. <em>Adult price: <a href="http://allears.net/menu/menu_ohb.htm" target="_hplink">Breakfast</a>: $20.99; <a href="http://allears.net/menu/menu_oh.htm" target="_hplink">Dinner</a>: $32.99 Child price: <a href="http://allears.net/menu/menu_ohb.htm" target="_hplink">Breakfast:</a> $11.99; <a href="http://allears.net/menu/menu_oh.htm" target="_hplink">Dinner</a>: $15.99</em> Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Best For Kids: Whispering Canyon Cafe
Don't let the name fool you, there's nothing quiet about the <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/whispering-canyon-cafe/" target="_hplink">Whispering Canyon Café </a>(<em>$15-36)</em>. Sure, it seems unassuming enough - a western styled canteen set off the lobby of the national parks inspired Wilderness Lodge. But, inside, things can get a bit rowdy. Kids are bound to enjoy the playfulness and sass this joint is all about. No meal here is complete without a dose of witty banter from the wait staff. Need a little more soda? Ask and ye shall receive, literally -a little more soda, in a salad dressing cup. Looking for ketchup? A request for the condiment results in a restaurant-wide shout out, with kids rushing every bottle in the place over to the table that needs it. And, to help get out all that youthful energy, kids can take part in races around the restaurant while riding wooden stick horses. That's just the beginning. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all have a la carte or family-style meals. In the morning these include eggs, potatoes, meats, waffles, biscuits and gravy. Lunch and dinner meals come with some combination of sausage, smoked ribs, pulled pork, roasted chicken, brisket, mashed potatoes, beans, corn, salad, coleslaw and cornbread. Phew. <em> All-you-can-eat adult: Breakfast: $15.99; Lunch: $18.99; Dinner: $28.49 All-you-can-eat child: Breakfast: $7.89; Lunch:$10.99; Dinner: $10.99</em> Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/qwrrty/2450164954/" target="_hplink">qwrrty</a>/Flickr
Best For Overgrown Kids: 50s Prime Time Cafe
For adults in the group, eating at the <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/50s-prime-time-cafe/" target="_hplink">50's Prime Time Café</a> (<em>$15-36 per person</em>) is like a step out of Hollywood Studios and back into mom's house. And, that's not just because the dining rooms are made up to look like kitchens straight out of "Leave it to Beaver," complete with TVs showing retro clips. In keeping with the homey vibe, waiters and waitresses affectionately introduce themselves as aunt, uncle or cousin. As family, they take it upon themselves to make sure those dinner plates get cleaned. So, "kids" who don't finish their tuna noodle casserole, pot roast or fried chicken will have to face the old fork choo choo, or worse, stand in the corner. Really. But, good boys and girls get dessert, like brownie sundaes, s'mores or Boston cream parfaits. Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Coolest Ambience: San Angel Inn
Walking through EPCOT's Mexico pavilion, visitors might not guess that hidden within the towering Aztec temple is a bustling marketplace. At the bottom of a grand staircase, centered around a real fountain, await shops and street vendors. Set in a perpetual twilight, the dining courtyard at the <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/san-angel-inn/" target="_hplink">San Angel Inn</a> (<em>$15-60</em>) is modeled after a 17th century hacienda. From the terrace, diners overlook the river (which is also a ride) and temple ruins set in a tropical forest. Dishes like pollo a las rajas (chicken and poblano rice smothered with a spicy cream sauce of peppers and onions) or enchiladas verdes con pollo (chicken enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce) are among the menu offerings. And, for just an hour or two, this is really Mexico. Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Best Comfort Food: Liberty Tree Tavern
In the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square, the <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/liberty-tree-tavern/" target="_hplink">Liberty Tree Tavern</a> (<em>$15-36</em>) looks like the kind of place George Washington or Benjamin Franklin might be found eating. The restaurant is an authentic recreation of an 18th century American inn. The dinner menu doesn't get much more traditional American either, featuring an all-you-can-eat New England inspired, family-style spread. First there's the salad, dressed with a strawberry vinaigrette and served with warm, soft rolls. For the main course, a meat platter arrives, piled with smoked ham, roasted turkey and sliced beef. Sides include herbed stuffing, macaroni and cheese, vegetable and mashed potatoes with gravy. Still hungry? Ask for refills of anything. Just be sure to save room for the apple crisp dessert. Take note that the menu is not the same at lunchtime, when meals are served a la carte. Dishes include: pot roast, turkey and fixin's, lamb stew and vegetarian pot pie. <em>Adult dinner: $31.99 Child dinner: $15.99</em> Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Best Parade View: Tony's Town Square
