When Walt Disney World announced the reopening of Boatwright’s Dining Hall, it was an immediate ‘must-do’ Advance Dining Reservation for us. Located at Port Orleans Riverside, one of our favorite hotels, we were excited to revisit this hidden gem of WDW dining.
Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside Resort made its overdue but triumphant return a couple months ago, but Boatwright’s Dining Hall was one of the few things that didn’t reopen with the resort. Not a huge surprise, as Boatwright’s truly is one of Walt Disney World’s “Best Kept Secrets.” Unlike DVC, a lot of fans actually don’t know about it–and it’s perpetually one of the 5 easiest to book ADRs at WDW.
Beyond an excuse to visit Port Orleans at Christmas, it was a must-do ADR because I was excited to finally try the unlimited Boatwright’s Chef’s Platter. As more Walt Disney World restaurants have returned, they’ve received new or modified all-you-can-eat menus. I’ve been taste-testing these bottomless meats and more over the last year–all in the name of very important research, of course, as I attempt to rank and compare these unlimited offerings.
Although Boatwright’s Dining Hall is most definitely under-the-radar, it does have a loyal and passionate following. Walt Disney World fans who dine here once per trip and have been coming, and ordering the same menu items, for years. It reminds me a lot of Olivia’s at Old Key West in that regard–and I love spots at Walt Disney World that still have that “family feel” to them.
Most people dining at Boatwright’s Dining Hall are doing so for the down-home, southern-style comfort food. While the restaurant’s theme–an old boat construction warehouse–is cool, there’s not a ton going on once you get past the work-in-progress boat hull. Just lots of tools adorning the walls elsewhere. That’s perfectly sufficient, and fitting of the restaurant’s old school vibe.
Unlike many restaurants at Walt Disney World, it appeared on our visit that Boatwright’s Dining Hall is filling every table–or at least 90% of them. We were seated in the upper area to the right, and that entire room was full. The only time a table went empty was when guests finished their meal–and even then, they were turning the tables over pretty quickly.
Staffing did not seem to be an issue, at least visibly. Our server, Josh, was incredibly attentive and all around fantastic. He was hustling, but it didn’t seem like that was because he was stretched too thin–he was just doing a great job.
I’ve actually never seen Boatwright’s this busy–it’s usually a last minute ADR option even when nothing else is available. Hopefully, the high fill-rate and its inconvenient location for many Walt Disney World guests will mean easy availability going forward.
Dinner at Boatwright’s starts with a loaf of warm cornbread and butter. We were pleased to see that this is still complementary, as it’s becoming standard policy for ‘mid-tier’ restaurants at Walt Disney World to upcharge for the bread service.
The presentation has changed a bit here–arguably for the better–but it’s the same exceptional cornbread. I’m not going to offer any potentially controversial takes about whether this or the Trail’s End cornbread reigns supreme–both are top tier. Everything about this–texture, density, sweetness, freshness–is a home run. We finished this without even breaking a sweat.
For her entree, Sarah ordered the Plant-Based Boatwright’s Harvest Jambalaya: Spicy Tomato Rice with Mushroom, Peppers, Onions, and Garlic.
She loved this, saying it had a nice spice to it and natural flavor thanks to the vegetables (rather than “meat” substitute). Nothing was overly greasy, salted, or buttered. Sarah raved about its variety, calling it a more ‘complex comfort food.’
I also gave this a try at her insistence, and generally liked it.
It wouldn’t be my first, second, or third choice at Boatwright’s, though. With that said, for a plant-based dish at a restaurant specializing in Southern comfort foods, it was shockingly good. (In other words, it gets high marks if we’re grading on a curve–less so if you’re open to the entire menu.)
For my entree, I ordered pretty much everything, via the All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Chef’s Platter. This is a sampler of Boatwright’s highlights including all you can eat barbecue ribs, Nashville hot chicken, smoked sausage, barbecued beef brisket, mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, street corn, and green beans for $35.
This was added to the Boatwright’s menu a couple of years ago, debuting at a price of $33. An increase of only $2 in over two years feels practically quaint by current Walt Disney World standards–and real world inflation on food prices.
Let’s start in the center of the platter and get the biggest disappointment out of the way first: the macaroni and cheese.
I’ve had this mac & cheese separately on past visits, and it has been good. Shell pasta smothered in heavy, creamy, and rich melted cheese. That was not the case here. More than anything else, this side was just bland. I’m hoping I got unlucky and this is as good as ever–this is such a staple, and something the Port Orleans Resorts normally get right.
