In Walt Disney World
From fast food on the fly to fine-dining establishments, there are literally hundreds of restaurants scattered throughout Walt Disney World, including those at the theme parks (Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom), the Disney resorts, and the "official" hotels. And those totals don't include restaurants located throughout the Downtown Disney areas of Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf), the West Side, and the Marketplace. As a general rule, the food at Disney is decent enough, though only a small handful of the restaurants truly qualifies as gourmet. Portions are generally large, practically ensuring that you'll never walk away hungry, though prices match portion sizes accordingly. Be prepared to spend a rather hefty amount each day for just a few meals, a snack, and a drink (or two). If you have kids, sharing may be a good option, especially with very young children who tend not to eat so much when on the go. For those unwilling to share, sit-down and counter-service eateries, at least in the theme parks, do offer pint-size platters in the $4-to-$9 range (though some may cost up to $12 or $14). Another option is to order a la carte, but don't expect to see this listed as an option on the restaurant menus -- you have to ask.
The prices for meals at Orlando restaurants -- except at theme parks and other attractions -- are no more exorbitant than you'd find anywhere else. The better the restaurant, the higher the price you can expect to pay (though you shouldn't necessarily consider a restaurant's pricing a benchmark of its quality). To help you out a bit, the restaurants in this guide have been categorized by the price of an average entree per person. Restaurants in the inexpensive category charge less than $10 for an entree; those in the moderate category charge anywhere from $11 to $20. Expensive restaurants will set you back $21 to $30, and very expensive restaurants will top that, sometimes by a rather large margin. Do note that when you toss in drinks, appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and the tip, the final tally at even a moderate restaurant can get rather high. Be sure to budget accordingly.
One last note: The restaurants listed in this guide occasionally change menus (sometimes seasonally, occasionally weekly, in some cases even daily). So items I feature here may not necessarily be on the menu when you visit. And, as entrees vary, so do prices.
That said, it's time to divide and conquer.
Special Tastes -- When it comes to eating at Disney, just because something's not on the menu doesn't mean it's not available. Looking for kosher food? Worried WDW can't entertain your vegetarian taste buds? What about low-sodium, low-sugar, or fat-free diets? Disney can usually handle these and other lifestyle diets as well as other special dietary requirements (meals for those with allergies or lactose intolerance) at any of its full-service restaurants as long as guests give advance notice -- 3 days is suggested to accommodate special dietary needs, while at least 24 hours is necessary for lifestyle diets (48 hr. if you are dining at the WDW Swan & Dolphin, Yak & Yeti, Rainforest Cafe, or T-Rex). This holds true for other dining requests, too. If you are headed to one of the resort's restaurants and know your kids may have a tough time with the menu, chicken nuggets and some other kid-friendly items can be requested in advance. (Note: Kosher meals are not available at Teppan Edo or Tokyo Dining.) It's easiest to make special requests when you make your Advance Reservations (tel. 407/939-3463) or, if you're staying at a Disney resort, by stopping by the lobby concierge desk.
A Balancing Act -- In an effort to promote better eating habits, Disney kids' menus have been revised over the past few years and now feature healthy options including low-fat milk, 100% fruit juice, water, and sides such as unsweetened applesauce, veggies, and fresh fruit. Soda pop and french fries are still available, but only upon request.
All of the WDW restaurants (in the theme parks and at the resorts) are also currently wrapping up the transition to become entirely trans-fat-free (a trend that is just beginning to take hold at other area theme parks).
In the Magic Kingdom
There are plenty of fast-food outlets located throughout the park. You may find, however, that a quiet sit-down meal is an essential but all-too-brief way to get away from the day's activities. And remember -- Magic Kingdom restaurants don't serve alcohol.
On Again, off Again . . . on Again -- The menu at Tomorrowland Terrace includes a potpourri of quick dishes such as cheeseburgers, fried chicken sandwiches, pasta primavera and pasta Alfredo, lobster rolls, beef and blue salad, chicken nuggets, and assorted desserts. Kids' meals include familiar favorites such as PB&J, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets. It's one of the prettiest and largest outdoor seating areas in the park; you can eat out in the fresh air even as you get a respite from the hot Florida sun. And as an added bonus, you get a great view of the gardens, waterways, and Cinderella Castle. If you've picked up a sweet treat along one of Main Street's eateries and can't find a place to sit down (often the case), this is the perfect place to head, as it's often overlooked by visitors. Note: The Terrace is a seasonal eatery that closes sporadically, so be sure to check your guide map to see if it's open when you're visiting. All items cost $7 to $9.
