Disney World 2016 Dining Update
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.
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
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…
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.
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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!
Hi there. I’m going in December and purchased the counter service dining plan. Wondering if drinks are included in the plan? Or do I purchase drinks out of pocket? I know there’s some sort of refillable mug in this plan but I don’t care to carry it through the parks. Oh and if you could pick your Absolute fav counter service spot based on quality and selection – which would you choose? Thanks for the great articles!!
I cannot stress enough…Chef Mickey’s is only good at breakfast. Our family enjoys Olivia’s at Old Key West, Whispering Canyon is a hit at any time, and we’ve always had a pretty good selection with Hollywood and Vine. If you want to splurge on a great high-end meal, Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge is a winner. My hubby is mad we are just missing the Alaskan salmon by just a few days. (2 weeks in May, it is flown in daily for the Cedar Plank meal).
We are on our fourth WDW trip. We are a family of four. Food prices are expensive but we manage with grocery delivery(garden grocer was great) and counter service meals. I compared the meal plan with our actual costs one year and am convinced the dining plan is a bad deal for us. We are only able to afford the trip about every three years and have found that using points we earn with the Chase Disney visa for food money to be a good deal. We put all our gasoline expenditures on the card and pay it off each month. The points add up and we put them on a reward card using it for food and drink. Good meals this trip were Flame Tree at Animal Kingdom and chicken fajitas at Pecos Bill.
So my husband and I are planning our honeymoon at Disney World. We’ve already made reservations for a few of the fine dining restaurants. My question is concerning the dress code. I’ve already looked at the dress code rules posted on the Disney site, but I wanted to know if you or your wife have any suggestions that are more specific or pictures to help get an idea. We want to go straight from the parks to the restaurants, but I don’t want to look too casual for dinner there. Thanks!
DFB has a decent description ^^^ Pics would be nice though, Tom 😉
Bringing a jacket, sweater or shawl is a great idea, even during summer. The air-conditioning can definitely cause a chill, *especially* if you have any sunburn. Who wants to shiver thru their signature meal?
Aside from Victoria & Albert’s, dress codes aren’t enforced anywhere. I recommend wearing nice clothing given the amount you’re spending on the meals, but you won’t be out of place no matter what you do.
This is very helpful! Thank you so much! I am always cold with AC running! So, I see that Sarah wears a lot of those skater dresses. Are those appropriate for the signature restaurants? I read the dress code, but I wasn’t sure if those were considered too short. Thank you so much for your help! I can’t wait for our trip!
I made lunch reservations for BoG for an upcoming trip. I have eaten lunch there 3 times previously. I went to pre-order our food and was shocked when I looked at the prices. The roast beef sandwich went from $13 on my last trip (in Dec 2013, so not that long ago) to $18 on this trip. $5 doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but when you’re a party of 5, if everyone orders this sandwich, it adds up to lunch costing $25 than it did on my trip 2 1/2 years ago. I’m thinking my table will probably order 4 entrees for 5 people bc if I remember correctly, the sandwiches and portions were HUGE at BoG lunch 2 years ago.
Just looking at things, our TS dinner at the Plaza on our MK day will cost less than our QS lunch at BoG. I would never normally have 2 meals planned in one day, but when you’re visiting Easter week, it’s nice to have a guaranteed place to sit down and eat.
Yep, $5 is a big difference! Almost 40% more than the $13 price 😮
Your sharing tactic is a great work-around 😀
Crazy, considering gas prices have fallen so low. Food prices dropped at the market in the past year, corresponding to decreased transportation cost. Not reflected in WDW food prices though 🙁
I think WDW wants to to charge BIG bucks once the new lands come out, but one huge increase would receive a severe backlash. With steady increases, WDW can reach intended prices by 2018 with less negative attention. Most people will consider only the recent increases, not the entire accumulation. The innovative technology used on new attractions will feel like a bargain for the “modest” increase over 2017, lol.
