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Even surrounded by Disney magic, shows, rides and more — you’ve still got to eat. And at Walt Disney World, not all food experiences are created equal.

If you have children in tow for your Disney World trip, you’ll need to think of meals in two separate categories. There are regular restaurants, and then there are character meals that count not only as a meal, but also as entertainment (and a way to see characters without crowds). Once your kids know that Mickey, Minnie or the princesses can join them for dinner, you’ll frequently have to make the choice between an affordable meal and creating lasting memories while eating a pretty pricy meal.

Making Dining Reservations

Steel yourself: You’ll have to book some Disney World restaurants six months ahead. Reservations can be made exactly 180 days before the first day of your Disney arrival.

The hardest restaurants to get reservations for are Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, Victoria & Albert’s and ‘Ohana (for dinner).

The My Disney Experience website and app are your best friends for dining availability, though Disney World maintains a phone line to answer your questions (407-WDW-DINE or 407-939-3463). The phone lines open each day at 7am Eastern time, but the website starts taking reservations at 6am.

Best Disney Restaurants

Via Napoli: In the heart of Italy in Epcot, this favorite may have lost a notch since opening but still features legitimate Italian food that’d pass muster in New York City. The prices are reasonable by Disney standards, with most entrees under $30. Pizza is more expensive than you’d expect but great for sharing. (Go for the Mezzo Metro.)

Though we recommend making reservations, it’s a big enough place that you can often find a table at the last minute. If you’re in a bind, ask if you can sit at the big family-style table in the middle of the dining room, as this can cut your wait considerably.

Photo by Preston C. Mack/FamilyTravelEscapades
Inside Via Napoli. (Photo by Preston C. Mack/FamilyTravelEscapades)

The Hollywood Brown Derby: This Hollywood Studios replica of the California icon has an air-conditioned dining room that’s an ideal lunchtime escape from the Florida heat. It isn’t cheap, nor will you find Mickey roaming around but the excellent Cobb salad is worth it, and you can have a mixed drink before hitting the parks again. You can reserve seats at the Brown Derby for the Fantasmic! nighttime spectacular.

Photo by Loren Javier/Flickr
The Hollywood Brown Derby. (Photo by Loren Javier/Flickr)

Satu’li Canteen: Quick service at its Disney-fied finest, this mess hall is next to Avatar Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom. The beef, chicken and fish bowls make a great fast and cheap lunch or dinner, and the blueberry cream-cheese mousse is a highlight. There’s wine and beer to help you wind down after the Avatar experience. Coincidentally, this place is not only a yummy quick service selection, but also a good choice if you are trying to eat healthy while at Disney World.

A nice change of pace from burgers and chicken fingers
A nice change of pace from burgers and chicken fingers. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Victoria & Albert’s: If you simply want the best food at Disney World, you’ll find that at this posh restaurant in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Just don’t expect to roll in straight from the parks, as men must wear dinner jackets and women are expected to don a nice dress, fancy pantsuit or skirt with a blouse. Children under 10 are not permitted. Expect to spend a few hundred dollars on a meal for two.

Photo courtesy of Victoria and Albert
Victoria & Albert’s restaurant (Photo courtesy of Victoria & Albert’s/Walt Disney World)

Best Street Treats

Looking for the best snacks at Disney World? The list begins and ends with Dole Whip. Among a host of good and even excellent snacking options, only Dole Whip reigns supreme.

What’s Dole Whip? It starts with tantalizingly cold pineapple-flavored soft serve and then (if you’re smart) there’s added pineapple juice. On a hot day, it’s perfection.

Disneyland and Disney World were, for some time, two of the only places you could find this treat, though nowadays you can find it elsewhere. The original is in Disneyland’s Adventureland. At Disney World, you can get your Dole Whip on at the Florida version of Adventureland, just past The Magic Carpets of Aladdin at Aloha Isle.

You can also find Dole Whip in Animal Kingdom at Tamu Tamu, where you can add a shot of alcohol, and at the Polynesian Village Resort just behind the main building as you head toward the pool. Use mobile ordering on the My Disney Experience app so you don’t have to wait in a long line for a Dole Whip.

A similar (and extra sugary) cool Disney treat is LeFou’s Brew, available at Gaston’s Tavern in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.

Enjoying a Dole Whip. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Best Disney Character Dining Experiences

Do you want a side of Mickey or Cinderella with your bacon and eggs? No problem. But it’ll cost you dearly.

Having an annual pass, DVC membership and Tables in Wonderland dining discount will lighten the bill at our favorite character meals, but there’s no two ways around it: Disney World character meals are pricy.

Cinderella’s Castle (Photo by Summer Hull)
The entrance to Cinderella Castle
The entrance to Cinderella Castle. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Cinderella’s Royal Table: Any conversation about Disney character dining starts and ends with Cinderella’s Royal Table, served in the iconic Cinderella Castle, the epicenter of the Magic Kingdom. Depending on your budget, the discussion about eating inside Cinderella Castle might end as quickly as it begins.

