Disney World 2016 Dining Update

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There have been some dining changes at Walt Disney World in terms of menus and pricing, and in this update, we’ll share some info on this, and our thoughts on the state of Walt Disney World dining as a whole. This is also (and mostly?) a way to alert you as to some updated restaurant reviews without bumping them all to the top. Beyond that, there’s some good news and bad news…which do you want first? How about we get the bad out of the way…

Much like the recent round of ticket prices increases, restaurant menu prices have almost universally increased in early 2016–in some cases out pacing the recent price increases to the Disney Dining Plan (gotta maintain that false perception of value!). Price increases are hardly unique to Disney. After all, our greatest national treasure, McDonald’s, recently eliminated its Dollar Menu (is nothing sacred?!), and that arguably ushered in a new era of restaurant price increases worldwide. Some people may be unfazed by the latest round of price increases at Walt Disney World. A bump of 10% here or 15% there isn’t noteworthy or surprising even by “real world” standards. However, when you look at some specific examples and consider the fact that sometimes these price increases come with corresponding portion size decreases, the trend is unsettling.

I keep abreast of dining changes at Walt Disney World from afar by reading easyWDW.com (which I believe only exists as some sort of front for Josh’s can recycling crime syndicate) because it’s the best news source for Walt Disney World dining news–and I don’t say that just so he’ll stop teasing me on Twitter. When I asked Josh about recent trends in dining, he provided some telling examples: “Take the Key Lime Wine at the Flower and Garden Festival. It was $6.25 last year. It’s $11.25 this year. For the exact same pour. How much did the price of a bottle go up? Exactly zero cents. They’re charging $4.75 for a glass of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider that everybody knows you can get for $2.50/bottle in any grocery store nationwide…The price of the Chicken Parmesan at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant went up from $21 in 2015 to $26 in 2016. That’s a year-over-year increase of 23.8% for what is literally a frozen chicken patty that is reheated and served with 50 cents worth of limp spaghetti.”

As Josh noted to me, the reality is that these trends won’t change unless guest habits change–and history has taught us that’s unlikely. While I might shake my proverbial fist online about the value proposition of Disney dining, the reality is that dining is an integral part of the Walt Disney World experience for us. It will remain so even if that means having to cover the price column on the menu when we order and investing heavily in lottery tickets to help pay for our dining costs. We’ll pack more snacks for breakfast and order more from grocery delivery, but ultimately–if we are being honest with ourselves–we are going to grin and bear it…albeit with a lot fewer table service meals (and greater attempts to find meals that offer better value) in our itinerary.

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Now the good news. If you can somehow manage to close your eyes and ignore the price, there’s a lot to like about the menus at Walt Disney World. While we have seen some cuts to the overall quantity of items on many menus, this has occurred with a corresponding increase in quality. This is especially true at counter service restaurants. Where several of our least favorite spots used to have very generic menus, many now have at least one unique highlight, or are testing “gourmet” options. This actually is not a new development as of this year. It’s a trend we’ve noticed for the last two-plus years.

For example, Electric Umbrella used to lure unsuspecting guests inside with its location and those free drink refills, and while the menu is still partly a mess, it has the redeeming French Dip Burger. Value Resorts that probably should have put an asterisk next to the word “food” in the Food Court names now have varied, unique, and–in the case of the Picnic Burger at Pop Century’s Everything Pop, patrioic–choices. New options like Jungle Skipper Canteen and the third-party restaurants in Disney Springs are pushing the envelope on what restaurants outside the top-tier Signatures in Deluxe Resorts offer menu-wise. Chef Mickey’s now has…*crickets*…now has a slightly higher price point? Sorry, no way am I dropping another $100 to risk an experience like our last dinner there.

The interesting thing to us is that it seems like inventive and ambitious dining options have been on the rise at counter service restaurants, possibly due to rising guest expectations as fast food nationwide improves. This follows a precipitous crash at mid-tier table service restaurants following the introduction and widespread proliferation of the Disney Dining Plan (which occurred about a decade ago). While there have been modest gains on the table service front, I don’t think they have kept pace with counter service restaurants, which have effectively bridged some of the gap between the two types of restaurants in many cases. To be sure, Signature Restaurants remain far superior to all else, and most mid-tier table service restaurants have some compelling menu choices or in some cases outright buck the trend of homogenization (Sanaa, Restaurant Marrakesh, Tusker House, etc.). However, as prices rise across the board, we find ourselves increasingly satisfied with counter service meals and the relative value they offer as compared to their table service counterparts.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of our restaurant review updates…

WDW Restaurant Review Updates

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While we try to visit as many new (to us) restaurants as possible at Walt Disney World, we have some tried and true favorites from which we don’t deviate. Plus, after so long, there aren’t many new options left. Last year and this year, we have revisited a number of our favorites, and spent some time making updates to these reviews so those of you planning trips would have current info. In some cases, these updates are simply photos of new dishes and a few extra lines of commentary. In other instances, our whole opinion of a restaurant has changed–as has whether we recommend it.

Kona Cafe – The biggest change came with Kona Cafe. This is one restaurant that has always had a major flaw in terms of atmosphere, but we’ve found it easy to overlook this thanks to excellent, hearty food. Our recent experience with the food made that atmosphere less forgivable…

Sunshine Seasons – Another restaurant that has always stumbled with atmosphere is Sunshine Seasons. However, unlike Kona Cafe, our love for Sunshine Seasons only continues to deepen. That’s especially true thanks to one off-menu item.

Citricos – Our previous meal left us with the impression that Citricos left something to be desired as compared to our Signatures, but our recent meal affirmed it.

Captain Cook’s – While the recent refurbishment removed self-serve Dole Whips, it also added a new entree that’s one of the best values at Walt Disney World.

Whispering Canyon Cafe – Yep, the Canyon Skillet is still awesome. ‘Nuff said.

Beaches & Cream Soda Shop – We’ve downgraded the food here, but upgraded the desserts. That would net out to no real change, but thanks to the nearby Crew’s Cup, it’s an overall (significant) gain in terms of overall dining experience–if you’re willing to do a “progressive” meals.

Flame Tree BBQ – Still one of the best counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World, it’s now also one of the best values on the Disney Dining Plan thanks to a couple of new large and expensive ($20!) entrees. Will Rivers of Light also add a cool ambiance element to the mix?

There are plenty more to come, so stay tuned. We’ll be back for an update on the state of Disneyland dining later this week…

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Want more dining tips? Check out our 101 Delicious Walt Disney World Dining Tips. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews.

Planning other aspects of a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help.

For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

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Your Thoughts…

Do you agree with our assessment on the state of Walt Disney World dining? Any other tips to add when it comes to specific restaurants? Spots you’d recommend…or that you’d recommend avoiding? Share your thoughts or any questions in the comments!


34 Responses to “Disney World 2016 Dining Update”
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