Another on-again/off-again eatery at the Magic Kingdom is the Diamond Horseshoe. This saloon-themed space functions as a counter-service spot only when the park is in need of an additional dining venue for visitors. Check your Times Guide to see if it's open when you're here -- in the past it has served up sandwiches during lunch and full-fledged all-you-can-eat family-style dinners during the holidays and peak travel seasons (lunch runs $7-$9; dinner, $15 for kids and $28 for adults). Because it's not well publicized, it's often a quieter and less crowded option than the usual hot spots.
The world is at your feet at Epcot, quite literally. In addition to the restaurants found at Future World, the World Showcase features several ethnic cuisines from around the globe, all served in some rather impressive settings. Though dining at one of the World Showcase pavilions is a traditional part of the Epcot experience, I remind you that many of the following establishments are rather overpriced when compared to an equivalent restaurant beyond the park's boundaries. Unless your budget is unlimited, you may want to consider the more casual counter-service eateries located throughout the park and save the sit-down service for somewhere else. These informal dining spots don't require Advance Reservations (for details, check the Epcot guide map that you picked up upon entering the park) and often go overlooked. If you simply can't resist a more formal meal (and it is difficult at times), try the full-service restaurants at lunchtime, when the price for a meal is much lower than at dinner. Almost all of the establishments listed here serve lunch and dinner daily (hours vary with park hours), and, unless otherwise noted, they offer children's meals. All require theme-park admission and the $14 parking fee.
Note: Because the clientele at even the fanciest Epcot World Showcase restaurant comes directly from the park, you don't have to dress up for dinner, but do bring along a sweater or sweatshirt to ward off the sometimes chilly indoor temperatures. Advance Reservations (tel. 407/939-3463), which reserve your place but not a specific table, are available at all WDW sit-down restaurants and are strongly recommended. Otherwise, the chances of getting a table without a wait -- often a long wait -- are pretty slim (and you run the risk of not getting a table at all).
No Italian? No Way! -- Longtime Epcot dining fixture L'Originale Alfredo di Roma is no longer on Epcot's menu of dining options. It's been replaced, by Tutto Italia. Set inside one of the most beautiful of the world pavilions, the replacement retains its spot as one of Epcot's most popular restaurants, thanks to its fabulous food and noticeably friendly service. The elegant establishment features a menu filled with traditional pastas, fish, chicken, and pork; kids will find a small selection of familiar favorites. If you want a quieter setting, ask for a seat on the veranda overlooking the center courtyard. Lunch costs $15 to $28; dinner runs $22 to $36, with sides priced separately (about $8 a pop). Kids' meals run just under $10.
Via Napoli, an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria -- featuring a mouthwatering menu of handcrafted pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and Italian wines -- opened in 2010. The decor is upscale yet casual, with hand-painted murals along the seemingly aged walls, brick ovens surrounded by tremendous stone faces, and an eclectic collection of light fixtures accenting the entire establishment like artwork. The open kitchen along the perimeter gives way to tables that run the length of the room, with smaller, more intimate tables set along the edges. The menu at lunch and dinner is the same and runs $17 to $26 for entrees, $16 for an individual pizza, and upwards of $39 for a 12-slice pie. Seating for up to 300 (both indoor and outdoor) is available.
Pint-Size & Picky? -- Traveling with less-than-adventurous eaters? WDW has plenty of familiar favorites for little ones more willing to ride the roller coasters than try unfamiliar foods (though pint-size portions of more adventurous items such as mahimahi, salmon, and steak, among others, are available, too). Topping the menus are PB&J, pizza, chicken strips, grilled chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, pastas, and french fries (now available only upon request), among others.
