There are plenty of restaurants throughout Disney World where we all know more or less what to expect when we eat there.
But whether it’s the menu, the location, or the overall atmosphere, there are other dining locations that get a bad rep or just aren’t as popular for various reasons. Let’s look at some of the biggest culprits.
Now, when we say “misunderstood,” we aren’t just talking about underrated restaurants (although many of the restaurants on this list are, in our opinion, not given as fair of a shake as we would like to see!). The price point could be throwing people off, it might be in an awkward location in Disney World, or it might just hard to describe to people! There are lots of reasons why a restaurant could be considered misunderstood, so let’s go over some of our favorites.
We’ve been singing the praises of Sanaa for years, and yet it’s still one of those restaurants that people seem to pass over. It’s in a tricky location (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a LITTLE bit off the beaten path, in the middle of nowhere, you get the picture) and its African and Indian-inspired menu might be a turn-off for guests afraid the food will be too out of their wheelhouse.
Trust us when we say that a trip to Sanaa is worth it! Their menu is filled with home-run hits like their phenomenal Bread Service, Potjie with Beef or Butter Chicken, and Zanzibari Vegetable Curry. Yes, a lot of the menu is a little different from what you’ll find elsewhere in Disney World but that’s part of what makes it so great. The foods here utilize seasonings you might not come across that often, but don’t let that deter you — the food is actually quite approachable. They even have a strip steak on the menu if you don’t want to venture too far into the world of African and Indian flavors. If you’ve got little ones with you that aren’t feeling THAT adventurous when eating here, the kids’ menu does include familiar dishes like Cheese Pizza and a Cheeseburger.
One of the biggest selling points with Sanaa is the great views of the savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The animals at the resort roam RIGHT outside the windows of the restaurant, meaning you could be inches from gorgeous birds, zebras, and more while you eat. Be sure to request a table by a window for the best animal views.
Sanaa has consistently been one of our favorite restaurants in Disney World, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for a table service dinner that’s more than your run-of-the-mill fare. We recommend making a late afternoon reservation before it gets dark if you want the best views — the animals seem most active this time of day!
We get it: Disney World food, or most theme park food for that matter, is going to cost a bit more than it normally would at home. But if you were to skim through the menu at Frontera Cocina, a Mexican restaurant in Disney Springs, you may be left puzzled at the prices. It can be hard to justify spending $24 on tacos.
Many of Disney World’s restaurants are led by incredible chefs, some of which are award-winning! In the case of Frontera Cocina, the restaurant is led by Chef Rick Bayless, a seven-time James Beard Award winner.
But there’s WAY more to Frontera Cocina than just a famous chef running it. The food here is HIGH quality, and if you’re a fan of La Cava del Tequila over in EPCOT, you’ll want to know that the same team develops the drinks at Frontera Cocina! You can even order La Cava’s signature Avocado Margarita at Frontera Cocina! They also have unique margs you’ll only find at this spot.
So once you know you’re stepping into a restaurant with a menu filled with amazing food led with an award-winning chef at the helm, those prices begin to make more sense. If you’re willing to shell out the cash, you’ll likely really enjoy your meal here. $24 IS a lot for tacos, but they’re really good tacos.
NOTE: Tusker House is currently serving its menu family-style instead of as a buffet.
Character dining often gets a bad rap if you’re looking for great food, and we totally get it. Historically, character buffets are all about the characters, and the food sort of falls to the wayside. Some places in Disney World like Chef Mickey’s and The Crystal Palace, while great for kids, have left us disappointed in the actual food that we’re eating in the past.
Because of this, character meals, especially buffets, can often be written off as skippable unless you have little ones (or you) that insist on meeting characters. This is NOT THE CASE with Tusker House.
Located in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, their menu has a unique blend of traditional American food as well as African-inspired dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast staples include Simba and Mickey shaped waffles as well as more adventurous dishes like Durban Chicken & Egg Curry. For lunch and dinner, you’ll find dishes like Hummus and Mango Chutney Dips, Curry Shrimp, and Berbere-marinated Pork.
For a character meal, you get to meet all the “biggies,” like Mickey, Goofy, and Donald, all dressed in super cute safari outfits that you won’t see at any other character meal! If you want to meet members of the Fab 5 but don’t want to deal with the hustle and bustle of Chef Mickey’s, this is a GREAT alternative on your Animal Kingdom day.
Other character dining options where you can spot Mickey include Chef Mickey’s, Garden Grill, Topolino’s Terrace, and Minnie’s Seasonal Dining at Hollywood & Vine. Remember that for these dining options, character interactions are socially distanced.
