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Review: Coral Reef Restaurant

At long last, Coral Reef is finally getting its due on the Disney Food Blog! The last time I visited this restaurant was when I was much, much younger, so I knew it was time to give it a try again. It’s been through a lot of changes, but, from what I can tell, the basics are still the same…

Atmosphere

Coral Reef is one of only a couple of table-service restaurants located in Epcot’s Future World. You’ll find it hidden in the Seas With Nemo and Friends (The Living Seas for those who used to visit in the 80s), tucked back in the right-hand corner. You really need to want to find it; you won’t just stumble over this restaurant by mistake! But after all these years, the sign is still very similar to what it was way back when, so those who have a tinge of Epcot nostalgia like me will be very pleased…

Upon entering the restaurant (using the seahorse door handle of course), you’ll find that the place is themed — as it should be — but in a very stylized manner. Walls and flooring are undulating as if you’re under water. Light fixtures resemble coral and shells. Glass fish sculptures sit inside lit alcoves behind the check-in desk.

Door Handle

Entrance Hallway

Light Fixture

Fish Sculptures

Environmentally Safe Shell Sign

And when they tell you to “go to the Octopus when your buzzer goes off,” they mean this guy…

Coral Reef Octopus

But, remember, you’re just in the entrance hall! You haven’t even seen the main event, yet.

Once your buzzer goes off and you “meet at the Octopus,” you’ll be led down a hallway into the main dining room. It’s understandable that they keep this spot so far away from the actual restaurant entrance. It truly is a spectacular reveal at the end of that hallway.

Stepped, “theater-style” seating is situated around a massive wall of windows, but these windows don’t give you a gorgeous view of outdoor vistas. These windows (which happen to be highly pressurized, thank goodness) give guests a view of the massive aquarium that takes up a majority of the Seas pavilion.

Coral Reef Dining Room

Coral Reef Dining Room

I snuck in before they started seating people for lunch and caught a glimpse of this guy swimming down to greet me!

Coral Reef Sea Turtle

And, just so you know, this is how close he can potentially be to your dinner!

Proximity of Animals to Diners at Coral Reef

Yes, those “window” tables are extremely sought after real estate. But just remember that if you’re sitting there, everyone else’s kids will be very close to you as you dine. Many of them can’t help themselves and want to be as close to the fish as possible. ;-)

Eats

The menu here focuses on seafood, and reviews have been all over the map in recent years.

Lunch and Dinner Menus -- click image to see larger version

Kids Menu -- click image to see larger version

We started with some yummy complimentary bread, and I ordered the soup of the day ($6.99) — Butternut Squash of course (as it was everywhere else on that particular Disney World visit as well) — and a drink called “Into the Abyss,” which, you guys know me by now, had some sweet and sour in it. ;-)

The drink was lovely; I’m pretty sure I sucked it down in about 3 minutes flat. And the soup was actually quite good. By this time, I’d had at least four other versions of Butternut Squash soup all around Disney World property, and this was probably my favorite! It wasn’t too thick, which I liked, and it came with a swath of melty, flavored butter on top — always a winning move! The flavor was delicate, not hearty, which gave it a lighter, summery feel. Perfect as an opener for a heavy meal.

Bread and Butter

Abyss Drink

Butternut Squash Soup

We also ordered the Appetizer for Two, which included Crab Cakes with Tropical Fruit Salsa and Tequila Aioli; Grilled Shrimp with Cucumber Salad and Barbecued Beef Tenderloin Skewer with Creamy Polenta; and Creamy Lobster Soup in the little cups ($16.99).

I really loved the presentation of this appetizer, and, truthfully, it was probably enough food for a meal! We loved the beef tenderloin and polenta; the crab cakes were quite good (didn’t compare to Narcoossee’s, though); and the shrimp was — we think — fine. Neither of us are big shrimp eaters, though. I wish I could comment on the Tequila Aioli as it sounds really cool, but we didn’t really taste much in it. The Creamy Lobster Soup? Amazing! They do soup somethin’ fierce around here.

Crab Cakes with Tropical Fruit Salsa and Tequila Aioli; Grilled Shrimp with Cucumber Salad and Barbecued Beef Tenderloin Skewer with Cream Polenta; and Creamy Lobster Soup

Next up — our entrees. We ordered the house specialty — Lobster Ravioli with Bay Scallops, fresh Tarragon, and Lobster Cream ($25.99) and the Grilled New York Strip Steak with Horseradish Smashed Pootatoes and Market Fresh Vegetables ($28.99).

