In the last 15 years or so, the Walt Disney World restaurant at which we’ve dined the most is Sunshine Seasons. That’s doubly impressive given that it’s in EPCOT, a park with perpetual festivals and better culinary scene than Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom.
We could go on and on about what made Sunshine Seasons so special during its heyday. Multiple ordering bays with unique and varied cuisine, entrees that included Sweet & Sour Chicken, Slow Roasted Pork Chops, Lamb Skewers, Sesame Crusted Tuna–the list goes on and on. Then there was its formidable selection delicious desserts–arguably the best bakery in EPCOT, a park that also includes the France, Norway, and Germany pavilions.
There were a number of dishes and desserts that were great values for money when paying out of pocket or using Disney Dining Plan credits. The food was fun and thoughtful, which dishes either inspired by the greenhouses in the Land pavilion or actually using their fresh and flavorful bounties. There was a reason Sunshine Seasons routinely was #1 on our List of the Top 10 Counter Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World. There was also a reason it fell off the list completely a couple years ago.
Thankfully, the reports of Sunshine Seasons’ death are greatly exaggerated. After a truly dark era in 2018 through 2021, the restaurant has bounced back in a big way. It improved incrementally last year and has gotten even better as of Christmas 2023. To the point where it is once again our #1 counter service restaurant in EPCOT.
We’ll get to the why of that with individual dish reviews, but first need to start with an important caveat. If you’re a longtime Walt Disney World fan and Sunshine Seasons was a go-to for you in the aughts and 2010s, it’s still a shadow of its former self. I would say the entree menu is about 80% of what it once was, which is pretty good, right?
The dessert case is where the big issue lies. The thing that used to make Sunshine Seasons such a satisfying meal (for me at least) was ordering an ostensibly healthy entree (but probably not, who knows how much butter Disney is putting in even the “healthy” stuff!) and then following that up with not one, but two desserts, completely guilt-free!
You can’t do that now. The dessert case at Sunshine Seasons is roughly 25% of what it once was during the peak of its popularity. This isn’t me looking through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia or misremembering, either. I have the “receipts,” both literally and figuratively, and my photos of the dessert case from 2007-2014 look very different than today. Every row was filled, with minimal spacing between dishes.
The other big problem with Sunshine Seasons is its significantly shorter hours. This started pre-pandemic, even when the only alternative in the former Future World was Electric Umbrella, the predecessor to Connections Cafe & Eatery. That was particularly frustrating because there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the schedule–some or all stations would simply close.
Now it’s arguably better (or arguably worse) since all of the hot food stations close at 4 pm. The upside is that it’s predictable. Go for lunch, and Sunshine Seasons is fully operational. Arrive for dinner, unless you have super early bird supper status, and it’s just the grab and go stuff.
The explanation for that approach is also more sensible. Connections Cafe & Eatery is now open and popular, and the Land pavilion isn’t as popular as it once was. Soarin’ used to be the big new ride in EPCOT, but now Frozen Ever After, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and even Test Track have passed it in popularity. The Land pavilion is typically a ghost town after 3 pm. As much as I might hate to admit it, the shorter hours make sense.
Anyway, with that context and caveats out of the way, let’s turn to what’s good on the menu at this recently-redeemed restaurant…
Let’s start with the Roast Beef Sandwich: Chilled Roast Beef, Chimichurri Aïoli, Cheddar, Arugula, and Red Onion on a Flour-topped Kaiser Roll served with Potato Chips.
This seems simple, and you might think that sandwiches are low-hanging fruit or beef. Fair enough. However, I’m a staunch sandwich supporter, and can tell you there was a time when someone at Walt Disney World must’ve mandated that all sandwiches use the dryest bread, tasteless (but flavored!) sauces, and lowest-quality meats possible. It was a dark time for my people.
That has turned around considerably in about the last year or so, and the Roast Beef Sandwich at Sunshine Seasons is an exemplar of that trend.
