Hooray! Our fourth post in the Walt Disney World Moms Panel mini-series! Thanks to all the moms for their fantastic stories, tips, and insights.
Today, this post also serves as Part 2 of our Disney Food Blog Dining in Disney World With Kids series, in which the moms share their top picks for age-appropriate dining experiences. Take it away, Moms!
From Mom Erin F. — Kids’ Ages: 10-13
I’ve got the tweens and young teen segments. The 10-yr-olds love Crystal Palace and Chef Mickey’s. There are so many choices at the buffets (breakfast pizza is a favorite!).
I also enjoy the Grand Floridian tea. So much of the dining at Disney is the experience, not just the food. Part of that experience is allowing kids to learn and experiment in a safe arena. When working in New York City, I was invited to tea at the Waldorf, and I was completely freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. This type of experience can help kids to learn how to handle fine dining situations that they might encounter in the future.
Finally, there are some spots that the kids like, which offer great vegetable options. Garden Grill at Epcot offers fresh veggies from the Land, and Teppan Edo includes veggies mixed into the chicken. So you can get slightly healthier food.
From Mom Amber V. — Kids’ Ages: 0-5
My kids are 4 and 16 months. Obviously we’re in the character dining phase right now, and there are definitely character meals that are better than others! Probably my favorite character breakfast is with Lilo and Stitch at ‘Ohana. I have to say that while I enjoy the wider variety of foods available at a buffet, there is something to be said about the food being delivered to your table. I can’t count the number of times I’ve run up to a buffet to grab something and missed seeing my kids with one of the characters. At ‘Ohana you don’t have to worry about that, and the food that they bring to you is quite good. I’m a big fan of the breakfast potatoes. They are seasoned with just the right amount of salt, and your server will always bring more! We enjoy this breakfast from start to finish – the welcome bread and fresh fruit are a great way to start. Also, Mickey waffles . . . enough said!
Another favorite character meal is the Garden Grill at Epcot. Again, served family style which makes the whole experience so much more relaxing and enjoyable for Mom and Dad! My four year old daughter got a huge kick out of the fact the restaurant slowly rotates and just loved watching the changing view. The food is great and I like how the menu changes based on the season and what types of fresh fish and vegetables are available. They bring out food for the adults and the basic kid favorites like macaroni and cheese and fries for the kids who may not be so adventurous. The Garden Grill is another great meal from start to finish, and currently the only character meal to meet Chip and Dale!
From Mom Anna S. — Kids’ Ages: 4-18
I have kids that range in age from 4 through 18, so we have to work with a huge range of tastes and entertainment preferences. My oldest daughter has the most adventurous palate in the group, and at 18, she thinks she’s worldly and sophisticated. She loves places like Sanaa, can’t wait to try Kouzzina (Christmas week, I hope!), and raves about Restaurant Marrakesh.
The two little ones wouldn’t think a trip to Disney World was complete without a visit to Crystal Palace or Chef Mickey’s, but they are old enough now to really enjoy the entertainment at Whispering Canyon Cafe and ‘Ohana. The one place the whole family loves and returns to often is Boma. The kids are comfortable there, they love visiting the savanna before and after dinner, we enjoy the story tellers and the parade in the lobby, and the food is amazing.
From Mom Kara B. — Kids’ Ages: 7-14
We cherished the chance to bring my father with us to 50s Prime Time Cafe. He pretty much sat there talking about the shows he had watched that were on the TV as well as all the little knick knacks and decor he remembered. An absolute nostalgic moment for him.
Meanwhile, my kids were, of course, totally absorbed by the TV shows (they are such zombies if anything is playing on a screen) as well as all the antics of the cast members. So much giggling, and I didn’t have to ask them to finish their veggies or keep their elbows off the table! The funniest thing was my son disappeared into the bathroom for a suspiciously long time — he had been washing his hands thoroughly in case they checked beforehand.
Similarly, I think Whispering Canyon Cafe is a hoot! We ate there with my family, my brother’s family, and my parents. Immediately, the cast members placed bandanna hats of various shapes on all of our heads, so we were all laughing at one another (forgetting we each had hats). Then all of those mischievous antics of the cast members; we all laughed and laughed and laughed. The kids all enjoyed the pony races, too. And I come a family of huge carnivores (I’m constantly mocked, sadly, since I prefer soybean curd), so the endless platters of meat were perfect for them.
From Mom Joanne M. — Daughter’s Age: 9
There are really too many, so here are my nine year old’s current faves. Last month we visited the 50’s Prime Time Cafe for the first time, and she still hasn’t stopped talking about it. The decor is totally cool, with old fashioned TVs and furnishings. The service totally makes the experience! You really do feel like you’re in your granny’s kitchen, and the best part was when the server fed Nicole her veggies.
