Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant Review
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant serves an American menu with table-side service to your “car” in Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. This WDW dining review features food photos, a look around this highly-themed drive-in eatery, discounts, and everything you need to know. (Updated May 16, 2022.)
Let’s start the Sci Fi Dine In Theater Restaurant review with deal details. In normal times, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant offers a 20% discount for Tables in Wonderland cardholders, and a 10% discount for Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club members. Right now, only the latter two discounts are available.
Speaking of what’s unavailable, Sci-Fi normally participates in the Disney Dining Plan, which has been temporarily suspended for the last couple of years. (See When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return? for our thoughts and predictions on when that’ll be back.) Regardless, we recommend paying out of pocket when dining here, as Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant historically is not a good value on the Disney Dining Plan.
For many years, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant was one of our go-to table service restaurants when visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a couple of reasons. First, it could be a great value when paying out of pocket, with several burgers and sandwiches not much more expensive than counter service restaurants, which are fairly middling at DHS.
Second, the atmosphere at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is unparalleled. One component of this is the superlative theme that’ll be discussed below. However, what also cannot be overlooked is that this is a dark and comfortable place to decompress after a chaotic morning at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Unfortunately, we had not dined at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant for over 2 years until May 2022.
This is not our “fault.” Upon reopening, Walt Disney World dramatically reduced capacity at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, seating only one party per vehicle and leaving many tables empty. To maximize capacity, they offered the vast majority of Advance Dining Reservations to parties of 4-6. In other words, groups that could fill an entire car, so fewer seats went to waste. We tried and tried to score ADRs, but constantly got shut out. Not even Walk-Up Waitlist helped.
Fortunately, we are now starting to see that ease.
We’ve recently noticed a lot of ADR availability for parties of 2 at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. It’s been available a day or two in advance, with longer notice, and via Walk-Up Waitlist. It really appears that capacity has been mostly restored–but demand is still incredibly strong for Sci-Fi, so don’t expect ADRs here to be “easy” anytime soon.
Given our admission that Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant was one of our go-to dining options at Walt Disney World, it should be probably obvious where we stand on it. We don’t make a habit of frequenting restaurants we dislike.
To that point, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant has ranked near the top of our Top 10 Themed Restaurants List at Walt Disney World and been recommended for years as a great midday meal in our 1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios Itinerary. Since the two are often compared, we’ve even done a head-to-head in Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant v. 50’s Prime Time Cafe, and Sci-Fi won that (although we love both).
With that said, not everyone loves Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point this out up front: Sci-Fi is among the most polarizing restaurants at Walt Disney World. Part of this is probably a matter of expectations, as it fails to live up to the hype for some.
Our view is that’s likely a matter of unrealistic or misplaced expectations for most who are disappointed. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is very much like a drive-in, with all-American cuisine that doesn’t purport to be anything fancy. If you’re expecting a great burger in a fun setting, you likely won’t be disappointed.
If you want the pinnacle of fine dining or haute cuisine, you’re not going to find that here. But honestly, that’s sorta on you–just read Walt Disney World’s official description or the menu…or look at some photos of the restaurant interior. It’s pretty obvious what Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is (and is not) attempting.
With that preface out of the way, let’s turn to the substance of Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant.
While it’s well known as a drive-in restaurant with car-shaped booths and a large screen playing clips from 1950s science fiction films, there’s a good chance you don’t know that “drive-in theater” is not the actual theme of Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. Or at least, not the full theme.
Like so many locations at Walt Disney World, this is another instance of a ‘story within a story’ with the main theme being framed inside something else. As was popular in the heyday of the Disney-MGM Studios, that underlying narrative framework is ‘hot set.’ (It’s better than today’s repurposed trope!)
That’s why the area immediately inside Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is relatively nondescript, with a lot of plywood and an industrial appearance. You’re on the backside of a soundstage! This one is especially odd, as it’s a soundstage in Hollywood…and set to the Hollywood Hills.
Upon closer inspection, you can actually see a lot of cool details here. There’s Cal/OSHA info and warnings about workplace safety, a pay phone with a Los Angeles phone book below it, and a variety of film industry references (including some inside baseball ones that are easy to miss). As Walt Disney World has sought to scale back the ‘behind the scenes’ nature of the park in the last several years, some of this has been toned down–but it’s still cool.
