Christmas & Comfort Food at Old Key West
It’s time for the holidays in a tropical paradise at Old Key West Resort. In this Walt Disney World resort report, we’ll check in on how the quiet community of Conch Flats is celebrating Christmas, with dinner at Olivia’s Cafe, and a stroll around the Hospitality House.
Although it’s not my favorite Walt Disney World resort during the holiday season, or even in the top 10, there’s something alluring about the atmosphere at Old Key West decked out for Christmas. The Hospitality House area has its normal sense of community, charm, intimacy, and laid back tropical vibe. Plus Christmas on top of all that.
Perhaps the best way to put it is that Old Key West is Walt Disney World’s best resort at capturing the essence of an authentic Floridian Christmas. It reminds me of a setting from Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island, which seems fitting for a December vacation at Walt Disney World…
While the decorations at Old Key West are fairly sparse and understated as compared to some of Walt Disney World’s “big” Christmas resorts, there are plenty of fun details. My favorite is definitely the ornaments on the garland along the promenade outside and tree inside the lobby. Some of these are downright weird…frisky but fun.
Ernest Hemingway would probably be proud to have Papa’s Den named after him, but even more so to have this energy setting the mood in his room. (Just wanted to draw your attention to those little gems!) The rest of the photos more or less speak for themselves, so we’ll share a quick look around the resort without commentary and then jump to dinner…
Now let’s do dinner at Olivia’s Cafe. Previously, we’ve praised it as being the Disney Vacation Club “family kitchen.” This is because of its atmosphere, decor, and longevity at the original Disney Vacation Club Resort.
It’s also due to the large “Family Album” of DVC Member photos from over the years that are on full display at Olivia’s Cafe. There are well over one hundred member photos in the lobby and throughout the inside seating area.
There’s something about the galleries of family photos that I love. They tug at my heartstrings and nostalgia. They make me think of the trips my family took, and emphasize the club component of Disney Vacation Club.
They’re also an awesome time capsule of Walt Disney World, with some dating back to the 25th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, where you can see the Cinderella Castle Cake in its full, Pepto Bismol-inspired glory!
However, for this meal, we opted to dine in the outdoor seating area at Olivia’s Cafe.
As we’ve mentioned countless times now, we’re not eating indoors at this time and likewise recommend anyone wanting to mitigate risk to dine outside. (See our List of the Best Outdoor Dining at Walt Disney World.)
The outdoor seating area at Olivia’s is lovely, offering views of the Hospitality House’s waterfront promenade, marina, and lighthouse. We dined right around sunset, and this was the perfect spot to watch day change to night at Old Key West.
The only downside to the outdoor seating area at Olivia’s Cafe is the lack of space. Due to physical distancing modifications right now, there were only 3 tables in use when we dined at Olivia’s. This could change, but it’s something to keep in mind. Alternatively, you can do Olivia’s To-Go and eat your takeout on one of the picnic tables just beyond the outdoor seating area on the same waterfront promenade.
For bread service, we received these.
These didn’t even rise to the level of “forgettable and pedestrian” like some restaurants at Walt Disney World. More like, “for human consumption or hockey?” Fortunately, the meal was all uphill from there.
For our appetizer, we ordered the Conch Fritters served with Key Lime-Mustard and Roasted Pepper Rémoulade.
Normally, I could take or leave hush puppies. They’re often too dense for my liking, devoid of flavor beyond “fried batter.” These fritters were much more to my liking, with the conch balancing out the delicious dough. Both of the dipping sauces further enhanced the taste, making these a highly recommended appetizer.
For her entree, Sarah ordered the Captain Wahoo’s Catch of the Day, which was pan-roasted salmon with romesco sauce served with seasonal harvest vegetables.
This dish was well-prepared, with a light crispiness to the exterior giving way to flaky fish. The sauce was likewise a good accompaniment, with a nice earthy and smoky flavor that went well with both the bed of vegetables and the salmon. We both liked this, but agreed that it wasn’t particularly memorable. (Salmon is almost always a nice “fallback option” on Walt Disney World menus–a safe choice that’s seldom disappointing or exceptional.)
For my entree, I ordered the Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Southern Gravy, Biscuit, and Seasonal Vegetables.
I’ve had a lot of fried chicken at Walt Disney World. A lot of delicious fried chicken. It’s actually one of the dishes that Disney has mastered, with great options everywhere from Fort Wilderness (see our post about the glorious, great value family feast) and Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin.’
With that said, I’d rank the Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken as the #2 fried chicken in all of Walt Disney World. (My #1 pick is the “hidden gem” at Grand Floridian.)
The boneless chicken breast was tender and juicy, coated in a crispy and well-seasoned breading that wonderfully complimented the creamy southern gravy (think country-fried steak). That plus the hand-whipped mashed potatoes and biscuit made for a perfectly “balanced” Floridian comfort food. I was in heaven by the end of the meal.
Having eaten most of the Conch Fritters and the entirety of my Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken, I probably didn’t “need” dessert, but “we” nonetheless opted to order the Banana Bread Pudding Sundae served Warm with Bananas Foster topping and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Zero regrets.
