Tusker House Restaurant Review: Mediocre Modified Character Meal

Tusker House Restaurant is a character dining experience in Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This reviews the new modified meal, which now features distanced character greetings and family-style food, replacing the African-inspired buffet. Here we share photos from dinner, thoughts on how this all-you-can-eat meal compares to its predecessor, a look at character interactions, whether it’s worth the money, and more.

In normal times, Tusker House Restaurants participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit table service restaurant for dinner. As with many character meals, it was/is an objectively good uses of DDP credits. Of course, that’s temporarily suspended right now, but presumably that info will be relevant again in the not-too-distant future. Tusker House Restaurant also accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount and Disney Vacation Club or Annual Passholder cards for 10% off.

With modifications to both the meal style and character component, we have a lot of ground to cover in this Tusker House Restaurant review. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least touch upon the atmosphere and theme here. Inspired by a Harambe marketplace, Tusker House is a thematic gem. Even though it’s not as lavish as some other areas of Animal Kingdom, Tusker House nails the theme and feels like a bustling market.

At times, that thematic accuracy can be a little too much. Tusker House is among the louder restaurants at Walt Disney World in the main dining rooms. That’s in part because there’s little to dampen the noise, and in part because it’s a character meal and that comes with the territory.

Typically, our advice to guests who want a similar culinary experience–but minus the characters–is to instead do Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House. In terms of cuisine, Boma edges out Tusker House by a decent margin–but it’s surprisingly close given the latter is a character meal. Historically, both have been among not just our favorite buffets, but our favorite meals, period, at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, Boma has yet to reopen (although after this meal, I think that might be for the best.)

Anyway, let’s get on with it. Dinner at Tusker House Restaurant started with Assorted House-made Breads served with Hummus, Coriander and Mango Chutneys.

This was fine. The accompaniments were delicious, but the rolls were low quality. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t hold a candle to what you could get at Sanaa, but we weren’t expecting that level of bread service.

Alongside the breads, the other starter was African Inspired Salads: Kachumbari and Arcadian Green Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette Dressing.

This was a pretty pedestrian salad; the quality was sufficient, but “African Inspired” is certainly a stretch.

Next, the main course: Moroccan-spiced Beef, Cape Malay Green Curry Shrimp, Spit-roasted Herb Chicken, and Berber-marinated Pork.

These were all good, but nothing that was distinctly Tusker House. As with the “African Inspired” salad being a stretch, so too were the descriptive names here. The beef and chicken were virtually indistinguishable from what was served at Cape May Cafe. The pork was good, but it tasted like regular pork. The green curry shrimp was more unique, but light on the curry.

Sides include Green Beans with Carrots and Corn, Roasted Potatoes, Jasmine Rice, and House-made Macaroni and Cheese.

One of our favorite dishes of the family-style dinner at Tusker House was the mac & cheese. It was creamy, rich, and delicious. As much as I love a simple mac & cheese, we also love adventurous cuisine, and I really would’ve preferred the latter to be our favorite items at Tusker House.

All of our starters and entrees came out in quick succession, and once we worked our way through round one, it was time for refills.

Wanting to get our money’s worth, we opted for more of the Moroccan-spiced Beef, specifically requesting it medium rare. As at Cape May Cafe, the second round of meat was superior to the first. We’d recommend tailoring your order from the outset–even leaving out items you might not want, requesting smaller servings (the table next to us did exactly this), and so forth.

Desserts were “Animal-inspired Mini Desserts.” This meant a vanilla cupcake, brownie, and honey layer cake.

Don’t save room for dessert. These were all absolutely uninspired, with low quality ingredients and clearly artificial tastes. The vanilla cupcake was the best item of the bunch, and it was nothing special.

I’m not sure what we were expecting, but none of this should’ve been a surprise. We love(d) the Tusker House buffet for its variety and unique flavors, but it only makes sense that a more limited family-style offering would go for the most universally palatable and crowd-pleasing options.

Still, it’s more than a little disappointing that there’s such significant overlap between Cape May Cafe (a New England seafood restaurant, in theory) and Tusker House (a venue serving the flavors of Africa, in theory). Given the similarities, a comparison is fair: Cape May Cafe offers unquestionably superior cuisine.

However, at Tusker House Restaurant you’re also paying for the characters, so it wouldn’t be fair to compare on food alone. Now let’s turn to how things went with host Donald Duck and his Disney friends. I’ll level with you, this was more than a bit frustrating.

We did our first modified character meal a little over one year ago. Our review from Breakfast Á la Art with Mickey & Friends at Topolino’s Terrace at that time discussed how the character interactions are “pretty clearly a work in progress and will evolve over time.” The expectation was that selfies and other photos with characters would become easier as Walt Disney World found its footing in operating in the ‘temporary abnormal’ environment.