The Lobster Ravioli was very flavorful, creamy, and filling. Extremely rich. If you’re planning to head out of Coral Reef and do a bunch of park touring, think again. This is the type of dish that makes an impact!

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli Cross Section

The strip steak, which I was excited about as I’d heard raves, was really just “OK.” There wasn’t a lot of flavor, and there was a bit too much char, which I’m not a fan of on my steak. Perhaps I was just too filled up from the appetizers and knocked out by the richness of the Lobster Ravioli, but the steak didn’t seem all that special to me on this visit. That’s not to say it won’t be on yours, however! Plenty of patrons heartily recommend this dish.

Strip Steak

For dessert, we ordered the house specialty Chocolate Wave and the butterscotch creme brulee (both $7.99).

Dessert menu -- click for larger image

Dessert Drinks -- click for larger image

I really loved the taste of the chocolate wave, but I have to admit, I wished that the “lava” on the inside was chocolate. It wasn’t a taste thing — it was a visual thing. The clear “lava” that appeared when the cake was cut was unexpected and a bit unappetizing. I know. I’m weird.

Chocolate Wave

Chocolate Wave Cross Section

The creme brulee was great. You just can’t go wrong with butterscotch, and I love flavored creme brulees!

Butterscotch Creme Brulee

Overall

I spent a lot of time talking about the atmosphere here, because I think that’s really the true draw. While the food is fine, it wasn’t spectacular on my visit; and from what I’ve heard from others, it can be inconsistent — sometimes the best meal they’ve ever eaten, sometimes extremely overpriced for what you get.

That said, I think Coral Reef has definitely gotten better in recent years. Just know that you could very well hit it on an off day.

Let us know your experience with Coral Reef in the comments section below. If you agree or disagree, your comments will help others to make decisions about their Disney dining!

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29 Comments

  1. Janna says:

    Our last visit to CR was in October. I’ve said before that we ate here on our honeymoon in 1993 and we were not impressed. We finally returned in 2009 (I think) and the food & service had vastly improved!

    In October, I, too, had the extremely rich lobster ravioli (with very few scallops as I am not a fan). It was fantastic. I should note that in previous visits, I had always ordered the blackened catfish but it was no longer on the menu. :( My younger son and I shared the lobster soup from his kids’ meal. I still dream about the yumminess of that soup!

    The butterscotch creme brûlée is one of my favorite Disney desserts.

    While the food was fantastic, the service was subpar. Currently, CR is not on our list for December. That appetizer for two, however, has me re-thinking that…:)

    My older son is horrified that CR is not on our list. “But Mom, that place got me to eat steak!” says my very picky, Disney-adult, 12 year-old.

  2. liz says:

    So what is the clear stuff in the lava cake? I agree, it does look very unappetizing!

  3. Sarah says:

    I was here for lunch last fall and had the steamed mussels. I thought they were quite good. I didn’t order dessert as it was Food & Wine Fest and still wanted to eat around the world. :)

  4. Mark D. says:

    We have eaten at the coral reef twice in the last 2 years and enjoyed it both times. The service can be a bit slow, but the food has always been good and I don’t have to tell you about the view.

    I have to agree about the steak. My daughter got it last month and when I tried some, I was very underwhelmed. However, they do make a good risotto.

  5. Clear Lava – Not good – Don’t get me started LOL
    I noticed for how gorgeous the restaurant is, the chairs seem to be small hard wooden school cafeteria type chairs. Did you notice that? Uncomfortable? I wonder if they don’t want you too comfy in front of the aquarium so that you can leave and make room for the next patrons eventually?

  6. Alan says:

    AJ – When you say about the turtle “And, just so you know, this is how close he can potentially be to your dinner!” you mean proximity- I hope.

    Chef – Great point about the chairs although they look contoured and may be are more comfortable than they look.

    Seriously, this place is a showplace and just beautiful. But the food has been less than it should be for all the years I have read reviews. The food should be as incredible as the decor all the time not just some of the time.

  7. Chris says:

    We had a meal here back around 2003 and thought it was horrible. It looks like the food has improved a lot but probably not enough for me to go out of my way to try it again. The design is pretty great though.

