Coral Reef Restaurant Revisited: the Good & Bad
Our original Coral Reef Restaurant Review was one of this blog’s first posts, and although we’ve updated that with new photos and thoughts about Epcot’s coolest restaurant since then, this Walt Disney World dining spot was definitely in need of revisiting. In this review, we’ll do exactly that, sharing thoughts from our recent Coral Reef lunch in 2018.
In terms of basics in case you’re not familiar with Coral Reef Restaurant, it’s a table service restaurant located in Future World, participating in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit option. This location’s main draw is that an entire wall of the restaurant offers a view into the Living Seas aquarium, giving the experience a dining ‘under the sea’ vibe. This is a huge selling point, but with a wealth of World Showcase dining options, Coral Reef is often overshadowed.
The most consistent thing about Coral Reef has been its inconsistency. One thing that we’ve underscored in the past is that our experiences at Coral Reef have been a mixed bag. We’ve had both excellent meals and totally uninspired ones. Great service and inattentive service. Despite this, we’ve always recommended Coral Reef.
Our main reason for this recommendation has been Coral Reef’s atmosphere. We love the view into the Living Seas aquarium, and tend to linger at Coral Reef longer than other Walt Disney World restaurants (even though they often try to rush meals for fast turnover) because we’re transfixed by the aquatic life swimming around in view of our table. It’s one of the coolest elements of any restaurant at Walt Disney World.
For this particular meal, we arrived early to our 11:30 a.m. Advance Dining Reservation, and we politely requested a table close to the aquarium. We were one of maybe 4-6 other parties at the restaurant when it opened, and our request was enthusiastically accommodated.
Oddly enough, we were seated right next to another table of two, in what struck me as an awkward arrangement with out table in the middle of the walkway. I thought this was a new thing meant to cram more tables into Coral Reef, until I found my photo from a few years ago (below) showing the same table arrangement. I’m not sure when they added these extra tables (maybe it has always been this way?), but I could swear there was not always a row of tables in the walkway there.
Irrespective of when/if this changed, it’s a bit awkward being in a nearly empty restaurant and being seated right on top of a table of patrons next to you. For the first 20 minutes we were seated, we were the only two parties in this first “row” of seating. It’s one thing when the restaurant is full and light noise helps separate conversations, but this felt like we were all sitting together.
Whatever. We were mostly there for the turtles, stingrays, sharks, etc. anyway, so we kept our conversation to a minimum and just gazed into the tank (also awkwardly, since we had to look right over the table next to us to see the aquarium) rather than doing much talking.
Next up is service. We don’t normally comment on service in Walt Disney World restaurant reviews because it (like Coral Reef!) is incredibly inconsistent. We commented on it in our last review of Coral Reef because it has been our experience that the restaurant is understaffed.
This was reaffirmed during our lunch. At the start of the meal, our server was incredibly attentive. As the restaurant filled, this was less the case, and by the end of our meal, we actually had to flag him down to request the check. We don’t blame the server for this–it was not his fault he’s being stretched too thin–as it’s clearly a matter of staffing.
Now we’ll turn to our meals, which were an unexpectedly positive surprise. We were on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan for this meal, so we ordered drinks.
As was the case across the board with our Deluxe Dining Plan experience, both of our mixed drinks were weak and sugary. Walt Disney World drinks at ‘regular’ restaurants have been trending this way for a while, and I’m guessing their inclusion on the Disney Dining Plan has pushed that even further.
For my appetizer, I started with the Charboiled Octopus with nori sushi rice, sesame slaw, and soy reduction.
This was excellent. The octopus was shockingly tender and flavorful, with the light char offsetting the normal texture of octopus. The presentation was also excellent, and accompaniments helped make this a satisfying dish. We’d definitely order this again, and highly recommend it.
We also ordered the Crispy Rhode Island Calamari with roasted corn relish and tomatillo sauce.