Obviously, a lot has changed since then. Normalcy has been quickly returning at Walt Disney World to the point that almost all health safety protocol has been dropped. We experienced this with our character encounters at Disneyland recently, which were universally exceptional.

In a different way, we also experienced more normalcy at Tusker House Restaurant. Fully vaccinated Cast Members are now allowed to go mask-free, and our server did just that. To be crystal clear, this doesn’t bother us in the least. We are both fully vaccinated, and incredibly confident in those highly efficacious vaccines. Our server was absolutely fantastic, and none of what follows is a dig at them.

Our server was regularly within a couple feet of us since, you know, that’s the nature of the server-guest relationship. We’re not yelling our orders and he’s not tossing our food to us like a game of horseshoe. All of us were mask-less during these interactions, which each lasted around 30 seconds to a few minutes. Again, no problem with any of this from our perspective.

By contrast, none of the characters came within ~20 feet of us. We were seated in what, I guess, Tusker House treated as the “second row” of tables. Since the characters wouldn’t come within ~6 feet of guests in the front row, there was no space for them to pass to get anywhere near tables that weren’t out in the open.

Now, I’m no scientist and perhaps this specific scenario has not been sufficiently investigated in the Lancet, but something tells me nothing at all is not a “safer” face covering than a giant foam head. Basically, what bothers me here is the inconsistency.

It’s odd that Walt Disney World isn’t applying the same standard to fur characters as to other Cast Members. (For the record, my expectation was that meet & greets would take much longer to return than most other things–but that was before Disney differentiated between vaccinated and unvaccinated Cast Members, something I did not expect to happen.)

There are a lot of inconsistencies in Disney’s health safety policies (or now, lack of rules), but characters not being able to come within 20 feet of some guests’ tables takes the cake for me. I understand that there are logistics Disney would need to iron out, but that should’ve happened by now.

When you’re charging $55 per person–a significant surcharge of which is because of those characters–that’s something you figure out before even reopening the restaurant.

In any case, if you’re wondering why the character photos in this review are so bad, that’s the reason. We made several selfie attempts, and the awful one above was the best of the bunch. The rest look like a bit like found footage of Bigfoot–is that small speck Goofy, or a guest who just happens to resemble a dog-man?

The character photos in this post that are even decent were shot at 105mm. I would’ve brought my telephoto lens had I realized it’d be necessary for the meal. (In fairness, part of this is lighting–some rooms of Tusker House are always rough for character photos.)

In the interest of balance, it’s worth noting that most tables are not in the “second row.” I’d estimate that at least 75% of the restaurant is wide open, and those with good tables in the main room would undoubtedly have significantly better character encounters. For their part, Donald, Goofy, Mickey, and Daisy all spent a good amount of time posing and trying to engage with guests from a distance–it wasn’t just a passing cavalcade. Some of the kids in front of us were having an absolute blast with the characters.

However, it also wasn’t just the older adults or guest without kids who might be less inclined to care about characters seated in this second row. At all of the tables adjacent to us, there were kids. They tried to make photos work (and to their credit, some guests in the front row even got up from their tables to move out of the way), but judging by our results, those photos still would’ve been disappointing.

With all of that said, I’m honestly happy (okay, maybe not quite the right word) that this happened to us. For one thing, I’d like to think that it meant one family with kids, for whom seeing the characters would’ve been more meaningful and memorable, got a better table.

For another thing, had we been seated in one of the open dining rooms, I probably never would’ve realized this was an issue for guests seated in the smaller rooms. In such a scenario, the review you’re reading would’ve undoubtedly been more positive. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Ultimately, our experience at Tusker House Restaurant was far and away our worst modified character meal, and one of our most disappointing dinners at Walt Disney World in a long time. Perhaps part of this was our fault. We love the normal Tusker House experience, to the point that it ranks among the top of our Best Character Meals at Walt Disney World List. So maybe our expectations were unrealistically high? Perhaps we should’ve been more cognizant of the compromises? It’s probably fair to say we should’ve understood the family-style meal had no chance of living up to the buffet?

I’m willing to shoulder some of the blame, but not all–or even most–of it. I’m not the one who decided to charge $55 per adult. I’m not the one who created the boring menu. I’m not the one who decided all other vaccinated Cast Members could go back to normal, but those in animal suits pose a unique threat. All of that is on Walt Disney World. Our negative experience was probably something of an outlier and worse than average, but even making some favorable assumptions and trying to partially set that aside, I still can’t recommend Tusker House Restaurant right now. There’s just too much wrong, too many compromises, and too high of a price.

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Your Thoughts

Does the modified character dining experience at Tusker House Restaurant seem like it’s worth the money to you? Will you be booking an ADR here or dining elsewhere? Is not being able to take photos with each character be a dealbreaker for you? Think we’re being unreasonable in highlighting the negatives, or are these fair complaints? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Other thoughts or concerns? 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!

47 Responses to “Tusker House Restaurant Review: Mediocre Modified Character Meal”
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