On average, there are about 154,000 visitors that enter one of Disney’s four signature parks per day. Some travelers look forward to taking a journey on rides that are full of nostalgia or thrill. Others can’t wait to see their favorite characters and snap a pic. But some (me included) are most excited for the food they will try on their next Disney vacation.
With over 200 places to get food at Walt Disney World, there definitely isn’t a lack of options. So how will one go about choosing?
The Top 5 Disney Restaurants with the Best Atmosphere
There are many things to consider when making your dining reservations for your Disney trip. Cuisine, price, location, timing, are Disney dining credits accepted, etc. But one thing I always rank high is atmosphere.
Magic Kingdom’s goal is to take you to another world, a place to escape. When enjoying meals, I want that same feeling. I WANT to be enthralled in an environment that when I walk outside, I almost forget I’m at Disney World. Or better yet, is ONLY something I would get at Disney World. Why would I want to go get Starbucks coffee or McDonald’s fries when I could drive a mile in any direction and get that exact experience.
Disney’s atmosphere and ambiance is unbeatable, and below are my personal top 5 restaurants that embrace their own theme and take you to another world, while offering a great meal at the same time.
1. Sci-Fi-Dine In Theater
Located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater takes you back to the 1960’s. You can sit in booths modeled after classic cars while watching real clips from Drive-In Movie Theaters way-back-when; an eclectic arrangement of cartoons and black & white clips from old Science Fiction creature-features.
The lucky passengers that sit in the front row of the car are the drivers while everyone else are the hitchhikers in tow. Even the dim lighting (read: very dark) aids to the illusion that you are sitting outside while enjoying your meal. The menu is traditional American cuisine with options for everyone, however, the must-haves are the milkshakes and burgers. Sci-Fi is the least expensive meal you will have from the restaurants on this list and -hands down- has the best ambiance at the Walt Disney World Resorts.
Advanced dining reservations are a must, but aren’t a problem to get at your 180 day mark.
**Pro tip: Travelling in the summer? BEAT the HEAT and EAT here.
2. Hollywood Brown Derby
Also at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is The Hollywood Brown Derby.
This Orlando version is modeled after the very famous original Brown Derby located in southern California. With similar decoration and menu, the Hollywood Brown Derby in Orlando is an upscale, elegant restaurant with impeccable atmosphere, high-quality food, and amazing service. The walls are famously covered with caricatures of your favorite celebrities, the classy lamps and light fixtures accompany you at your table, and the Spanish style of the building is modeled directly after the original.
The must-haves from the menu are the famous Cobb salad and -definitely splurge on- the salmon dinner. ADR’s are recommend to ensure you get a table inside! There are often dining packages that are offered with Brown Derby, like the Fantasmic dessert party: which you can add onto your dining reservation at any time.
3. Cinderella’s Royal Table
Travelling over to the Magic Kingdom, we will visit the only Character-Dining restaurant that I have on the list. Especially for families with little princesses, Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella’s Castle is a must.
Not only do you essentially get a tour of the inside of the castle, but you get to have personalized encounters with a few Disney princesses. Being in her castle, Cinderella becomes the host for your event. Guests will even receive a complimentary photograph in a keepsake folder as a memento. Princesses often rotate based on “availability” that day, but includes: Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine, or Aurora.
The inside of the castle is exactly how you’d imagine a royal European castle to be. The details are so intricate, from the carpet on the floors to the stain-glass windows. The meal is a prixe-fix menu, so there isn’t much choice when it comes to dining, and the menu can change dependent on when you go and for what meal.
The quality of the food mixed with the character interaction and the environment makes for a well worth-it experience. With the opening of Be Our Guest, ADR’s aren’t as hard to get as you think, and with breakfast, lunch, and dinner being served here: your chances of meeting Cinderella and the gang just increased!
**Pro tip: While you are ordering off of a prixe-fix menu, if you come to the end of your meal and are still hungry ASK FOR SECONDS —- this is one of the few restaurants that may give you another portion for FREE.
4. Coral Reef
There are so many incredible restaurants in EPCOT, narrowing it down to two was a challenge. Before we get to the World Showcase, taking a trip over to the Seas with Nemo & Friends will lead you to number four on this list. Coral Reef’s uniqueness comes from a giant fish tank that takes up an entire wall of the restaurant. All of the tables face towards the aquarium and no matter where you sit for your meal, you are able to see a vast array of marine life from mere feet away.
This dimly lit restaurant doesn’t have a bad seat in the house, allowing the back light on the water to produce an illuminated glow. Should you be fortunate enough to sit right in front of the tank, you will be equipped with a fish guide: which will provide a detailed explanation of all the aquatic life you are seeing. Of course the majority of the menu is seafood(ouch), but there isn’t a lack of options for picky eaters. The Coral Reef is a must for the seafood lovers, the best of which is the Grilled Mahi Mahi. Yours truly got the sirloin beef steak at the seafood restaurant: classic.
**Pro tip: Beer lover? Make sure to order the Coral Reef’s House beer: Reef Amber, a hearty lager that mixes great with the menu.
5. Sans Angel Inn Restaurante
Picking just ONE restaurant in the entire World Showcase was extremely difficult. (Honorable mentions to Via Napoli at the Italy Pavillion, Teppan Edo in Japan, and Chefs de France in the French Pavillion)
For atmosphere alone, inside the Mexican pavilion lies Sans Angel Inn in which the ambiance is unmatched. If you have ever taken a ride on the Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros, you have sailed past the restaurant. Visiting inside the pavilion itself is a must-do for the small street market, the shops, and the tequila bar.
Similar to the inside of Sci-Fi Drive-In, the dim lighting and landscaping really makes you feel as if you were eating outside; But the air conditioning reminds you that you’re still in Florida. The seating for the restaurant is riverside, as you overlook the boat ride going past the temple modeled after Chichen Itza, and the volcano in the background. Before you get disappointed, the menu is real-deal Mexican food. You won’t get crispy tacos, a chicken quesadilla, or an order of queso-dip here. Instead, you can try stuffed peppers, carne asada, and flamed shrimp.
The pricing for your entrees range in the mid $20’s, but the amount of food you get on top of the free chips and salsa will have you leaving the pavilion stuffed. In terms of cost, Sans Angel Inn offers some of the most cost effective table service food in all of The World Showcase.
Overall, dining is a big part of any vacation and Disney is no exception to that. To help narrow down your choices and what is most important to you, consider the environment and ambiance that you are brought to at these locations. From the 1960’s to under the sea, travelling to Mexico, and becoming royalty: you have the opportunity to be brought to a whole new world (pun intended) when dining in Disney.
Stay tuned for the Top 5 Snacks in WDW.
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