This is high quality roast beef, a meat that’s already more expensive than turkey or ham (I do grocery shopping!), akin to Boar’s Head. Despite being a floured kaiser roll, the bread is not dry. The arugula and onion are fantastic additions for flavor and texture. Then there’s that Chimichurri Aïoli–wow–addictively good stuff. (I’d recommend ordering extra dressing.)
Speaking of recommendations, my go-to in the past was ordering the sandwiches at Sunshine Seasons by themselves, and then going over to the far station for a side of mashed potatoes. I didn’t try that this time, but assume it’s still allowed. That’s the far better option than the macaroni salad, which is middling.
For those wondering where other superior sandwiches can be found at Walt Disney World, all of the monorail loop resorts have seen recent upgrades. Same goes for the Crescent Lake resorts. There are some surprisingly strong options at all of these counter service spots.
Next up is the Mongolian Beef with Vegetable Fried Rice.
This is takeout caliber food–I’m not sure whether that’s praise or not, but it is what it is. The quality and preparation here are on-point, and exactly what you’d expect. It’s tasty and doesn’t disappoint in any way. I don’t know what else to say–this isn’t my favorite type of dish in the first place, but I think this is fairly well done. (Sarah also likes it, but far prefers the Vegetable Korma–that’s her go-to dish at Sunshine Seasons.)
The Pepperoni Pizza Roll is another “what you see is what you get” kinda option.
The highest praise that I can give this is that the preparation hits all of the right notes. The roll has the right texture and consistency, with an exterior bit of crunch but doughiness inside–not too hard, too soft, or too chewy.
Quality-wise, the pizza rolls are more or less what you’d expect. Let’s be real–this is mall food court caliber, and is not anything you should go out of your way to order unless you’re craving pizza. It’s good for what it is, but nothing special.
With that said, Sunshine Seasons was formerly home to the second-worst pizza in all of Walt Disney World. The “deep dish” squares they served were unbelievably bad, somehow worse than PizzeRizzo and Pizzafari. This is way better than that.
Next up, the Birria Tacos with Beef, Monterrey Jack, Onions, Cilantro, and Lime served with Consommé.
I was prepared for this to be a train wreck. San Fransokyo Square in DCA is home to some of the best birria tacos I’ve ever had–great even by real world Southern California standards. Fantastic as they are, I can’t imagine they’d be a hit with Walt Disney World guests (different demographics and all that).
These definitely aren’t that good. Anyone from regions of the country where great street tacos are abundant will likely be disappointed. But if you’re ordering these with an open mind and without regional bias, the Birria Tacos are surprisingly good.
Although very mild, they’re tasty. The mix of ingredients gives a nuanced flavor profile and makes for a delicious dish. The quality is not top-tier, but it’s good enough. My only real complaint is that this dish is small and doesn’t come with a side. It’s also really cheap, making this a good option “for the table” to try in addition to other entrees.
For our final entree, we have the Oak-grilled Salmon served with Mashed Potatoes and Ratatouille.
The grill area of Sunshine Seasons has always been the standout and its saving grace even during the darkest of times (except when it wasn’t open–which was too often). We’re not going to review it today, but the Oak-grilled Rotisserie Chicken is still awesome according to Sarah. (I assume she’s correct because why wouldn’t it be, but wasn’t there to confirm the last time she tried it.)
This area is also the station that was home to some of the all-star limited-time dishes at Sunshine Seasons over the years, and I really hope some of those return. Now that meat prices are starting to come back to reality, maybe additional options will be added? We can hope!
Salmon is one of those entrees that Walt Disney World does exceptionally, but this dish has no right to be as good as it is. The fish is a sizable fillet, and perfectly prepared–crispy skin, flaky pieces, moist inside, and wonderful flavor. The oak grilling really makes a difference!
Although it’s not on par with Signature Restaurants, it’s shockingly impressive and unexpectedly flavorful. I’d definitely put it ahead of the also-great salmon at Columbia Harbour House, and this is also slightly cheaper. (It honestly amazes me that both counter service spots serve salmon for under $15.)
