I’ve mentioned before that I have a pretty great job. A big part of what defines one’s job in advertising are clients. Considering that my main client is Disney, I am pretty lucky. Quintessentially creative, and driven by some of the happiest people on earth, I genuinely love the Disney brand.
As part of my job, I travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando a couple times a month as well as occasionally, to Disneyland in California or Aulani in Hawaii. At best guess, over the past three years I have made about 30 separate trips to Disney properties. But since I was 13 years old, I have not returned to the mouse house purely for fun. Until now.
This past week, Julie and I traveled to Disney for a five-day trip with her family and we ate (and drank) our way through the Parks and Disney Springs. So if you are planning a trip and want to find foodie-approved spots, you’re welcome. Full transparency and to keep the attorneys happy, all recommendations are my personal opinions and are not endorsed by Disney.
Be Our Guest: Look for The Beast’s Castle as you enter Fantasyland and you’ve found your way to Be Our Guest. With an impressive quick service breakfast and lunch that includes gourmet salads and sandwiches, as well as kid-friendly choices galore, Be Our Guest makes you feel like you’re on set for Beauty & The Beast with its theming. It also offers an elegant sit down dinner, which gets great reviews.
Aloha Isle: Do yourself a favor and bypass the giant turkey legs and head to Adventure Land where you will find the only place in the Parks where you can get a Dole Whip (or Dole Whip Float) year round. Susie’s Tip: Get there when they open at 10am to avoid the lines.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
Tusker House: One of the best character breakfasts on property is the Tusker House where Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy don their safari garb and make their way to each table for photos and autographs. The buffet is delicious and offers both African-inspired dishes, which are far more interesting than the American fare they also offer. They also have a full bar and serve up a mean Bloody Mary, although it’s not included in your buffet price. Susie’s Tip: Make your reservation for 10:45 or 11am and you will get access to both breakfast and dinner, since the switch happens at 11:20am.
Prime Time 50s Café: There’s something about Disney that takes you back to a better time; a time when Mom made great meatloaf and the term vegan wasn’t yet invented. Get here for comfort food like fried chicken, pot roast and huge ice cream sundaes. Just like Mom, the servers make you set the table and are sometimes “in a mood” from working in the kitchen all day while you kids were outside playing.
Japan: For adults of LDA (Legal Drinking Age), EPCOT is known for its unofficial “drinks around the world” tour where you can get a margarita in Mexico and a pint in the UK. But here’s one stop you might not know to check out, stop by Japan for a “frozen beer” served at the little cart out front. It’s not exceptionally great tasting, but it’s one of the most interesting things you can try. And on a hot day, you won’t complain about your beer getting warm.
Polynesian Village Resort:
Kona Café Sushi Bar: Coffee bar and character breakfast spot by day, in the evening the Kona Café turns into one of my favorite places to eat on property. Opt for either the full service restaurant, or grab a seat at the sushi bar. Both serve fresh, interesting sushi and Polynesian-inspired cocktails. As expected, some of the entrees and rolls cater to novice sushi eaters, but skim past the tempura and cream cheese and you’ll find fresh tuna poke, sashimi and everything you need to get your soy and wasabi fix at Disney.
Trader Sam’s: Part of the recent renovations at the Polynesian is the addition of the iconic Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. Inspired by the establishment of the same name at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, this dark, kitschy tiki bar includes all the animatronic glory and 10-straw communal drinks you’d expect. Susie’s Tip: Sit outside and order the Spikey Pineapple, soft serve Dole Whip blended with rum!
Ohana: If you’re in the mood for an all-you-can-eat dinner show that has something for everyone, definitely make a reservation at Ohana. You won’t go hungry at this Polynesian feast that begins with unlimited pot stickers and chicken wings and then includes grilled entrees and homemade bread pudding. Periodically throughout the show, kids are invited to come to the center for some games (coconut races) and live, Polynesian-inspired music.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
Jiko, A cooking Place: Located in Jambo House is this high-end African-concept restaurant. Boasting a huge South African wine list and a varied menu of artfully-presented apps and entrees, Jiko is the real deal in Orlando. Susie’s Tip: It’s often hard to get a res here, so if you’re traveling as a couple or solo, ask to sit at the prep bar where the sous chefs prep dishes and engage you in great convo along the way. Also, if you are in the mood for something indulgent, order the off-menu option of the Filet and Mac & Cheese. It will not disappoint and you will look legit ordering this staple that hasn’t been on the menu since 2013.
Sanaa: Located adjacent to Jambo House in Kidani Village is the authentic and impressive Sanaa. Similar to an Indian/Moroccan dining experience, order the naan bred and dips for a starter. As for entrees, they are all delicious and come with your choice of rice.
Fort Wilderness Campground:
Hoop-Dee-Do-Revue: One of the oldest running dinner shoes in the country, this show will make you feel like a kid (except for the fact that they serve unlimited Sangria). Take the shuttle back to the campground area, grab a drink at the old-timey watering hole next door and then enter into the red-checkered-table-venue that will charm your pants off for the next hour or two. Unlimited fried chicken, sides and sangria make the $60+ price well worth it, plus the entire night you’ll be entertained by stage performers and even play a few musical instruments yourself. Get tickets well in advance for this show, as it almost always sells out.
California Grill: Those in the know without kids in tow will tell you to bypass the crowds and head to the California Grill for a great view of the fireworks over Magic Kingdom Park. Great wines, knowledgeable staff and a chichi menu are just part of the draw. Tell your server to time your dessert with the fireworks and if you’re nice, he/se may bring you an extra glass of wine as a nightcap.
Old Key West:
Olivia’s: Brimming with the spirit of the Florida Keys, and known for southern food favorites like shrimp & grits, is the one and only Olivia’s. The entryway is also covered with photos of early Disney Vacation Club Members, which adds to this place’s charm.
Beaches & Cream Ice Cream Shop: Located near the Beach Club Resort, this throw-back ice cream parlor has all the classics served in stainless banana-split bowls that will take you back to your childhood. Of course they have to-go cones and shakes for those who don’t have time to slow down too.
The Boathouse: Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs and perhaps the signature culinary landmark of the new “town” is The Boathouse. Positioned with a front-row view to the owner’s private collection of antique Chris Craft boats anchored in the bay, this place is all about the water. Featuring a high-end surf & turf menu complete with lobster tails and bone-in rib eyes, those who can splurge will definitely appreciate this addition. Susie’s Tip: When making a reservation for a group, ask to get the “booth in a boat” which seats six in a Chris Craft speedboat in the middle of the restaurant.
Morimoto Asia: Orlando is rightfully pretty excited about the addition of Chef Morimoto to this market. Book a reservation at least a week ahead and if you want to try all the menu has to offer, go at it tapas style. A few of our standout favorites were the pork bao and the spare ribs. The nigiri and sushi rolls were both very fresh, and simple in preparation. Signature sake cocktails and an impressive wine list make this place feel like it could hold a candle next to some of the legit Asian restaurants in Chicago or NY.
This list is admittedly just a few of my favorite restaurants/bars at Walt Disney World, but there are many more. As I keep logging trips, I’ll make sure to keep eating, and blogging.