Haha, glad I’m not the only one who read Betsy’s comment and thought, “dang, $5 on that seems like a HUGE difference to me!”
I think the reason for the big jumps now is probably to offset (to a degree) the huge CapEx costs for Star Wars Land and other projects. This quarter’s numbers can’t look too bad! 😉
yes i like this change kona kafe restaurant really giving crazy tasty food his taste unforgettable.
The Disney Dining Plan (purchased) is a horrible value, however the Free Disney Dining Plan package discount is still about the most spectacular discount you can get on a Disney Vacation for a family of 4 or 5 (especially if all are 10 or older.)
I’ve been to Disney a few times recently and I don’t understand how anyone thinks the dining plan is worth it. It’s almost impossible to actually “break even” money wise. You basically have to eat the most expensive thing at every counter and table service you can, and even then there are many restaurants you wouldn’t eat at simply because they aren’t expensive enough (even with Disney prices!). The meal plan also takes away all flexibility. You are basically tied to your dinner reservations. You can’t change your plans. Who wants that on vacation? While I’ve definitely enjoyed many meals, let’s be honest, you don’t go to Disney to eat. Anyone who tells you the meal plan offers good value is simply wrong. I love Disney but let’s face facts. The company is run by cold businessmen. Anyone who thinks they are giving people a price break with the dining plan is living in a fantasy world. For every one person that saves money, there are probably twenty that lose money.
My best expectation of the DDP we’re using next month is to break even. By breaking even, we are still losing money by spending more than we would ordinarily. We wouldn’t eat as much or as expensively as we’ll end up doing on Standard Dining. The pencil pushers at WDW realize this… many people compare the cost of the plan to the highest menu prices. Instead, they really should compare the DDP with the choices they’d make paying cash (entree selection, where & how often they’d actually eat). 99.997526308% of people would spend less with cash.
With the food already budgeted & paid, this will be remembered as our “Eating around WDW” trip, which kinda makes it worth it this one time 😉
We did the Disney Dining Plan the Deluxe for a 4 night stay & now that we are home, the kids & the adults are finding the great food was worth it. We ate at one quick service place the whole time & used all of our meals but one (the travel was early and late enough to make them just about full park days/ ate at 2 credit place). The kids said every place we ate was great EXCEPT the one counter service (Mexico), and I even thought that was fine! We saw all the characters, tons of photos, but the most important part was that we got home feeling fine & not exhausted. We ate WELL everywhere – vegetables, not junk. So we had plenty of energy for the traveling & we rested enough too. That is the key. Don’t kill yourself for 26 steaks, just relax & have a salad for a change.
BEST meal was not on the Dining Plan – Grand Floridian High Tea was outstanding & sold me on a DVC share. Plenty of room for foodies at DW.
Just canceled a trip to Disneys Grand Floridian for a week,normally always stay at Wilderness but they are in repairs. Anyway we were very disappointed but with all the price increases and mediocre food reviews I am not so sad. We have been going every other year for over 20 and I am shocked every time with the price increase.We always look for deals but they do not feel like deals anymore. After having an original annual pass at Disneyland for over 30 years we have chosen to take a break. We find the crowds year round hard to get use too. Being 50 years old we enjoy old time Disney and with young grandchildren and an adopted 8 year old daughter from China we are not out of our Disney years but just finding it so different from years past.
Been going to WDW since ’73, but have now been priced out of the costlier restaurants and special events. Being retired (think less money), older (think less energy), our trips are scaled down. More pool time, less park time. We have no expiration, 10 day admission tickets (no longer available), and use them sparingly. We share meals, buy food from Publix for breakfast and lunch, and stay at Riverside. The hotel also offers boat access to Disney Springs, a wonderful place to stroll around, and no admission fees. We keep coming back because we love the Disney ambiance, know our way around, and feel safe with their transportation, such as it is. Besides, when using mileage rewards for airfare, a Disney vacation is less expensive than a NJ shore vacation. And IMO, more enjoyable.