This was exceptional, combining the best elements of banana bread, bananas foster, and ice cream into a deliciously decadent dessert. This hit all of the right notes, and if you’re a fan of those components, it’s an absolute must-order. I also ate most of this. By the time I was done, my food coma had fully set in. Sarah must’ve wheeled me out of the restaurant because the rest of the night was a blur. I woke up three days later inside the Old Key West lighthouse wearing parachute pants, a neon green Fresh Prince shirt, and Luigi’s Flying Tires hat. Eat your heart out, Ernest Hemingway!
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What do you think of Christmas at Old Key West? Do you agree that it captures a quintessentially Floridian Christmas? Have you done dinner at Olivia’s Cafe? What did you think of the experience? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any standout menu options you’d recommend people give a try when dining at Olivia’s? Does it remind you of the “DVC Family Kitchen”? Any questions about this meal? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your perspective on whether this meal is ‘worth it’ or any other thoughts you have in the comments below!
I love this restaurant and OKW. The big redone condos are amazing.
We are coming in a couple weeks to Disney and already have dining reservations. Is it appropriate to ask to sit outside when we check in or should I put that on my online request?
On the first night of our first family trip (June 2018) we boated over to Olivia’s for dinner from French Quarter. The twinkling lights in the trees and the treehouses made the ride magical. Olivia’s was one of our best meals that vacation. Among our party we had the chicken, scallops, steak and paella. All were delicious! We had to take our desserts to go because we were so full! Am intrigued by Old Key West. Would consider staying there for a more laid back Disney trip. (BTW, even though it is now closed French Quarter is great too.)
I have to laugh at your Olivia’s review but don’t tell too many people about this wonderful restaurant. We started eating here in 1994, it’s our DVC home resort. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken was an original Member Special that became a regular menu item because it has been so popular. I miss it this year because we are taking a Covid break from traveling.
BETTER than Art Smith’s? Guess I have to try it, because Art Smith’s is the best I’ve ever had, and I grew up in the South.
We were fortunate to get to stay at OKW for the first time last fall (2019) and really loved the vibe there. While we own elsewhere, and truly LOVE our home resort, OKW is high on our list when the time is right to add-on. Hoping/planning to stay there again in January and we are really looking forward to the relaxing atmosphere. We won’t have a car there, and that would be the only thing that I would say would be helpful at this resort (I would put SSR in this category too). One can end up pretty far away from the Hospitality House, but maybe sometimes that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Hey Tom – Are there heaters in the outdoor dining area that you can recall?
Yes, there are!
Out of interest, is there anything to be aware of (i.e. different from pre-reopening) in terms of resort access for non-resort guests at present? Apart from needing to wear a face mask, of course. I was wondering if they’re blocking access or restricting buses for example.
No, not really.
Guests driving their own vehicles are frequently turned away without ADRs or Mobile Order pickup, but that’s not really new. (Just might be new to anyone who hasn’t visited in a year or so.)
“I woke up three days later inside the Old Key West lighthouse wearing parachute pants, a neon green Fresh Prince shirt, and Luigi’s Flying Tires hat.”
… and this is why I read the Disney Tourist Blog 🙂
Tom I agree with everything you posted, we just spent 9 nights over the Thanksgiving Holidays at Old Key West resort. We had never stayed at OKW before and the overall feeling I had once we departed was, charming, peaceful, beautiful and quiet. I love that the resort had a very removed from the hustle and bustle feel but the bus system was running flawlessly, always a quick ride to whatever park we were visiting that day. Enjoyed our Olivia’s lunch and multiple visits to Goods Foods to go never left us disappointed. Also I agree with the colored lights comments, the resort had a laid back fun vibe and the Christmas decorations reflected that in the most lovely way : )
I mentioned this in a couple of other threads about Outdoor Dining last month, but Olivia’s is really nice because the patio is permanent and the tables are nicely spaced out when you dine. The better part though, is that Olivia’s is hardly ever crowded and usually always has a table (even on the patio) when you want one. (More people than not still seem to want to eat inside for some reason – maybe it’s to be near their family photo.)
If you have a car, head over there and enjoy a tasty, relaxed meal for breakfast or dinner.
I’ve always been intrigued by OKW, but never seem to find the time to stop by. I have family in the Florida Keys, and get my fill of the current Key West, annually. That fried chicken, though…Olivia’s just made it onto my wish list for the next trip.
We just ate breakfast at Olivia’s a little less than two weeks ago (pancakes and eggs, yum) before we picked up our dog from Best Friends where she stayed and headed home. We’re headed back for a four night stay next week and will surely eat at least one meal at Olivia’s, if not two. I’m also a big fan of the Southernmost Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I got it once when it didn’t quite meet up to my expectations (there was a pickle in the coating!!!!!!) and it wasn’t as warm as usual. But that was just a fluke.
But on the plus side, free pickle? 😉
Tom, only if you like pickles.
I have to agree with Tom. At our last WDW trip I had that very same chicken dish at Olivia’s and then the Fried Chicken Dish a few days later at the Grand Floridian Cafe. Both are exceptional! Comfort food at its best! I also thank the Christmas trees at OKW are pretty. I prefer multi-color lights which seem to become more scarce as more trees are all white or just one color.
I like a variety of different light styles (one of my favorites is red, green, and white/gold) but really dislike the strong, cool blues in LED lights. That might be more “on-theme” for the Florida Keys, but I’m still not a fan. Christmas lights should have warmth to them.