There are a lot of restaurants at Walt Disney World and dining can be an important and fun part of any Disney trip. In fact, the single largest component of Walt Disney World vacation planning typically is (or at least should be) dining. Beyond just making “good” Advance Dining Reservations and purchasing the Disney Dining Plan, there are a lot of things that can save you time and money, or improve your Walt Disney World experience just based on little decisions–or big ones–that you make with regard to where you eat at Walt Disney World.
Many of you have loved our 101 Great Walt Disney World Tips post, and since dining is such a big thing, we thought we would see if we could follow that up with one specific to dining. This was no easy task. While there are literally 1,000 tips we could share based on our experiences eating at Walt Disney World, many of those would be hyper-specific, probably too specific, and thus not things we really thought would be good for more than a few slots on the list here and there.
Rather than a list with tons of menu recommendations and things like that, we decided to come up with 101 random tips based upon our experiences in years of dining in nearly every restaurant at Walt Disney World that would be helpful to most readers. These tips consist of both fundamental, high level tips (like the necessity of making ADRs) and some more specific tips (like what to order for breakfast at Roaring Fork).
You’re going to find that some of these tips aren’t applicable to you–that’s probably a good thing, as following 100+ tips just relating to dining on a single Walt Disney World trip would probably take a bit of tenacity. You may also disagree with some of these tips, but such is the nature of such a list, which offers subjective tips.
We do want to point out that many of these tips were submitted by fans of the Disney Tourist Blog Facebook page. We mention this not to say “thanks” but as a follow up to that last point about you possibly disagreeing with some tips. If you do disagree with any of the tips here, they are definitely the tips submitted by readers. The tips with which you agree are the ones I thought up. 😉
Just kidding on that–and a huge thanks to the readers who offered their two cents. Although this list is 95% things we thought of, there were several comments that corroborated our tips, and other pretty clever ideas we had never considered. Plus, it’s always helpful to get multiple perspectives when it comes to anything Walt Disney World-related. On that note, if you have some tips of your own that we didn’t cover, please help others out and share them in the comments!
We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started with our list of 101 Delicious Walt Disney World Dining Tips…
Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) are a must, especially at popular restaurants. You may make ADRs 180 days in advance, and for the more popular restaurants, booking right at the 180-day mark is a near-necessity.
The Disney Dining Plan is a pre-paid meal option that provides a lot of food with the possibility of saving money. If you aren’t a heavy-eater or won’t eat steak (or a few other pricey menu options) at every meal, it’s probably not a good value for you. Read more on our Disney Dining Plan Info & FAQ blog post.
A great alternative to the Disney Dining Plan is the Tables in Wonderland card, which offers a 20% discount off all food and beverage (including alcohol) at most table-service Disney restaurants, subject to some blockout dates. Annual Passholders, Florida Residents, and Disney Vacation Club members are eligible to purchase the card.
Read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews before booking ADRs. Actually, read a lot of different reviews before making ADRs, not just ours. Not all restaurants at Walt Disney World are equal in quality (far from it), and due to kitchen inconsistency and different foods sampled, reviews may vary. Reading a variety of reviews can give you an idea of the general consensus about a particular restaurant (although, like restaurants, not all opinions are equal in quality 😉 ).
The Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party offers an off-center view of the fireworks. We are not fans of this view–you can compare it to other views via photos in our Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Guide.
Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival has many costly events, but there are also a number of low-cost and free-events that will enhance your experience without breaking the bank. Read our Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival Guide for tips and to find out which offerings are for you.
One of the best ways to save money on your vacation is by following our Tips for Grocery Delivery at Walt Disney World. We highly recommend this for breakfasts, snacks, and (potentially) even other meals. It’s so easy to have an order delivered to your hotel!
Alternatively, you can have Amazon ship packages to your hotel before your trip, which is a great way for getting snacks, drink mixes, and other necessities to Walt Disney World without checking luggage. Walt Disney World hotels sometimes charge a $5 package pick-up fee, but that is hit or miss. For our snack-packing suggestions, check out our Disney Packing List.
If you have already seen the Magic Kingdom fireworks from Main Street, we highly recommend making an Advance Dining Reservation for one hour before the fireworks at Cinderella’s Royal Table, and requesting a window seat when you check-in to the restaurant. You won’t be able to see the entire show, but being inside Cinderella Castle during the fireworks is a special experience.