Then there’s the big reveal, where you enter the drive-in theater set. At this point, you’ll pretty much forget about that soundstage backstory, as the environment here is pretty cool and convincing.
You’re greeted by rows and rows of vintage vehicles with automo-booths and tables, each with an in-theme order kiosk. There are picnic tables at the back of the theater and even a drive-in-style concession stand.
The ceiling simulates the Southern California night sky right down to the with twinkling fiber-optic stars. There’s a fence around the drive-in for prevent freeloaders, with a 360-degree panorama of the rolling Hollywood Hills.
The illuminated tail lights of fellow drive-in diners and a sky full of twinkling stars sets the mood as you sit back in convertibles from the 1940s and 1950s. The cars have whitewall tires, tail fins, license plates dated 1955, and Disney logos on the hood.
Each convertible seats 4-6 guests who eat off formica countertops and watch sci-fi clips. Given that you are on set in a soundstage, the B-movies that play on the screen at the front of the theater are actually movies within movies.
Some surreal Inception action going on at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant.
Speaking of the B-movie trailers, they’re quite entertaining and incredibly zany. They’re all real films, and it’s somewhat mind-boggling that all of these films were actually made. If you’re a fan of Ed Wood, you’ll love Sci-Fi Dine-In. I’ll bet it would have been a hoot to be involved with the making of some of them!
You’ll see some more well-known movies, including Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Other clips are from films such as Cat Women of the Moon and Horror of the Beach Party, which are about as good as the names suggest. There’s even a brief cameo from Walt Disney and other fun touches in the ~45 minute loop.
In addition to the movies, there’s a story element to interactions between Cast Members and guests at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. The server is your car hop, often taking on a fun 1950s persona when talking to guests.
There’s a guest in the front left seat who’s the driver, while others are passengers or hitch-hikers, depending on the party mix in the vehicle. When it comes time for the bill, you might be asked to pay a ticket (for speeding or parking) or chip in for gas money. None of this is as over-the-top as 50’s Prime Time Cafe, but it’s fun.
The lighting and general mood of the restaurant is also impeccable, and it actually feels like you’re outdoors at a drive-in theater. The illusion is only ruined if you look directly up, and even that is easy to explain away with the whole “it’s inside a soundstage” conceit. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is really fun and worth visiting for the ambiance alone.
However, this hyper-themed environment does have one downside: most parties are seated in rows and that might not be conducive to conversation for parties of 4-6. We’ve heard this complaint quite often, and are definitely sympathetic to it. On the other hand, after a “challenging” morning at Walt Disney World’s most frustrating park, a little time to decompress without enthralling conversation might not be the worst thing.
For larger parties, there are traditional tables with seats that face one another. However, you will not be seated in these as a party of 3-4. We’ve done Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant as a party of 4 on several occasions and this has never really bothered us, but your mileage may vary.
You’ll be waiting in long lines a lot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so our recommendation would be to get your conversation in then. By the time lunch rolls around, a meal in a cool and dark setting with some lighthearted passive entertainment should be rather refreshing. A good chance to reset for the second half of the day!
Another complaint is that it’s possible not to be seated in a car at all. There are a handful of round tables at the very back of the restaurant for parties of 1-3. Then there’s the fact that the seating area is pretty dark, and even with illuminated dashboards, it can be difficult to see your food.
Switching gears, let’s turn to the food–as the fun doesn’t end with the ambiance at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant…
This being a film set to a 1950s era drive-in theater, it’s only appropriate to offer a classic Coca-Cola blended with cherry flavor. I am a sucker for Coke mixed with grenadine. So much better than actual Cherry Coke.
Another menu mainstay at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is the milkshake–Oreo, vanilla, or chocolate.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had anything but the Oreo Cookie Ice Cream milkshake. It’s excellent–creamy with the perfect texture of Oreo crumbles and great flavor–well worth the splurge. I only wish that Sci-Fi offered a “bottomless” Oreo milkshake, I’m pretty sure I would have stayed there all day drinking milkshakes and enjoying corn-ball Sci-Fi trailers. Sarah would’ve had to come back with a wheel-barrel at the end of the day to roll me out. (Perhaps that’s why they don’t offer one!)
