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Guest Review: Holiday Island Dinner Buffet at Magic Kingdom’s Tortuga Tavern

During the busy holiday season, Walt Disney World accommodates famished guests with unique dining experiences. Guest reviewer @MealTrip, takes us to Tortuga Tavern’s Island Dinner Buffet in the Magic Kingdom! Book your meal online or at 407-WDW-DINE.

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During the holiday season, through January 4th, the dining area that is normally utilized for Tortuga Tavern counter service dining is trying out something new. From 5pm until 9pm they’re hosting a dining event called the “Island Dinner Buffet.”

Atmosphere

Tortuga Tavern is normally a walk-up, counter service Mexican food location, just across the street from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. I was curious as to how they would frame out the rather open, free-seating area so passers by would not inadvertently sit down and join the buffet. The solution… planted palm trees.

Potted palm trees keep the area private

Potted palm trees keep the area private

Many, many planted palm trees tucked into every nook and cranny, between every garbage can and bench, which all added to the Island theme quite nicely — and surprisingly, did provide separation from the main walk way.

The entrance to the event is over by what is usually the walk-up counter. Because this is not the normal configuration of the space, payment for your meal happens at one of the restaurant’s normal registers before you are seated. This is a bit different for a Disney restaurant, but not unusual for a buffet.

Covered registers

Covered registers

There appears to be seating for around 350 guests at any given time, and before we get into the food, I picked up a great tip from one of the managers. There are at least 50 seats that are kept out of the booking system every day… until 24 hours before the next day’s meal. This is because some of the seating can be considered “not covered.” If they’re expecting inclement weather (i.e. rain or cold), they will not release those seats to the booking system.

Outdoor tables and tables with umbrellas

Outdoor tables and tables with umbrellas

So if you would like to go to the Island Dinner Buffet, and it looks like it’s completely booked up… fear not… unless it’s raining or exceptionally cold out, they may just have a bunch of extra seats that won’t hit the booking system until the day before you want to go. Because that’s pretty short notice in Disney-Speak, that may also mean there’s a chance that you can score a seat without any reservations at all.

Seating at Tortuga

Seating at Tortuga

This is great news for Disney Dining Plan guests with one table service dining credit and no advance dining reservation. During the holidays, it’s quite possible there are more dining credits out there than there are seats available, and this “Island Dinner Buffet” is a creative solution for those that didn’t reserve seats 180 days ago.

There are two main “indoor” spaces that belong to Tortuga, while the rest of the area is considered covered. They have plenty of air conditioning (or heat) wafting around the open area.

Dining Area at Tortuga Tavern

Dining Area at Tortuga Tavern

One of the main rooms is large and had both a buffet line (which was already closed in the photo below) and quite a number of tables as well.

Indoor Seating at Tortuga Tavern

Indoor Seating at Tortuga Tavern

The other main indoor space is a bit smaller, and was being used for buffet food items only (no extra seating).

Buffet Area at Tortuga

Buffet Area at Tortuga

At peak times, both buffet rooms will be in full swing, but as far as food goes, they both have all the same items available.

Environment-Wise… it is Tortuga Tavern’s normal seating area and as such, the tables all seem to be permanently set into the concrete floor, so they’re not movable or replaceable. Fortunately, they’re all still in pretty good shape. It might have been nice to see some Island inspired table coverings and/or on-table light center pieces just to spruce the place up a bit from it’s normal walk-up-seating persona.

Eats

On to the food. For starters there was a little tossed salad station with vinaigrette, Black Pearl balsamic, and ranch dressings available, along with a Gulf Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad (which is a cold pasta salad with grilled red peppers and very seafoody overtones, but no identifiable bits of seafood) and a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad.

Salad Station

Salad Station

The Ocean Harvest chowder station (with prepackaged chowder crackers available) stood in another corner and I have to say, was quite yummy. It is a more robust chowder with chunks of potato, shrimp, and scallops.

Chowder Station

Chowder Station

Because of it’s color, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a tomato or two and some bacon reduction in there as well (although I can’t confirm that, just going by what I was tasting).