Despite price increases, people continue to see WDW as the ultimate family vacation resort. Hotels and parks are usually full, and attraction lines are still long. I guess what the market bears, people will pay. It’s up to each family to customize their trip to their pocketbook. Beats not going at all.
Our favorite dining “hack” that we took advantage of on our trip in August 2015 was eating dinner at the Magic Kingdom area resort lounges. Our favorites were Tambu Lounge at the Poly and Territory Lounge at Wilderness Lodge. Both had menu items from their neighboring restaurants, Ohana and Artist Point, respectively (and you could order anything off of the Artist Point menu). The prices were reasonable for sharing a few appetizers, having beverages, and a dessert, rather than full meals. Even with the price increases, we have found that lounge dining is still the best bang for your buck – and best of all, you don’t need an ADR! Casual vacation planners, rejoice!
Thanks for this update Tom! We are off for our first trip to WDW in a couple of weeks, so this is very timely. I read your update on the Flame Tree & it seems that nothing has changed – you don’t mind the $20 price point for the ribs… I forget what the old price point was, so am not sure how much it has increased, but given that you still seem to think it’s worth it, I guess we’ll give it a try. However, I am thinking my hubby & I may have to share the ribs at that price. Sorry, I know that’s sacrilege to you! I really appreciate your blog – you do a great job & while I do look at others, yours is my favourite!
We’ll be trying flame tree on our next visit. Tusker House is great, but $100+ for 2 people at a buffet is a little high in my opinion.
We were at Disney last week, and were really disappointed to the price to quality ratio of a lot of the restaurants, especially table service. Biergarten was easily the worst (and most expensive) meal of our trip.
Have you been Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe recently? I see your review and it looks like it may have taken a wrong turn, our sandwiches looked nothing like the ones you were served. Not very good at all.
Two of our better meals were at San Angel Inn (Epcot, Mexico) and Boatwrights (Riverside Resort). Although they seated us an hour (!!) after our reservation time, the food was really quite good, and the manager comp’d our drinks because of the wait.
I saw someone on the wdwmagic forums mention that Disney is considering not allowing guests bring in their own food and drinks. I wonder if you know anything about this rumor?
Sorry maybe I wrote my question at the wrong spot…I was wondering if you heard anything about the free dining plan deal for 2016?
From 1985-1995 we stayed only on property at WDW. As prices increased and our visits went from once a year to three times a year (annual passes ) We bought a Marriott timeshare to manage the cost. We manage our food expenses with a balance of Publix, off property & carefully chosen Disney or now Disney Springs restaurants. We are finding that as much as we love Disney & our memories, we cannot keep up with the skyrocketing prices. On our pension, we are going to have to cut back to once a year, then realistically not at all. I think the company can make profit without gouging families with overblown mediocre food prices. Tickets aren’t much better. I don’t think this is what Walt Disney had in mind.
You wouldn’t know we are devoted Disney fans but we are being squeezed out of our happy escape and it is a big loss for us.
Thank you for your service.We really appreciate all you do!
I wonder how much food prices would drop if the dining plans (and especially “free dining”) were eliminated? I am looking to plan a vacation in the near future. In the past “free dining” made sense for us because we stayed in value resorts, so the room only discount was minimal. Now we might be looking to upgrade to a mod or even a deluxe and my husband has been diagnosed with Celiac disease and can’t eat gluten which severely limits his ability to eat your typical Disney World fare. That said I cringe at some of the prices of what is often mediocre food. I digress…
I have read so much of your blog, which has been so helpful in my planning. So thank you so much for that. Do you think that your opinions of the restaurants has somewhat been shaped by age and experience? When you started out the blog you were quite young (you still are young to me – I’m pushing 40) and probably had less dining experience and a more rose-colored view of Disney World. (I remember reading that at one point that Cosmic Ray’s was your favorite restaurant.) Maybe this is a rhetorical question, but I’m just throwing that out there.
