What’s your favorite restaurant in ALL of Disney World?
Maybe it’s Chef Mickey’s because you remember eating there with your family years ago. Or, a place like Be Our Guest Restaurant could be at the top of your list because of the GORGEOUS theming there. But, did you know that Chef Mickey’s and Be Our Guest have both changed a LOT over the years? Did you also know that Cinderella’s Royal Table used to be named after a character from Sleeping Beauty?! Today we’re sharing some of the ways in which your favorite Disney World restaurants have COMPLETELY CHANGED!
The Restaurant Currently Known as Paddlefish
You can’t miss Paddlefish as you walk around Disney Springs — it’s the restaurant located inside of the beautiful white riverboat on the water! But, BOY has this restaurant been through some changes and quite a few names.
When it first opened in 1977, this spot was called The Empress Lilly, named after Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian Disney. in fact, she was on hand to “christen” the boat at its opening! (It’s not a REAL boat — it’s actually a stable building designed to mimic a boat!) And it was one of the VERY first places in Disney World to offer character dining. We’ve got a long history of character dining now that was, in some ways, started by this very spot.
According to D23, the Empress Lilly Riverboat actually had 3 different restaurants and a Jazz Club inside of it — the Fisherman’s Deck, the Steerman’s Quarters, and the Empress Room. The vibe was upscale and reflected classic Dixieland music and style. Until Victoria and Albert’s opened at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the Empress Room was actually the most elegant dining experience on the Walt Disney World property. FANCY!
In 1996, Levy Restaurants took over the space and the Empress Lilly became Fulton’s Crab House, with a new giant neon sign to prove it.
When Downtown Disney was later revamped to Disney Springs, the restaurant’s owner, Levy Restaurants, decided to stay on. This spot was then TOTALLY reimagined to be what we now know as Paddlefish.
Now, this spot no longer looks like an old riverboat — but has been re-designed to look like an upscale, modern, and chic place to dine inside or outside on the rooftop patio.
But, if you’re curious to know what the treats from the Empress Lilly were like, you can make one at home!! We’ve actually got the recipe for the Bread Pudding Souffle with Bourbon Sauce from this spot. Sounds yummy! So, now you can take a tasty trip to the past!
Spinning your napkins in the air and taking pictures with Goofy at Chef Mickey’s in Disney’s Contemporary Resort might be a staple of your past Disney vacations, but did you know that this spot hasn’t always been here? As D23 shares, the original “Chef Mickey’s Restaurant” actually opened at the Disney Village Marketplace (AKA Disney Springs) in 1990 (taking over the spot that was previously known as The Village Restaurant). It was a character meal where you could enjoy some time with, of course, Chef Mickey himself!
But, that spot closed just a few years later. After extensive remodeling the restaurant in the Disney Village Marketplace actually reopened as…Rainforest Cafe!! That’s right!! Mickey’s old hang-out spot has now been overrun by gorillas and elephants and…volcanoes! But, a restaurant by the name of Chef Mickey’s eventually opened in the Contemporary in 1995, taking the place of the Contemporary Cafe.
And there it has remained for the last 26 years, becoming the buffet, napkin-spinning, character meal spot many know and love! Over the past year, Chef Mickey’s went through lots of changes due to the pandemic. In 2020, Chef Mickey’s re-opened as a family-style dining location (instead of a buffet) without any characters. But now characters have been returned to the restaurant once again!
Is the return of characters worth a 98% INCREASE in price at this spot though? Read our full review to find out.
Be Our Guest Restaurant
Love dining in the West Wing or perhaps the breathtaking ballroom in Be Our Guest Restaurant? This spot in Magic Kingdom is your chance to dine IN the classic animated film, and it has been WILDLY popular since the day it opened. Well, things weren’t always the same in this castle. This is one of the newest spots on our list but it’s also seen a lot of change in a short time!
Previously, Be Our Guest offered quick-service lunch options, with table service style dining at dinner when it opened in 2012. This meant the restaurant slightly transformed from lunch (where you could see self-serve soda machines lining the walls) to more a slightly more upscale experience at dinner (the soda machines were hidden).
For the quick service meals, you were actually given an RFID rose which you would take to the table of your choice, and your meal would “find you.” At some points, certain guests also received yellow, instead of red, roses. Food was served on real plates with real metal cutlery — no disposable stuff here!
