What’s Your Favorite Disney World Restaurant for Atmosphere?

Disney restaurants tend to have that little something extra that make them a magical experience for us and our families instead of, say, just another night at the local diner. The red carpet at Cinderella’s Royal Table, the aquarium at Coral Reef, the stage show at Biergarten…they all make these restaurants a more interesting, and more compelling, place to dine.

Proximity of Animals to Diners at Coral Reef

Proximity of Animals to Diners at Coral Reef

That’s why today, atmosphere is taking center stage instead of playing a supporting role. I want to know: What’s your favorite Disney World restaurant for its atmosphere? The place that you go, without fail, almost without thought to the food. (Almost. But not quite.)

Here are three of my favorite spots that I hit up as often as possible when I’m in town. I can’t wait to hear about your favorites in the comments!

Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant

If you A) pine for the days of drive in movies, or B) have heard about such days and you’re completely fascinated, then you’ve gotta check out Sci-Fi Dine-In with me.

Dining under the stars while watching ridiculous B movies on the big screen is just too much fun to pass up.

After all, this is the only place in Disney that you can eat in your car!

Dine in a Convertible at Sci-Fi

Dine in a Convertible at Sci-Fi

No time to wait for a car table? Check out the cool picnic table option, and you can still dine in the Disney “open air!”

Sci Fi Picnic Tables

Sci Fi Picnic Tables

Thankfully, Walt shows up every now and again to make sense of it all.

Walt and His Vision

Walt and His Vision

I personally love the house specialty, the Picnic Burger! But they feature some pretty delicious drinks, too. Get one with a Glow Cube for extra fun!

Glow Drink at Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant

Glow Drink at Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant

50s Prime Time Cafe

But I also enjoy feeling like I just escaped into a rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show! And that’s when I head to 50s Prime Time Cafe in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

50s Prime Time Sign

50s Prime Time Sign

Almost all Disney restaurants have some level of themeing. But this place really takes the cake. You have just travelled back in time when you walk through the doors. Even the lobby is super-themed to feel like your grandmother’s living room!

Waiting Area

Waiting Area

There is just so dang much to see here! Sometimes, I really have a hard time settling down to focus on my food.

Don't forget to ask for a TV table on your visit to 50s Prime Time Cafe! And keep your elbows off the table...

Don’t forget to ask for a TV table on your visit to 50s Prime Time Cafe! And keep your elbows off the table…

Fortunately, Cousin Tommy (my favorite server) usually comes along just in the nick of time to quiz me on the restroom soap colors and fork-feed me any leftover veggies so I can join the Clean Plate Club! Ah, those cousins. Always looking out for us.

Jiko — A Cooking Place

If you haven’t visited Africa recently, here’s one of the next best things — Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

The restaurant was designed by famed restaurant designer Jeffrey Beers. And where my other two favorites evoke kitschy fun, Jiko is all elegance.

Channeling the rich, natural colors of the African continent, I relax instantly as I enter this tranquil space. The space is replete with symbols of Africa everywhere you look. Be sure to ask your server about the unique design elements at Jiko.

I Love the Birds Above and the Wheat Sheaths Below!

I Love the Birds Above and the Wheat Sheaths Below!

Water provides a soothing backdrop when your table is window side. But keep your eyes peeled for Hidden Mickeys even here!

Water is Another Design Feature at Jiko

Water is Another Design Feature at Jiko

My favorite feature is the lighting, though. As the evening wanes, the light fades gradually to mimic the African sunset. Gorgeous.

The Lighting Here is the Best

The Lighting Here is the Best

All I need is their awesome Oak-Grilled Filet, and I’m good to go!

Now It’s Your Turn!

Now, I really want to hear from you! What are your top spots in Disney that win on atmosphere alone? What places are you going every trip just to look around? What restaurants do you recommend to friends visiting the ‘World with the opening line “Ya just gotta see…!”

Tell us all about it in comments below!

Comments

  1. Dave says

    I don’t think there is a bad view from any restaurant. If you are a cast member, you may even have something good to look at in there own dining area, cafeteria,etc. But by far to my wife and myself, Sci-Fi is hands down ” THE COOLEST PLACE EVER” !! (note Dash Parr tone).