The Electric Umbrella, for example, is a counter-service eatery located near Innoventions in Epcot. It serves up familiar fare including burgers and chicken nuggets, making it especially popular with younger kids with picky palates. Note that because it is one of only two quick-service eateries located in Future World (the third option, Coral Reef, is a full-service sit-down restaurant), expect the lines to be long and the tables to be filled no matter the time of day. Try upstairs first, as the lower level is often filled with families toting strollers.
At Disney's Hollywood Studios
Some of the one-of-a-kind themed restaurants in all of WDW are set among the movie sets, action-packed shows, and wild rides of Disney's Hollywood Studios. That fact, in turn, makes them some of the most difficult to get into. Be sure to make Advance Reservations if you want to eat at any full-service restaurant here.
Dinner and a Show -- At press time, Disney was offering preferred seating at the end-of-the-day spectacular, Fantasmic!, along with a fixed-price dinner at one of Disney's Hollywood Studios' sit-down restaurants. All you need to do is make Advance Reservations (tel. 407/939-3463) and request the Fantasmic! Dinner Package (a credit card guarantee is required) for the Hollywood Brown Derby (prices vary, as you can now order a la carte), Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano ($33 adults, $12 kids 3-11), or Hollywood & Vine ($27 adults, $14 kids). You'll get your line pass at the restaurant and instructions on getting to the special entrance to the preferred seating area of the show. Lunch packages are also available (good for the first Fantasmic! show when two are scheduled on a single night).
Note: The prices above are for a fixed-price meal (except for at Hollywood Brown Derby) and do not include sales tax, tip, or alcoholic beverages; if you order off the menu, you'll pay more. The prices also don't include a reserved seat at Fantasmic!, only a pass that will get you into the preferred seating area. You must arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes in advance -- still a much shorter wait than usual for good seats.
Call Ahead -- Disney's Hollywood Studios is home to some of Disney World's most unique restaurants. If you plan to dine in any of them, be sure to make Advance Reservations (preferably before you leave home, but if not, then the minute you arrive at your hotel or in the park). Waiting until lunchtime or dinnertime will almost assure that you'll miss out, especially at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant and 50's Prime Time Café.
Studio Dining Alternative -- If you forgot to make Advance Reservations or couldn't get a table at your chosen restaurant, try the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant's next-door neighbor, the ABC Commissary. While not a themed restaurant per se, it offers a reasonably diverse menu, featuring items such as Asian salad, fish and chips, curry chicken, burgers, and more. It has rather good desserts as well. Most items cost $7 to $9. Plainer than most Disney eateries, it really does resemble a commissary, and TVs lining the walls play commercials for the latest and greatest shows running on Disney-owned ABC. Note: Kosher meals are readily available here.
A Royal Dining Affair -- The Earl of Sandwich (the famous edible was allegedly invented by said earl in 1762, when he was too busy playing cards to eat a real meal -- and found that putting meat between two slices of bread allowed for both) made its debut in Downtown Disney in 2004. The casual eatery offers a great selection of hot and cold sandwiches, including a variety of breakfast sandwiches to start your day off right, French roast beef with cheddar and horseradish sauce, turkey with apple bacon and Swiss cheese, Caribbean jerk chicken, Caprese, Hawaiian BBQ, and several others. A variety of salads -- Cobb, Chinese chicken, chicken Caesar, Mediterranean, house, Caprese -- are available as well. There's some indoor seating, though most diners head for the benches outside. If you're looking for a quick, light meal at a decent price (sandwiches and salads are all under $6), this is the place.
In the Animal Kingdom
There are few restaurants in the newest of Disney's parks, and most that exist are counter-service or grab-and-go places (of these, the Flame Tree Barbecue is the best).
Picnicking in the Park -- In 2009, Disney's Animal Kingdom introduced a new dining option. Visitors who prefer the spectacular surroundings of the park can now "Picnic in the Park" rather than heading indoors to dine. Meals (for two to six guests) include a choice of gourmet sandwich, a side dish, a dessert, and bottled water (referred to as tier 1); or a choice of meatier entree (rotisserie chicken or ham), a side dish, a dessert, and bottled water (referred to as tier 2). Tier 1 meals are available for pick-up at Dinobites; tier 2 meals are available for pick-up at the Kusafiri Coffee Shop. All meals are bagged (along with plates and utensils) in eco-friendly bags, and it's off to the picnic spot of your choice. Locations are scattered throughout the park and marked on park maps. Prices start at $18 (for two guests) and, depending on which meal you choose, can reach as high as $57 (for six). Orders must be placed at least 2 hours in advance at the Picnic in the Park podium, located near Guest Relations, or at the podium outside the Island Mercantile, between 8:30am and 2:30pm. Payment is due when you pick up your meal. For details, check out www.disneyworld.com or call tel. 407/939-3463.