Lunch became quite unique at Be Our Guest because guests could make Advanced Dining Reservations for that meal, which was NOT commonplace for a Counter Service experience. Reservations were introduced because of how popular this spot was! It was also the first restaurant where you could pre-order your meal. But, you’d have to order within 30 days of your reservation date. Forget to pre-order? You’d have to wait in an often very long and slow line to order in person. In some ways this was a precursor to the Mobile Order system we have now.
A couple years after opening, they began introducing a counter service breakfast option. This was plated and served to your table like lunch, but with the addition of a pastry basket for the table. It was part sit down meal, part fast food meal. And if you were on the Disney Dining Plan, it was a slam dunk in terms of value. It only cost one quick service credit to eat here for breakfast or lunch!
Since the COVID-19 park closures and later reopenings, Be Our Guest has changed again. Now, Be Our Guest no longer serves breakfast. And lunch is no longer quick-service at this spot — it is now a table service meal with a prix fixe menu (the same previously offered only at dinner).
Additionally, this spot used to have a special character element during dinner, where guests would be able to meet the Beast and take a photo with him after eating. He’d also periodically march around the restaurant. But, now that meet-and-greet is gone.
BUT don’t get too down just yet. When we last visited Be Our Guest, the Beast actually still walked around the room, and guests could wave and take photos of him from afar during their meal. And the best part is that the Beast actually appeared during our LUNCH — making his appearance not just limited to dinner guests.
Of course, this is what we saw during our experience, and things are subject to change. How will Be Our Guest evolve in the future? Will those fast food-style breakfast and lunch offerings ever return? Time will tell, but you can bet we’ll be on the lookout for any updates!
Years ago, if you REALLY needed to get that McDonald’s fix while at Disney World, there were a few spots serving up delicacies like those coveted McDonald’s fries. One of the places that used to serve up quite a few McDonald’s items was Restaurantosaurus in Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
Looking for a 10 piece McNuggets meal with fries? How about a McDonald’s Happy Meal? Both of these items were available years ago at Restaurantosaurus! But, unfortunately for all you McDonald’s fans out there, those fries and McNuggets eventually left this spot.
But, that’s not the only big change that’s come to Restaurantosaurus. A number of years ago, this spot also held a character breakfast in the mornings called Donald’s Breakfast-o-saurus! Eventually that was taken away and the character dining was moved to Tusker House.
One of the popular items from the Donald breakfast was some delish cheesy potatoes! Miss those potatoes or wonder what they taste like? You can actually make them at home with this recipe from AllEars.net!
Restaurantosaurus also went through a bit of a “table service phase” at one point with its special Burgers and Sundaes offering. While the regular quick service part of the restaurant was still available, a separate section was dedicated to the Burgers and Sundaes experience, and you could actually make advanced dining reservations for this meal. As part of this menu, you could select from a number of burgers and sides…
…and you would also get a token to use at the sundae station. Yeah, you read that right — SUNDAE STATION!! There, you could get 2 scoops and ALL kinds of toppings!
This special offering is not available anymore, but with all the changes that have come to Restaurantosaurus, who knows what will be next!
Finally, did you know that Restaurantosaurus actually has a lounge?! The lounge is tucked away to the side of the building, with part of the seating from the restaurant actually blocked off for the lounge space. If you’re looking for some specialty beverages (alcoholic and not), you might want to check out this spot.
It’s actually where we found some Passholder-exclusive drinks recently. This spot used to have some more food offerings, but the menu is a bit reduced in that area for the moment. We’ll definitely be interested to see what comes to this spot in the future!
You might have eaten at California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort as a fun date night or fancy night with the family. And, hopefully you got the chance to either return or stick around long enough to see one of the big draws of this spot — the view of the fireworks over in Magic Kingdom. But, this restaurant actually opened with a different name and had some unique entertainment back in the day!
As D23 shares, California Grill was previously the Top of the World Nightclub/restaurant. In 1981 a dinner show started to be presented at Top of the World twice nightly called “Broadway at the Top,” during which performers actually sang a number of hit songs from Broadway shows. Dinner and a show?! Sometimes there’s nothing better than that!
According to Disney, the Broadway at the Top dinner show ran until 1993. Then, in 1995, the Top of the World Nightclub/restaurant transformed into California Grill.
A number of years ago the restaurant got a pretty extensive refurbishment, giving it the look and feel we know now. As for the Top of the World Club? It still exists…kind of. Head to the top of the adjacent Bay Lake Tower to find it. But heads up — this lounge is ONLY for DVC members and their guests!
