the disney food blog Rotating Header Image

Disney Food for Families: Fun Without Characters

When first-time families think of dining at Walt Disney World, the main thing that comes to mind for fun is character meals. After that, they’re at a loss about ideas for amusing places to eat. What to do?

No worries; even if character experiences aren’t on your agenda, there’s still plenty of fun to be had dining at Disney. These spots are particularly good if you have children of different ages in your party. The younger kids will be having a great time, even if their older siblings are “too cool” for characters.

Here’s the primer on getting the fun…without the fur ;-)! We have focused on restaurants that have entertainment and shows, spots that have entertaining waitstaff and themes, and places that have great kid-friendly (and interesting!) “views.”

Restaurants with Entertainment

These spots have a live show, movie, or something else that will hold your kids’ attention while they eat. Most of them are interestingly themed as well.

Dinner at the Dine-In

Sci-Fi Dine-In, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Sit in a car-shaped table, facing a movie screen, just like you’re at an old-time Drive-In movie. The movies playing are campy clips from 1950s and 60s science fiction gems like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Along with film snippets, you see drive-in promo pieces such as a dancing hot dog advertising the refreshment stand. The movie reel is totally silly, and for many kids, this is the only way they’ll get to experience this classic slice of Americana.

The best part? Your kids can order the Picnic Burger — a hamburger AND hot dog in one! See a recent Disney Food Blog Sci-Fi Dine-In review here.

Raglan Road, Downtown Disney Orlando
Visit in the evenings and be treated to Irish bands and step dancers on the center stage.

It’s the best of all possible pub experiences, with great food and a gargantuan beer list, but without the smoke and salty language. This makes it a wonderful spot for both kids and adults.

That blur is a belly dancer at Restaurant Marrakesh

House of Blues, Downtown Disney Orlando
Sunday brunch with fried catfish and gospel music is a family favorite, but don’t forget to check out the House of Blues website for details on top-notch concerts.

Restaurant Marrakesh, Epcot, Morocco pavilion
The food is kebabs and cous cous and the entertainment is a live band and belly dancers. You can watch from the sidelines or you can join in the performance.

Most of the guests taking part in the dance lesson part of the show are brave 8-year-old girls, but every once in a while you’ll get to see a burly man take part. Classic!

Biergarten, Epcot, Germany pavilion
Eat the best wursts around while listening to traditional German folk songs. There’s an ample dance floor, if you want to get your polka on.

Leading the band at the Biergarten

AMC Dine-In Theater, Downtown Disney Orlando
This is one of the newest additions to the Disney dining scene. The AMC cinemas now features several theaters where you can eat a full meal (burgers, salads, and more) while watching a first-run film. This truly is dinner AND a movie. Check out this review.

ESPN Club, Boardwalk area
This is THE place for sports fans. TV screens are everywhere (yep — even in the restrooms; each stall has it’s own screen), showing every game imaginable. Sit in the bar area and there are video games available, too.

Dinner Shows
And while we’re talking entertainment, let’s not forget the full-fledged Disney dinner shows: Hoop Dee Doo Revue, Spirit of Aloha Luau, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. Party on!

Restaurants with Showstopping Wait Staff

Sometimes the staff in the restaurant are a huge part of the “show!” Better watch out, or you may be, too!

50s Prime Time Cafe, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The decor is exactly like my grandma’s kitchen, with mid-century tchotchkes and 13-inch black & white TVs. The TVs show clips of classic comedies like the Dick van Dyke Show, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver. But the real entertainment comes from the servers who take the part of family members serving your dinner. “Mom” might counsel you to eat your green beans or make sure you wash your hands before dinner.

A Coveted TV Table at 50s Prime Time Cafe

My husband was once, very humorously, sent to stand in the corner because he kept his elbows on the table during the meal. My kids got a real hoot about seeing big old dad scolded.