This salmon would’ve been fantastic on its own, but the ratatouille and a generous portion of those mashed potatoes elevate it to the next level. I’m a sucker for Walt Disney World mashed potatoes–I know they’re not objectively great, but they’re a guilty pleasure that I’ve enjoyed for eons. They’re my favorite mashed potatoes anywhere because they remind me of great vacation memories. Silly as it sounds, isn’t that what it’s all about?
In any case, the Oak-grilled Salmon is an absolute must-order dish.
It’s worth noting that these aren’t the only dishes that are standouts at Sunshine Seasons.
The stir fry (chicken or shrimp) plus the aforementioned Vegetable Korma are also very good to great. The Asian Noodle Salad with Tuna has changed slightly since we last had it, but that was always a winner. The Mediterranean Vegetable Sandwich sounds and looks good, but honestly, I can’t imagine choosing that over the excellent Roast Beef Sandwich. (That vegetable one might be a ‘Sarah Special.’ Ditto the Power Salad.)
Suffice to say, there are a number of good things on the menu at Sunshine Seasons again. Finally.
Oh, and when it comes to dessert, the Peanut Butter Whoopie Pie is actually pretty good!
I’m not going to overdo singing its praises, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I typically prefer this type of dessert to be on the denser side, so my take is that the chocolate ‘sandwiches’ here skewed a bit too much towards a cake-like consistency (I would’ve preferred brownie density).
Nevertheless, it’s reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nice, rich flavor with sweet and savory qualities. There are a lot of great desserts all around EPCOT, so I’m not giving this an enthusiastic recommendation in light of that, but if you really want a dessert to finish your meal, you won’t go wrong with this.
Ultimately, this tale of “restaurant redemption” for Sunshine Seasons might sound fairly unimpressive if you remember what Sunshine Seasons was like a decade ago. Just keep in mind that’s not where it stood more recently. Even pre-pandemic, Sunshine Seasons had gone downhill, which I assume was a matter of the new ride smell wearing off Soarin.
With many other attractions opening on the other sides of EPCOT, it almost defies the odds that Sunshine Seasons has gotten better. That’s doubly true with the opening of Connections Cafe & Eatery, which has become a magnet on the other side of the front of EPCOT (why can’t we just call it Future World?!).
To that point, we’d strongly recommend considering Sunshine Seasons as an alternative to Connections for lunch. Although the latter is still better than its predecessor, the menu has already been simplified and the counter service spot is absolutely bonkers during the midday rush.
Sunshine Seasons now has better cuisine and is less chaotic. Sure, you might have to walk a little farther if you’re just finishing up Cosmic Rewind or Test Track, but it’s not that far. Also, navigating across former Future World should be a lot easier as soon as the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit is a thing of the past!
With that said, we still would implore you to treat any of the counter service spots in EPCOT as a place for ‘stomach-filler’ so you don’t overspend at festival kiosks. At most, do lunch here as a foundation before bouncing to World Showcase, and then snacking your way around those booths and bakeries.
Even though Sunshine Seasons has improved considerably in the last year or so and is now the best counter service restaurant in EPCOT, there are still better options across all dining categories. The culinary experience is integral to EPCOT, and we’d strongly recommend snacking and a table service meal if time allows.
I’ll end this with a perhaps unrealistically optimistic note. After seeing the surge in popularity of Connections as compared to Electric Umbrella, I’m hopeful that the same will happen with Sunshine Seasons. With the return of the Disney Dining Plan, I think Walt Disney World will be incentivized to add more desserts. That alone would be a huge improvement.
Beyond that, I think there’s long-term potential for a Sunshine Seasons comeback story. Moana’s Journey of Water has started to reinvigorate this side of the park, and that’s just a relatively small scale walk-through. Imagine if Walt Disney World finally did the right thing and reimagined Journey into Imagination?! I can’t even imagine how busy this side of EPCOT would be. (Perhaps the return of the ‘real’ Figment could help with my failure of imagination on that?!)
Have you dined at Sunshine Seasons in the last year or so? What did you think of the meal? If you’ve dined there previously (in the last ~5 years), do you think it has improved? If you dined at Sunshine Seasons about a decade ago, how do you think the current menu stacks up? Agree or disagree with our review and restaurant redemption tale? 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!