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant has also long been known for its burgers. These have changed a lot over the years, starting with the All-American Burger about a decade ago, devolving to the Picnic Burger (topped with hot dogs), and then evolving to seasonal specialty burgers.
You really can’t go wrong with any of these. They now use a Signature Blend of Beef with House-made Burger Sauce and have unique toppings. I’d say these are among the best burgers at Walt Disney World.
There’s also a new addition to the burger lineup at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant: the Feature Film Burger. In theory, this is a rotating seasonal specialty. In actuality, it’s been the “Pork-on-Pork” or “Double Pork Burger” since the last menu change, which was over a year ago. This is a pork burger patty topped with pork belly, rainbow cabbage slaw, cheese, and house-made mustard bbq sauce.
This burger is fantastic. The pork patty is leaner than the normal signature beef, but that’s more than offset by the pork belly. The acidic slaw and sauce has a light kick to it, and the cheese just melds everything together perfectly. For the ultimate indulgence, I might have to see if they could do the regular beef patty in this burger next time. Highly recommended.
We’d recommend pairing your burger with the House-made Sci-Fi Candy Bar: Cookies and Cream Mousse, Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Sauce.
This candy bar is rich and heavy, and sure to knock you out after a burger. That’s not criticism, it just is what it is. There’s a lot going on with this candy bar, with each layer offering a different flavor and texture. This one might catch you by surprise, as it’s shockingly delicious for such a simple, seemingly one-note dessert.
Although it may not look like it, this candy bar is big enough to share between two adults, and we’d recommend doing exactly that. This is a delicious dessert–well worth ordering.
I really want to order the Warm Glazed Doughnut for dessert, but that wasn’t in the cards this visit. Next time!
Another option is the Salmon Burger: Fresh House-made Grilled Salmon Patty served on a Brioche Bun, topped with Goat Cheese Crema, Apple-Fennel Chutney, Arugula, and Marinated Heirloom Tomato.
This is a lighter, healthier alternative to the standard burgers; it’s delicious but definitely not as memorable as the various burgers. (Note: the Salmon Burger and Smoked Turkey Sandwich below, are older reviews and don’t reflect the current presentation. We’ve also removed all of the other entrees from this review as the menu has changed a lot in the last couple years.)
During a past meal at Sci-Fi, Sarah ordered the Smoked Turkey Sandwich: House-brined Herb-roasted Turkey served on a Fresh-baked Multigrain Bread with Bacon, Lettuce, Vine-ripened Marinated Tomatoes, and Cilantro-Avocado Aïoli
This sandwich was pretty good, but it seemed a little too healthy for me. When I’m on vacation, I want decadent food that is high in “guilt” and deliciousness. After all, I’m walking so many miles per day that I basically need to eat slightly unhealthy…right?
Obviously this menu item was designed to be a bit more “reduced-guilt” in nature, and that much was clear from the description, so I can’t fault Disney for not being overwhelmed by this healthier item. If anything, praise is due for including a healthier option.
Overall, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is a highly recommended Walt Disney World restaurant that offers exceptional ambiance. Seriously, amazing ambiance. If I haven’t stressed that enough, I’ll pause here and reiterate this once more. This restaurant has the absolute best atmosphere and themed design in all of Walt Disney World.
I doubt many Walt Disney World will dispute any of this. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant has long been regarded as one of the coolest and most unique restaurants at Walt Disney World. It’s the menu that has been polarizing, and we’d recommend steering clear of the pastas, salads, steaks, or other “elaborate” menu items–if/when they return. When you dine at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, you eat burgers.
So long as you know what you’re getting yourself into and are good with that, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant also won’t disappoint on the culinary front. Its recent “burger-forward” menus have been solid; that signature blend of beef is fantastic, as is the double pork burger. They’re arguably a bit overpriced and overly indulgent, but we think that’s fairly on-theme for the venue. So long as you stick to these items, you’re bound to have an amazing experience at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant!
I’d actually go a step further than most, and call Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant one of the exemplars of Walt Disney World dining. While so many real world restaurants can surpass Disney on cuisine quality, they cannot match the immersive and transportive themed design. Every first timer should book an ADR at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant–it’s one of very few restaurants that earns this utmost recommendation from us.
