When I was at the Disney Social Media Moms Conference this spring, I had the pleasure of meeting AJ of Disney Food Blog. You know I’m passionate about making memories out of our dining experiences at Disney World. So when I met the expert of Dining at Disney to give us her Disney Dining Must-Do’s, I was thrilled when she agreed to share her knowledge with us!
Below you’ll find the answer to YOUR top questions when it comes to the “must do” and “can’t miss” dining experiences at Disney World. If you really want to get the full scoop on Disney dining, you’ll want to pick up AJ’s new eBook, The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining!
1. What’s your favorite restaurant to splurge on at Disney?
Only one? Keeping in mind great food AND great atmosphere, I usually recommend California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. This experience is exclusive from the moment you step into the elevator for the reservations-only ride up to the restaurant.
The service, cuisine, and view of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon are unforgettable. And don’t forget — even if you don’t see the fireworks while you’re there, you’re welcome to return to the California Grill’s special viewing area that evening for the show!
2. Where should we eat if we want a true Disney dining experience but we don’t have park tickets?
For characters, I would venture to Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. This is a classic Disney dining experience. You’ll get your eats from a buffet, party with Chef Mickey and the rest of the fab five characters, and get to watch the monorail zoom through the resort.
For a special family meal, I would go to ‘Ohana in Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Your food is served family style, meats are brought to the table on fire-grilled skewers, and dessert — a Bananas Foster Bread Pudding — is to die for!
My favorite dinner show — and an experience that dates back to the beginning of Walt Disney World — Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness is a hoot!
And or casual dining at a table service restaurant, visit Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge. You’ll get a true Disney experience while dining on barbecue in an absolutely beautiful resort.
3. Is it worth it to buy the Disney Dining Plan? Which one?
It absolutely depends on how your family dines. Do you have picky eaters? Do you want a table-service meal every day? Do want to pre-pay for your meal costs?
Personally, I have only used the dining plan once and would only do so again if a Magic Your Way package was cheaper than buying the components of my vacation separately (be sure to check for discounts!). Each time we vacation at WDW, I compare prices of packages vs. buying tickets, hotel nights, etc. separately. I look at menus to determine an estimated food and beverage cost.
For example, the Quick Service Dining Plan coupled with value resort accommodations at a discounted rate or with the free dining plan offers is a tremendous deal! For moderate resorts, free dining offers or discounted package deals are a good bet for savings. In these two instances, it’s almost always better to have the dining plan than to pay out of pocket. When you move up to Deluxe accommodations, free dining offers or discounted rooms with food costs out of pocket seems to price out with the greatest savings. Adding the dining plan to other package deals doesn’t price out as attractively. You can see a full breakdown in the DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining.
To date, the Dining Plan doesn’t fit the way our family dines, but it very well could fit your needs. Don’t forget, if you’re purchasing the Disney Dining Plan, you CAN combine that with a hotel discount!*
4. What’s the best character dining option for a multi-generational family/multiple families with various age kids dining together?
I highly recommend character breakfasts at ‘Ohana in Disney’s Polynesian Resort and at Cape May Cafe in Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Both are more low-key than other character meals and offer a good range of characters. Note that only the breakfasts in these restaurants have characters.
If you have teens in your party, try 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian. At breakfast, Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland delight small children while the Mad Hatter provides humorous antics that even the teens find amusing. At dinner, Cinderella and Prince Charming amuse the younger set. Cinderella’s step-sisters and Lady Tremaine entertain teens and adults alike! Buffets please even the pickiest eaters! The decor is, admittedly, a little girly, though. 😉
5. Is there a restaurant you make sure to eat at every time you’re there?
Two restaurants seem to make our list often. Liberty Tree Tavern in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is a favorite of ours for lunch. Consistently great food and service mean we always start our trip out right.
We’re also big fans of Boma in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner. This mildly exotic buffet offers some great eats, and the resort itself has plenty of fun activities to enjoy — even if you’re not staying there.
6. What’s the Best Restaurant to go to if you have Toddlers?
Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace with the Hundred Acre Wood friends is a great meal for toddlers. The characters are familiar and very friendly. Tigger even bounces! Toddlers can be picky eaters and this buffet seems to please even their “discriminating” palates.
The most difficult part of dining with a toddler is trying to get them to sit still. This restaurant encourages kids to join in a parade around the restaurant. A buffet works well with busy toddlers because parents can take turns filling (and enjoying) their plates and entertaining the busy child. Table-service meals are much more difficult to enjoy with the toddler set as they are not the most patient diners!
* Note that you cannot combine Disney’s Free Dining package with any hotel discounts. You must pay rack rate for your hotel in this case.
I love how many similarities there are between AJ’s suggestions and my personal Disney Dining reviews and Top 5 Character Dining Experiences! I guess great minds think alike But don’t trust me, make sure you grab AJ’s book, the DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining. For a limited time you can even get a 20% discount when you use the code SPRING11! AJ has really outdone herself with this book and all the free resources she offers along with it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, AJ! Make sure you all check out her blog as well at Disney Food Blog. See you at Disney!