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Guest Review: Coral Reef Restaurant

We’re welcoming back guest author Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley with a review of the Coral Reef Restaurant — and she gives it high marks! Take it away, Melissa!

My husband, Rob, and I headed to Coral Reef in early December during our first night in Disney World. After a long day of traveling and touring Hollywood Studios, a dark, undersea meal seemed like just what the doctor would have ordered (if the doctor was a fellow Disney fanatic).

We’d made our Advanced Dining Reservation six months in advance like good Disney diners; and we were there celebrating our “honeymooniversary,” which is a completely made up word we’ve been using to justify going to Disney World each December.

Coral Reef’s exterior signage may be hard to find, but it’s worth looking

Atmosphere

Coral Reef may be a bit hard to find, but once you know where to look, it’s as clear as day. As you walk toward the entrance to ride The Seas with Nemo and Friends (one of my favorites), hang a right on the walkway that seems to lead to nowhere. After a few moments, you’ll see the Coral Reef sign and, if you keep walking, the entrance to this undersea adventure in Disney dining.

The entrance is a gateway to the worlds of Ariel and Nemo

Once you enter through the wave-inspired door, using the seahorse pull handle, you’re in a fully-themed underwater atmosphere, complete with sea anemone light fixtures, a human-sized octopus, and ocean waves as far as the eye can see.

An octopus sculpture guards the check-in desk

And you can see pretty far. The check-in area is a long, wavy blue hallway. The rug looks like ocean waves, and the walls appear to be decorated with mosaic tile.

The long, curved hallway and waiting area

A look down the length of Coral Reef’s waiting area

Upon closer inspection, the walls are actually covered in mosaic tiles made up of sea shells!

Info about the sea shell mosaics

We were a bit early for our ADR and there were a lot of other families waiting to be seated, but we were whisked back to the dining room right on schedule. Down the long, slightly curved, almost undulating hallway, we felt like we were being transported deeper and deeper beneath the waves.

Back in the dining room, the lighting is kept low, and the details in the dining room are covered in mosaic blue, gray, and green tile, all in keeping with the undersea theme. Even the effects on the ceiling, wavy and variable, made us feel as if we had been transported 20,000 leagues below the waterline.

The restaurant has three tiers of seating, each with both table and booth seating. Obviously, the lower level has a more up-close view of the aquarium, but I felt like we could see well on the upper-most tier. In fact, I think every table had an excellent view!

A look at the dining room from the top-most tier

Booths set for table service in the top-most tier

Seashell light fixtures line the barriers between each level

And what an aquarium it is! Stretching the entire length of the room, the eight-foot windows allowed us to watch the Living Seas, the largest inland saltwater environment ever built, throughout the evening.

When we were seated, our waitress brought us a handy fish guide with line drawings of many of the fish and other life forms living in the tank as well as some fascinating facts about the Living Seas.

The Living Seas Fish Guide

Examples of the sea creatures who make their home in the Seas - click image for larger version

Eats

As we perused the fish guide and tried to identify specimen (a surprisingly fun activity), a basket of warm, soft, yeasty rolls came out of the kitchen wrapped in a cloth napkin. Served with simple salted butter, they were a delightful start to the meal.

Rolls and butter start the meal

We were fortunate to be on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan on this evening, so we were able to sample a wider variety of foods than we would have if we’d been paying out of pocket.

Coral Reef dinner - click image for larger version

Coral Reef lunch menu - click image for larger version

Kids Menu - click image for larger version

For our appetizers, we opted for Creamy Lobster Soup and Crispy-Fried Shrimp. The soup was very buttery and rich—it easily coated the back of the soup spoon. There wasn’t much lobster in the actual soup itself, and the base tasted strongly of cooking sherry and tarragon. It was a pleasant soup and very filling.

A bowl of Creamy Lobster Soup

The shrimp, on the other hand, were nothing too special, but they sure were plated beautifully! Served alongside the shrimp was a spicy rémoulade, which I’m pretty sure was just cocktail sauce mixed with tartar sauce, and coleslaw that was light and fresh but heavy on the red onion.

Coral Reef’s take on Crispy-Fried Shrimp

If I could go back and order again, I think I’d go for the Winter Green Salad on offer that night; but when in a seafood restaurant, one should order the seafood, I suppose.