As we’ve mentioned countless times, we’re suckers for calamari. We found this to be really good with tender calamari and a light amount of crisp batter. The corn relish was a nice and interesting touch, differentiating this from other calamari at Walt Disney World.
For my entree, I had the Seafood Scampi, consisting of scallops, shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels, diced tomatoes, and pasta with scampi butter.
This is not an inventive dish, as the flavors are all fairly straightforward, but it was really good. The lightness of the pasta meant there was no masking of the seafood, requiring it to stand on its own–and it did. Again, I was surprised by the overall quality of the ingredients used here and, again, I’d order this on a subsequent visit.
Sarah had the Seared Mahi Mahi with toasted coconut rice, jerk seasonings, avocado crema, mango-shrimp salsa.
This has been one of the menu mainstays at Coral Reef for a while, and it’s a fairly safe option. Sarah wasn’t overly-enthusiastic about the fish itself, but liked the preparation a lot. I enjoyed it quite a bit more than she did, but I also view mahi as an “it is what it is” fish–which is to say it’s not something I’d normally order.
In the past, the Chocolate Wave has been our go-to dessert at Coral Reef. Were we paying out of pocket and not planning on writing a review, we would’ve ordered one of those and split it.
Instead, I ordered the Key Lime Tart. While what I received (above) does not resemble any other photos I’ve seen of it online, it was key lime-ish and tart-ish, so I guess that’s it? Reasonable minds could differ, but I found this to be a bit too far on the tart side, and the sweetness of the tropical fruit glaze made for a jarring–rather than pleasant–contrast. It wasn’t bad, but it’s also not something I’d order again.
Sarah ordered the Citrus Bread Pudding with whiskey sauce, candied pecans, and salted caramel gelato for her dessert.
Despite the cool presentation, this dessert was only fine. We’re both suckers for bread pudding, and we enjoyed this interesting twist on it, but it could’ve been better. The ‘bread’ was a bit too crisp, and I’m not sure citrus is a flavor that works with bread pudding. This was also not something we’d order again.
Dessert aside (a ‘problem’ of our own creation given that we could’ve ordered the Chocolate Wave for a surefire positive conclusion), I’d say our meal at Coral Reef Restaurant was very good–about the best we could’ve hoped for at this location.
Even in light of our very good meal at Coral Reef Restaurant, I would not call it one of the elite seafood restaurants at Walt Disney World. At its absolute best, Coral Reef still does not measure up to Flying Fish or Todd English’s Bluezoo, both of which are within walking distance of Epcot in the Crescent Lake area.
Keep in mind that is at Coral Reef’s best. At its worst, Coral Reef is not even remotely on par with both of those alternatives. In other words, if the cuisine at this hit or miss restaurant is an absolute home run, it’s still only the third-best seafood restaurant in the Epcot area. That’s something important to keep in mind if food quality is your bottom line. (Also worth noting: Coral Reef is the cheapest of the three.)
Whether Coral Reef is a restaurant you should book thus comes down to how much you value the novelty of the panoramic window views into the Living Seas aquarium. We value this a lot, and have dined at Coral Reef Restaurant in spite of some mediocre experiences over the years because of how much we enjoy the aquarium.
As we’ve stressed in a number of reviews, we think restaurant theme is incredibly important at Walt Disney World. Very few Disney restaurants offer cuisine that we would consider elite by real world standards, so the main advantage is theme. That’s something Walt Disney World restaurants offer that real world counterparts generally cannot touch.
It is a bit unfortunate that Coral Reef is often loud and the tables are cramped together in some spots. When empty, Coral Reef has a wonderful moody and romantic under the sea vibe, and in terms of the setting, it could be a Signature-caliber option if Disney chose to take it in that direction. (I highly doubt that’ll ever happen, but I can dream.)