The street corn was perfectly passable. I love fully-fledged elotes, but this was not that. It mostly just tasted like mayonnaise on corn. For its part, the underlying corn was good–but still not something I’d allocate stomach space towards during an AYCE meal.
Moving to greener pastures, the mashed potatoes were fantastic. Walt Disney World does mashed potatoes pretty well, and I’m a sucker for this comfort food. These were fresh and had the butter dialed up to 11.
I cannot speak to the quality of the green beans, as I did not eat them. It’s an all you can eat meal and this isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve got no time for this “vegetable” nonsense.
Turning to the entree side of the platter, the smoked sausage is up first. This always strikes me as the meat version of filler on these things, but this smoked sausage was quite good. Nicely prepared with a smokiness, a bit of char, and a snap to it. I ate both pieces, and would’ve happily gone for more were the other meats subpar.
Next, the barbecue beef brisket. This is a platter stand out, with the meat being extremely tender, flavorful, and juicy. It had just the right amount of fattiness for flavor, and not too much sauce. Excellent all around–and to my tastes, better than its counterpart at Whispering Canyon Cafe.
I’d put the ribs about on par with the brisket.
They were well-prepared and fall-off-the-bone tender, with great texture and flavor. Absolutely excellent. My only minor quibble is that one of my first round of ribs was a bit on the fatty side. This is not particularly uncommon with Walt Disney World ribs, and in an AYCE environment, the easy solution is ordering more!
The surprise standout is the Nashville Hot Chicken.
These boneless chicken strips have an excellent exterior crispness that gives way to a tender and juicy meat underneath. The hot sauce provides a unique flavor and bit of moistness as compared to standard fried chicken, too. The Nashville Hot Chicken is comfort food with a kick–absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t call these particularly spicy, but your mileage may vary. This Nashville Hot Chicken was my favorite part of the platter, and where I ordered the most refills.
The obvious comparison for the Boatwright’s All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Chef’s Platter is the Signature Skillets at Whispering Canyon Cafe in Wilderness Lodge. I’d narrow that a bit further to “The Traditional” (Oak-smoked Mustard-Barbecued Beef Brisket, Maple-Chipotle Pork Ribs, Slow-smoked Pulled Pork, Citrus-Herb Chicken, Western-style Sausage, Smashed Potatoes, Buttered Corn, Sautéed Green Beans) as the two have fairly analogous options.
For the most part, the two AYCE counterparts are comparable in quality. I’d say the brisket, pork ribs, smoked sausage, potatoes, corn, and (presumably) the green beans are equally good on each. The mac & cheese should be a point to Boatwright’s. Where it gets a significant edge is with the Nashville Hot Chicken over the citrus herb chicken at Whispering Canyon; the latter’s pulled pork is an excellent “bonus” not present at Boatwright’s.
On balance, the platter and skillet are very difficult to rank. I’m inclined to award Boatwright’s the win on that comparison, but I also personally prefer “The Pig” at Whispering Canyon Cafe. I’d give that the edge on a less direct match-up if we’re simply scoring the top bang-for-buck all-you-can-eat options at Walt Disney World. That would be a similarly close call, though.
From my perspective, the ultimate deciding factor is that Whispering Canyon Cafe is located in Wilderness Lodge and is a ton of fun as an overall experience. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Port Orleans Riverside. It’s just not exactly a “destination resort,” whereas Wilderness Lodge absolutely is–especially during the Christmas season.
That makes Whispering Canyon Cafe the easier pick here if we’re looking beyond the food to the overarching dining experience, ease of access, and allure of visiting the resort each call home. It’s really no contest at that point–but still very impressive that the Chef’s Platter at Boatwright’s can stand toe to toe with the beloved Canyon Skillets.
Ultimately, Boatwright’s Dining Hall is a must-do for anyone staying at Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter Resorts. It’s also a solid option for long-time Walt Disney World visitors who have never made the trek, and need a last-minute ADR or want to take a leisurely boat ride over from Disney Springs for some down home comfort food. First timers to Walt Disney World who aren’t staying here need not apply, as the overall experience is not worth the commute given the easier alternatives and your limited vacation time. If you do make the trek to Boatwright’s Dining Hall, the Chef’s Platter gets my strong recommendation–it’s a great value by Walt Disney World AYCE standards, and most of the meal is excellent.
Are you excited about the return of Boatwright’s at Port Orleans Riverside? Do you agree that this is a hidden gem? Have you done the Chef’s Platter at Boatwright’s Dining Hall? Any favorite dishes here? Thinking of doing a last minute ADR at Boatwright’s? Do you agree or disagree with our review? If you haven’t dined here, does this sound appealing to you or not? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!