Thursday, August 18, 2011

Disney World Dining Review

I just got home from a fantastic trip to Walt Disney World in sunny (hot) Florida, which was a Grand Gathering of 11 people from the maternal side of my family.  (Holy cow.)

It is indeed the "most magical place on Earth."  You can forget about work, the laundry, how many weeds are growing in your flowerbeds, and just be a kid again.

And you can eat!

I could fill three posts with details about everything we did at Disney World, but this is a food blog, so I'll stick to discussing where we ate.  Now, everyone has different tastes, of course, and by no means am I suggesting that you follow my reviews to the letter.  You have to make food choices that work for you and  your family.  But here are the ups (and downs) of my Disney World dining experience.

First off, let me take just a second to discuss the Disney Dining Plan we used.  When you go to Disney World and stay at a Disney World resort, you have the option of getting a dining plan. They have a few different ones to choose from.  When we were booking, we originally got a Quick-Service dining plan, which gave each of us (adults) two quick (or counter) service meals plus two snacks a day.  Then we started looking into what we wanted to do, and we ended up switching to the Plus Dining plan, which gave us one table service, one quick service, and one snack a day per person.  Now, with a table service meal, each person gets an appetizer, an entree, a dessert and a non-alcoholic drink. For quick service lunches and dinners, you get an entree, dessert and a drink (quick service breakfast is an entree and drink).

Let me also briefly explain that although each person gets a "Key to the World" card, which you use as your park ticket and your dining card, the meals you get are per room reservation, so if someone's a pig and uses up all the snacks on the first day, everyone else will be stuck buying their ice cream and cookies.

We did a couple special table service meals which took two table service credits per person, so the majority of our meals were quick service (though a lot of stuff at the quick service places also counts as a snack, there's a special symbol on the menu that tells you which items are snacks).  Now, Disney has to get a lot of people through the quick service places, so the menus aren't extensive (and tend to be very similar from place to place), but they give you a TON of food.  So you definitely will not walk away from any meal hungry, and in fact, if there are some small eaters in your party, you'll likely have enough food to split a quick service meal, which helps you save them up.

And keep track of your meals!  Fortunately, on all your receipts it'll tell you what you have left for table service, quick service and snacks, and if you've really lost count, you can go to the concierge desk at your resort for an overview printout or an itemized per person printout.

But enough of the logistics - on to the food!

Spirit of Aloha
This is a dinner show at the Polynesian Resort, and takes two table-service credits per adult.  But it's so worth it.  Here's what you get to eat while you listen to songs, watch traditional Polynesian dances and an amazing fire dance.

  • Mixed greens, fresh sliced pineapple, and coconut bread (which sounds weird but is really good)
  • BBQ spare ribs, rotisserie chicken, Polynesian rice, and mixed vegetables
  • Kilauea Volcano Surprise (which is chocolate mousse molded to look like volcanoes)
  • Soda, beer and wine (as much as you want) 

Epcot Center
Epcot is made up of two distinct sections:  Future World and the World Showcase (or the countries, if you will). We got to enjoy both quick service and table service meals here (along with some yummy chocolate coated ice cream bars on sticks in the shape of Mickey's head).
  • Electric Umbrella (Future World) - This is one of the quick-service places in Future World, and it's really very similar to a McDonald's or Burger King - basically burgers, chicken nuggets, and fries, so nothing to shout about.  But as I said earlier, TONS of food, giant burgers.  This was the first place we ate because we'd gotten up at 4am to catch our flight, and were tired, hungry, and cranky.  I got the chicken nuggets, and what I liked is that you're not necessarily stuck with fries as your side here - I got grapes.  Incidentally, do not eat here and then immediately go on the Orange Experience at Mission: Space.  One member of our party nearly revisited his burger.
  • Cantina de San Angel (Mexico Pavilion, World Showcase) - Quick service Mexican. We weren't sure what to expect here.  I got the nachos, which was a huge basket of tri-color nacho chips smothered in nacho cheese, seasoned beef, black beans, sour cream, and tomatoes (I skipped the jalepeños). I also got the churros for dessert, which were five churros sprinkled with cinnamon sugar with a milky caramel sauce for dipping.  My husband got beef tacos (my mother got chicken tacos), and neither could finish their meals, they had so much food!  Also, here you can get authentic Mexican sodas in a variety of fruit flavors, as well as traditional fruit popsicles in such flavors as cantalope, coconut, and mango with chili pepper.
  • Cafe Tangierine (Morocco Pavilion, World Showcase) - Quick service Moroccan food!  (Admittedly, we were going to try the Yakitori House for quick service sushi, but they were closed for renovations).  My husband, cousins and I gave this a whirl and were pretty impressed.  My husband got the traditional platter, which was lamb and chicken, along with hummus, couscous, and a parsley salad.  I chose the chicken wrap, which was seasoned chicken with romaine, tomatoes, onions (which I picked off) and tzatziki sauce, and it came with couscous and lentil salad for sides. Each meal came with a giant piece of baklava.  After finishing our baklava, we had to drag ourselves out of our chairs and roll ourselves back to the United Kingdom pavilion to meet my mother, aunt and uncle (they ate at the Yorkshire County Fish and Chips stand).
  • Boulangerie Pastisserie (France Pavilion, World Showcase) - On the last full day of our vacation, my mom, aunt and I finished up a round of shopping at The Boardwalk by taking the ferry over to the International Gateway behind the France Pavilion, and hying it over to this fantastic French bakery to partake in Eclairs aux Chocolat (that's chocolate eclairs, in case you couldn't figure that out) that were about as long as my forearm.  Delicious pastry filled with luscious chocolate cream and topped with a generous smear of creamy chocolate ganache - okay, I think I have to go back to Epcot for another one right now, call the plane!
  • Biergarten (Germany Pavilion, World Showcase) - This was a table service meal with flair.  It's a full German buffet with everything from German potato salad to sausage to spaetzle to apple struedel and Bavarian cheesecake.  You sit family style, which means you may have more than one family at your table (unless nine of you go, and they have to add a chair).  The food was really good, and you get Oktoberfest entertainment while you eat - and they invite you to hit the dance floor with your best polka!