What do you think? Do you like California Grill as it is now, or would you have liked the dinner-and-a-show concept? Tell us in the comments!
Cinderella’s Royal Table
Eating in Cinderella Castle is one of those things we think every Disney fan should probably do once, just for the experience alone. You may have already gotten the chance to dine like royalty in Cinderella’s Royal Table, but did you know that when this restaurant in the castle first opened up, it was actually named after someone from an ENTIRELY different Disney movie?!
It’s TRUE! When Cinderella’s Royal Table first opened it was actually called King Stefan’s Banquet Hall. Ever heard of King Stefan before? He’s Sleeping Beauty’s dad! Why on earth would a restaurant inside of Cinderella Castle be named after someone from a totally different princess movie is a total mystery.
In fact, D23 shares that Disney designers have not been able to explain why Cinderella Castle held a “King Stefan’s Banquet Hall” restaurant. Were they still thinking they were in Disneyland where the castle belongs to Sleeping Beauty?! Who knows! Anyway, eventually the restaurant was (appropriately) renamed to Cinderella’s Royal Table in 1997. WHEW!
But, the changes don’t just end with this restaurant’s name. Did you know that when the restaurant originally opened the costumes for the men and women were QUITE themed? There were actually “13th century costumes of brown and orange tights and tunics for the young men, and medieval headdresses and gowns with overskirts for the young ladies.” Sounds like quite the get-up!
Oh, and the best part — D23 notes that “when the park first opened, diners were frequently serenaded by madrigal singers.” WHAAAT!!? If any of you got “serenaded by madrigal singers” while at this restaurant, PLEASE tell us in the comments!
Recently, Cinderella’s Royal Table has also seen some big changes. Prior to the pandemic, this spot was a signature character dining experience where you could meet Cinderella (of course) as well as several other Disney princesses. When Cinderella’s Royal Table reopened in Magic Kingdom in 2020, the princesses were all missing…ALMOST.
Cinderella now makes a VERRRY abbreviated appearance in the restaurant. You can wave at her briefly as she comes out and greets guests from a distance.
And finally, we end our tour of big changes at Disney World restaurants with one of the places you may have walked past in EPCOT for years and never known what it was — the Odyssey! As D23 shares, the Odyssey Fast-food restaurant opened between Future World and World Showcase in EPCOT in 1982. It’s that hexagonal building you probably walked around for MANY years on the path from Test Track to Mexico. You might also know it as the location of First Aid and the Baby Care Center in the park! It’s also the spot now that houses the EPCOT Experience.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Odyssey was a counter-service restaurant at first, “offering hot dogs and hamburgers at lunchtime and beef stew and fried clams during dinner hours.” Later, it became home to a character show called “Mickey’s Rockin’ Celebration.” D23 notes that the Odyssey closed 1994, and was then used only for special events and banquets for a time.
Then, a few years ago, the Odyssey started being used as a stop during EPCOT festivals. During some of the festivals you could often get a number of beers and other beverages at a craft beer booth here. It also became home to some unique festival eats like the Trio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts! Guests passing through could also check out some festival merchandise, art exhibits, and presentations here.
Minnie even hosted a special garden party event in this space for a while in 2019. So basically, the Odyssey has had a LOT of different uses over the years. What is it being used as right now? Well, at the moment, the Odyssey is home to the EPCOT Experience. This is a unique space with an INCREDIBLE video showing the many things coming as part of the EPCOT Transformation. There are also posters, photo ops, and more.
And you used to be able to grab some drinks at the Eats at the EPCOT Experience counter area. This spot used to have a more extensive menu, and then became pretty limited. But recently, we’ve seen the Eats at the EPCOT Experience counter completely closed. According to a Cast Member, the location will be closed for the next 3 months while the kitchen gets redone. Disney has not yet made an official statement on that yet though.
Once the EPCOT Transformation is complete, how will the Odyssey be used? Disney hasn’t said! The location is quite unique — not quite Future World, not quite World Showcase. It’ll certainly be interesting to find out what becomes of this space!
Tons of other Disney restaurants have changed a lot over the years, but these are some of the most interesting or exciting ones. If there’s one thing we’re pretty sure about, it’s that many changes will likely continue to be made at Disney’s restaurants in the future. What those changes will be is something only time will tell, but we can’t wait to find out.
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Did you get to eat at any of these restaurants when they were TOTALLY different than what they are now? Tell us all about it in the comments!