T-Rex Cafe is a dinosaur-themed table service restaurant in Disney Springs at Walt Disney World that is aimed primarily at families with small children. It is literally set in a prehistoric world, with meteor showers and giant prehistoric creatures including dinosaurs and Woolly Mammoth. The cuisine is primarily standard American fare that will appeal to a broad cross-section of guests (menu). T-REX is a 1-credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, but does not accept Tables in Wonderland. However, it does offer a 10% Annual Passholder discount.
To give some context to this review, I should probably introduce you to someone. Meet 8-year old…let’s call him “Lom.” A fan of dinosaurs since first learning about them via some seriously awesome fruit snacks (and trading cards that came with them) that he consumed like they were one of the 4 food groups (back then, there were only 4 food groups!), he experienced an event that forever shaped the future of the United States: Jurassic Park debuted in theaters. After watching–and re-watching…and re-watching…and–this masterpiece, he became obsessed with dinosaurs. Virtually all money he earned from chores was used to purchase Jurassic Park playsets; he made Jurassic parks out of LEGOs; he even created an “extra credit” mural in school that consisted of painting various dinosaurs and writing facts about them underneath (banish the thought that he was a teacher’s pet–one teacher made the incisive comparison of him to Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, which was probably not praise). Suffice to say, dinosaurs weren’t just an interest, they were a way of life.
In case it’s not readily apparent, 8-year old “Lom” is me, circa 1993. Had this restaurant existed during my annual visits to Walt Disney World in the 1990s, I would have begged my parents to dine here. My mind would have been blown so hard I probably would have had to go to the ER. It would have been the highlight of my trip, and I would have evangelized to all of my friends back at school about “the most amazing restaurant ever,” imploring them to implore their parents to take a pilgrimage to this place that transcended its understated ‘restaurant’ label.
As an adult, I am still an avid dinosaur enthusiast. If I were ‘campaigning’ for a post with Imagineering, my platform would be “more dinosaurs” (and lasers). I can think of literally nothing at Walt Disney World that couldn’t be improved exponentially by the addition of copious amounts of dinosaurs. Frankly, I am distrustful of anyone who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to reallocate all of the money we spend on “science” towards finding ways to bring back the dinosaurs.
With that said, for all of my love of dinosaurs, I also dislike Rainforest Cafe. T-REX is by the same folks as Rainforest Cafe–Landry’s–which is also a restaurant group I strongly dislike (as anyone who has read my Yak & Yeti Review knows). I also have disliked Downtown Disney since Pleasure Island closed, although I find my position on this shifting as Disney Springs is taking shape and starting to look nice.
So basically, my intense passion for dinosaurs competed with three things I disliked, and the “dislikes” won out. UNTIL NOW…
During an afternoon on a recent trip to Disney Springs to check things out, I was by myself and in the mood for a burger and to see some dinosaurs. Actually, I’m not really sure if this is a “mood” per se, since I always want these two things. Regardless, I wouldn’t have to subject anyone else to the restaurant nor was there any wait to sit at the bar, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Upon walking inside, I was instantly impressed. The relationship to Rainforest Cafe was quite clear. It’s a lot like that restaurant, except with the whole show and execution taken to the next level. Plus, it has dinosaurs, and everyone knows dinosaurs are way better than whatever dumb animals live in the rainforest.
There are numerous rooms, each of which have their own style and unique draws, and I’d hazard a guess that this lends to the repeatability of the restaurant, as each dining room offers a dramatically different experience.
Each room brings something different and engaging to the table, and I would have enjoyed dining in any of them.
I found the Ice Age room to be the most impressive, as to me it felt like a fully immersive room, like you were actually sitting in a prehistoric ice cavern. By contrast, there were other places that felt like they were decorated with dinosaurs, and the illusion could be broken by looking up. Not a major complaint, and something kids aren’t likely to notice, but worth pointing out, nonetheless.
To be sure, neither T-REX nor its cousin Rainforest Cafe are on par with the type of work Imagineering could do (if given the resources). Whereas the best Disney restaurants showcase a deft thematic touch that often means subtelty in design, T-REX is over-the-top, in-your-face fun.
Some of the dinosaurs and design are slightly on the cheesy side, but it absolutely does not matter, because above all else, the ambiance is a ton of fun. I’d liken it to a well done summer blockbuster film, which may lack the careful artistic sensibilities of an award-season movie, but that’s not its aim. Rather, like the blockbuster movie, T-REX just wants to blow stuff up and entertain.