Over the years, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe has gotten some undeserved heat for being your typical fast-food dining location in Tomorrowland. Disney World dining is full of choices, so many question why anyone would choose to eat here when you’re just a short walk away from places like Be Our Guest, Skipper Canteen, or even other counter service locations like Friar’s Nook, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, or Casey’s Corner.
Sure, Cosmic Ray’s is where you go if you just want a hamburger that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. But you know what? It’s not a bad burger! They have other solid choices as well, including Greek Salad with Chicken and a Barbecued Chicken Sandwich.
Could you find higher quality food at Magic Kingdom? Probably. But could you find better food whilst being serenaded by one and only SONNY ECLIPSE? UNLIKELY. Not many Disney World restaurants can boast an alien animatronic crooning in the dining room!
There’s also tons of indoor and outdoor seating here, so you can avoid the of hassle hunting for a table elsewhere during the lunch rush. Their outdoor seating is all located in a big covered patio area, so you could easily find some shade here, but still be dining in the open air if you so choose. We definitely have a soft spot for Cosmic Ray’s, but between the decent portion sizes, the fabulous entertainment, and the ample amount of seating, we think nay-sayers should give it a shot, too!
NOTE: As of this writing, both Takumi-Tei and Victoria & Albert’s are temporarily closed and have yet to reopen. Click here to see a full list of dining locations that are and are not open in Disney World.
There are a few places in Disney World where you can experience true signature dining. Some are “nicer,” “fancier” places with higher price points, white tablecloths, and even dress codes. But then there are a league of restaurants that make your eyes pop out of your head when you see just how expensive it is.
To set the scene, let’s start off with the fact that Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa has a AAA Five-Diamond rating, making it one of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the country. Guests can choose to dine in the Main Dining Room or the more private Queen Victoria Room. You’ll dine on an eight-to-twelve-course Chef’s Degustation Menu that changes depending on what’s in season.
Or, for the ultimate evening out, Guests can book a reservation at the Chef’s Table, a three-hour dining experience where your party is seated in the actual kitchen of the restaurant. The chef will interact with the guests seated at the Chef’s Table to build their very own Degustation Menu, basically guaranteeing that there is no one else in Disney World that evening eating the dinner that you’re having! Currently, an evening at the Chef’s Table starts at $350 per person.
Over at EPCOT, Takumi-Tei is the newest ultra-fine dining experience that guests can take part in. Located in the Japan Pavilion, this dining location is just as much an investment of your time as it is an investment in your vacation budget! Depending on what you order, you can easily spend upwards of four hours enjoying your meal — that’s almost HALF of your day in the park!
You can order off of their regular menu for a more “a la carte” experience, or you can order their Omakase Tasting Menu for a prix-fixe experience that costs $130 per person.
If you aren’t into fine dining, these prices alone could be a total turn-off. We get it, dropping hundreds of dollars just for YOURSELF to eat a meal can be excessive. But if you go into these experiences knowing that you’re signing up for literally hours of Disney’s finest service, it’s easier to understand and justify the price.
Places like Takumi-Tei and Victoria & Albert’s could also be misunderstood in another sense — since Disney World is known for being the ultimate family-friendly destination, surely everything in Disney World is great for families with kids, right? Nope, not the case. These two dining locations are a legit fine dining experience, and not only will they not be suitable for little kids, but in the case of Victoria & Albert’s, they aren’t even allowed (you must be at least 10 years old to dine).
If you’re looking for the best of the best dining at Disney World, these are the places for you. You definitely want to go into these sorts of dining experiences PREPARED, because we assure you it will be unlike anything else you can find in Disney World.
Animal Kingdom doesn’t have as many table service options as the other four theme parks, which could mean slim pickings if you’re looking for a sit-down meal. One of the few sit-down restaurants, Yak & Yeti, is found in the Asia section of the park. The misconception with Yak & Yeti is that since it’s owned and operated by Landry’s and not directly by Disney it will be at the same level as Rainforest Cafe or T-Rex, but this is definitely not the case!
Yak & Yeti is a great spot in Animal Kingdom with a unique Asian-inspired menu. Not only is it great, but it’s consistently great. The menu is a good mix of classic take-out style favorites, like Firecracker Shrimp, Lo Mein, and Korean Beef, combined with some really unique and inventive offerings like crab ravioli in a seafood curry! Every time we eat here we’ve enjoyed the food, plus the location itself has a really cool vibe with lots of themed decor to check out.
Outside companies owning and operating Disney World restaurants is nothing new. Many of our favorite locations on property are owned by companies NOT Disney and they’re no less great. All of the dining in the France, Mexico, or Italy Pavilions in EPCOT for example? All outside companies. Being owned & operated by an outside party means you can take advantage of any perks they may offer. Landry’s offers a rewards program that you can sign up for if you eat at Landry’s locations frequently (Even just on your Disney vacations!). This includes $25 off for your birthday, earning and redeeming rewards points, and priority seating!