Whispering Canyon Cafe has been our must do for the past several years and remains in my daughter’s top two! The food is consistently good, but we go back for the activities, antics and excitement. Be forewarned, it’s LOUD! But guests of all ages get up and dance the hokey pokey, sing happy birthday to fellow diners, and participate in wooden horse races through the restaurant. No matter what you order, be sure to ask for ketchup!
From Mom Whitney P. — Kids’ Ages: 4-13
Because we have four children, from age four to 13, three girls and a boy, I am always on the hunt for restaurants with BROAD appeal both on the menu and in the experience. ‘Ohana’s all-you-can-eat fare fills up my growing 9- and 12-year-old boys, and is varied enough for my picky 4-year-old.
The coconut races and limbo are fun for everyone, even hula lessons for my teenager girl. If you’re not able to time your reservation just right to watch the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from the restaurant while they pipe in the accompanying music, you can always head down to the Polynesian’s beach for the view!
Biergarten has become a perennial favorite because my kids love the buffet that’s heavy on meat and potatoes fare with familiar flavors. It’s the floor show that can get folks out of their seats, though, especially for the Chicken Dance!
If I could add a third, it would be Teppan Edo. The chefs do a fantastic job of slicing and dicing as entertainment, and with grilled chicken, meat, or seafood on the menu, there’s something for everyone.
From Mom Jo Y. — Kids’ Ages: 11-13
My girls are aged 11 and 13 and every trip they request the same 2 restaurants. Their favourite character spot is the Crystal Palace as they both adore the Winnie the Pooh characters. They also love all the food on offer; the choice is huge so everyone will be able to find something they like.
For fine dining they love Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian; they enjoy the fact that it’s a more grown up restaurant and it serves “posh” food. They also like a reason to dress up!
From Mom Kim L. — Son’s Age: 9
I went straight to my 9 year old to answer this question. My son says his two top picks are Chef Mickey’s and San Angel Inn. Chef Mickey’s is a hit because it’s fun with the characters and your family can ride the monorail after dinner. San Angel Inn is a top choice because if you request a water table, then your child is entertained by waving at people as the boats float by.
From Mom Kay B. — Kids’ Ages: Adult; Grandkids’ Ages: Toddler
First I will speak about my grandkids (toddler age): The top restaurant experience for this age is Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue in Fort Wilderness. Toddlers are hard to keep in their seats and here is a great spot where you can get them to eat some good food (same as you would get at the Hoop De Doo Revue) and where they can dance their evening away with the characters and the live country music band. This is the best up close and personal character opportunity as well, since they can choose the character to dance with and be with him/her for as long as they want. There are always a couple of characters who stand quietly off to the side for those who are more shy. Parents can sit back and enjoy a glass of wine or beer while their kids are happy and letting loose all their energy so they can go home and sleep well!
Second choice is the Chef Mickey character dining at the Contemporary resort. This is just a great place to see all the major known Disney characters all at once, and the food buffet is outstanding. You will often see more adults taking food from the “kids” section, and I will admit I have snagged some of the great mac and cheese myself. The dessert choices are wonderful, and the kids love making their sundaes topped with all kinds of unhealthy things!
Now for my kids’ age (young adults): My children have always enjoyed the opportunity to get dressed up and head out for some special dining experiences, so Victoria and Alberts is a top choice for this and especially the Chef’s Table opportunity. But for families watching their budgets this spot becomes more exclusive. So the other choices would be Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian, as their menu is sophisticated but still in touch with a young palate. It is off the beaten path for many guests and can tend to be a little more quiet then some of the other restaurants.
For entertainment purposes I have two second choices and those would be 50’s Primetime Cafe in Hollywood Studios and the Hoop De Doo Revue in Fort Wilderness. Primetime is a classic spot to remind your teens or young adults of their often forgotten table manners. They soon realize if they don’t heed your advice they could be singing “I’m a Little Teapot” to all the other guests and making that a stepping stone for their next Idol audition! Hoop De Doo Revue is just a fun and rowdy place for all ages to let down and get into the moment. If you are lucky enough to be chosen for a participating part in the show it is even more fun. Young adults can enjoy humor too!
From Dad Doug I. — 2 Princesses (not sure of the ages, Doug!)
The first is Chef Mickey’s. It has some of the best buffet-line foods, and the setting and character experience are ideal for younger children. The second is 50’s Prime Time Cafe. I think that the kids enjoy a bit of sassy fun, and the food is always great.