For entrees, we ordered the Pan-seared Sustainable Seasonal Catch and the Lobster Ravioli. When I travel with my husband, we split all of our meals right down the center, so I am able to try twice as much food!

The sustainable fish was a cod served on mushroom risotto with bay scallops. The waitress informed us in advance that the fish was delicate and prone to flaking, so they seared it with the skin on. When it came out, the cod was indeed flaky, but the skin was crunchy, fatty, and absolutely delicious.

The risotto was truly delicious as well. It had a depth of flavor and a full-mouth umami feel, which we attributed to the roasted mushroom and truffle flavors. It was sitting in a pool of broth, almost a mushroom liqueur, with a great garlic flavor—present, but not too strong.

Topping off the dish was a tiny micro-green salad, and for once, they seemed to serve a purpose! Adding crunchy freshness to this otherwise very fulsome dish, the salad was a welcome addition on the plate.

It looks as good as it tasted

The ravioli was served with shrimp in a lobster cream sauce. My husband and I both agreed that the sauce used the exact same base as the lobster soup appetizer, and again it was thick with sherry and tarragon. It was topped with fresh strips of parmesan cheese, delicious and fresh, which added some nice depth to an otherwise simple and expected dish.

Coral Reef Lobster Ravioli—after we’d split the portion down the middle

For dessert, we decided to tackle the Baileys and Jack Daniel’s Mousse as well as the Cheesecake Napoleon. I also ordered a cappuccino, my post-meal drink of choice when a late night at the parks looms before me. The coffees at Coral Reef were served with biscotti, which were very doughy, but also almond-y and delicious.

Cappuccino with dessert

I usually steer clear of the “no-sugar added” desserts, but the cheesecake was really lovely. It was very soft and extremely light, with a thin layer of spongy cake on the bottom. The mild cheese flavor went well with the smooth feel.

Atop the cake were several sheets of phyllo—their nod to the Napoleon, I guess. I found them to be stale and unnecessary, but my husband thought they added a nice texture and nutty flavor to the otherwise mild cake. It was served with a berry compote, which was made with mixed berries and added a sweet, slightly tart edge to the milky cheesecake. Overall, this was a very successful dish.

Artistic cheesecake napoleon dessert

The Baileys and Jack Daniel’s Mousse came out looking like a Victoria’s Secret model: two layers of rich mousse with a brulee’d crisp of caramel tucked in and several dark chocolate pearls floating on top. We couldn’t wait to tuck in.

The top layer is a white chocolate and Baileys mouse and the dark chocolate Jack layer is on the bottom. We found that the lighter top level was delicious on its own, while the bottom, darker level was too dark and overpowering alone. The best flavor came from mixing the two together.

It looked beautiful in the glass, but wasn’t easy to eat because the mousses were both so thick. It wasn’t easy to get them both on the same spoon at the same time. It was also extremely sweet, almost a palate-buster for me. Rob ended up eating most of this one.

Dessert

Close-up on the caramel crisp

Overall

Like most of you, we’d heard all of the scary negative reviews coming out of Coral Reef, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and couldn’t have been happier with the restaurant itself.

The theme and décor are amazing, and if you’re looking for a nice sit-down dinner in Future World in Epcot, you needn’t look further. We had an excellent experience, and we’ll be back!

What’s been your recent experience at the Coral Reef? Let us know!

Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley works in higher education communications in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, Robert, and her cavapoo, George. She’s is the co-editor of Mouse on the Mind.

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28 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Ate here in October, really enjoyed the overall decor and ambiance of the restaurant. The food was pretty good. I was nervous, because of the mixed reviews I had read. But was very pleased with the service and food. Would go back, and suggest that everyone give it a try!!

  2. Hillarie says:

    One of my favorite meals was at Coral Reef on our last visit a couple years ago. The catch of the day was grilled catfish, raised on property, served over cheese grits. I still say that is the best catfish I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot as a Southerner.

  3. Alan says:

    This beautiful restaurant needs great food to stand up to the decor. We’ve all seen the mixed reviews, so it is nice to read a positive write up. The powers that be seem realizing this and that is good news

  4. Katie says:

    FYI, the honor of the largest saltwater tank actually now resides with the Georgia Aquarium. I am a native Atlantan, so I am (of course) somewhat biased, but seeing the whale sharks and manta rays is truly amazing :)

    On a side note, Living Seas was always my favorite pavilion growing up, and I was so sad when they (in my eyes) ruined it to add Nemo :( I miss Seabase Alpha!!