    About the clear “lava”, does the dessert normally look like that? According to this recipe it’s supposed to be a white chocolate truffle filling (not sure a milky ooze would be that much of an improvement).
    http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/chocolate-wave-cake-714021/

  8. Jennifer says:

    We have eaten there 6 times, so needless to say, we have loved it, in the PAST. This last December (2010) we had the worst meal of our 20+ years of travelling to Disney World. The service was poor, the food was late, and lousy, they did not care that we were part of the Candlelight Processional Package and their poor attention to detail would make us late for our show, I cut my lip on a spoon from my dessert and all I got was a “We’re sorry.” for 10 seconds and the manager walked away. No offer to get us to where we needed to go quicker, no offer to “comp” something on our check, no “humble” apology. We didn’t enjoy food that we have ordered over and over again and we will NEVER go here again, nor will we recommend it to anyone again.

  9. Jen C says:

    I’ve racked my brain all morning… what other table service places are in FutureWorld?

  10. AJ says:

    Janna — The appetizer for two is a great option here, to be sure! The lobster soup is yummo! Love the comment from your steak-eater! ;-)

    Liz and Chris — Thanks for the notes on the “lava.” It was pretty strange! Didn’t taste bad, but looks are important!

    Sarah — Thanks for the review! Were the mussels better at Coral Reef or at the Belgium booth? :-)

    Mark — Mmm.. risotto! Is it always seafood risotto or do they change it up?

    Chef — Great point!! I think I’d request one of those cushy booths if I went again!

    Alan — Indeed! That’s what I mean! :-) And I agree; the food should/could be fabulous here. I don’t think it’s getting the attention it deserves from Disney, maybe?

    Jennifer — Thanks for your review! Isn’t it shocking how one bad experience really can ruin so many good ones?

    Jen — There’s also Garden Grill in The Land. :-)

  11. Bob says:

    The Corral Reef is one of our favorites, the atmosphere is great and the food even better. the kids like to eat their salad in front of the loggerhead turtle as he watches you munch on the lettuce.

  12. Jamie in Jax says:

    My wife and I ate at Coral Reef for the first time in December 2010… and loved it! We are worried about going back because we don’t want to be disappointed. We ordered the ravioli and the steak, like you did… and they BOTH were awesome! I know we’ll go back one day… I hope it will be just as good the second time! :)

  13. Heidi says:

    I don’t eat seafood but I do eat chocolate and I agree with you AJ! That clear liquid is just weird looking!

  14. James (Disneynorth) says:

    My wife and I ate here 5 years ago. The food was OK. I found it too salty. I know that sounds kinda funny, considering it is a seafood restaurant but too salty to my liking. What really upset me was the service. We waited 20-30 minutes for lunch. That is the longest (besides Wolf Gang Puck) I have ever had to wait for an ADR. Once we were seated the service was just as slow. As far as I remember, it wasn’t all that busy either. There are other restaurants I would rather try instead of going back to the Coral Reef.

  15. Tony says:

    Have dined here many times and never had a bad meal. Usually eat a late lunch or early dinner and avoid crowds (with no reservation).

  16. Teresa says:

    Do you think they’ll bring back the blackened catfish? When we had it in 2007 our waiter said it was one of their most popular dishes. My husband and I both thought it was delicious! We’ll be back in Aug. and made ADR for Coral Reef and are disappointed about it being removed from the menu.

  17. Cheryl says:

    Just back from a week at Disney and Coral Reef was by far the worst dining experience we had. The service was terrible – our ice tea refills requested during the entree arrived after the check. My food was over salted and my husband’s mahi mahi could have been chicken or really any whitish meat product – terribly bland. With so many really good dining options, it will be a long time before we ever return to the Coral Reef.

  18. James says:

    Since 2007 I’ve eaten here 4 times. That amounted to one great experience, one good experience, one “meh” experience, and one experience where the food was great but the service was horrible. Interestingly enough, the food highlights for my visits have always been the various steaks and soups, plus the best pineapple upside down cake I’ve ever eaten.

    If only the food and service were as consistent as the atmosphere… Still, it is worth trying at least once.

  19. Erica says:

    It is too bad you did not have a great experience with the steak dinner. Out family of 9 went last October and 5 of us ordered it. We loved the steak and sides and were ready to go back by the end of the week! Hopefully your next experience will be better! Our service was fair, but we all enjoyed our entrees and desserts!