Don’t worry about the celiac aspect. My husband also has it, and he eats very well at WDW. Every table service restaurant can and will accommodate; just be slightly wary of the non-Disney operated Epcot table serv options and ask more questions or research more (Marrakesh and Spice Road were fine, fyi, and I would guess San Angel is fine b/c it is run by the same company as the Coronado Springs table service which was fine). Same with *most* quick service, even the typical fast-food-ish ones. Research is your friend here, b/c you can find out online which places have dedicated fryers and even what brand of gf buns come with the burgers. We were never limited, whatsoever, in our restaurant choices on our trips in the last 2 years, and we ate around a lot – one trip was with pickier extended family and young kids, and another trip was an anniversary one for just us, the more adventurous eaters of the bunch. Snacks can be found too, ridiculously priced whole fruits, etc. We just brought those into the parks though.
I’ve been to WDW three times now since having to go gluten-free and everyone has been incredibly helpful. The new allergy menus are great for breaking down what can be made gluten-free and most restaurants are happy to make something different if there’s nothing that appeals to you on that menu. I agree, you just have to research first. http://WWW.gfinorlando.com is one of my favorite resources for reviews and recommendations.
My only positive thing to say about the cost of Disney restaraunts the past few years is that when your go out for dinner off property you feel like the dishes are an insanely good value. Of course you can still find reasonable values of you are savvy, and not every table service has to come to $100+ for two people. We are splurging on chef mickey’s for breakfast this year because we have never done it and because we have a two year old who we can’t exactly take to Victoria and Albert’s. But it will be something like $85 for two of us to have breakfast. Now they’ve eliminated lunch at many buffets and you have dinner prices beginning at 11:30 am. If I can get a solid and satisfying meal at a table service restaraunt for around $25 I am happy- I’m the guy that will order an appetizer and dessert at California Grill instead of having sushi and steak. I’m happy and enjoyed the ambiance and great food without having to spend a week’s salary on a two hour meal.
You mention two things that I think we’ll start doing: 1) smaller meals to enjoy the ambiance at Signature Restaurants, and 2) going off-site for dining.
We already have been staying at more and more off-site hotels because of rising on-site costs, so I guess this is the logical evolution of our travels. Beyond looking at Yelp, I don’t even know where to start. I suspect we’ll start with high-end hotels in the area, and go from there. I know Orlando isn’t exactly known for its foodie scene, but I’m sure there are plenty of good options. Any recommendations?
Well- I technically meant by “off-site” as in when we aren’t on vacation in Orlando =). There are some great restaurants at the Waldorf like bull and bear and the four seasons has Ravello but both obviously aren’t a great “value”. I’m sure Josh mr. easywdw would have some solid Orlando recommendations though!
K’s Restaurant is excellent! It’s pricey, but WORTH IT. We have been multiple times and it is always outstanding. Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ is also one we like to hit up when we are in the area – in our experiences, better than Flame Tree.
Actually Orlando is becoming a great foodie scene. We are living in south Florida and besides our two 10 day vacations at WDW per year, we come up for the weekend regularly. We eat offsite for those visits and Dining plan for the longer vacas. The food in Orlando is getting better and better but you have to stay away from the restaurants on International Dr. And that becomes the problem, you need transportation. Without a car, you have very limited options as the cost of a taxi adds substantially to the cost of the offsite meal and takes time.
Café Tu Tu Tango on International Drive has been a must-do since we discovered it 3 WDW trips ago. They serve tapas -small plates- and serve them up tasty and fast! The atmosphere of the restaurant is invigorating and eclectic.
Be warned though, our party of 5 ran up our bill because we had to try so many plates (and a few adult beverages, too). Definitely worth the trip away from the Magic.
On our first trip to WDW years ago, I called the Orlando Visitors Bureau for fun restaurant suggestions. One suggestion was “Bahama Breeze”. My wife and I enjoyed the Jamaican ambiance, music, torches and food. We took a cab there and back from Down Town Disney.