In the Walt Disney World Resorts
Most restaurants in this category continue the Disney trend of being above market price. On the flip side, many offer food and atmosphere that far exceed what you'll find in the theme parks. The quality level means that even those not staying at Disney resorts like to dine at these restaurants, so Advance Reservations are a must. Note: Valet parking at any of the Disney resorts runs $12 (plus tip), unless otherwise noted.
The Best Tables in the World -- There are two special dining options at Victoria & Albert's. Reserve the Chef's Table (far, far in advance) and dine in a charming alcove hung with copper pots and dried flower wreaths at an elegantly appointed candlelit table -- in the heart of the kitchen! You'll begin by sipping bubbly with the chef while discussing your food preferences for a menu (up to 13 courses) created especially for you. There's a cooking-seminar element to this experience: Diners get to tour the kitchen and observe the artistry of the chefs at work. The Chef's Table can accommodate up to 10 people a night. It's a leisurely affair, lasting 3 or 4 hours. The price is $200 per person without wine, $295 with five wines. This is so popular that Disney takes Advance Reservations (180 days out for both the main dining room and the Chef's Table), so reserve early by calling tel. 407/939-3463.
Disney's newest and most exclusive dining experience to date is Queen Victoria's Room. Here, at just four tables behind closed doors (right off the main dining room), discerning diners will experience a sumptuous 10-course meal with authentic French gueridon service and unsurpassed personalized attention. The price tag is $200 per person; add an additional $95 per person for wine pairings. To reserve a table (a single seating is offered nightly), call the restaurant's private line (tel. 407/939-3862) up to 180 days in advance.
For additional details and sample menus, check out www.victoria-alberts.com.
In Lake Buena Vista
This area comprises restaurants located in Downtown Disney and the Lake Buena Vista area. Downtown Disney is located 2 1/2 miles from Epcot off Buena Vista Drive. It encompasses the Downtown Disney Marketplace, a complex chock-full of cedar-shingled shops and themed restaurants overlooking a scenic lagoon; the adjoining Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf), a lively entertainment venue full of shops and restaurants of its own; and Downtown Disney West Side, a slightly more upscale collection of shops, restaurants, the Cirque du Soleil, and a multiplex. The restaurants have kids' menus, usually in the $5-to-$10 range, though sometimes higher.
Coming Attractions -- Disney recently opened its newest full-service restaurant at Downtown Disney: Paradiso 37. The first new dining option to open for business at the newly re-imagined Pleasure Island (a project slated to open in stages over a 2-year period -- the end result of which will soon become Disney's Hyperion Wharf), Paradiso 37 features a menu that is representative of the 37 countries throughout the Americas -- North, Central, and South -- in keeping with its name. In addition, an international bar features 50 or so tequilas and a varied selection of signature frozen margaritas. Menu items might include North American Sliders (blackened mahimahi, grilled barbecued chicken, or barbecued pulled pork); Colombian-style whole crispy hen marinated with onions, garlic, lemon, and cilantro; Chilean salmon, skewered and served with a tomato vinaigrette; or an Argentinean skirt steak topped with caramelized onions and chimichurri sauce. The waterfront location offers an unparalleled view of the entire Downtown Disney skyline. Open daily from 11am until late at night.
Downtown Disney also welcomed Pollo Campero in late 2010, a quick-service eatery with a flavorful menu of Latin dishes such as Campero Latin chicken, yucca fries, sweet plantains, and others ($5-$8). Pollo Campero replaces McDonald's, which closed in April 2010. Look for additional eateries to debut in upcoming months as the re-imagined Hyperion Wharf begins to take shape.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.