  5. Niki M says:

    Coral Reef is one of our favorite WDW restaurants. We’ve never had a bad meal there. The risotto is soooo good and the JD Bailey’s mousse is awesome.

  6. Aaron C says:

    Great Review!!

  7. Martha says:

    I had lunch at the Coral Reef with a friend in October. My friend had specifically requested that we get an ADR there, but because of all the negative reviews, I was pretty leery about going. But I was pleasantly surprised — good food, attentive and friendly service, and of course, the very cool decor. I’d definitely go again.

  8. Jen M says:

    We ate there in Jan 2012 and will not go back. We dined here on a previous trip in 2009, the food was good and the aquarium was awesome. This was the worst dining experience we had our whole trip. I had the Lobster Ravioli and the sauce was way to salty. My husband had NY strip steak (med) and it was chewy. Our one 5 yr old even commented on how small his pizza was compared to all the other pizzas he had eaten on this trip (we were on day 6 of an 8 day stay). My 7 yr old got the lobster bisque soup with his meal which my husband tasted and said it taste fishy. We had the chocolate Wave and the creme brulee for dessert. Neither was good, in fact I thought the wave was down right awful. This is the only restaurant we felt like we were rushed. The waitress all but asked us to leave. The aquarium is still awesome but not worth the disappointing meal.

  9. I am allergic to fish and shellfish so one may wonder why I would go to coral reef…well for me dining at Disney is easy. I got a steak and they had it made without worry of cross contamination. It was good. The only issue we had was that it was loud in there. I have an ADR for June to go back with other friends.

  10. Mark D. says:

    Hillarie – Sorry to say but that dish is no longer served at the Coral Reef. It was my favorite too.

  11. Matt says:

    (I’m not sure if I’m “allowed” to do this, but I made a comment on an older review, and since this is a brand new review, I thought I’d copy and paste it here. I wrote this 2 weeks ago on Feb 8th.)

    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.

  12. Janna says:

    Our only bad experience at Coral Reef was on our honeymoon in 1993. We returned several years ago and enjoyed CR for many trips. It has fallen off of our list again because the yummy catfish disappeared from the menu. While the lobster ravioli is delicious (our waiter even made sure it had few, if any, scallops in the sauce for me – I see it’s only shrimp in the sauce now), the catfish is what kept bringing us back. None of us care for mahi mahi, trout, or salmon… The creme brûlée, however, is my favorite!

  13. Zel says:

    Ate here some time last year while I was in the college program with my husband. I liked the atmosphere, the food was “okay”. I had the ravioli and it wasn’t anything special. If anything, I’d come back for the Lobster Bisque! It was DIVINE! But other than that… even with a cast member discount, the entire meal wasn’t really worth the price we paid.

  14. Tamara Blundy says:

    My family and I dine at the Coral Reef every time we visit Disney World (3 times in 2011). It is one of our favorites.

    The fish tostadas appetizer is wonderful. Fresh, crunchy and down-right yummy! My daughter (10) loves the lobster bisque. My other daughter (8) loves to have the steamed mussels are her main dish. My husband usually opts for the mahi mahi while I dig in to the salmon.

    The food isn’t the best Disney offers…but it’s sure good enough to keep us coming back. Combine that with an unbeatable atmosphere and it’s a Must-Do in our book!

  15. melissa sue says:

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone!!

    @Tamara Blundy: Absolutely going to try the fish tostadas next time!

    @Matt: So sorry you had a bad experience! It was very loud when we were there, too … and it was a late reservation and the room wasn’t packed. I think that it’s just loud in there! Big room, good accoustics.

    @Katie: Thanks for the correction re: largest aquarium. Oddly, Disney’s marketing materials list it incorrectly!!

  16. Rose says:

    We love Coral Reef. I love the chicken. Sub the creamy mash potatoes for spaetzle. The only problem is when we are looking to pay the check. The servers somehow disappear. They are quite attentive until then….??

