Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Disney Series, Part 6: Eating at Disney World

A bit late, but here it is: the LAST installment of my summer Disney series. Once you're there, you're going to have to eat, right?

This (like pretty much everything Disney) can be an overwhelming topic. I spent much time thinking about how to organize this post (maybe THAT'S why it's a week late!) and have finally settled on the following three part format:

Part 1: a few general dining tips and thoughts
Part 2: personal favorite sit down and quick service restaurants
Part 3: some thoughts on being gluten free at Disney

Part 1: General Dining Thoughts

1. To dining plan or not to dining plan: I've already discussed my deep and abiding love for free dining. If you can get the dining plan for free, do that. If you have to pay for it? Is is worth it? Simply put, I don't know. I've never paid for it. I'd do a lot of math first, looking at menus and thinking about what I was likely to order, before deciding. You can find all the menus with prices at All Ears. And think about whether you'd like to eat off property some or bring in some of your own food. One nice thing about the dining plan is that all your food is paid for in advance. You don't have to spend a lot of time fretting over how expensive the food is while you're on vacation, because you'll have finished fretting about it before you even leave home! On the flip side, having all your food paid for already can kind of cramp your style if you like a less planned out vacation. If the food's paid for, you have to make sure you go eat last minute changes of plans.

2. Make reservations: you can make reservations for table service restaurants SIX MONTHS in advance. This is probably not how you're used to eating out. Now, at most restaurants, most times of year, if you're flexible about days and times, you'll still be able to get in if you don't plan that far in advance (even if you only plan a few days in advance). For the very popular restaurants, though (some character meals, especially) you really do need to make your reservations way ahead of time. Go ahead and book them all when you can; you can always change them around and cancel them later.

Part 2: A Few Favorites

My favorite quick service places in each park:
Animal Kingdom:
Restaurantosaurus: the food here is nothing special, but it's huge and air conditioned, and the decor is cool. There's even a real Winnebago outfitted with booths.

Hollywood Studios:
ABC Commissary: for some reason, we always wind up here even though I'm not a particularly big fan. I think it's because there's not anywhere in HS that I'm a big fan of. And the air conditioning.

Magic Kingdom:
Columbia Harbor House: we all love it here. There's always lots of seating upstairs, the food is good, it's centrally located, the decor hasn't been updated in decades, and they have the gluten free chicken fingers that  my kids adore.

Sunshine Seasons: I know you're supposed to go try exotic food in World Showcase, but I like Sunshine Seasons.

Some favorite table service places:
1. Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge): Boma is an African-inspired buffet, and it's Dave's favorite restaurant anywhere, not just at Disney World. I like it, too. And you can look at zebras and giraffes while you're waiting for your reservation.

2. 'Ohana (Polynesian): We've had mixed luck at 'Ohana, but when it is good it is very, very good, so we always go back. Lots of meat. Also coconut races and hula lessons for the kids.

3. Via Napoli: We can't eat real pizza any more, but the pizza here is yummy, if you can.

4. Crystal Palace: I'm not as big of a fan of Crystal Palace, but Dave and the kids really like it. Lunch more than breakfast. I find it less overwhelming than some of the character meals.

5. Jiko: expensive, but good. Also, the server here cut the kids' steak up for us! Not having to spend half of our meal cutting steak for children felt very luxurious.

Part 3: Gluten-free at Disney

There is no where in the world you'd rather be eating out gluten free than Disney World. They really do an amazing job. I wrote a very long trip report about our 2011 trip, entitled "Is there Gluten in Whiskey?" in which I discuss the whole thing extensively and write lots of reviews. But, yeah, basically, they make it really easy. You can note on your reservations that you're gluten-free, and the chef will come out to talk to you at most every table service restaurant. At quick service restaurants, a manager will talk to you. And then you will wait a long time for your food, very often. This is the big downside. But! You get BREAD with all your table service meals! And there's even a gluten free bakery, Babycakes, in Downtown Disney.

All done! To recap:

Part 1: When to Go
Part 2: Where to Stay
Part 3: Bringing Baby
Part 4: Big(gish) Families
Part 5: Save some Money

And, finally, our last day. AKA Magic Kingdom day #2.

It was Ari's birthday! He was 12, so he needed Milo to help out with some extra fingers.

One of my favorite Disney things to do is to ride the Peoplemover and take pictures of my kids on it. Lots of pictures. So many pictures.

We ate lunch at Columbia Harbor House, and I had to take a picture of this thing, because Abe has a thing just like it (only smaller) in his nursery:

This is just us waiting for the tram back to our car. But what I like about Gus when he gets a little sun is how clearly you can see that he only has freckles on one side of his face.

Ari selected Buffalo Wild Wings, near our rental house, for his birthday dinner. Shrug. Whatever the birthday boy wants, right?

We tried both nights we were there to see the nighttime parade at Magic Kingdom, and both times it was canceled because it looked like this. 


  1. Hi, I like all your Disney Chronicle, i would say. These are really great for a Disney trip planning. I wish you had written this a year ago, I could have taken all your points to make my trip easy.
    Yeah, I don't like the cancellation of shows/parade too. When we were there last May, they cancelled shows at Hollywood Studio, we were there for around 2 hr waiting and finally they announced the was really sad part for the son was disappointed...
    Thanks for sharing all the info.

    Lov, SM

  2. The food is usually what I am the most bummed about at amusement parks, so I was surprised to learn that they go all out on the gluten issue. That is awesome!


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