Getting the best views of the Magic Kingdom's parades often requires staking out a spot along Main Street USA or Frontierland way in advance. (Sorry, Dad.) That can cut into valuable ride time. A great way to fix that dilemma is by booking a table at <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/tonys-town-square/" target="_hplink">Tony's Town Square</a> (<em>$15-36</em>) a bit before parade time. Located just past the train station at the park's entrance, Tony's outdoor seating offers front-row parade views to those lucky enough to snag a table on the porch. Taking its cue from the Italian restaurant in "Lady and the Tramp," Tony's serves classic Italian favorites. Dig into choices like chicken parmigiana, lasagna, gnocchi or shrimp scampi while enjoying unobstructed views of Disney characters on parade. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdharrison/2405860773/" target="_hplink">@cdharrison</a>/Flickr
Most Exotic Flavors: Jiko -- The Cooking Place
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge brings a piece of Africa to central Florida by incorporating traditional African architecture and décor, herds of African animals to see up close, and traditional African food. The best place to get a taste is at the hotel's <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/jiko-the-cooking-place/" target="_hplink">Jiko</a> restaurant (<em>$36-60</em>). On the menu, find an array of African and African-inspired dishes, given the gourmet treatment. Try beef bobotie rolls, tibbs wat with Ethiopian-style crepes, grilled wild boar with mealie pap (a type of porridge) or peri-peri (pepper) chicken. Pictured above are the kalamata olive flatbread, duck firecracker rolls with oyster dipping sauce, and marinated ahi tuna with heirloom beans, black barley and yogurt sauce. Jiko can be a bit pricey, so for a more affordable alternative look to <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/boma-flavors-of-africa/" target="_hplink">Boma</a>, also in the Lodge, or <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/tusker-house/" target="_hplink">Tusker House</a> in Amimal Kingdom. Both are buffets serving African-style fare like bobotie, couscous, curries, fufu, stews, salads and more. Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Biggest Pig-Out: Biergarten Restaurant
There are plenty of buffets in Disney World, but EPCOT's <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/biergarten-restaurant/" target="_hplink">Biergarten</a> takes the honor for best place to chow down with reckless abandon. That's because its German menu is majorly substantial - expect to be rolled home afterwards - and because guests are given unlimited access to bar food while being encouraged to drink massive steins of beer. The buffet line starts with a selection of salads and cold cuts, but, who eats those anyway? Then comes the soup, which is absolutely worth a stop if it's potato-leek day, and bread - load up here on pretzel rolls to drag through sweet grainy mustard later. Since it's Germany, make sure to take a few sausages and sauerkraut too. From here on are the main entrees; don't miss Weiner schnitzel, potato dumplings with breadcrumb butter, spaetzle and warm German potato salad. Between trips to the buffet, rest a while enjoying the dinner show. A lederhosen clad band takes the stage to play music while the crowd sings, dances and chugs. The faint of stomach can also find brats, franks, kraut and soft pretzels outside the Biergarten at the Sommerfest stand. <em> Adult price: lunch: $21.99; dinner:$32.99 <a href="http://allears.net/menu/men_ger.htm" target="_hplink">Child price</a>: lunch: $13.99; dinner: $16.99</em> Photo: The Walt Disney Company
Best Fireworks View: Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
At the end of each day, EPCOT puts on a pretty mean fireworks show, made even more awesome by guests' proximity to the action. The source of the show is the World Showcase's central lagoon, and when standing at the water's edge you can feel the heat coming off the pyrotechnics. Most spectators watch the display standing in (or sitting on a bench if lucky) one of the 11 country pavilions. But, savvy fireworks fans know that to get the best view, book a dinner table at England's Rose & Crown (<em>$36-60</em>). Getting a table on the lagoon-facing patio is the best guarantee of a good view. But, unlike at Tony's, guests from the indoor dining room are allowed to stand on the porch and enjoy the view too. For dinner, guests are treated to traditional British fare like Scotch eggs, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, bubble and squeak, trifle and sticky toffee pudding. Another great, albeit more expensive option, is to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the California Grill (<em>$60+</em>) perched atop the Contemporary Resort. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/solgrundy/120617362/" target="_hplink">SolGrundy</a>/Flickr
Best Himalayan-Themed Restaurant: Yak & Yeti
Yes, this category is made up. How many Himalayan restaurants are there in Disney World? But, Yak & Yeti just so darn good it had to be included. After crossing the bridge into the town of Anandapur in Animal Kingdom's Asia, <a href="http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/yak-and-yeti-restaurant/" target="_hplink">Yak & Yeti </a>(<em>$15-36</em>) welcomes hungry explorers on their way to Expedition Everest or Kali River Rapids. The travel (or just theme park) weary can partake in pan-Asian cuisine inspired by China, India and Nepal. Standout dishes include crispy fried green beans, Malaysian seafood curry brimming with fish, scallops, clams, mussels, shrimp and veggies in a red coconut broth, duck with orange wasabi glaze and fried cream cheese wontons skewered with grilled pineapple and vanilla honey. For a quick (and less expensive) taste, check out counter service at Yak & Yeti Local Foods Café next door. Photo: The Walt Disney Company