  17. Shayne says:

    Great review, Melissa! We have only seen Coral Reef from inside the tank during a scuba dive. Until you mentioned it, I didn’t realize that I really had no idea where to go to get in there!

    Honestly, we’ve shied away from this place because of the mixed reviews we’ve read, but your experience is encouraging! I know we’ll try this some day, and I think it has now moved up on the list of priorities!

  18. Porter says:

    What a great and detailed review!

    My girlfriend and I ate there for the first time this past December. I had heard that it had received mixed reviews, but I had always wanted to eat there since I was a kid.

    I found it fantastic! I had the Mahi Mahi with the lime and coconut sauce on the side. The fish was so wonderful, like a great steak and even though I don’t like coconut, I really enjoyed the sauce.

    My girlfriend and I agreed it was the best atmosphere out of all the restaurants we out at during our short 4-day vacation. We will be going back!

    FYI: You CAN believe what they say about Sci-Fi, our food was terrible, but shakes are good.

  19. Amanda says:

    We are planning on eating there on our upcoming trip to WDW in May. I am curious though…….I am claustrophobic and I am worried about having anxiety while dining there since it sounds like the only windows are the ones to the aquarium. My hubby thinks it will probably be big enough that I won’t notice. What do you think?

  20. AJ says:

    Amanda — Wow — I have no idea on that one. The dining room is quite large (see the pics in this review). I suggest you make a reservation, then visit the restaurant before your reservation date approaches to check it out and see if you’re comfortable. You can always cancel the reservation!

  21. melissa sue says:

    @Shayne: Thank you and thank you–for the compliment and for sharing your super cool story! I’d love to hear more about the dive!

    @Porter: I am so glad you had a great experience, too! I also agree with you re: Sci Fi. TERRIBLE!!

    @Amanda: It’s a very large room, but it feels very restrictive–the stadium seating makes it feel very closed off, and the ceilings feel low. I agree with AJ’s suggestion: stick with your ADR and see how it feels. If it’s terribly opressive, you can always eat somewhere else.

  22. Brian says:

    Melissa – Very good review. I am glad you had a good time here. I wanted to like this restaurant so much as the Living Seas was once my favorite ride (although I did like Nemo & Friends I missed the old pavilion).

    My experience with the Coral Reef Restaurant was mostly horrible. My wife and I went to WDW in September 2011 for our honeymoon and I made ADR for here. We arrived early, but still had to wait. It was busy, so I do not fault them here. The wait was not too long. Our waiter was the worst.

    We ordered our drinks. I ordered a Bahama Mama. Now knowing they charge a lot more for drinks, you would think they would want to bring your alcohol as soon as possible to thus increase the check. Since I had never had a Bahama Mama before I ordered a glass of water just in case. He came back about 10 minutes later (without our drinks) and we ordered appetizers. Before our appetizers came, but after the order was placed we ordered the Lobster Ravioli. From the time we were seated to the time we got our appetizers about 30 minutes had passed. Once we were done with those, my Bahama Mama finally came (minus the water). It’s a good thing it was pretty good. About another 25 minutes later we got our meal (still no water). The Lobster Ravioli was DELICIOUS! I enjoyed it immensely.

    Because it was our honeymoon, our waiter told us dessert would be on the house. This was awesome! After dinner it took about 20-25 minutes to get this dessert. When he brought out the dessert he asked if there was anything else he could get. I would also like to note that I had finished my Bahama Mama long before now and was never asked for another. I took this moment to remind him of my water that I ordered about 90 minutes prior. This quickly came… after dessert was finished.

    The waiter (who we barely saw) apologized that it was busy that night and that he had been running behind. All in all our dinner was a little over 2 hours long. This would have been fine if the majority of it was not sitting and waiting. I never noticed exactly how long we took until we were walking out of the restaurant and it was dark out and I could hear IllumiNations playing in the distance.

    This was not the part that irked me the most.

    A booth next to us was filled about 10 minutes after we arrived by 5 gentlemen. You could tell they were rich and they were waited on hand-and-foot by three different waiters. They got their food and drinks before us AND got refills as needed. They even finished up and left before us. I felt that they were treated differently because of MONEY.

    Our waiter did not get a good tip and I regret it now, but did not feeling like the hassle on my honeymoon, but I SHOULD HAVE gone to the manager and complained. I should have, but I didn’t. Oh well.