Dining at Walt Disney World is just as much–if not more–about the theme of the restaurants as it is the food. You pay a premium to dine at Walt Disney World restaurants, and what sets most of them apart is not the quality of the food (although it is very good at many restaurants) because you can find good food in the “real” world. It’s the quality of the theming, which you typically cannot find in the real world. Check out our list of the Top 10 Themed Restaurants at Walt Disney World for an idea of what to book.
Tusker House (lunch) is one of the least popular character meals at Walt Disney World, but we think it has the best food and great atmosphere. Garden Grill in The Land is another highly recommended character meal; it rotates and offers views into Living with the Land.
The numbered menu items at Walt Disney World counter service restaurants are combos, but you can order an entree without its side (usually fries or chips) at almost every restaurant to save around $2.
The “Sand Pail” of ice cream available at both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks is a delicious, great value that serves 3-4 people. You’re a true Sand Pail Champ if you eat it all by yourself and go in the wave pool right afterwards! (Or you’re just plain crazy.) The Mickey Mouse Shorts Sundae available at The Plaza Restaurant is also delicious. These are great alternatives to the Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream, which is a lot of fun, but a little bizarre…
Share meals. Portion sizes at Walt Disney World are typically large, and in many cases, slightly more expensive menu items are even larger. This goes for both table service and counter service. If a meal is $14 but will feed two people, it’s a better per-person value at $7 each than the meal priced at $11 that will only feed one person.
If you’re trying to Maximize Table Service Credit Value on the Disney Dining Plan, restaurants that require 2-credits are, without exception, a poor use of your credits. None of these restaurants even come close to costing double the amount of a standard table service meal, which would need to be the case in order for them to be good values. With that said, doing Signature/2-credit meals can be an effective strategy if you’re on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan.
If you’re Drinking Around the World at Epcot, avoid the pre-mixed frozen drinks like the slushes in France and the Margaritas outside in Mexico…unless you like frozen sugar-water with a dash of alcohol.
If you’re celebrating a special event at Walt Disney World, make a note of this on the reservation. While you are not guaranteed to receive anything special, you very well might. During our “Disneymoon,” we received a complimentary dessert, champagne, or something else at roughly 50% of our meals. You may receive nothing at all, but it doesn’t hurt to make a note of it on your ADR!
If there’s a particular restaurant at which you must dine, but you’re unable to score an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR), go up to the restaurant’s podium first thing in the morning (or when it starts serving) to see if they are able to make a reservation for you. For example, this makes it significantly easier to get into Be Our Guest Restaurant for dinner.
When the parks are busier, the restaurants are busier. If you want a better chance of scoring those difficult to obtain or last minute ADRs, consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World guide for choosing the best time to go. The “Free Dining” promo times (usually fall and early winter) buck this trend, and it’s substantially more difficult to get ADRs during these less-busy time, so be mindful of Free Dining dates if you aren’t taking advantage of that promotion.
If you’re not a drinker, try Snacking Around the World in Epcot instead. There are some exceptional bakeries in the World Showcase, and eating your way around it is just as much of an endurance challenge as drinking your way around. Plus, no hangover!
Crystal Palace opens for breakfast an hour before the Magic Kingdom’s normal operating hours. The 8 am ADR here is highly coveted for two reasons: 1) empty park photos as you’re allowed in before the general public, and 2) allows you to get a head start on your day by eating, getting character photos, and then going right to attractions as the park opens. Make sure not to make this ADR on a day with morning Extra Magic Hours.
If a table service restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, chances are that you will be able to save a good amount by doing lunch instead of dinner–sometimes for the exact same menu items!
Drinking fountain water at Walt Disney World tastes bad and is often tepid. You can get free cups of ice water on the go from any counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World. Or, bring a Brita 24-Ounce Water Filter Bottle so you can filter your own water on the go!
Character meals are a great way to meet characters in air conditioning and without waiting in line, but keep in mind that you do pay a premium for the characters being present at the meals.
The Hollywood Brown Derby is a pricey Signature restaurant (that we really like), but you can have a filling meal for under $20 while enjoying the great ambiance and trying two of their flagship menu items, the “Famous Cobb Salad” and “Brown Derby Original Grapefruit Cake.”
The restaurants in the Magic Kingdom Resort Area are, for the most part, far better than the restaurants in the park. Consider taking the monorail or a ferry to a nearby hotel for a midday meal break from the park.
If you are attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and want to start it out with a table service meal, book an ADR in the Magic Kingdom for between 4 pm and 5 pm. Unofficially, you can use these tickets to enter the park starting at 4 pm (the parties themselves start at 7 pm), making those few extra hours a great time to eat so you don’t waste precious party time on eating.