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What do you think of Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant? Do you enjoy the theme and ambiance? What about the food? Have a favorite burger at Sci-Fi? Do you order something other than burgers here? Do you agree or disagree with this restaurant 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!
Nice to see this review, which helps explain why our party of 3 couldn’t score reservations in December of 2020 or July. 2021. My wife and I have loved this forever, and our son, aka Hamburger King, has loved it since his 1st visit. Great milkshakes as well. This a VERY fun meal. For Studios, we always try to hit this and Prime Time, so similar and yet so different.
We were able to score a car/table when we visited on April 24. The atmosphere was fantastic, the burgers were really good. What I did not like, however, was how eerily silent the place was. I didn’t expect conversations due to the table configurations, but the sound on the movie screen was REALLY quiet. In fact, it was really difficult to hear at all. It made the whole experience kind of fall flat. Is it normal for the sound to be turned down so low? It just feels like a really missed opportunity. Overall we still enjoyed it, but had far better dining experiences at a few other restaurants.
“…you’re not going to find that here. But honestly, that’s sorta on you…”
Those are the same folks that expect to get in and out of the Brown Derby quickly!
It is nice that you apparently went full drive-in tradition and snuck Sarah in huddled in the back seat!
It would be nice if every 40 years or so they would change up the film loop ….
But a great review as always – thanks!
Visiting at the end of May – beginning of June and scored two reservations here, one of our fave restaurants at Disneyworld. I love the atmosphere, and really like that’s its quiet compared to other restaurants, cool and relaxing, a perfect respite from the craziness. My only wish is that they would bring back the Reuben, as the only other thing I’d order is the burgers, which is fine, but it would be nice to have a different option. Glad the blue cheese wedge is still on the menu!
Just looking at those vintage 50’s cars while eating takes me back to my childhood and is worth trying to get an ADR. It’s also one of the few places that serves a Reuben sandwich, or at least they used to when we went! Fun place to eat!
I finally got a reservation day-of on May the 4th and was really looking forward to this restaurant! I have to agree that the ambiance is spectacular, and having been to drive-in theaters when I was a kid and teen it was nicely nostalgic.
I felt really hard pressed to consume a hamburger after a day out in the heat, though, and there really aren’t good alternatives. On top of my reservation causing me to miss the giant lightsaber meetup (not the restaurant’s fault, but still a shame), the food I received was only okay and the waitress was fine but not among the standards of ‘best’ I’ve grown used to at Disney. I’m glad that I’ve done it and everyone should absolutely experience it at least once (especially if they’re hamburger people), but I don’t think I’ll do it again.
Thanks for the review, we love SciFi – it is a must do for us every visit to WDW. In fact, we were just there, week of May 9-13, perhaps we were parked near each other! On another note, I have read your awesome blog for a long time and you are my favorite source for Disney info (bar none), but after our trip, my husband is your newest and biggest fan. We followed your advice for each park and we had a wonderful time, rode almost everything we wanted to with ease! Without your great advice we would have never accomplished so much. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
I’m amused that your definition of “healthy” includes a sandwich containing both mayo (aioli) and bacon. *LOL*
We’ve eaten at Sci-Fi almost every trip, the last time in January 2022. I agree it’s something everyone needs to do at least once. As the review indicates, the ambiance is wholly unique and the theming is unmatched. We’ve never had a great meal, but we’ve never had a bad one, until last time. The burgers were barely edible. The onion rings were soggy and particularly disappointing. The Oreo Cookie shake is, as the author states, outstanding, however. We were much more impressed with ’50s Prime Time Cafe.
Any guess on when annual passes will return?
Expect another update to that post sometime this week.
Unpopular opinion here, but we regretted this reservation last month! We waited for our table for over 20 minutes after we checked into our reservation time and still wasn’t called. When I went to ask, they said we must not have “heard” them. So be aware for staying close enough to hear. Then, our food took almost an hour to come out once we finally got to order. Admittedly, ordering off their dietary menu for gluten free, but I still don’t think it should have taken that long! Also, our car/booth was one of the last few that must have been intended for 2 groups of 2 (front seat/back seat), because it still had the Covid barrier plexiglass between them. So for our party of 3…we couldn’t interact with each other AT ALL! Hopefully that situation is, or will be soon, resolved.
As for the food, it was ok. Service was subpar, ambiance was a little too dark for our preference. Being there long enough to watch the movie loop TWICE+…unacceptable.
