There are two types of dining experiences in WDW. Quick Service and Table Service. I'll explain each below, then give you a list of our favorite places. Know that these are not the BEST places to get a meal, but are OUR favorites. If you're looking for fine dining you may want to stop reading now. Ha! With 6 kids(or any kids really) in tow, we have never been to any "fine" dining inside Disney. It DOES exist, though, so maybe try looking around here for some ideas. Basically, I'm listing our family favorites so that you can have somewhere to start if you are planning an upcoming vacation.
The first type of dining experience is quick service. With quick services restaurants or food carts you make no reservation, and the average price per person is around $14.99 or less. These restaurants are made so that you go up to the counter to order/pick-up your food. These restaurants generally have fun themes, and are pretty easy to get in to and find seats for everyone in the family. The pros are that they do not require dining reservations, they are much less expensive, require no tip(because you are your own waitress), and they are(as it says in the name) quick. The cons are that they are sometimes very crowded, and you'll have to cart your food around(not a big deal if your talking a family of 4, but with my family it's kind of a big deal to carry 7 entrées.).
The second type of dining at WDW is called Table Service. Table Service ranges anywhere from $15.00 up to well over $60 per person. Most table service restaurants except reservations, and some highly recommend them. There are several types of table service meals including: buffet, family style(where the food is served on large platters in the middle of the table), dinner shows, fine dining(which Disney calls Signature Dining), and the ever popular Character dining. Most of these places offer a unique theme, authentic cuisine, and fabulous memories.
A note about table service meals: Our first time in Disney we could only afford to go to one table service meal as we were cutting corners where we could. Our one meal was so magical that the next time we went we saved a little extra money so that we could get a meal plan that included table service meals. If your budget won't allow you to dine at several table service places, pick your favorite and splurge one day while you are there. It will be sure to be worth the extra money. Remember though, that cutting this corner is better than cutting out an additional day in Disney as far as littles go.
OK, so here is our list in no particular order:
This quick service restaurant is inside of Disney's Hollywood Studios. We love it for it's amazing thematic qualities. There are AMAZING decorations, and it is like looking into the Toy Story movies! This is a MUST visit for our family each time. It's always first on the kids list of places to go. They serve mostly pizza and salads.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall-Princess Storybook Dining
We've visited this restaurant each time we've been to Disney and it's never disappointed us. Located inside of EPCOT, Akershus serves a delicious Norwegian buffet breakfast, but also serve yummy lunches and dinners. The greatest part is that this is a character meal! You'll get to visit with several princesses. It changes up daily, but you're sure to see at least 4-5 princesses. You'll also get a photo package included in the price of your family with Belle in a cute little photo folder. I recommend the Mushroom Stuffed Pasta. Save room for dessert! You'll get a PLATTER of them!! I do not lie.
Cinderella's Royal Table-Fairytale Dining
You'll need early reservations for this meal for sure, but it's a really nice meal inside of Cinderella's castle in Magic Kingdom! It's a great way to finish up your little princesses makeover at the Bippity Boppity Boutique. You'll get a photo package with Cinderella included in the price. Kids will also receive a cool magic wand or sword. This is a very magical character meal, but my kids really like Akershus better. This meal is one of the more expensive meals inside the parks. If you are using a dining plan it will take 2 table service meals, so be advised. It really is a nice thing to do at least once though. The last time we were there we actually sat next to Matthew West and his family. Ha! It's an absolutely gorgeous place to be. So magical.
Tony's Town Square Restaurant
I just love this sweet little place right inside Magic Kingdom. It's known as the place where Lady and the Tramp had their first kiss. They serve Italian food, and their Chef's Signature Cheesecake is RE-DONK-YOU-LOUS!! Do not eat there unless you have it! Seriously. There's a sweet feeling in this place. That's what got it on the list. That and the CHEESE CAKE. No, I mean, SERIOUSLY.
Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show
If I were making this list based on my likes alone this one would not make the list, however, my very carnivorous Manly loved that they served us platters of meat at this dinner show staged in a covered pavilion outside the Disney Polynesian Resort. I wasn't crazy about the food, but they have a pretty cool line-up as far as the menu is concerned. I also thought the story of the show was cheesy, but there are also cool acts like hula and fire dancing, a drum show, and a fire-knife performer. We liked that the food was "all-you-care-to-enjoy," and our waitress danced when she brought us our dessert. I mean what else could you ask for? A stuffed pig. Oh yeah, they've got that too.
Tusker House-Donald's Safari
I don't have a single bad thing to say about this BEAUTIFUL restaurant located in the heart of Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's got an amazing African theme, and is the most authentically beautiful place on my list. If I could have anything I wanted I'd make my celling look like the one here. This is also a character dining experience(except for dinner). You'll meet several classic characters all dressed in safari garb. They also have a fantastic safari parade around the restaurant led by characters that includes guests. You'll also get to pose with Donald, but unlike some of the other places, this photo package is not included in the price. The food is buffet style and SO good! KK says if you go for breakfast get a giant cinnamon roll!