Plated Salad and Chowder

Plated Salad and Chowder

My next plate consisted of the Banana leaf baked mahi with Gold Coast mango chutney, which was a huge winner for me.

Banana leaf baked mahi with Gold Coast mango chutney

Banana leaf baked mahi with Gold Coast mango chutney

The white fish was perfectly cooked and seasoned slightly peppery, which paired well with the cooling sweet, yet zippy mango chutney that topped the fish.

Mahi in tray

Mahi in tray

The sea salted green beans contained a few red peppers for color, and the Caribbean spiced sweet potato wedges were another one of those pleasant surprises.

Sweet Potato Fries Plated

Sweet Potato Fries Plated

Sweet potato “fries” can get dry fast on a buffet line, but thanks in part to the larger size of the wedges they stayed quite soft inside and crisp on the outside. Now, I’m used to honey and pepper on my sweet potato fries, but these seemed to have a savory kick to them rather than sweet. It’s hard to say for sure, but I’m guessing the spice blend may have included garlic, ginger, allspice, pepper, and a small chili hit as well.

Sweet Potato Fries in Tray

Sweet Potato Fries in Tray

The “Treasures of mac and cheese“… well… the creaminess that I’ve been missing from the mac and cheeses around “the worlds” in general was here… so the texture and consistency that I’m looking for in a great mac and cheese was perfect. The taste, here again, it just wasn’t cheesy enough for me. Sadly, that seems to be a trend in Mac and Cheese at the moment.

Mac and Cheese - needs more cheese!

Mac and Cheese – needs more cheese!

Next up, I tried some of the rosemary-garlic pork steamship which was being carved-to-order, with some apple chutney.

Rosemary-garlic Pork

Rosemary-garlic Pork

No, no, that’s not a scene from Ratatouille, that’s actually carving-master James, who was doing a fine job of thinly slicing a very tender pork shank. The term “steamship” basically means it’s a mostly skinless leg, trimmed of exterior fat, with an exposed shank and you just keep carving down the sides. It really was quite delicious and paired well with the apple chutney.

I rounded out my protein parade with a “Captain Jack’s chicken breast with lemon and parsley” which was the only real food related disappointment of the night. The taste was very nice, but buffet chicken can get dried out very quickly. This kind of struck me as being a frozen chicken product to begin with, which was losing moisture with every passing moment in the keep-warm tray.

Captain Jack’s Chicken Breast with Lemon and Parsley

Captain Jack’s Chicken Breast with Lemon and Parsley

A lone meatball was peering out of the “cannonball meatballs with marinara and parmesan” tray so I decided separate it from the herd. Much to my surprise, there where quite a few other meatballs simmering under a sea of marinara.

Meatballs

Meatballs

While the “meat” part of the meatball wasn’t the extra lean 96/4 ground beef that I would use when cooking at home, it wasn’t the poorest meatball I’ve had in the Magic Kingdom. (Nuff said.) The marinara and parmesan sauce was the real superstar here though… the chunky marinara tasted great and had a really nice thickness about it.

Plated meatball

Plated meatball

Finally, the “Barbosa’s braised beef with julienne carrots, celery and pearl onions” was a really, really nice pot-roast entree.

Barbosa’s Braised Beef with Julienne Carrots, Celery, and Pearl Onions

Barbosa’s Braised Beef with Julienne Carrots, Celery, and Pearl Onions

While there was a bit of fat on the end, (which is needed in the cooking process), it was easy to remove (or eat, quite a few people like those bits), and the rest of the braised beef was lean and savory.

Barbosa’s Braised Beef Plated

Barbosa’s Braised Beef Plated

There were also hot dog nuggets available, which I did not try.

Moving on to desserts, (and the several cups of coffee my very attentive waiter brought) the “no sugar added lemon cookies”… really needed more sugar. But that’s probably just me. There was also a mixed, cut fruit bowl which had various melon, pineapple and strawberries pieces…

Desserts Plated

Desserts Plated

…and these impossibly cute rice crispy bon-bons all decked out in their finest chocolate holiday tops!

Rice Crispy Bon-Bons

Rice Crispy Bon-Bons

There were assorted mini cupcakes, which consisted of vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet; and mini cheesecake rounds, in plain and berry varieties. But the Mickey Ear Hat Brownies were crazy cool.

