Whispering Canyon Cafe at Wilderness Lodge has long been one of our favorite restaurants thanks to it offering Walt Disney World’s funnest meal. However, it’s been a roller coaster couple of years for this beloved dining option, with menu and ‘entertainment’ changes. In this review, we’ll sample the new skillets, assess the state of shenanigans, share food photos, and our thoughts on whether it’s still worth booking.
For those unfamiliar with Whispering Canyon Cafe, it’s described by Disney as “an interactive western-themed experience with fun, games and food galore.” Cast Members at the restaurant are “in character” and will frequently play pranks on guests and give patrons a bit of a hard time. It’s all good-natured fun, and we find it to be a rollicking good time.
Not everyone agrees. A few years ago, Whispering Canyon Cafe introduced red/green flip cards so guests could silently communicate whether they wanted to participate in the hijinks. A couple of years after that, due complaints of guests staying at Wilderness Lodge in rooms above the restaurant, the whole atmosphere became more subdued…
Between a new skillet menu that debuted a few months ago and rumblings of a return to form on the fun side of things, we felt it was worth revisiting Whispering Canyon Cafe. With my parents (who love Wilderness Lodge and Whispering Canyon Cafe) in town, it made perfect sense to go and give each of the new skillets a try.
The traditional skillet, which used to be the only skillet, has previously been my go-to order here. We cover this and many other menu options in our full Whispering Canyon Cafe Review. With the latest menu changes, 3 new dinner skillets (all of which we’ll review here) have been added for dinner, plus the Heritage Skillet or Carnivore Skillet for breakfast.
With Christmas at Wilderness Lodge beginning in almost exactly one month, now is a great time to lock-in your Advance Dining Reservations and plans for the day you do our Self-Guided Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World’s Resorts.
Given that Wilderness Lodge is Walt Disney World’s Best Place at Christmas, doing a meal at Whispering Canyon Cafe with a table overlooking the lobby with a view of that glorious tree just makes sense. That is, assuming the skillets are still delicious and the restaurant still delivers on the fun. We’ll address both in turn in this review…
Before we get to the new skillets, let’s talk about the show component of Whispering Canyon Cafe. After being toned down last year, the shenanigans returned earlier this year in what was then described as a retooled experience. Although this is a spontaneous, interaction-based restaurant, there’s still a script (in a manner of speaking), which was supposedly reworked.
The servers alluded to this, so we expected something toned down. That was not the case whatsoever.
The family at the table adjacent to us was full of repeat guests because the kids were having a blast egging them on, and initiating some interactions/prompts that typically lead to more hijinks.
Between that and the general decibel-level of some gags, it’s safe to say that not much has changed. Servers were yelling to one another across the restaurant, the pony races were as rambunctious as can be, and cries for KETCHUP were abundant. I was actually a bit surprised that it was the same Whispering Canyon Cafe experience we had enjoyed for years.
If I had to guess, I’d say that any changes to the volume level of the antics changed for breakfast and later seatings at dinner. (We dined here right when the restaurant opened for dinner.)
This would certainly make sense, as few guests in the rooms directly above the restaurant are going to be sleeping at 5 or 6 pm, whereas at 8 am or pm, kids might be in bed. (In other words, do a late breakfast, lunch, or early dinner if you’re dead-set on having a similarly loud experience.)
Pretty much the only difference we noticed is that servers were less brusque. We didn’t see straws thrown at any guests, we weren’t admonished for anything, and there was just generally less sardonic humor.
I can only assume this was a conscious change, and I can see why it was made. For one, it takes sharp comedic wit and timing to deliver this type of gag effectively. Even with that, it’s easy for adults who don’t have a wry sense of humor (or pretty much any kid) to misinterpret.
While I personally really enjoyed this aspect of Whispering Canyon Cafe (and 50’s Prime Time Cafe), it’s a tough needle to thread. I can understand why Walt Disney World would change it.
In any case, our server was wonderful–she was attentive, sly, and her interactions with us were hilarious, while still having a warmth to them. Among other tomfoolery, we received giant and miniature refills; my parents really thought that was a hoot.
All things considered, the shenanigans at Whispering Canyon Cafe are just as fun and delightful as ever. The style of humor is now a bit more approachable, while the antics have changed minimally.
Of course, this is very much a ‘your mileage may vary’ situation. Your experience will potentially differ considerably based upon your server and how you react to them. Whispering Canyon Cafe is sort of like a less passive version of the Jungle Cruise, which differs with each ride. It’s not like there’s a “gags checklist” they go through for each table of guests.
Turning to the new skillets, things begin with corn bread and coleslaw.
Normally, my “policy” is to avoid salads, bread, fruits, and vegetables (much to Sarah’s consternation) in an all-you-can-eat scenario, as they’re low-value filler. Not the case here, as both the corn bread and coleslaw are exceptional.
However, I started by trying the vegan corn bread and coleslaw, just to see how they hold up. I was very pleasantly surprised by both. That is, before I tried the normal versions.