From Mom Heather R. — Kids’ Ages: 2-6
My daughters are younger — 6.5, 4, and 2.5 — so character meals and buffets are perfect for them right now. One of our favorites is the Play and Dine at Hollywood & Vine character meal in Hollywood Studios. It’s a buffet, so the kids can dig in immediately, which at this age is often very important so they don’t get restless waiting for food to arrive.
Breakfast there is good, but we prefer lunch. There are a wide variety of dishes to choose from (my girls adore the seafood pasta) and Jo-Jo, Goliath, Leo, and June (Little Einsteins) keep the kids entertained. The children are periodically invited up front to sing and dance along with their favorite characters, which is fun for the kids and gives mom and dad a chance to eat un-interrupted, if only for a moment. The only downside to this restaurant is that it shares restrooms with the 50’s Prime Time Cafe, and there is always quite a wait. I’d recommend taking your children for a potty break in the park just before you have your meal.
A fun, non-character meal for kids is dinner at ‘Ohana in the Polynesian resort. While not a buffet, the food is served family style so it arrives quickly, and service is always very attentive. You’ll also find a strolling ukulele player, leis for the kids, and fun games like coconut races and hula hoop contests to keep little ones entertained.
From Mom Jodi G. — Kids’ Ages: 3-5
My kids are age 3 and 5, and I recommend ‘Ohana (for breakfast) and the Garden Grill (for dinner) for families like mine.
From Mom Beth C. — Kids’ Ages: 11-13
Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge is one of my family’s favorite restaurants! This little restaurant tucked in the Wilderness Lodge has a simple, down home menu. Ribs, chicken, and pork chops are done with a northwestern flair. They have amazing all you can drink milkshakes. However, the fun at this restaurant is why we make it a regular on our trips! The jokes, the pony races and ketchup – trust me to ask for ketchup – make this a fun place to dine! You can be loud and get a great meal. It is near the Magic Kingdom via a short boat ride, and the Wilderness Lodge is a beautiful hotel. After a day in the park, it is nice to go somewhere else to eat. You can then go back to the park or head home for the evening.
Also, when my family goes on vacation, we like to treat ourselves. We do things that we would not do at home. It is also an opportunity to get dressed up and eat at fancy restaurants. While we live just outside Manhattan and have amazing restaurants near home, it is not something we do except on vacation. My husband, Jim, and I really believe that our girls will never know how to appreciate fine dining if they do not experience it. With this in mind, I would recommend the California Grill. We first visited this restaurant alone and then again when Jess and Nicole were three and five. We rediscovered it last year when we were looking for a special night out. The food is always different and seasonal – pumpkin raviolis are yummy in the fall. You can see the chefs preparing the food, which I think helps children appreciate the hard work that goes into the meal. The pastry chef even explained his dishes to my girls. The atomosphere is great, especially if you have an Advance Dining Reservation which overlaps the fireworks. Watching the fireworks from the top of the Contemporary is so cool. My husband’s only disappointment is that they no longer make the most amazing lemon chiffon souffle!
From Mom Margaret F. — Kids’ Ages: 6-12
Our top two locations to dine with our children are easily:
1. Chef Mickey’s: what could be better than dining with the big cheese himself? The location is fun and lively with the open area to the Contemporary resort and the monorail zipping though, it just has such a fun happy feeling to it. Of course the added bonus of Mickey and his pals can’t be beat, and my kids love the “dance parties” throughout the restaurant. There is a great selection of salads, fruits, vegetables, meats, and desserts, so even the pickiest eater should be able to find something to fill their stomachs. This is a great location to celebrate a birthday with the children and just enjoy the magic of Disney.
2. Coral Reef (and a close second Teppan Edo): While both of these locations may seem like they are better suited to an adult guest, they are very kid friendly. There are delicious choices on the kids menu, and personally my husband and I never have a problem finding an entree here. These two spots are all about the setting for our family. There is a great entertainment value here and my boys have always been mesmerized by the scenery and the “show”. Coral Reef offers an amazing view of the floor to ceiling aquarium that runs the entire length of the restaurant. My kids love watching all of the fish, sharks, and turtles (with an occasional scuba diver) swim by. It is like a science class while we eat. Teppan Edo offers a table side show performed by the very talented and entertaining chefs. The boys love watching them chop, dice, and grill our meal right before out eyes. At both locations there is never a cry of “How much longer”, or “I’m bored,” and that is priceless to us.
Thanks again to all the “moms” who are participating in the interviews! Be sure to check out the first post in this series if you missed it: Dining in Disney World With Kids, Part 1.
Don’t forget, if you’d like to share your “most magical Disney Dining moment,” send me an email! I’m collecting stories and will post them in the next post of “Chicken Soup for the Disney Foodie soul!”