Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thoughts on Eating at Walt Disney World

We recently returned from a few well deserved days at Disney World and this morning I was pondering the food selection available to Disney guests.  My conclusion is that the food at Disney World is great.*  <--Yes, there's an asterisk there.  There needs to be an asterisk since the variety of items, prices, and availability truly confounds things.  If you have time and money it is easy to eat healthy and try a variety of excellent dishes.  On the other hand, if you're in the grab and go mode, like many guests there, it can be a pain in the butt tedious to provide your family with a good meal while touring the parks.

The Good

The dining plan is a great upgrade for resort guests if you have time to plan some of your meals.  Reservations are highly recommended for most restaurants, especially if you will be eating during peak meal times.  The dining plan will not only save you some money, but makes a wide variety of the finer foods accessible for those on tight , or even moderate, budgets.  We ate at Boma, our resort restaurant, two nights and enjoyed the array of Americanized bumbed down slightly ethnic cuisine and variety of healthy foods, such as veggie dishes and fruit.  Avoiding fast food can be difficult when traveling and this was a welcome deviation after two days on the road.
 As concierge level guests at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, we had access to the private lounge.  Not something everyone would be willing to pay extra for (not too bad in the off season), but we definitely got our money's worth in both convenience and food.   Every morning we had our breakfast there and enjoyed the appetizers, African beer, and cordials later in the day when relaxing at the hotel.  The lounge really came in handy for keeping a unpredictable picky toddler satisfied at a moments notice.  We also enjoyed the counter service food at the Morocco pavilion.  My wife is half Lebanese and being able to find some Arab ethnic food was a treat while away from home.

The Bad

While the dining plan made eating at some of the nicer restaurants affordable, we had to make reservations which impacted our ability to relax during the trip.  Every night I had to plan around our scheduled dinner time.  It's not so much an issue with singles or small groups, but makes family excusrions frustrating more difficult.  Also, not all sit down restaurants at Disney are created equal.  Some, like Boma, had a great variety and were worth the time and money, while others, like 1900 Park Fare, left a lot to be desired.  I understand that they need to try and please everyone, but at those prices I expect a higher level of cuisine.  The highlight of the trip for my daughter was the polka band at the German restaurant at EPCOT, though I wish they had a little more variety in their food choices.

The Ugly

The counter service eateries at Disney definitely are wanting, especially at the resorts.  The first thing that is usually on every menu board is the bacon double cheeseburger.  No, there isn't a plain ol' cheeseburger, just the extreme variety.  There are a few exceptions, notably some of the ethnic locations at EPCOT, but the lion's share are not much more than fast food at twice the price.  Disney puts in some effort to make salads and healthy sides available, but the main courses often resemble McDonald's combo meals and with little other options for dinner.  Considering the ransom cost of sit down restaurants, $35 buffet at Boma, not many families can afford a readily available decent meal after plunking down some serious cash on the trip.  Disney could definitely improve things with a partnership with an outside eatery, such as Subway or Taco Bell, to mix things up a bit.  With as much effort as Disney goes through to make everything perfect, somehow the food service aspect confounds them.

The trick is to be prepared when you go to Disney.  I recommend Deb's AllEars website  (or one of the other great Disney travel sites out there) for the menu listings and reviews of Disney eateries, as well as a wealth of other planning information.  If you go prepared there is a great variety of awesome food to be found, though without any preparation you may find yourself wondering whether you want chicken nuggets or a bacon double cheeseburger for the fifth meal in a row. 


aya said...

Dear Alton,
We recently came back from a similar family-Disney world type of vacation.
In the interest of our budget, time and health - We hardly used the in-park food services.
Instead we tried to use the hotel's refrigerator and our bag packs. This worked very well for all the above 3 reasons.

One comment about in-parks food I must make is: what's the deal with those humongous turkey legs people all over the parks (and only there have I seen the phenomenon) munch on?

I wondered if you tried it and if you took it as a good eat or not?

I wondered if that's becoming a new fast food on the run

Thanks for your writing...

dave in Rocha said...

Nice rundown. For the most part your thoughts mirror mine. The "fast food" options are indeed quite limited, outside Epcot.

One thing I'll mention is two of the sit-down meals I've had with my wife. One is the restaurant in "Morrocco". Hands down one of our favorite places to eat. It's particularly good for lunch as the prices are a bit less than they are for dinner, and the dim, cool atmosphere makes for a nice break from the midday heat. The second is Jiko in Animal Kingdom Lodge. I can't recall exactly what I had but I remember that A) it was an exotic meat (ostrich? boar?) and B) it was amazing.

John Nelson said...

Allears is a good website but what people need to know is that many of the members there are way into Disney and have expectations and experiences that maybe to me at least are a little skewed. If your the average guest you will have a great time and try not to overload yourself with all the suggestions that can be found there.