Reviewing plant-based foods is tricky because there’s a mixed audience for it. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, this corn bread and coleslaw will taste fantastic. If you’re a flexitarian or comparing them side-by-side, they’re unquestionably inferior. It’s all about frame of reference.
Above is “The Land and Sea” skillet, which consists of House-smoked Salmon, Citrus-Herb Chicken, Spicy Vegan Sausage, Charred Portobella, Barbecued Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes, Sautéed Green Beans, and Oven-roasted Carrots.
The first serving of salmon here was perfect. Just the right amount of fattiness for flavor, while still being lean, plus a fresh, lightly-smoked flavor. Naturally, I requested more. The results were a bit more mixed, with one fillet being just fine and another being overcooked and dry.
Overcooked and dry is also how I’d describe the chicken. The citrus-herb rub is a nice touch here, and I liked its flavor, but the chicken itself never delivered. To my surprise, the spicy vegan sausage was actually a standout, much better than I would’ve expected. The vegetables were also all very good.
However, the Land and Sea skillet just doesn’t hold a candle to the top-tier skillets at Whispering Canyon. It’s too inconsistent and with only two actual meats, it feels like you’re getting a lot less. (To be sure, this skillet and the vegan one are literally smaller in size than the other two.) We don’t recommend it–if you’re a pescatarian, you’re better off just ordering the Cedar Plank Salmon.
Next up is the Plant-based Skillet, which Sarah ordered. This contains Maple-Chipotle Barbecued Jackfruit, Spicy Sausage, Mustard-glazed Beefless Tips, Herb-brushed Trick’n Chick’n, Roasted Potatoes, Oven-roasted Carrots, Sautéed Green Beans, and Charred Peppers.
Sarah has been raving about many/most of the new plant-based options at Walt Disney World, but this one seems to have missed the mark. There were flashes of deliciousness here–such as the maple BBQ jackfruit and beefless tips, but other things fell flat.
The predominant problem was that so much of the skillet simply tasted over-processed or off. The fake chicken was the biggest offender here; the texture, taste, and just the general look left a lot to be desired. The vegetables were good, but some mushrooms and cauliflower would’ve been nice.
All things considered, the Plant-based Skillet is another one we have trouble recommending. If you’re actually a vegetarian or vegan, obviously you can’t choose the other skillets instead. However, you can opt for the Pan-fired Red Quinoa Cakes (which are also considerably cheaper).
Finally, we have the Pig Skillet, which offers up Braised Pork Belly, Maple-Chipotle Barbecued Pork Ribs, Slow-smoked Pulled Pork, Mustard-Barbecued ‘Piggy Wings’, Western-style Sausage, Smashed Potatoes, Buttered Corn, and Sautéed Green Beans.
You might notice a decent amount of overlap between this and the Traditional Skillet, with a few differences. The notable additions here are the piggy wings and pork belly, which are essentially in place of the brisket and chicken. The latter is not much of a loss, but the brisket is.
However, I’d say the piggy wings and pork belly together trump the brisket and chicken. The piggy wings have a unique flavor, are tender, and fall-off-the-bone delicious. They’re right up there with the ribs as the highlight of the skillet. The pork belly is less consistent, with some pieces being a bit too dry and one note. When they were good, they were really good, though.
The one annoyance about the skillets is that the ‘high dollar’ items are sparse to begin with. I don’t want to waste food–but I also don’t want to begin with a huge helping of corn and green beans, but only one rib and piece of pork belly. (Our server was quick to bring out more food, though.)
Ultimately, the Piggy Skillet comes out on top thanks to its two additions, and is the saving grace of the expanded skillet menu. It’s the lone new offering that gives the Traditional Skillet a run for its money (and surpasses it, in my estimation).
It’s probably unfair to say the others don’t completely justify their existence–as even vegetarians, vegans, and those who don’t eat red meat might want to pig out on an all-you-can-eat skillet–but there are other alternatives on the menu that are cheaper and superior.
Overall, Whispering Canyon Cafe remains an excellent dining option at Walt Disney World, albeit one that’s not for everyone. If you’re shy, looking for a romantic dinner, or prefer fine dining, you’ll definitely want to look elsewhere. This restaurant is best-suited for families with avid carnivores who are looking for a raucous good time with an entertaining experience that stops short of being a full-blown show.
We love literally everything about Whispering Canyon Cafe. It demonstrates what Disney does best: entertainment, atmosphere, and indulgent comfort foods. The setting is inviting and well-designed, Cast Members are at the top of their game, the food is tasty, and the end result is an absolute hoot. For us, Whispering Canyon Cafe is one of the most quintessentially Disney offerings you can enjoy outside the theme parks at Walt Disney World.
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What do you think of Whispering Canyon Cafe? Are you a fan of the show component and interactivity of the meal, or is it not what you want to experience when dining out? Thoughts on the food here? Have you tried any of the new skillets? Do you agree or disagree with our review? 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!