Whispering Canyon Cafe, Wilderness Lodge
Your servers play the part of rootin’ tootin’ cowpokes when they bring you your BBQ vittles. The hijinks you’ll experience depend on your server, but you can expect to see a hobby horse race through the restaurants, plus ALL the ketchup you’ll ever need.

The bottomless milkshakes here might be another draw for the younger (or older, now that we think of it) members of your family.

Teppan Edo, Epcot, Japan pavilion
This is a Japanese hibachi spot, where the chefs cook your meal right on the table in front of you. The routine may be typical (onion volcano, flying shrimp), but the chefs here are real pros who make it fresh — and delish.

Restaurants with a View of Something Cool

Some restaurants don’t need a show. What’s outside the window is distraction enough!

Wooly Mammoth at T-Rex Cafe

Sanaa, Animal Kingdom Lodge
The big picture windows look out onto a the savanna at Kidani Village. You’ll be watching giraffes and zebras while munching on tandoori and curry.

T-Rex Cafe, Downtown Disney Orlando
Big, loud, moving dinosaurs. EVERYWHERE. Oh, and meteor showers. And an ice cave. Your kids will love it.

Rainforest Cafe, two locations, Downtown Disney Orlando and Animal Kingdom
Big, loud, moving animals. EVERYWHERE. Real parrots screech. Audioanimatronic gorillas bang their chests. Did I mention that it’s loud?

San Angel Inn, Epcot, Mexico pavilion
Dine by the side of a “volcano” while boats from the Gran Fiesta ride drift by. Be sure to request a waterside table and wave to the park guests floating by!

The view from California Grill

Coral Reef, Epcot, Living Seas pavilion One wall of the dining room is a glass face of the gigantic Living Seas aquarium. Your server can provide you with a list of species that live in the tank so you can identify them with accuracy. Look, a sea turtle (no, really, they sometimes come to visit)!

California Grill, Contemporary Resort
There are a few restaurants at Walt Disney World where you can watch fireworks while you dine, provided you time your meal right, but California Grill is the best of them.

You’ll have bird’s eye view of the entire Magic Kingdom and the twinkling lights above it. During the fireworks, they even dim the lights and pipe in the park music so you can experience every aspect of the show.

See? You don’t need characters to have a great time, even with the kids!

Have you dined at any of these entertaining locations?? Let us know your favorites and any we’ve missed!

Erin Foster is the Disney Food for Families columnist and a behind-the-scenes guru here at Disney Food Blog! Check out more of her posts here.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

18 Comments

  1. Mrs M says:

    We dined at Coral Reef and certainly did have a sea turtle visit! We were sat at one of the tables right next to the aquarium and it stayed with us the entire meal, popping up to the surface every now and again but coming right back to the same spot. We took photos of it and the children loved it!

    We also had a wonderful server at Whispering Canyon. They put in a lot of effort there!

  2. Loved Sanaa. A bit out of the way, but worth the trip.
    Always ate at lunch. Tried to get a seat by the window to view the Savannah.
    Food is great too. Not your standard fare, so check out an on line menu prior to dining.
    San Angel Inn is very cool. Hadn’t gone for awhile. Friends in town wanted to go. Food was excellent.
    Sitting at the Chef’s Table I guess that’s the name… in Flying Fish is a “show” in itself, not to mention the fun decor and delicious food.
    Frank

  3. Wendy says:

    Great article. Although, I’m surprised ‘Ohana for dinner wasn’t mentioned.

  4. Ben says:

    We grab a waterfront table for lunch at San Angel every trip to WDW (and sometimes twice in a trip!) – love the Mexico Pavilion and San Angel. As for T-Rex Cafe, be very certain that your kid(s), especially younger ones, will not be scared by the extremely loud and large nature of the restaurant. Our 3.5 year old son loves dinosaurs, so we thought he would really enjoy T-Rex. Unfortunately, it was a little too much for him at this age, and we ended up leaving before we ordered any food.

  5. Andie d says:

    What about ‘ohana? My kids love the coconut races and hula lessons!