Nevertheless, there’s something special about enjoying a meal while gazing into the Living Seas aquarium. In this regard, Coral Reef Restaurant scores big points for us. Perhaps we overemphasize this feature of the restaurant as compared to others (Coral Reef makes our Top 10 Themed Restaurants at Walt Disney World due to the aquarium), but if watching sharks and turtles while eating a Chocolate Wave isn’t awesome, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, I don’t think this experience alters our calculus on Coral Reef. We were pleasantly surprised by the meal itself–and would put it among our best meals at the restaurant–but other aspects of the experience felt like more of a mixed bag than normal. As long as that aquarium is there and offers glimpses into the underwater world of the Living Seas, we’ll continue to dine at Coral Reef Restaurant, and will recommend it with the caveats listed above.
Want more dining recommendations? Check out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. For info on whether the DDP is right for you, read our Ultimate Guide to the Disney Dining Plan. For comprehensive vacation advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of Coral Reef Restaurant? If you’ve dined here before, has it been mostly ‘hit’ or mostly ‘miss’ for you? Where does Coral Reef rank in terms of dining at Walt Disney World for you? Is the aquarium enough to overcome Coral Reef’s other shortcomings for you? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
Coral Reef is a lousy restaurant. The menu is very limited. The food is terrible. The employees act like they don’t want to be there. The manager was condescending and rude.
we have our fingers crossed!! it was the only spot available for thanksgiving for our family of 18!! we are hoping there will be dishes for all (2yr old to grandma)! here’s hoping!! 🙂
We have only been once but really enjoyed our meal at Coral Reef. We were lucky and based on your advise requested a seat next to the tank, wasn’t expecting much but were amazed when we were sat right next to the tank with only a few minutes wait. Our children thought that this was the best thing ever and this did make the meal mote special for my husband and I as well. My food was great, I had the steak. My husband had a prawn dish and wasn’t as impressed. The children couldn’t careless what they ate as there were sharks and turtles and some weird ray/shark thing. Our server was wonderful but I think our table made it so thank you for your advise.
I have eaten at the Coral Reef a few times. Each time, it seems to have gotten worse than the one before. Our first meal, many years ago, was enjoyable. Not just because of the tanks and the atmosphere, but the food was very flavor-able. Our last meal early 2017, was salty (I returned for something else). I ordered the pan seared salmon. The salmon was salty. I don’t remember getting any baby greens, I remember beans being in the dish and they were hard. But I do remember them being in whatever fish dish I ordered. The first margarita type drink I ordered I returned. It was not tasty, extremely tart and sour. My son had the strip steak which is a safer bet. I just wasn’t impressed and vowed to not return any time soon. We did have attentive service at first, but not later. We were there for lunch and it was crowded. Was seated in the middle of the room and felt in the way. I know this is an expensive restaurant in Epcot, but definitely not worth the $100 or so dollars I spent including tip. I would rather eat in Italy or Mexico and spend that much for a meal I am going to enjoy. I am sure due to the atmosphere, they can get away more than other restaurants with sub-par food. This is just my opinion.
We made our first visit to Epcot over spring break a few weeks ago. My husband really wanted to eat at the restaurant with the aquarium wall (since we ate at a restaurant with one in TX many years ago) so he made a reservation. We had to wait quite a while (might have been around 45 minutes) after our reservation time before we were seated and we waited in the crowded waiting area. There weren’t too many seats, but it was cool and they had a water dispenser for anyone to get a cool drink while waiting. When they finally seated us, they gave us the booth in the back near the entrance, the farthest row away from the aquarium wall and it was a shared booth with a party that was already seated (who had a dog with them). My husband asked if we could sit closer to the aquarium and a few minutes later they led us to a table in the second level with a great view. Our server was pretty attentive at the beginning and very nice, but near the end we hardly saw her. The food was decent, I think I had fish and one of my kids had the mac & cheese, but I don’t remember what my other two family members ordered. We finished eating around 3pm and the restaurant was no longer crowded so we didn’t feel rushed out, but our server wasn’t coming around much either. Overall, we were all happy with our meals and my 7yo & 10yo sons really enjoyed watching the fish being fed and sea creatures swimming around in the aquarium.