Flame Tree BBQ is the best counter service place for barbecue at Walt Disney World. Their ribs are amazing!
At Walt Disney World buffets that serve both breakfast and lunch, make the latest possible breakfast ADR and eat at a leisurely pace. You’ll be able to enjoy both breakfast and lunch options.
To take advantage of the “Free Dining” promotion, you forfeit a room-only percentage-off (or other) discount. For many guests, the room-only discount is better. You need to do the math to figure out whether Free Dining is the best promotion for you. There’s more analysis in our Is Free Dining Worth It? blog post. If you determine that Free Dining is the right promo for you, here are our other Walt Disney World Hotel Recommendations During Free Dining.
The Bananas Foster Waffles at Roaring Fork are one of the best counter service breakfasts at Walt Disney World, and the butter-rum sauce here makes these the perfect way to start your day before heading to the Magic Kingdom.
Walt Disney World isn’t exactly known for romantic dining, as guests take kids to restaurants where they wouldn’t typically be warmly-welcomed in the real world, but a late night ADR at a resort hotel restaurant, such as those Signature restaurants at the Grand Floridian, is most likely to have a more romantic ambiance. For our favorites, check out our list of Romantic Walt Disney World Restaurants.
The best counter service restaurant at Epcot is not in World Showcase, it’s Sunshine Seasons in Future World’s The Land pavilion.
The Great Magic Kingdom Snack Debate is Dole Whip v. Citrus Swirl. Choose your allegiance wisely. We love both, but the unique-to-the-Magic Kingdom Citrus Swirl gets the edge. Added benefits to Sunshine Tree Terrace for the Citrus Swirl instead of Aloha Isle for the Dole Whip are the shorter line and that you can sit on a ledge by the Tiki Room, as opposed to sitting or standing by a smoking area.
If you’re doing the math and judging from a strict economics perspective, refillable mugs are rarely “worth it.” However, they might be worth it to you for convenience’s sake, among other things. Read our Walt Disney World Refillable Mug FAQ for more insight. SPECIAL BONUS TIP: refillable mugs can be microwaved…so there’s that!
A new option at Whispering Canyon Cafe allows you to opt into or out of the “show.” We find the interactions to be fun, but introverted guests may wish to eat in peace.
Chef Mickey’s is the most popular character meal at Walt Disney World, but we think it has the worst food and a loud atmosphere. If you do go here, do breakfast.
Think outside the box! Theme parks have a reputation for being nothing but burgers and hot dogs, but at Walt Disney World, that reputation is entirely undeserved. Most of the best food in the parks, especially at counter service restaurants, is the unorthodox stuff. Check out our Unique Counter Service Dining at Walt Disney World post for specific recommendations.
Breakfast at table service restaurants is almost always cheaper than lunch or dinner, but so is the value of the meal. If good food is your priority (and not, say, meeting characters), we recommend avoiding table service breakfasts, with few exceptions to this general rule. Breakfast at Walt Disney World just isn’t worth it, even at the lower price points than lunch or dinner.
From the DisneyWorld.com Dining Page, you can click each restaurant’s name and then click ‘View Menu’ to get an idea of what they serve before your trip. Note that restaurants are known to change out some menu items with frequency, and these menus aren’t always 100% accurate.
Since morning hours are the least busy time of day in the parks with the shortest wait times, considering skip table service breakfast unless you can be done with your meal before park opening.
If you are an international guest (or American with a smaller appetite), think twice before purchasing the Disney Dining Plan on your first visit to Walt Disney World. American portion sizes, including those at Walt Disney World, might be more than you need, and you might find yourself splitting meals among your party.
Via Napoli in Epcot’s World Showcase is the best pizza at Walt Disney World.
Request an extra (or extras) tray when dining at counter service restaurants with toppings bars. This way, you don’t have to stick together in a clump as you go through the toppings bar line.
You are allowed to bring food into the Walt Disney World parks, so feel free to bring your own snacks or full meals. Just no hard-sided coolers.
If you are staying at Pop Century, request a non-preferred room in the 60s wing, closest to the Generation Gap Bridge. This will give you easiest access to both the Pop Century and Art of Animation food courts, without paying a preferred room rate.
If you are able, we recommend dining in the West Wing at Be Our Guest Restaurant for the best experience. Just don’t sit at the table right in front of the rose, or you will constantly have people around your table.