If you don’t want to commit the time to a table service restaurant or are looking for more outdoor dining options, Yak & Yeti has a counter service location right next door called Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe, which serves decently-sized portions of classic Asian-inspired dishes.
Take a big breath in before you attempt the title of this next one! Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen (or just Skipper Canteen for short) is conveniently located in Adventureland in Magic Kingdom.
To most guests, Skipper Canteen is a restaurant inspired by Jungle Cruise, with Jungle Cruise Skippers as your servers. But the theming and the “lore” behind the restaurant goes much deeper than that! People who aren’t “in the know” with what exactly the Society of Explorers and Adventurers is all about, you could totally miss out on how detailed and well-thought-out Skipper Canteen is! Next time you go, ask the Cast Members about the stories and hidden details in the space!
Not only is the entire backstory of this dining location often overlooked by the casual guest dining here, but the food here is great and often a bit underrated if we do say so ourselves! There’s also a secret menu with knock-out dishes like their Pao de Queijo (AKA awesome cheese bread bites).
Once you get past the punny names for the food (ahem…how about the “‘Tastes Like Chicken'”…Because It Is!,” anyone?!) this location has some really unique, playful, and actually quite delicious food. In the past, we’ve enjoyed their delicious (and quite large) steak, really good Char Siu pork, and even their whole fried sustainable fish (which they make a point to let you know ISN’T piranha!).
If you’re looking for something different on your Magic Kingdom day and want a unique table service experience, you really can’t beat Skipper Canteen for food, interaction with your servers, AND fun theming.
This next dining location is right next door to the main pool at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, but don’t confuse it with your everyday poolside bar! Not all pool bars are created equal in Disney World and this is a great case in point.
Geyser Point Bar & Grill is a unique table service/counter service/bar combination dining location with some stellar food and drink options! This is a real hidden gem if you’re looking for something different on your Magic Kingdom day and want to escape the park for a couple hours and retreat to a much quieter oasis. The food is so enjoyable and well made that we’ve found ourselves spending many nights at Geyser Point for a casual dinner!
If you’re looking for something other than the widely homogenized cocktail menus across Disney World’s resort hotels, the drink menu at Geyser Point is one of the few resort hotel locations with a variety of drinks that are unique to that location (we’ve even scored a few secret menu drinks here!).
Best of all, this open-air location is entirely outdoors, so if you’re looking for some fresh air, this is a great option — but fair warning, it can get pretty hot during the summer. When their walk-up Quick Service counter is open, it’s a great option to get some of the same food offered on the Table Service menu on-the-go.
We’re wrapping up our list with a few restaurants all located at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels. There’s always a bit of confusion when explaining exactly what the Swan and Dolphin ARE exactly — who owns them, and what their deal is. Allow us to clarify.
In short, the Disney World Swan and Dolphin are two hotels located on Disney World property, but they’re actually owned and operated by Marriott. Since they’re on property (located right near the EPCOT/Crescent Lake hotels like the BoardWalk and Beach Club) guests get many of the same perks as staying at a Disney-owned hotel. There are tons of benefits to staying at the Swan and Dolphin, but today we’re going to talk about their restaurants.
The misconception here is that since they technically aren’t Disney World restaurants they’re skippable or can’t compete with the actual Disney World dining locations. Not true at all! If you ever find yourself with a free evening, we totally recommend you consider checking out Shula’s Steak House, Il Mulino, or bluezoo!
While this won’t be the quickest walk from EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Swan and Dolphin are within walking distance nonetheless via a pedestrian walkway, or you can take a Friendship Boat from EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, or one of the Crescent Lake Disney Hotels.
Simply put, the restaurants at the Swan and Dolphin are not to be overlooked! While technically not Disney-run dining in a Disney-run hotel, they’re all great options if you want a quality meal for dinner and are on-par with the quality we’ve come to expect from Disney. Since these restaurants are off of many guests’ radar, you can typically get a reservation at most of these restaurants slightly easier, in our experience, than many other popular Disney restaurants. If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood, we totally recommend you consider giving these restaurants a try!
There are those Disney World restaurants where you more or less know exactly what you’re in for, for better or for worse. But then there are some restaurants that are often skipped or overlooked simply because people don’t know exactly what their deal is! So we hope this list today helped to illuminate why we love these almost “underdog” dining picks, and why you should consider booking a reservation on your next Disney World vacation!
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What is your ride-or-die restaurant in Disney World that you CANNOT miss each time you visit? Let us know in the comments!