Our first visit to Coral Reef was in 2008 and liked it so much we made another visit in December (’17). I also won’t put this on the top of the list of restaurants in WDW , but for what we expect, it has always surpassed in our mind.
First, the aquarium is still the selling point for us with our kids (14, 10, 9 at last visit). We didn’t get a very good seat this time, but we still had a good enough view.
Second, the food has been great both times we have visited. My wife and I are suckers for shrimp and grits, and that was my wife’s favorite meal of the week. Unfortunately, that may be more of a testament to the other meals we had at Le Cellier and Brown Derby not living up to expectations. My daughter had the NY Strip and that was also her favorite steak of the week. She had steak at the other restaurants too! The desserts were fine, not spectacular, and the appetizers were good (I think we had a mix of calamari, soup, and a caesar salad)
Lastly, our server was on top of everything and very helpful.
I will always recommend Coral Reef, but then again we have yet to have a bad experience.
I really appreciated this review. When I go to Disney with just my husband, we never really consider Coral Reef. But, I have an upcoming trip with my niece and nephew. As much as I might prefer Flying Fish or Bluezoo, the convenience of coral reef being right in the park is a factor, and I just know the kids are going to enjoy looking at the aquarium a lot more than the more adult vibe of the other two. I’m still not certain we’ll make a stop here, but I think the aquarium goes a long way when you’re considering where to eat with kids.
Haha.. my 10 year-old daughter and I were seated at that middle table too. The table next to us was a young couple in the throes of new romance. We couldn’t check out the fish without simultaneously watching them make-out. I don’t think I will ever get my daughter to go back to that restaurant.
these days when we enter a somewhat empty restaurant I will actually discuss with the seater-in-chief the strange phenomenon of herding sparse diners uncomfortably close, half intentionally boring them about the inherent laws of spatial sensibilities in mammals etc. If you immediately lay out the cards of your pickiness, I find that they are reminded not to arrange your meal for the convenience of their staff and will observe the common courtesies you have a right to expect when out on the town. I really don’t care if they think I am fussy and weird. Better to rip that bandaid quickly than endure a drawn out unpleasant experience, whispering self-consciously to my sweetie,..
I have only been to Coral Reef once. We were also seated in a walkway table. The food was so terrible and the service was so bad, that I would never consider going back. The chocolate Wave was the only redeeming thing at all. Everything else was so bad though that I wouldn’t even go back to have the chocolate Wave again.
My husband and I read this at the same time and had to laugh – we have not been to the Coral Reef since our honeymoon in 1996 – the food was not that great and we were seated in the walkway! It was very crowded and uncomfortable with waitrons whizzing by on both sides. This, sadly, does not make me want to go back.
We finally at year last year. I honestly don’t remember our entrees – they were not memorable but were not bad. But I do remember the dessert. I know the chocolate wave is the iconic desert for this restaurant, but I had the turtle cheesecake and loved it. It was a top-10 Disneyworld dessert for me. It’s probably not worth $8, but when you consider the Zeppole at Via Napoli are $14, it doesn’t seem as bad.
But the tank was more memorable than the food in any case. As the review says, theme is what sets Disney restaurants apart, and this one is not duplicated in the real world, or even the World showcase. so it made for a nice dining experience.
There is nothing extraordinary about Coral Reef, that much is true! But we continue to go as that was the first restaurant we went to on the trip we got engaged. We always request a seat by the tank, and luck out with one, and pretty much always just order the seafood pasta like Tom did. We have never had a bad pasta dish here, but have had other things we will never get again. If the restaurant didn’t hold any nostalgia for us it probably would have been a one and done.
The stories of “hit or miss” food have always kept me away. Plus, it’s so hard to justify eating in Future World when all the World Showcase restaurants are just a walk away (not to mention BW,BC,YC, and Swolphin).
Although, eating near the tanks would be pretty neat!
I agree with Kelly – there are too many other viable options nearby to waste a meal on a restaurant with such mixed reviews.
However, the Seared Mahi Mahi does look pretty good.