  2. Bronwen says

    SO excited! Heading to WDW in April 2015 (first visit since 1997) and already made my ADRs for all three of these picks :D

  3. Brenda says

    I love Artist Point, it seems so very removed from a theme park. Also Narcoossee’s is really very lovely and relaxing inside. Flying Fish has great theming too! I can go on and on..lol and I agree with Dave – you are in WDW EVERY restaurant is pretty awesome!

  4. says

    California Grill, for sure. Artist Point is also fantastic. Come to think of it, any of the high-end restaurants at the deluxe hotels are truly amazing and take you out of the theme park state-of-mind. In terms of theming, we were very impressed with Be Our Guest. Very true to the movie.

  5. Erin Blackwell says

    “If you A) pine for the days of drive in movies, or B) have heard about such days and you’re completely fascinated,”

    or C) actually have a drive-in theater by you where you enjoy first run movies on digital projectors and stereo sound for a heck of a lot less money & you want to revisit it while in Disney…. ;)

    My favorite part of Sci-fi is when Walt comes on the screen. I also liked it when they used to interact with Colossal Man.

  6. Claire says

    Well, my daughter would pick T Rex at Downtown Disney, she loves that place! My husband likes Artist Point. I have so many I don’t know which to choose. Hollywood Brown Derby, for elegance, Sanaa for the amazing animals that walk by the window while you are eating, Fultons Crab House for the memories of when it was Empress Lily (oh, and the seafood!).

  7. Gina says

    I love the Garden Grill. The slow spinning and views of the Land are so neat, and it’s a nice relaxing character meal with yummy food.

  8. Elle says

    I ate at Cinderella’s Royal Table for my birthday one year….you cannot beat the views from the castle!

  9. Mike Venere says

    Gotta agree with what others are saying above.
    The entire view from atop the Contemporary while at California Grill is what it’s all about.
    A close second, and likely for selfish purposes, on the back deck at Fultons is very nice as well.

  10. Sheri says

    Trails end gets my vote. A beautiful, quiet relaxing place far away from the parks. And to my knowledge the only resturant where you get to hula hoop after dinner!

  11. Barb R. says

    My favorites for atmosphere only in order – San Angel Inn, Be Our Guest, California Grill, and Garden Grill. For the most part, they have great food too! There are others I like also, but these are tops in my book!

  12. jim says

    There are so many great ones, and that is what I love about Disney dining. But by far, my favorite is a a “window seat” at the California Grill. To me there is no better ambiance that being able to look over the entire magic kingdom while dining. Plus, if you time it right, you can have a fireworks show while you are having desert.

  13. Wendy says

    Definitely Yak & Yeti (the actual restaurant). So intricately decorated and unique! And the food is fantastic, so that certainly helps ;)

  14. Harry Gephart says

    Our two favorites are The Grand Floridian Café as of lately and Fort Wilderness Trails End for the past 15 years. if your going to do breakfast at Trails End , you must insist on having Ken as your server. he’s been there for as long as we can remember . He’s very attentive and always has a smile such as he has the nickname “Mr. Happy”. As far as the Grand Floridian Café goes, we’ve never had a bad meal. The food is excellent and fairly priced, and the wait staff is very good. I’ve tried everything on the menu and the only thing I can I had a problem with was the pork chop dinner. the chop was a little tough and somewhat dry as can happen to a pork chop. I told our server, and they whisked it away and within a few minutes I was served a fresh and hot chop that was much better than the previous one. A few minutes later the chef appeared and asked if everything was satisfactory. We were truly impressed with the service.

  15. Cara says

    Hmmm – This is a tough one. There are a few places that are just “eh” on ambiance – however these are my top 3…if i didnt limit it I would go on forEVER!