More desserts

More desserts

Shaped like little Mickey ear hats and usually found at the Main Street Confectionery, these were great little chocolate brownies, with chocolate medallion ears, all covered in milk chocolate, then drizzled with white chocolate.

At first I thought these might be “mini” versions of the real deal, but stopping by the Confectionery on my way out, they might just have been the very same size. I ate two of them, and I wish I could have had several more, but the level of chocolate-ness was just too much. ;)

Mickey Ear Hat Brownies

Mickey Ear Hat Brownies

Overall

This brings us to the question of “value.” The Island Dinner Buffet is only happening in a time-frame that’s known to Disney restaurants as “holiday pricing. “To give a comparison, the Crystal Palace is charging (at minimum) $40.99 per adult (plus, tax and tip) during this period. While you don’t get any character meet and greets table-side, Tortuga Tavern’s Island Dinner Buffet’s $35.99 per adult price point (plus tax and mandatory 18% tip), seems about in line for the quality of the food being offered. That being said… I don’t think it would survive at that price point outside of the “holiday pricing” window.

If you have a table service dining credit, though… it’s definitely a great value. I have heard stories in the past about folks, in busy periods, having to use their Table Service credits at Counter Service locations, just because there were no more seats left at the fully booked restaurants. Hopefully this will help reduce those numbers.

Either way, after a great meal and a few Mickey Ear Hat Brownies, you definitely won’t be looking for a midnight snack!

Would you use a table service credit or pay out-of-pocket for Tortuga’s holiday dinner buffet? Share your comments!

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7 Comments

  1. Jen says:

    As soon as I saw the chef carving the pork, the first thing I thought was, “That looks like the main character in Ratatouille!” I had to LOL when I read the very next sentence. I am glad I wasn’t the only one thinking it. :o)

  2. justsaying says:

    That doesn’t seem to be worth $45 after tax and mandatory 18% tip.
    https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/magic-kingdom/tortuga-tavern/

    Indulge in the spoils of the Island Dinner Buffet while ye still can—just $35.99 for adults and $17.99 for children.
    Please note: sales tax and an automatic 18% gratuity will be will be added to your bill, no matter the size of your party

  3. Jacky says:

    I started laughing when I read that the no sugar added cookies needed more sugar. Isn’t that the whole point of sugar free? But I totally understand what you are saying. As a diabetic I find that WDW in general really only has on average one sugar free dessert at every counter service or sit down and they are not so great. Sugar free dessert are not sugary at all. Kind of defeats the purpose of dessert. I usually don’t even eat them. Anyways, I’m glad Disney sets up these meals for the holidays. It’s much better than eating a burger on Christmas Eve! Great post!

  4. Sarah says:

    Great review and pictures. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Marie says:

    Well what a nice review! But here is the problem, we had reservations for there on Jan. 3 for 10 people . We called because when we received the confirmation it stated that they were not excepting the Dining Plan at this time. This was confirmed by John at WDW . He said the manager said ” that they will probably offer the plan later , as of now and because I guess they are closing Jan. 5th they were not accepting it!!! We in turn made our reservations for Liberty tree Tavern!

  6. Mealtrip says:

    @Marie – You’re totally right!!! It looks like they are no longer accepting dining plan credits, which changes things a bit.

    On the very first night they were holding the Island Dinner Buffet at Tortuga Tavern, I spoke with a family that mentioned they thought it was a great value for a dining credit, but probably wouldn’t do it as an “out of pocket” meal. The manager that I spoke to that night confirmed that it was a one table service credit meal. So something has changed between then, and now… which is one of the unfortunate problems with these “trial” dining events.

    And, honestly… that is too bad, because I would have to agree with my table neighbors that night. While being a great meal and neat experience, as a “holiday pricing” out-of-pocket meal, it’s priced a bit too high.

    Have fun at The Liberty Tree!!!

  7. Chuck says:

    The Barbosa Beef was an awesome dish, and the Mickey Ear Brownies were delicious. I found the rest of the buffet disappointing, but the beef was one of the best things I ate while at Disney.

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