    PS – The restaurant was beautifully decorated and I loved the fish tank, HOWEVER I will never go back again.

  23. Colette says:

    I really enjoyed going to Coral Reef! It was our first time eating there. We didn’t have to wait long and I liked how the restaurant was set out. We were seated on the first level (with ground being the tables where your next to the windows). I’m glad we were not sat by the windows -the con: people coming over to take pics of the sealife while your eating but The pro would be having a wonderful close up view of the sealife. Our food was delicious!! I’d of took a picture but we tucked in straight away lol. Our desserts were delicious (all thanks to the pics on this website :p) I did take pictures of them though, I got the JD and Baileys mousse and it was delicious as the picture makes it look. Were defiantley going back to Coral Reef as we really enjoyed everything about it :) it’s defiantley a restaurant to try once :)

  24. Don says:

    My wife and myself were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary and “just thought” that I would request, and adding that we didn’t mind waitng to sit next to the fish tank. Hostess looked at me and said that “she” would take care of everything. When we were seated, I asked again if we could sit next to the tank and he said that all the tables were taken. Yeah, right. They weren’t all that busy and 3 tables next to the tank were empty for over 20 mins.
    Go Figure.
    The steaks that we ordered, for $33.00 apeice were like chewing on an old sneaker, nice and tough. Gotta love it. So, if you really want an over priced meal, and don’t care what you’re paying for, then this is paradise.
    Oh, by the way, our waitress was very professional and was very much on top of her game.
    Kuddos to you.

  25. Michael says:

    We will be going to the parks for the first time as a family this summer. I have 3 kids and I am wondering if this is a place for children (11,7,4). Some of the reviews mention long wait times due to service issues. Should I take the chance and make my ADR?

  26. AJ says:

    Michael — most kids love the huge wall looking into the aquarium and would gladly take all the time they can to watch the fish :)

  27. michelle says:

    We ate here just the other day. We were very disapointed. Its supposed to be seafood but there seems to be more chicken beef and pork then seafood dishes. We won’t book this place again.

  28. Sharna & Benny says:

    I have always heard the mixed reviews about food & service, but the tank pics have always wanted me to have the experience.
    We live in Sarasota & our Neighbor said the reviews are true , as he went to UCF & worked part-time there serving.
    He said to pay attention to the fresh catch, soup of the day, & to take your time to get comfortable, ask the server to tell you what’s really good.
    We are seafood friendly, so we did.
    Our server was prompt , but crazy busy. I counted 3 other tables he waited on, sat @ once as a party of like 14 people. He came right over & let us know he would be busy with this large party & gave us the option to order ahead of them.
    We listened to his recommendation. To share the nori wrapped-tempura batter & flash fried tuna wrap. Served over soy glazed-seaweed salad, & wasabi creme topping. Medium rare. OMG it was so small , but melted in our mouths. 3- small pieces. We also shared their field green salad, with dry bleu chz, pomegranate vin. Dressing. Pecans, & crispy thin Italian bacon on top(forget what it’s called.)
    He paired a delicious an Oregon Pinot grigio to enjoy.
    We got corvina (white mild delicious somewhat meaty, it had a delicious tomato, fennel, potato , mild sausage & blank Canadian mussels under corvina, the catch of the day. We also got A double order of the fried tuna over extra extra seaweed salad. Perfection!
    He said to not pass on the van. Key line panna cotta or vanilla caramel flan, so we didn’t.
    He recommend a flight of Godiva liqueurs,caramel , choc, & dark choc with plump strawberries for dipping.
    It was a perfect birthday meal. Service was near perfection. The large party was rude to him & made fun of him in Portuguese , in his face, & when he was gone. I speak it a little & he didn’t deserve it.
    We left a fat tip, (former server), & when we left I scolded the family quietly for talking about “being homo” in front of their children, then told the waiter in private. I asked him to follow me to talk privately. He was shocked & got tears in his eyes. He thanked me, w-a tear in his eye.
    I forget his name, but he was shaved bald headed,w/a dark brown goatee , & nice glasses.
    I hope you see this & know you made my 30th bDAY. So do special, he even sang to me by himself on one knee quietly in a beautiful voice.

    Perfect food view service.

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