    1. Flying Fish (Boardwalk) – the open kitchen, the decorations, the vibe is still magical but also sophisticated. My girls (3 and 5) even love it there. And the food is fantastic.
    2. Via Napoli (Epcot – Italy) – the main room is a little loud, and the energy is frenetic – but in a good way. It is such a feel good family feel. For a quieter version, there is the side room that has an ambiance of its own.
    3. O’hana (Polynesian) – we typically do the character breakfast there, and that brings a whole new element to it – but any meal there real does inspire family. Everything from the decor, to the people, to the food – it means to me both the magic of Disney, and the joy of being with the people who mean the most to me.

  16. Lisa says

    Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge!! But there are also so many others, it’s hard to choose but I try to never miss Boma.

  17. Melissa says

    In Magic Kingdom- Be Our Guest is lovely and very well done. I love having the choice of rooms and being able to explore everywhere. I’m excited to see what’s in store for CRT though with this upcoming renovation.

    In EPCOT- While I do love Coral Reef (I’m biased, I love sting rays), I gotta go with the World Showcase side. I’ve enjoyed every restaurant I’ve been to there, and I’ve eaten in almost every country. For atmosphere, I’d have to go with Japan because you can have loud and crazy (hibachi stations) or tranquil and calm (seats by the window, mostly sushi).

    In HS/MGM- Tie between Sci-Fi and Prime Time. You can’t really go wrong with either; they’re both wonderful and the food is great, too.

    AK- I’ve only been to Yak and Yeti but it was fun and well decorated. Definitely would go back there (if you can’t tell already, I really love Asian food so maybe more bias there)

    Resorts- I thoroughly enjoyed the Spirit of Aloha at the Poly. It’s everything you want in a dinner show.

    Of course, most restaurants in WDW are incredibly, impeccably decorated and every single one has a different vibe/atmosphere. It just depends what you’re in the mood for, but you really cannot go wrong. I mean, come on, it’s Disney!!

  18. Melissa says

    I forgot Downtown Disney- Raglan Road. no explanation besides I’m in my 20s and its super fun.

  19. Keith says

    Brown Derby, Jiko, San Angel, Blue Zoo, Sanaa, Flying Fish, and Belle Vue…not necessarily in that order

  20. Janelle says

    I feel the magic at Sanaa at Animal Kindgom Kidani Lodge. Not only do you get to dine with animals walking by but the beauty of the restaurant itself is delightful. I love how the columns are like stacked beads and the light fictures also look like repurposed african artifacts.

    Epcot is so hard to choose. I love Chefs de France to make you feel like you are in Paris. Coral Reef for the obvious largest fish tank in the world (I think). Tokyo Dining with a view of World Showcase.

    At DHS we enjoy 50’s Prime Time.

    Magic Kindgom it is Be Our Guest if you are sitting looking at the snow falling. The room can be quite loud and overwhelming, but for a few moments with the snow falling right next to my table I can shut it all out.

    Can I mention Hoop-de-do Revue! Not only do you get a show with dinner but you feel like you have been taken back to a different time.

  21. Jenny W-K says

    50’s Prime Time Cafe is my top pick for food and atmosphere. I also love Biergarten. The food is okay, but the atmosphere is great. I enjoy the atmosphere at San Angel Inn, but don’t care for the food, so I no longer eat there. My daughter loved Cinderella Castle last year. It was a nice experience, but not one of my favorites. We’re eating at Be Our Guest and Sci-Fi Dine-In for the first time this year. We’re pretty excited.

  22. Miriya says

    I have to say the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. The first time I went to WDW with my family in 2004 we stayed at Fort Wilderness and attended the Revue. My dad was sitting in the right spot for Clare to sit on his lap. Since then, now that I have a family of my own, my husband have been to WDW three times and every time we have been to Hoop Dee Doo. As corny as they are, we enjoy the bear jokes. We’re planning another visit in September 2015 and plan to take our son, who at the time will be 15 months old, to Hoop Dee Doo.

  23. Lisa says

    My 2 favorites for best atmosphere (and food) are 50’s Prime Time and Beaches and Cream. My family was lucky enough to be the “first guests of the day!” when we were at Beaches/Cream a couple weeks ago and the entire staff sang and welcomed us to our table!

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