On the subject of blowing stuff up–which T-REX unfortunately does not do–there is a ferocious meteor shower in one of the dining rooms every so often (it felt like maybe 20 minutes?) that is really loud and features darkness mixed with bright flashes of light. It was loud and bright even from the bar, so I can only imagine how it would be from the room itself. If you or your children are scared of loud noises and flashing lights, you should ask to be seated elsewhere. The restaurant is loud as a whole (which is a common complaint about it), but honestly, what do you expect–a candlelight romantic dinner with a violinist in the corner? This restaurant has freakin’ dinosaurs. You don’t go to Raglan Road and expect the live band or dancers to keep the noise down.
As for the food, as hinted at above, I only had one entree, so in that sense, you might not view this as much of a review. I disagree, given that the atmosphere here is absolutely the draw, and the environment is really the make or break element of the experience. Quite simply, I was satisfied with the restaurant before my food even came.
I ordered the Bronto Burger and was bracing myself for the worst–perhaps a rubbery burger that had been left sitting under a heat lamp, and that was the best-case scenario in my mind. Not only did the burger exceed my expectations (not all that much of an accomplishment given how low they were), but I actually enjoyed the burger. A lot.
The burger was well-sized, perfectly cooked, and didn’t seem like a frozen patty. In fact, everything about it seemed fresh. Based on the taste, I’m guessing it wasn’t exactly lean ground beef, but that was fine with me, as it had great flavor and didn’t taste overly-fatty. It was one of the better burgers I’ve ever had at Walt Disney World–unexpectedly delicious. Even the waffle fries were pretty good.
After the burger, I was emboldened. Much like a small dog that can devour a steak larger than it in a matter of moments, I can put down a lot of food, so I debated backtracking and ordering the appetizer sampler. Here’s where I should probably throw in some words of caution about T-REX: while you can have an inexpensive meal here, there are a lot of gimmicky things on the menu that can easily make this a very expensive meal. Many things glow, light-up, include a novelty souvenir, or have ‘smoke’ or other effects. I witnessed a few people next to me order these things after seeing another nearby party receive something with a cool effect. Your wallet will thank you if you just watch the show from afar, so be careful.
I decided this was a lot of money for just me, and I wasn’t that hungry, so I settled for dessert instead, and ordered the Cosmic Key Lime Pie.
This was more in line with what I expected from a Landry’s restaurant, with the pie tasting like it had come from a box purchased at Wal-Mart, and the whipped cream on top still having some ice crystals on it. It’s billed as “freshly baked”, but I highly doubt that. This key lime pie left me suspicious of the rest of the menu, wondering if my burger was just a fluke.
Overall, your takeaway from this review should be that the atmosphere of this restaurant alone makes it a must do for parents with small children who like dinosaurs. Ostensibly, it’s crazy to recommend a restaurant without regard for the food, but given the amount of money so many families spend at Walt Disney World to make lasting memories for their kids, perhaps it’s not so crazy after all. The cost of the meal here is insignificant in the grand scheme of a trip, and this restaurant will likely leave an indelible impression on its target audience.
Now, as for the food, you very well could have a great meal here, but I think it’s probably a ‘caveat emptor’ type of place. After my delicious burger, I’m willing to believe that anything is possible, but I can’t really offer a review or recommendation in that regard due to my limited experience with the menu. That’s why the score below is confined to atmosphere. Total cop out, but whatever. I’d recommend being mindful of menu prices–while T-REX can be a cheap meal, it also has the potential to be one of the more expensive restaurants on property if you get caught up in ordering gimmicky extras. To that end, I’d probably go for a entree-only meal with the safer options (burgers, ribs, fried stuff) and steer clear of the more nuanced dishes (steaks, seafood, fancy salads), getting dessert elsewhere, but that’s just me. At worst, it’s a really fun restaurant that families will enjoy. At best, it’s that plus a good meal, making it potentially one of the (I can’t believe I’m about to type this) gems of Walt Disney World dining.
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Atmosphere Score: 10/10
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If you have dined at T-REX Cafe, what has your experience been with the food? Any menu recommendations? Did you and/or your kids enjoy the ambiance? Any other tips about the restaurant? Share your thoughts in the comments!