  6. John Grigas says:

    If we have time on a Magic Kingdom day, we like to take the launch over to Ft Wilderness for Trail’s End for lunch. It’s a great value, and the kids can see some animals and/or play on the playground equipment after lunch.

  7. Marc says:

    ESPN Club, Downtown Disney

    Isn’t that at Disney’s Bowardwalk? Just askin’

  8. Erin says:

    Mrs M – Glad you enjoyed your experiences. The servers at Whispering Canyon make all the difference.

    Frank – Sanaa is one of my personal favorites. Thanks for the additional suggestions.

    Wendy – You’re right. Ohana is another good choice in this category.

    Ben – Thanks for the tip. Both TRex and the Rainforest Cafe can be overwhelming for some children. (And adults.)

    Andie – Another Ohana fan in the house!

    John – Sometimes the great outdoors is all you need to make a dining experience great.

    Marc – Sheesh, that was a hideous brain freeze moment. Sorry ’bout that. All fixed.

  9. Sandra says:

    We have eaten at T-Rex and Biergarten. T-Rex has a truly fun atmosphere but was so loud that I don’t think I would go there for a meal again (a drink under the octopus, maybe). Biergarten was a pleasant surprise, as my husband had resisted going there because he didn’t want to sit with others and put up with a lot of noise. But as someone who spent his formative years in Germany, he was quite pleased when we finally went. The floor show was not intrusive, the food like home cooking (my husband’s opinion), and the seating nicer than he thought it would be. Turned out that the folks next to us lived 40 miles from us in VA! Excellent service too. We’ll likely go again.

    We are hoping to try Restaurant Marrakesh next trip. It’s such a beautiful place that I find it discouraging to look at the picture and see all the guys in gimme caps who apparently think they are eating at a truck stop. I know it’s vacation, but a little nod to the exotic and more formal decor would be nice.

  10. JoAnn says:

    I’ve eaten at Sci-Fi and 50′s Prime Time. They are fun places to visit. I would also suggest Planet Hollywood. The movie memorabilia is fun to look at.

  11. Personally I cant stand the Prime Time Cafe. I find the schtick annoying when Im trying to eat

    I know Im in the minority

  12. Jen says:

    If people are worried about the prices of the California grill for a meal you can always go just for dessert. If there are four people get two desserts to share and have a nice glass of Wine. With late fireworks this works out well for parents with small children. This way they don’t have to wait for dinner. The view is definatley worth it and the cost isn’t horrible.

  13. Frank says:

    You better hurry. CA Grill will be closing soon after the first of the year for a total rehab.
    I’ve heard 8 Jan or “early Feb” as closing dates. Heard too it will be down for 8 months. 8(
    NOT sure what it will return as.
    Frank

  14. Stacy says:

    Yup, you forgot Ohana…

  15. Suzanne Pubal says:

    I definitely recommend Sanaa if your children love animals. I also would ask for a window seat. We sat by the window and really enjoyed watching the animals. It was a neat and memorable experience. The food is a bit different; however, the bread is delicious! The decor is also beautiful. If you are waiting for a table, you can go outside on their overlook deck, sit in rockers, and watch the animals. My daughter also got a cool dessert there. She got to decorate her own cookie and it came with strawberry milk. She also requested the cool ice cube that changes colors with a sprite and they gave it to her for free!

  16. Matt says:

    It’s a quick service, but Cosmic Ray’s is fun to eat at because of Sonny Eclipse.

  17. Stacey Jax says:

    San Angel Inn, Epcot, Mexico pavilion was very disappointing. Our family of four dinned there this past August. The waiter was nice ,however the hostess was not welcoming. Also the food was another let down and the price for what we got was disgustingly expensive! When we got home we stopped at a local Azteca restaurant and had a better meal that was 1/2 the cost. The Volcano was ok, but the scenery is not worth the expense.

  18. AJ says:

    Matt — So true!

Leave a Reply

Current month ye@r day *