I don’t think that’s an “unpopular opinion” at all. While I don’t agree with the ultimate conclusion, a lot of people have a lot of legitimate complaints with Sci-Fi.
Long waits are definitely one of those right now, although I think that’s pretty common of WDW dining as a whole. Many/most restaurants are overbooking themselves and making guests wait.
Thanks for sharing your experience! 🙂
We do the Si-Fi every year during our annual Christmas visit. It’s a Great place to chill and relax after a busy day at the Park. I would highly recommend it but I would advise making reservations before you leave on your Walt Disney World Vacation.
We love Sci-Fi Diner! It is the first ADR we make for every WDW vacation. One of the things Tom forgot to mention is the commercials that are shown on the drive-in screen. We are talking 1950’s style over-the-top cliche commercials. One, for instance, is showing the “kitchen of the future” and the narrator says “fellas, you won’t be able to keep her out of the kitchen”. I have 17 and 15 year old daughters and they laugh and shake their head every time. You just have to understand the time period.
From a food standpoint, I always get the burger with the BBQ sauce and onion strings. Soooo good. My kids always get the shakes. This is such a fun experience!
We ate there during our last visit pre-Covid. I’ve always loved this restaurant and I’ve always enjoyed the food here, as well as the ambience. Even though I warned my daughter to get the bbq platter, she opted to get one of the hamburgers, and, unfortunately, rare. Everything was good but by the time we got to Toy Story Land, she was looking green. We went back to our room immediately and for 2-3 days after that she had a terrible case of food poisoning. Couldn’t eat and constantly throwing up. Now we can’t ever go back to that restaurant as the memories are too upsetting. But I warned her! Kids!!
Hi Tom. It’s a minor point, but the correct title of the cheesy movie you mentioned is “The Horror of Party Beach.” I mention it because I’ve noticed that Disney bloggers often tend to get older-movie facts wrong when writing an article that references some (much in the same way that references to Beatles song titles tend to be a little off). I’m a film buff and have actually seen all of the sci-fi movies that are showcased in the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. In short, consider me your go-to guy if you need a movie fact (or Beatles fact, for that matter).
You make great points about Sci-Fi but just wanted to mention that the science fiction scenes can be really scary for some kids. My 8 year old son had nightmares for MONTHS afterwards. Mom fail.
Fun review. Serious question: how do people regularly get ADRs here? I’ve never had any luck with this place. Is there a secret method?
We have never NOT gotten an ADR here. We always make the reservation the first morning that we can make ADRs (60 days in advance…it used to be further out).
If you don’t mind paying the subscription fee (monthly until you cancel) I recommend Mouse Watchers. We’ve been able to secure reservations for Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, SciFi, and 50’s Primetime Cafe for our upcoming trip. The only one I haven’t gotten is Space 220 because I waited a few minutes to look at my alert and by then it was gone. Still hoping though. They monitor for cancellations and notify you if something opens up. We are a party of 6-8 so difficult to get reservations sometimes.
I’m going to echo Mike. We are always able to get this ADR, most recently the last week of February this year. To be fair, it was more difficult this time around and required more checking than in the past. Like Mike said, jump on your ADRs ASAP!!
Thanks for the tips, all! I try to get ADRs as soon as I’m eligible but my typical trip is two nights, so I’m often “too late”
Great review and pics. I’ve never been able to secure an ADR but going to try again for upcoming trip. Think my kids will love it. But wow polarizing is right. Reviews are either glowing or trash talking.
My family of four ate here in late April 2022. It was our first time and we were seated in the first car, which was very exciting! My kids (6 and 8) thought the movies were a bit boring and old fashioned. My husband and I loved sitting behind them and enjoying the quiet and dark. My only complaint was that it was FREEZING inside. It was so cold we asked for extra napkins to use on our laps. I’m from Texas so I understand the whole, when it’s hot out, restaurants tend to freeze you out. But this was late April, it wasn’t that hot. We were so uncomfortable that we would have had a second drink and possibly dessert, but we were all too cold. Food was standard hamburger quality you would get at Chili’s or something similar. Not a great hamburger by far, but good for Disney I guess?
Always the first reservation on my advanced dining reservation list. Wouldn’t be a complete trip without eating here for our family !