50’s Prime Time Cafe features a ‘shtick’ in which the servers are part of your family (usually older relatives of yours) who will admonish you if you don’t eat your food and will make other types of familial interactions. If this does not interest you, dine elsewhere. The servers will take the hint and leave you alone if you don’t engage in the interactions, but if you don’t care for this ambiance, there are better restaurants for you.
For an afternoon or pre-fireworks snack, do the following. First, go to Friar’s Nook and grab some Mac & Cheese. There are a few extravagant varieties, but the regular style is fine. Second, walk over to Pinocchio Village Haus. Finally, go up the stairs and enjoy your mac & cheese from this quiet perch with a view of Cinderella Castle. Bonus points if you watch the fireworks from up here–it isn’t a perfect view, but it’s a unique one!
Walt Disney World has a sponsorship with Coca-Cola, meaning you won’t find any Pepsi products on-property. Pepsi is contraband at Walt Disney World…be caught with it on property and be thrown into Mickey jail! (Okay, not really…)
Sanaa is the most underrated table service restaurant at Walt Disney World. It’s rarely busy, because it’s a bit of a commute out to Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you make the trek, you will be rewarded with incredible ambiance and cuisine.
Behind and off to the side of Flame Tree BBQ, there is a somewhat-secluded waterfront seating area that offers a great view of Expedition Everest. This is one of our favorite spots in Animal Kingdom.
Columbia Harbour House is one of the Magic Kingdom’s better restaurants, and if you dine here, we recommend sitting in the quaint and somewhat secluded and under-utilized upstairs seating area. We love grabbing a table by the window, charging our phones, and watching the hustle and bustle of the Magic Kingdom below.
Sunshine Seasons and Electric Umbrella at Epcot, Tortuga Tavern and Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Backlot Express in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Restaurantosaurus in Disney’s Animal Kingdom all have free, self-service drink refill stations. These are the only in-park restaurants where you can get free refills as of right now.
Disney uses powdered eggs at all of its counter service restaurants. We highly recommend skipping many/most egg-centric counter service meals.
The Mini Donuts at Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are incredible, especially with the chocolate dipping sauce. You will eat more of these than you expect.
If you’re going for touring efficiency, the best time for a table service ADR is doing a late lunch, around 1:30 pm. This is when crowds in the parks peak, making it a great time to sit down and eat in the air conditioning after getting a lot accomplished in the morning and before the afternoon.
‘Ohana technically has a Magic Kingdom fireworks view, but only some tables, and kids often crowd the windows near these tables. Instead of trying to time your meal during the fireworks here, time it to be finished before they start, and head out to the beach of the Polynesian Village Resort for a much more pleasant experience.
Eat at off-hours to avoid the crowds. Counter service restaurants are least busy between 2 and 4 pm, and at the end of the night.
Make a “Disney Dining Bucket List” and spend part of each trip accomplishing a certain theme on that. For example, you could focus on character meals one trip, “succulent steakhouses” another trip, and cupcakes (for snacks) another trip.
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe both have expansive toppings bars with pickles, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, etc., allowing you to pile on the toppings to your food to get more bang for your buck. I have even known of “some people” who pile on so many toppings that it’s like they got themselves an side salad.
Our rule used to be, “don’t eat anywhere at Downtown Disney besides Raglan Road.” Since the transformation to Disney Springs, the food here is now exceptional. Check out our Best Restaurants at Disney Springs list for our top picks.
From time to time, the Confectionery at the start of Main Street in the Magic Kingdom has free samples. We’ve found this most often the case early in the morning or when crowds are light.
The Culinary Tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge is a free tour of Boma and Jiko that typically includes samples and is offered at 4 p.m. daily. No reservations are accepted–just show up at the Boma podium in Animal Kingdom Lodge just before 4 p.m. for the 30 minute tour.
When traveling with kids, an early dinner reservation can be ideal. It allows you to energize for the night ahead, and not miss either parade or the fireworks!
Sonny Eclipse at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe is an incredibly entertaining alien (Audio Animatronics) performer who provides an experience basically unrivaled outside of Walt Disney World. If you love his act as much as I do, you can legally download the full audio here.
The Potato Leek Soup and French Onion Soup on the lunch menu at Be Our Guest are excellent ways to see this cool restaurant without spending a lot of money. The French Onion Soup is delicious and reasonably filling!
Trail’s End is one of the best values for table service at Walt Disney World, and it’s an easy ADR!