Main Street Confectionery
1900 Parke Fare-Supercalifragilistic Breakfast and Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner
In our opinion this is the single best classic character dining experience. Not only is this a beautiful place set in the heart of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, but the characters are the best! First, enjoy breakfast with Mary Poppins, The Mad Hatter, Alice, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger. The food is buffet style and SO good! The Mad Hatter is hysterical, and the kids loved Mary Poppins too. For dinner you'll enjoy rare characters that are found here: The Step-Mother, Step-Sisters, Prince Charming, and Cinderella! You might even get picked(like my KK) to dance with the prince! The dinner menu is also buffet style. It's DELIOUS! Be sure to try their beef strip loin. Yum!
Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show
This is, by far, our family favorite. We went for the first time last year although it received mixed reviews by many. We loved it! It's the best place for actual character interaction. You won't get autographs, but you'll get to line dance with Mickey, do the polka with goofy, and maybe even cha-cha with Minnie. This dinner show takes up two table service meals on your dining plan, but we think it is so worth it! It's set back in the woods of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort in an open air covered pavilion. Manly's favorite part(aside from the fact that Minnie grabbed his waist to dance around the pavilion) was the "all-you-care-to-enjoy" BBQ. I loved the picnic table dining, and that we got to meet new friends with the people sitting next to us at the table. There are also several acts at this show including a really cool rope trick guy. The crowd is a little much at times, but in our experience it's a great overall way to spend the evening. You'll even get out in time to watch the firework show!
Other Places that have caught our eye this time that we are going to visit:
- Be Our Guest. This one is new since our last trip. They have a split restaurant. It's quick service for lunch, table service for dinner. It's themed to be straight out of the Beauty and the Beast movie. We are planning to have lunch here as we weren't able to get advanced dinner reservations. If you are wanting to go for dinner you should know that you'll need to make your reservations 180 days out.
- Coral Reef. This one is inside of EPCOT's HUGE aquarium. It allows visitors to eat while enjoying ocean life in the aquarium. It also has a great looking menu.
- Snack around the world. We've had friends who have been part of "drink around the world," but that's totally not our style. Snacking around the world, HOWEVER, is! So, we have plans to visit some of the great snack shops around the World Showcase in EPCOT. Should be FUN!
- Sci-fi Dine-in Café. This looks like such fun. We've never been before because I was worried the kids might be afraid of the movies playing, but I've been assured that they are not frightening. You actually sit in cars under the stars at this one while you enjoy a "drive-in movie!" SO fun!
- Liberty Tree Tavern. This historic restaurant serves up food buffet/family style. It looks like they specialize in "Thanksgiving Meal" type food. I think my kids will like it's rustic feel.
- Gaston's Tavern. We plan to get a snack at Gaston's Tavern while we are in Magic Kingdom. This little nook is new to MK since the last time we were there and is known for it's special "brew" of frozen apple juice topped with roasted marshmallow.
My Tips on Dining:
- Make reservations as soon as possible. That's 180 days in advance. You can make them online here or by calling the dining reservation number. I highly recommend using the online feature because it's very accurate and MUCH easier than waiting for 40 minutes on hold only to find out that the reservation you want is unavailable.
- Take tip money. All parties over 6 will have an automatic 18% gratuity added to their meals. This is NOT included in the cost of your meal plan, so you'll have to pay it out of pocket if your party is 6 or more people.
- Give yourself breathing room. Making too many reservations in one day can pin you down. You'll feel like you have to stop what you're doing just to travel around and eat. I suggest making reservations for two meals a day, but if you're going to do three, space them out so that you have time to see the parks.
- Make reservations for before or after peak meal times. For instance, if you are making a lunch reservation try getting it for 11 instead of noon. This will allow you to beat out the rush, and you'll be able to enjoy rides with a much shorter wait time while everyone else is eating.
- Check out the menus before you place a reservation. You can actually go ahead and make out a plan for what everyone in your family wants to order, then when you are there and the kids and going NUTS at Pizza Planet you'll already know what they wanted to order and it'll make things MUCH easier.
- Know what kind of reservation you are making. Is it a buffet? Family style(food served on large platters in the middle of the table)? Casual? Dress Code? All of these things are important to know before you go!
- Give yourself travel time!! If you have a reservation give yourself at least 40 minutes to travel around Disney. There are some routes that are much quicker(using the monorail or water taxi), but 40 minutes is a good minimum. Some places may take longer...
- If you are confused or having a hard time with reservations online CALL AN AGENT! They are really quite helpful and can book multiple reservations at once. That can, in the end, save you time. Even if you have to be on hold for a while.
- Character meals are the EASIEST way to see characters without having to wait in line! Going to one character meal will get you time with at least 2 characters and in most cases 4-5 characters. You'll get time to take photos, get autographs, and interact with characters. Also, the food is SO good.
- Make sure each place you eat knows if you are celebrating a special occasion! They have FREE desserts for those things! Each table service place we went gave our birthday child a HUGE free dessert on top of the one they already got from the menu plan. Can you say SUGAR OVERLOAD?! I think I need to go do some Pilates...