So this is the second part in my omnibus Disney review (Orlando/Disney World). Today, food!
Before getting into the, um, meat of my Disney food review, a little history is in order. Back in the day, Disney’s food options could best be compared to carnival food, but pricier. Some burgers, some fries, some pretzels, and so on. Perhaps the major differentiating factor between Disney and most other places was the legacy of ol’ Walt himself, in that booze was a no-go in the Magic Kingdom (and could be hard to find in other Disney properties).
This is certainly no longer the case. As we all know, corporations live to eat people’s souls and excrete money, and Disney has turned that into an art form. And what better way to increase the amount of money spent at Disney properties than by offering palatable food, and some booze to wash that down with (and, um, to lower the parents’ inhibitions .... ‘Sure, dear, I’ll buy you that limited edition Monorail Gift Set *hic*’). Food, in fact, is such a big deal at Disney that there is a whole cottage industry of people that rank and review Disney restaurants and food choices, and countless youtube videos explaining the various Disney “meal plans” as opposed to, you know, just buying the food you want when you’re hungry. I’m not here for that. If you want that, go to Disney Food Blog and stare into the abyss, while asking, “Wait, how do they eat that many funnel cakes?”
The brief taxonomy of Disney food options (yes, there is such a thing) is this:
(Signature), Table Service, Quick Service, Snack. That’s how your Mouse overlord refers to them, in the sense that they are pre-paid in various meal plans. But it also helps you, the beleaguered Disney guest, understand how the House of Mouse is set up to feed you.
Ignoring “signature” until later, there are three basic types of food service at Disney’s theme parks and resort. First, there is table service. This is what we normally think of when we think of a restaurant. Someone brings you a menu, you order from it, and then your food is brought to your table.
Second is the quick service- you can think of this as counter service. These are the many places where you order and then pick up your food at a counter. No tip, no wait staff.
Finally is the snack. I’m using this a little differently than the Disney meal plans- most quick service places offer a snack, but you can think of this as any of the many vendors trying to stuff your piehole with cotton candy, pretzels, nuts, slushies, or other options.
So, all the theme parks have multiple options for all of these. In addition, we are starting to see “signature” (aka, supposedly super-high quality) restaurants within the parks themselves, such as Timmins in Animal Kingdom.
Okay, it’s exceptionally hard to do this topic justice, so I’ll give a few tips, and then my basic impressions:
The overall ranking for food choices is Outside Theme Park > Epcot > Animal Kingdom > Riding around on the monorail for hours not eating > Hollywood Studios > Having 500 6 year olds scream in your ear for 12 hours straight > Magic Kingdom.
I kid, kind of. Let me start with the good- the various resort properties have some amazing restaurants. Perhaps the best restaurants are found in Disney Springs, which is not a theme park, but more of an outdoor mall/Disney food place. And the theme parks have a clear demarcation, wherein Epcot is by far the best, but Animal Kingdom is quite good, Hollywood Studios is ... eh, and Magic Kingdom truly sucks.
Reserve any good restaurant. For reals. Some of the “character dining” restaurants (please, for the love of god, don’t do this ...) are reserved many months in advance. But if you want to eat at Morimoto’s (Disney Spring) or one of the “World” Restaurants in Epcot, or Sanaa in the Animal Kingdom’s affiliated resort, it helps to reserve early. That said- they will charge you for missing your reservation.
There are good food options, and even a lot of healthy ones, scattered throughout the parks and the resort area. Plan ahead and you’ll be happy with your choices, albeit a lot poorer. Don’t plan ahead and you’re be miserable, angry, tired, hungry, and still poor as you gnaw on a turkey leg that you waited for 10 minutes in line. Protip- plan restaurants as your “break” in fun time.
You can order ahead at many counter service destinations. You want your Pineapple Dole Whip without waiting in line for 20 minutes? Order ahead on your phone. Do it. It’s not like Disney is tracking you and monetizing your preferences (they are).
So, what are my impressions?
Oh my, the drunkenness. If you are a little older, you might remember the whole “clean wholesome fun” Disney experience, which meant no booze. Well, here’s the thing. It’s still a little hard to find at the Magic Kingdom. But anywhere else? It’s everywhere. And at Epcot they foist booze on you as if it was last call in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but all day long.
Disney Springs has some very good restaurants. A necessary caveat here- they are following the Las Vegas playbook of bringing in “high end” chef names (Puck, Morimoto, Bayless, etc.) for their restaurants. But ... it’s just good. Sometimes really good. The best restaurants at the Disney resort are certainly here, and I enjoyed Morimoto’s, but it wasn’t all that. Don’t come here for the food- instead, sometimes, the food is just a pleasant addition.
If you’re going to be at the parks for many days, book Epcot for your wandering around and eating day. I love Epcot, but (to put it delicately) the rides suck. There’s Soarin’, and maybe Test Track, and kinda Mission Earth, and, um, the aquarium is cool? Anyway, Epcot rocks for three simple reasons- first, all the free Coca Cola from around the world you want to drink before getting embarrassed that you’re just drinking 300 tiny dixie cups of free samples; second, for dining and drinking around the world (they have a number of World pavillions, and while the food isn’t the best ever, it’s a decent sampler); and third, the sheer number of weird and fun events they have, usually with food and booze (noticing a theme?). Pretty sure that should be a T-Shirt- “Epcot- Get Your International Drunk On.”
Timmins is the new “signature” restaurant in Animal Kingdom. It is very expensive, the service is very good, and the food is okay. It’s better than any other theme park restaurant, and about on par with the Disney Springs restaurants. But, and this is important, it’s pretty awesome in terms of “theming” (that’s a big thing for people that care more than I do).
Magic Kingdom’s food is better than it used to be. It still sucks. That said, I would recommend the “Skipper Canteen” restaurant if you want a decent meal. It’s jungle themed, which means Asian- and African-inspired foods. Which is totally ... yeah, let’s not think about that too deeply.
Coming next- more about the four parks!