Columbia Harbour House is a counter service restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, specializing in seafood, but serving a few other options, as well. The menu is actually fairly diverse, and mostly devoid of the standard “fast food” options you’d expect to find in a theme park restaurant. For years, we avoided Columbia Harbour House because it was mostly deep fried “boat trash,” with a little bit of ocean-dwelling food covered in a lot of breading. In the last couple of years, the menu and quality has improved significantly, making Columbia Harbour House one of our favorite counter service restaurants in Walt Disney World. It participates in the Disney Dining Plan, but does not accept the Tables in Wonderland card.
While food quality has varied over the years, the ambiance at Columbia Harbour House has been consistently awesome. One of the worst kept secrets in Walt Disney World is the tranquil upstairs dining area at Columbia Harbour House. Despite everyone and their brother sharing this as a top “secret” for dining at Walt Disney World, this upstairs area still remains relatively un-crowded at most times.
Much like the entire restaurant, this upstairs area has a lived-in feel, as if you’re dining at a hole-in-the-wall locale in New England. I don’t know of many hole-in-the-wall restaurants that have the design sense of Columbia Harbour House or have the money to purchase so much art and other pieces on display at the restaurant, but it still pulls off this feel very well.
The place is literally crammed with details, and although it’s nicer than what you’d find in most coastal restaurants of this type, it’s very transportive. The only thing to remind you that you’re in a theme park is the crowds on the first floor (Columbia Harbour House can get BUSY during the lunch and dinner rushes) and the views out the restaurant’s windows.
With its excellent nautical decor, Columbia Harbour House offers great ambiance. The excellent New England seaside atmosphere of Columbia Harbour House perfectly befits Liberty Square. On top of the ambiance, the multi-room and multi-story cozy design of Columbia Harbour House makes it fun to explore. These rooms also offer a nice respite from the legions of loud crowds, as you can often find a quiet room upstairs in Columbia Harbour House, even at lunch.
As far as food goes, Columbia Harbour House has decent variety, although some items on the menu are noticeably smaller than others (and all prices seem a tad higher than Pecos Bill or Cosmic Ray’s, but it is seafood, so that should come as no surprise). Seafood isn’t typically something most people associate with low-cost and quick preparation, so I think a lot of people are skeptical of fast-food restaurants serving seafood. Although it’s not nearly as good as Flying Fish Cafe or a nice table service seafood restaurant at Walt Disney World, the food at Columbia Harbour House is surprisingly good for counter service seafood. Not everything is great, but there are plenty of solid options.
A good meal at Columbia Harbor House boils down to choosing the right menu item. By that, I don’t just mean something that tastes good. I mean choosing something that tastes good and is filling. The first requirement, choosing something that tastes good, is quite easy, especially for those who enjoy seafood. As mentioned above, many of Columbia Harbour House’s menu items are delicious, and even though fried, they have plenty of meat and don’t taste excessively unhealthy. The second requirement, choosing something filling, isn’t quite so easy.
When confronted with the high prices at Columbia Harbour House, you might be tempted to go for something cheaper, like the Fish Basket. This will save you a whopping one dollar (or so) over other menu options, and the basket only contains about three pieces of fish. Other “$7 items,” such as the Chicken Breast Nuggets similarly offered poor value.
We speak from experience on this point. In either a moment of clarity or during a reckless spending spree (okay, in actuality, since we’ve graduated from college we make more purchases based on what we actually want–especially when only around a $1 in price difference is at issue), on the visit to Columbia Harbour House that totally changed our opinion of the place (after years of leaving hungry after ordering the cheaper options) we decided to order what looked best. It was a tough call for me. The Shrimp Basket looked great, but at so many places, you don’t get all that many shrimp. I decided to order it anyway. Sarah, wanting to eat animals from the land and sea, opted for the Chicken Breast Nuggets and Fish. While our meals, including drinks, each exceeded $10, we were both quite happy with the results.
The Shrimp Basket contained a mountain of shrimp, plus coleslaw and fries. The shrimp were all fairly large, and not because they were overly breaded (the breading was about perfect). The fries were your typical Disney fries (you probably already know whether you love them or hate them) and the coleslaw was also pretty good. I’d say it could have used a little more dressing, but that’s just my personal preference.
Sarah similarly enjoyed her land/sea meal. Her basket included a few large pieces of fish, plus a number of smaller chicken bites, and fries. It was more than she could eat, thus ‘forcing’ me to assist her in earning her “clean plate” award. Having tasted both, I’d say the shrimp was the better option, but the chicken and fish were quite good, especially for a counter service restaurant, too.
More recently, we’ve tried a few other options at Columbia Harbour House. When its menu changed again and a Lobster Roll was added, I debated getting it at length. Surely a Magic Kingdom counter service restaurant could not do a lobster roll well. Some of them can barely do a burger right! Much to my surprise, it turned out to be quite excellent and very filling. I was actually shocked that it was so good, especially given that it was a lobster roll at a quick service restaurant.
The quality was quite high, and it wasn’t merely filler. It had plenty of meat, great taste, and a surprisingly high quality bun. Overall, I was very impressed. The high price was justified, and I will definitely be ordering it again. Although after seeing how well Columbia Harbour House did a lobster roll, I am giving serious thought to trying their grilled salmon (a counter service restaurant can’t possibly do salmon well…or can it?!).
For a healthy option (bacon is healthy, right?) or a change of pace from seafood, Sarah recommends the Broccoli Peppercorn Salad. It’s a large and interesting salad with more than just iceberg lettuce and a few vegetables to garnish, and it is tasty and filling. Definitely one of the more hearty salads available at Walt Disney World. (Another great option I’ve since tried is the Fish and Shrimp Basket, but I don’t believe that’s on the menu anymore–I don’t recall seeing it last time we were there.)
Overall, we think Columbia Harbour House is a Disney dining gem. Given that it’s one of the most popular restaurants in the most popular theme park in the world, it’s tough to call it a “hidden gem,” but that upstairs seating area definitely is, as are some of the less-mainstream menu items. Ordering the “right” dishes at Columbia Harbour House makes a big difference, and enjoying your meal in a quiet spot among all that great theming makes Columbia Harbour House a restaurant that is tough to beat. It is a little pricey and there are some sub-par options on the menu, but these are minor qualms, all things considered. We highly recommend this restaurant to anyone, even those who aren’t seafood fans, as the menu offers several healthy and non-seafood items.
Do you agree that Columbia Harbour House is a Disney dining gem, or are you not a fan? Have you tried the glorious upstairs seating area? Share your thoughts in the comments!
To read other Walt Disney World restaurant reviews, organized by location, check out our Disney Dining Reviews Index.