Dining Reservations during the fireworks at California Grill are highly coveted, but window seats are limited. We recommend finishing your meal before the fireworks and going to the rooftop area outside the restaurant. Bonus: if you show your receipt from earlier in the evening, the restaurant will allow you to return and watch from this spot.
At Walt Disney World buffets and family-style restaurants, kids under age 3 eat for free off of a parents’ plate. This can be a huge swing in cost over the course of a trip, so book that birthday trip before their actual third birthday.
Flying Fish Cafe on Disney’s Boardwalk is the best seafood restaurant at Walt Disney World. They also serve a highly-regarded steak!
Guests are allowed to walk through Beast’s Castle from park opening until lunch begins. If you really want to see the cool design of the restaurant but are unable to eat there, go before 10 am for a mini-tour.
At most character meals, character attendants do not walk around with the characters to take photos. However, if you let an attendant know you’d like them to take your family’s photos in advance of the character arriving at your table, most will be happy to oblige. Or just ask guests at an adjacent table–most people are happy to help, especially if you will reciprocate.
If you have special dietary needs or requests that necessitate ordering off-menu or some other accommodations outside of ordering off the standard menu, make a note of it in your ADR. This way, the kitchen will be prepared when you arrive, rather than having to wing it at the last minute. The chef may even come out to speak with you and your party.
Victoria & Albert’s is the most expensive restaurant at Walt Disney World, but it is well worth the money in terms of cuisine offered. Unlike many Walt Disney World restaurants that charge a premium due to their location, this charges a premium due to its exceptional food and impeccable service.
Of restaurants that are not Victoria & Albert’s (it’s really in a league of its own and isn’t fair to compare to the rest), Yachtsman Steakhouse is our Top Table Service Restaurant at Walt Disney World. Jiko is #2. See that list for the rest of the top 10.
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe has free phone charging stations that you unlock and lock with your credit card. These stations are relatively new, so expect to see them at other restaurants in the near future.
Although they are not Disney-owned hotels, since they are within walking distance of Epcot, we feel it bears mentioning that the Swan & Dolphin resorts have some of the most highly regarded restaurants on-property at Walt Disney World.
The waffle sandwiches at Sleepy Hollow in the Magic Kingdom are only served until 5 pm. Plan accordingly so you don’t miss out on these savory sandwiches!
Of the few Epcot restaurants that have Illuminations views, La Hacienda has the best view, but they are a third party restaurant and often don’t take table requests. Tokyo Dining’s view is often blocked by guests outside the windows. As such, Spice Road Table and Rose & Crown are likely the best options. Make late reservations that are at least 30 minutes before the fireworks, arrive early to them, and request a window table. They won’t guarantee you a window table, but this strategy is often successful.
During very busy weeks (think Easter week, Christmas week, New Year’s week, July 4th, etc.), coupons are often given out to guests in the Magic Kingdom offering a 20% discount for dining during off-hours (usually before 11 am or after 2:30 pm) at popular restaurants, such as Columbia Harbour House, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, and Be Our Guest Restaurant. Be on the lookout for these if you’re traveling during busy times. It’s usually more pleasant to dine during these times, anyway.
If you are paying for the Disney Dining Plan and find yourself wasting credits, you are probably losing money. Stocking up on Mickey Mouse Rice Krispie Treats to take home counts as wasting credits. No one would actually purchase those things to take home.
The Plaza Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom is a great option for a table service meal at counter service (plus) prices. Other table service restaurants can be like this, depending upon what you might order. Our favorite is Tokyo Dining in Epcot for lunch, which has a special low-cost menu (it also has several expensive items).
If you are dining at Coral Reef, we recommend arriving early to your ADR, requesting a tankside table, and indicating that you’re willing to wait for it. The difference in the experience dining tankside versus in one of the other tiers is dramatic, we think.
Club Cool in Epcot’s Future World offers 8 free varieties of drinks from around the world, all of which are types of Coca-Cola brands. It’s a must-do for us when passing through Future World for a free non-water beverage.
During Star Wars Weekends (including weekdays), special Star Wars Character Meals are offered. While expensive, these are an efficient way to meet the characters without waiting in the hugely long lines typical of Star Wars Weekends.
Phew, that’s it…for now! The thing about Walt Disney World dining is that it’s complex, has a ton of options, and is very subjective. If you vehemently agree or disagree with any of these specific tips, or feel we are missing something essentially, sound off in the comments!
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What are your favorite Walt Disney World dining tips? Any good ones we missed? Any tips we have that you think are bad? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share them or any questions you have about these tips in the comments!