Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café is a counter service restaurant in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney featuring American fast food, much of which is stereotypical theme park food. The restaurant is one of the highest volume locations in Walt Disney World (rumors swirl that it’s the ‘busiest restaurant in the world,’ although I have no clue if these are true) and is organized into three bays for ordering: “Chicken,” “Burgers,” and “Sandwiches/Soup-Salad.” It participates in the Disney Dining Plan, and it offers excellent value on the Disney Dining Plan thanks to its diverse menu.
While it may not sound like anything special, it is. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café is a super galaxy franchise. The menu is from outer space, including the fries! Seriously, it’s the coolest place to eat in all of Walt Disney World. Without a doubt (even if its food isn’t as good as Sunshine Seasons in the Land pavilion at EPCOT). Situated right in the best land in all of Walt Disney World, Tomorrowland, it features arguably the most interesting unique present-day Walt Disney World character, Sonny Eclipse. Mr. Eclipse is from the planet Zork (Yew Nork, specifically)and he plays the Astro Organ, with back-up vocals from his amazing Space Angels. Sonny’s act lasts about 23 minutes, at which point he repeats it for new guests.
I enjoy his performance so much that I’ve actually found a recording of his act, and it’s now one of my most played songs in iTunes. Entertainment-wise, no other restaurant in Walt Disney World can compete with Sonny Eclipse. He performs an entertaining 20-some minute loop of music that is infused with corny jokes. It’s actually quite catchy, and he’s great entertainment in what is otherwise a lightly-themed restaurant. Try to grab a seat somewhere in the restaurant where you can hear Sonny Eclipse (which is most seats) or outside with a view of Cinderella Castle. Due to the relatively sterile theming beyond Sonny Eclipse, Cosmic Ray’s can be a bland experience if you don’t eat in one of these spots.
Sonny Eclipse has a cousin, Officer Zzzzyxxx, at the exit of Star Tours out in Tokyo Disneyland. I’m actually so enamored with him that I’m thinking of taking a visit to Tokyo Disneyland Resort! (Well, to see him, and Tokyo DisneySea!)
With that said, it’s probably abundantly clear that my review of Cosmic Ray’s may not be the most unbiased in the world. Objectively, I do think the restaurant is one of the top counter service restaurants in all of Walt Disney World, especially for solo travelers or people who enjoy burgers, thanks to the toppings bar, where you can customize your burger and make it substantially larger than the average burger at Walt Disney World. In itself, the burger at Cosmic Ray’s is nothing special. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing to write home about. The toppings bar is what makes it a solid meal, especially for the value-conscious.
In 2011 and 2012, Disney experimented with the menu at Cosmic Ray’s to give it some unique options. One of these options was an atrocious Angus Pizza Burger (pictured below). I tried this once, and while I give Disney points for experimenting with the menus, this burger tasted like something Cheech and Chong made at about 3 am after raiding their freezer. It was unquestionably bad and I actually became sick after eating it. It was quickly removed from the menu, as were other (better) options, like the Angus Burger with Guacamole. As of 2013, the menu is fairly normal again. It’s still diverse, but it doesn’t really have anything adventurous. It basically consists of items you wouldn’t be surprised to find at an American fast food restaurant.
Although these test items didn’t make it onto the permanent menu, there are still several healthier and interesting options at Cosmic Ray’s, most of which can be found at Bays 1 and 3. I prefer Bay 2, which serves burgers, and I think the burger quality did improve a bit when Disney switched all of its burgers at Cosmic Ray’s to Angus. Still, it would be nice to see a “signature” burger added to the menu at Cosmic Ray’s like many other restaurants have had added in the last couple of years.
As of right now, the “signature” burger of Cosmic Ray’s is a “toppings bar special,” which isn’t exactly on the menu. I’m always a bit surprised at the high praise for Pecos Bill and its toppings bar, when Cosmic Ray’s offers the exact same bar, yet receives no such praise.
Well, today it will receive praise. The toppings bar contains lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, relish, green peppers, mushrooms, grilled onions, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and cheese sauce, and really helps you get great bang for your buck if you order a burger. My claim to fame (seriously, I’m sure they’ll put it in my obituary some day!) is loading up on toppings, especially mushrooms. This makes for quite a filling meal, so typically order a single cheeseburger without fries, which in turn makes dining at Walt Disney World much cheaper.
If you’re not paying out of pocket, but are on the Disney Dining Plan, as mentioned above, Cosmic Ray’s is also provides a good option for maximizing your value. The 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combination with Mashed Potatoes and a seasonal vegetable costs guests paying out of pocket over $15, but is a standard option for a counter service credit. While I’ve found the chicken to be dry on occasion, this is generally a good meal, and is large enough for two average eaters to split. If you don’t like sharing, it provides a nice mini-feast for one.
One downside of Cosmic Ray’s is that the separate bays for Chicken, Burgers, and Sandwiches only serve those things. That means that families with parties wanting different options will have to get in separate lines. However, depending on the attitudes of your fellow party-members, getting a little break from the other people in your group may not be such a bad thing!
Few things are as satisfying as sitting in booth at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, in the heart of Tomorrowland, late at night during Evening Extra Magic Hours, scarfing down a mushroom, tomato, onion, cheese, etc. laden burger while the symphonic sounds of Sonny Eclipse cascade into your ear drums. That experience alone makes this place a “Must Do” on a trip for us, and jettisons Cosmic Ray’s rating out of this world onto the planet Zork! If you’ve only ever eaten at Cosmic Ray’s during the lunch or dinner stampedes, you owe it to yourself to experience it during this tranquil time of day.
Overall, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café provides great ambience, a great location, great value, and pretty good food if you know what to order. Sonny Eclipse is like an attraction all by himself (one of our favorites at Walt Disney World!). On the downside, the offerings are not as unique as, say, Sunshine Seasons, and there is no busier restaurant in all of Walt Disney World during the lunch and dinner rushes. Plus, separate ordering bays can make things difficult for families. If you plan on eating at one of the busier times, or want to stand in line with your family, Cosmic Ray’s may not be the best choice for you. However, for a pretty cool show to go along with an off-hours meal, Cosmic Ray’s is second-to-none.
What do you think of Cosmic Ray’s? Do you think it’s one of the best Walt Disney World counter service restaurants, or do you think I’m overhyping it because I really, really like Sonny Eclipse? Share your thoughts in the comments!