Asian-inspired wings and dumplings at Ohana.
If you read here, follow me on Facebook, or listen to the podcast, you know that I consider food an integral part of the Disney experience, whether it's at the parks, hotels, or on the ships. Fortunately, most Disney food is good and some of it, dare I say it, is great. We're lucky as Disney fans that the food one finds in Disney parks is better than most food you'd find at similar venues, but that doesn't mean we don't hit the occasional bump. This got me thinking: What's been going on with food this year? What was good, what's changed, and what' just plain overrated? Here are a few thoughts:
Ohana in the Polynesian Resort. For the longest time I've thought Ohana delivered fun over substance as each successive experience has yielded questionable service and just so-so food. A trip in March only confirmed this feeling, but two visits since then have completely changed my way of thinking. When the service is good, and by that I mean when you are actually being served what's on the menu instead of just one or two meat offerings and a lot of salad, it's a great deal. Add to that an atmosphere that's always festive and you have a real winner, especially for one table-service credit on the dining plan. Make sure you make reservations far in advance as this restaurant is one of the most popular on property.
Pepperoni pizza at Via Napoli.
Via Napoli in Epcot's Italy Pavilion: I eat at Via Napoli every time I go to Disney World and I've been one of their biggest fans. Sadly, it's gotten increasingly worse each visit this year: Watery pizzas, burnt crust, spotty service. While I understand that a certain amout of charring on a wood-fired pizza crust is to be expected, even desired, being served a pizza which is entirely charred on the underside is inexcusable. Likewise, fresh mozzarella has a high water content, but you shouldn't have pools of water on top of your pizza. Finally, while the servers at Via Napoli have always been charming, compliments and witty banter don't make up for the fact that the service has been extremely slow lately. This restaurant started out really strong and kept it going for several years, but they've clearly hit a slump. On a positive note, I had lunch there last week and it was fantastic--let's hope this is a good sign for 2013.
Dessert cart at Be Our Guest.
Best Quick-Service Lunch:
Be Our Guest Restaurant in the new Fantasyland Expansion. Hands down, the best lunch on property. Nice selections, great service, a beautiful setting, and decent prices all make up for what this restaurant lacks at dinner.
Worst Quick Service Lunch:
Pinocchio Village Haus. Walk, don't run, from this travesty of a quick-service location located in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland. The only thing this place has going for it is a large window that overlooks It's a Small World. That's right. That's all I could come up with.
Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney.
Best Quick-Service Dinner:
Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney. This is one of my favorite places to eat at Walt Disney World, with fresh food and an atmosphere that doesn't feel like "fast food." One caveat: It's very expensive if you're not on the dining plan with prices approaching or exceeding the average cost of a sit-down restaurant in the parks. Skip it if you're on a budget.
Best Table-Service Meal, Non-Signature:
Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot. This is a tough one because a lot of people, especially parents, are going to be put off by the word "pub" in the name, but Rose and Crown is only a pub in the Disney sense of the word. Go for the fish and chips, although those who avoid seafood will find plenty on the menu to enjoy, including the delicious sticky toffee pudding. In nice weather, get an outside table if you can and enjoy a leisurely meal. This restaurant is super kid-friendly but lively enough after 8;30 or so that 20-somethings can go in and get a little loud.
Honorable mention: While I've had mixed experiences, Ohana is still going strong as the most popular restaurant on property.
Steak at Be Our Guest at dinner.
Most Overrated Table-Service Dinner, Non-Signature:
Be Our Guest Restaurant in the new Fantasyland expansion. Here's the thing: It's still the best table-service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, but they could do so much more with it. I've been hearing good things about BOG lately and I'm hoping this continues. I'll definitely give it a second (and a third) chance this year.
Dessert at Yachtsman Steakhouse.
Best Signature Restaurant:
I'm going to cheat here and not pick one because I think most Disney signature restaurants are good. Want a great meal in a beautiful setting in what's otherwise a pretty barren landscape when it comes to food? Try the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios. Looking for a "big night" kind of place? California Grill (currently scheduled for refurbishment the first six months of 2013) fits the bill perfectly with a gorgeous view of the Magic Kingdom at night. And if fine dining is more your style, don't miss Citricos in the Grand Floridian, one of the best restaurants in the area. I wish more guests would try Disney's signatures--it really is an entirely different dining experience.
Best Character Meal:
Breakfast at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. The best character meal is in a park you might not visit on your next trip: Animal Kingdom. Often overlooked as a "half-day park" or as "just another zoo," Animal Kingdom benefits from fewer guests and so will you. It's pretty hard to mess up breakfast, but Donald's Safari Breakfast in Tusker House manages to take your typical breakfast buffet to another level, offering a wide variety of fresh food. The excellent character interaction is almost second to the food, but fortunately, it's some of the best on property. Next time you want to mingle with Donald, Mickey, Daisy, Minnie, and Goofy, give Tusker House a try. You won't be disappointed.
Akershus in Epcot's Norway Pavilion.
Best Princess Character Meal.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. You'll meet most of the same princesses here as you would at Cinderella's Royal Table for about half the price (or, if you're on the dining plan, one table-service credit instead of two). The food is your standard Disney buffet food with a few Scandinavian specialties thrown in for good measure (Read: Fish), but it's always fresh and there's plenty of it. The princesses change all the time, but you'll usually see four or five and they're very good about giving each table plenty of opportunities for pictures. A photograph with one of the princesses is included in the price of your meal, making this a great bargain.
Most Overrated Character Meal:
Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort. Go for breakfast if you really want to meet the Fab Five at the Contemporary; dinner at this location is a letdown. Sure, you're going here for the character interaction, which is good, but you want a good meal too, right?
The Citrus Swirl. Combining both tart and sweet, the citrus swirl gives you the best of both worlds. Watch out, Dole Whip.
Kids' Runner-up: Mickey Bar.
Disneyland: We bow to your churro greatness.
Battle of the Churros:
In the battle of the churros, Disneyland is the clear winner: Crispy, sweet with a touch of cinnamon, these churros make Disney World's seem like poor cousins.
Delicious fish entree from Club 33.
Best Personal Dining Experience of 2013.
Disneyland's Club 33: I was fortunate to be able to eat here in August. While there were hits and misses with the service, the food was spectacular and the setting was incredible. It's every Disney fan's dream to eat here--thanks to my boss for always looking out for Mouse Chat and making it happen.
Ribeye at Le Cellier.
Worst Personal Dining Experience of 2013:
Le Cellier in Epcot's Canada Pavilion: Don't call yourself a signature restaurant and then serve food that isn't any better than an Outback--and that's being generous. This is definitely one over-hyped reservation I won't be fighting for in the future.
The Big Dining Question for 2013:
Will the dining plan still be worth it and have we seen the end of free dining? As a travel agent, I'd like you to buy the dining plan. As a consumer, I'd like you to think twice about it, especially as prices continue to climb. We didn't see free dining offered for the January to March time period, making all of us wondering if it will be offered in the fall. I think it will be, but that remains to be seen.
Of course, all of this is just my opinion and is not meant to offend. I hope you have a great 2013 filled with lots of happiness and wonderful Disney food.