Disney's Animal Kingdom
We didn't eat a whole lot here, because it was a very hot day and we didn't feel much like eating.  I do have one recommendation - get a fruit cup. They give you so much fruit it's a meal in itself, and it's a snack so you aren't using a quick service meal credit.
  • Restaurantosaurus (Dino-Land) - A quick-service place that's very similar to Electric Umbrella, with a few additions to the menu.  For example, here they have a shrimp po'boy that was rather interesting, and my cousin got a huge salad with chili on it.  Plus they have indoor seating.  That was our favorite part.  That and the chocolate mousse.

Magic Kingdom
The most magical place in Disney World, in my opinion.  And here's where we ate.
  • Cinderella's Royal Table (Cinderella's Castle) - This took two table-service credits per person but it was so worth it!  You get to eat in Cinderella's Castle AND meet Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Snow White, and Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty).  They start you off with a plate of pastries and fruit, and then you have a choice of entrees.  I chose the stuffed French toast, which came with bacon and peach sauce.  My husband got the eggs, bacon and sausage plate. Nobody chose the "healthy" option of granola, fruit and yogurt, but I'm sure that's just as delicious.
  • Columbia Harbor House (Liberty Square) - A quick-service place that serves the "standard" fair of burgers and chicken nuggets, but you also have the option of salad, shrimp, or fried fish.  I got the fish and split it with my mother.  They also offered a lobster roll that day, which my husband enjoyed.  You kind of felt like you were eating in an old New England tavern.

Disney's Hollywood Studios
Escape into the movies everywhere you go - and eat - at the park formerly known as MGM Studios (and you can always tell who'd been to Disney World before the change took place because you hear the reference to MGM all the time).
  • Pizza Planet Arcade - Straight out of Toy Story, hit this quick service place for individually sized pizzas, which come with a small caesar salad and your choice of a cookie or a Mickey treat (basically a rice krispie treat in the shape of Mickey's head).  If you've got kids (and a few quarters), spend some time playing at the arcade.
  • Hollywood & Vine - this 1950s themed restaurant is table service, but it's an all you can eat buffet of a variety of foods.  Everything is offered from salad to chicken to veggies to a carving station.  Don't forget the desserts - I got the smallest possible scoop of every dessert so I could sample everything!

Downtown Disney
Downtown Disney is the place for shopping and eating.  And I saved the best for last.
  • Wolfgang Puck Express - It's quick service, but doesn't feel (or taste) like it.  This was the last place we ate at Disney (not counting my cinnamon roll from the snack shop at the resort yesterday morning before we left), and it impressed us the most.  It was also the only place I had the wherewithal to take pictures of any of the food.  Before I let you feast your eyes, let me just say that this was an incredible meal, and if the quick service was that good, I can only imagine what the Wolfgang Puck sit-down restaurant at Downtown Disney is like.  I had the four cheese pesto brick oven pizza (another member of our party had the spicy chicken pizza), my mom and uncle got the half-rotisserie chicken, a few others got the turkey club sandwich (which was huge), my cousin got the pressed bistro sandwich, and my husband got the bacon wrapped meatloaf.  Dessert choices were creme brulee and cheesecake.

So now that you've eaten vicariously through me, go walk off the calories.  I gained two pounds.

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