  20. Heather says:

    I haven’t been here in years as my family always goes to Le Celier now, but while I can’t remember much I can still remember how lovely it is and how amazing that Lobster soup is.

  21. Matt says:

    We ate here this past weekend for dinner. It was an early reservation (5pm) so maybe that was the problem. The place was absolutely packed to the gills (pun intended). And every table but ours had children at them, which made for a very loud restaurant.

    I loved the decor very much. The views of the tank were good even from our table, which was about as far as you could be seated from them. The service was fine, it was just hard to hear our waiter over the noise of the place.

    The food was alright. Partner had one of the seafood dishes which he said was just ok. I do not eat seafood, so I had the chicken and again it was just ok. I was expecting the spaetzel to have much more flavor than it did.

    The sad part of this whole dining experience was that because it was so packed and teeming with VERY loud kids (yes I know it’s WDW and children go so cut me some slack – lol), all we could think about from the time we sat down was, “We just want this dinner to be over” :-( And, we were out of there in about a 50 minute time frame.

    Like I said, maybe it was like that because it was such an early reservation time. But because of that, and because of the foods lackluster taste, I doubt we’d ever go back.

  22. AJ says:

    Matt — Ugh! What a horrible experience! I agree that it is quite loud in there, and I agree that while we semi-enjoyed our meal, the price was extravagant for the quality we thought. So sorry you had a bad time, my friend!

  23. Sarah says:

    We will be arriving at WDW around noon time and will be dropping everything and running off to EPCOT straight away. I have booked CR for our first night’s ADR and very much looking forward to it. My partner has never been to EPCOT so I really want to make the first night a good introduction. Our reservation is for 730 (we wanted to spend a good amount of time in FW before settling in to dinner. I am wondering if we will likely be finished dinner in time for illuminations at 9. Also, any tips for getting a ‘window’ seat? I’m not firm on the reservation time if that should be adjusted.

  24. Kristen Barile says:

    My husband and I visited Walt Disney World for our honeymooning December 2011. Our first meal of the trip was at Coral Reef and it was honestly the best meal of our honeymoon. We started off with the appetizer for two (crab cakes, fried shrimp, and lobster cream soup). The lobster soup was AMAZING and the crab cakes were simply delicious; the texture was perfect. For the main course, I had the lobster ravioli and my husband had salmon with wild mushroom risotto. My ravioli was delicate but the cream sauce made it a very rich dish. I am not a fan of salmon but I know my husband’s risotto was fabulous. For dessert, I had the creme brûlée (not sure which was better, the brûlée here or at Chefs de France) and my husband had the Jack Daniels chocolate mousse- with just enough punch from the Jack. We ate like royalty during our honeymoon and this meal was the perfect beginning!

  25. Glenn says:

    This restaurant often gets a bad wrap. It is one of the best WDW restaurants that isn’t considered signature dining. I have never had a bad dish here (I’ve been at least 6 times.) On our last trip in Jan 2013, I happened to mention to the server that I really liked the mango sorbet that is not on their menu. 5 minutes later our servier showed up with a complementary mango sorbet in addition to the desserts we ordered. Service with a Disney touch is alive and well at The Coral Reef.

  26. Scott Dutton says:

    The food was good, but the table we sat at was the worst. They have a table right at the end of the dining area next to the lobby. We couldn’t get in the aura of the restaurant because we were blasted by the lobby noise. We also didn’t have a good view of the aquarium. Overall, pretty disappointed.

  27. Joseph Didden says:

    I have been visiting Disney every other year since 1976 and love it. I do not like the way Disney overcharges for food in the various parks. Look at the food prices for CR. The lunch items are the exact duplicate of the dinner items; but the dinner food price is a couple of dollars higher. I may be dumb; but not real dumb. This looks like excessive pricing, to me. For the most part Disney is, and, has been a thrill and we look forward to the next trip. We go every other year.

  28. julie obren says:

    This is my 12 year old daughters favorite place to eat. It is a must do every trip to Disneyworld for her. We have always been lucky enough to get seated next to the tanks. Have always have great food and service. The only complaint is even with adrs you still have a long wait there.

  29. Jacque says:

    I went with my 7 year old nephew about 6yrs ago to CR. The dinner was really good, family style, but many of the characters stopped by. Do they still do that at Coral Reef? I got some great photos of Jack with all of them — this was a highlight!

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