Breakfast here is almost $70 per adult. Dinner is actually the better overall value at roughly $80, and the food is also better in the evening, with items including braised pork shank, pan-seared chicken, a charcuterie plate and amaretto cheesecake.

The first of three courses at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
Time with princesses inside the castle
Time with princesses inside the castle. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Despite the price, you’ll quickly see the value inside the castle. You meet Cinderella herself for a photo opportunity as soon as you enter. Upstairs, you’ll get a seat in her castle dining room, along with a magic wand or a sword for your little ones. While you sit and eat, a host of Cinderella’s friends, including Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Rapunzel, stop by for table visits.

The actors own their roles and are warm, personable and engaging, and your little princesses (and princes) will leave with lasting memories. If you can get seats near the windows, you can use the natural light (shooting with the light behind your back) to get better photos with the princesses and enjoy a great view of Fantasyland during your meal.

Castle window (Photo by Summer Hull)

‘Ohana: If you’re looking outside the parks, ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort offers family-style dining in a Hawaiian-themed restaurant with breakfast visits from Lilo and Stitch, as well as a certain mouse and his friends in Hawaiian shirts.

Fun with characters at
Fun with characters at ‘Ohana breakfast. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Breakfast at ‘Ohana is $40 per adult and $20 for kids 3 to 9, and you don’t need park admission. ‘Ohana at dinner is one of most coveted Disney reservations, so book this one 180 days in advance. The characters are not present during dinner, but there is still a fun parade and they dim the lights and play music with the evening fireworks at night!

At night, bring your appetite for the all-you-care-to-enjoy ‘Ohana pineapple-coconut bread, pork dumplings, sweet-n-sour chicken, teriyaki noodles and save room for the grand finale — ‘Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode topped with caramel sauce and bananas. Trust us, it’s really good and you will leave stuffed and smiling.  

Chef Mickey’s: This might be the best combination of food and kid-oriented fun. If you’re looking for a (potentially) healthier meal that tastes pretty good and also keeps your kids occupied, look to Chef Mickey’s inside the Contemporary Resort, with buffet-style breakfast, brunch and dinner.

Chef Mickey
Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Our favorite meal is brunch, which features everything from eggs and bacon to pot roast and salmon. And, of course, there are iconic Mickey waffles!

Chow down at Chef Mickey
Chow down at Chef Mickey’s. (Photo by Summer Hull)

While you’re dining, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy dance to music, sign autographs and keep your children mesmerized. We’ve dined for an hour at Chef Mickey’s, and our kids didn’t complain one bit.

You’ll spend about $40 per adult on breakfast, $50 on brunch and $60 on dinner. Kids 3 and up cost a little over half that amount.

Breakfast buffet at Chef Mickeys
Breakfast buffet at Chef Mickey’s. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Honorable Mentions

These places get overlooked but are good choices for a lunchtime break in the parks.

Crystal Palace: In the Magic Kingdom on the way to Adventureland from Main Street USA, this restaurant offers good food and a few characters. Some even say the food at Crystal Palace is better than Cinderella’s Royal Table. The buffet features dozens of items, including shrimp cocktail, pasta and freshly carved meats such as roast turkey, ham and ribeye steak.

Winnie the Pooh and his friends will stop by your table and, if your kids are feeling adventurous, lead them on a march around the dining room. Plan on spending about $60 per adult after taxes and tips, with kids about half that price.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater: Cool and atmospheric, this restaurant is on a less-traveled walkway in Hollywood Studios. You can dine in your own car while watching old movies. Better yet, let your kids have their own car and eat in relative peace. The menu is a la carte, ranging from hamburgers to pasta and shrimp. It’s relatively gentle on the budget, at about $20 an entree. And the cast members really get into their roles.

Disney Sci-Fi Drive in (PHOTOS BY GARY BOGDON)
Disney Sci-Fi Drive (Photo by Gary Bogdon)

Liberty Tree Tavern: Just past Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square, this is a sit-down restaurant for lunch or dinner with turkey, pot roast and healthy salads, all with a New England theme. At dinner, it switches to an all-you-can-eat, family-style service.

Rose & Crown: This Epcot take on UK fare serves up an authentic plate of fish and chips, or bangers and mash.

Photo by Anthony Trumbo/ Flickr
(Photo by Anthony Trumbo/ Flickr)

California Grill: If you want an upscale Disney dinner, but not quite Victoria & Albert’s level of fancy (or expensive), try California Grill. While check-in for this meal is on the second floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the actual dining room is on the 15th floor. This elevated location gives it a five-star sunset and fireworks view of the Magic Kingdom and surrounding resorts.

View from Disney
View from Disney’s California Grill

There is a dress code at California Grill, but it isn’t as strict as at Victoria & Albert’s as jeans in good condition are permitted, though men are asked to wear collared shirts. Here you will find fresh foods inspired by the Pacific coast such as sushi and sashimi, goat cheese ravioli, yellowfin tuna, oak-fired angus filet, rack of lamb and a truly amazing chef’s garden heirloom-tomato starter.

Skip the dressing at California Grill
Chef’s garden heirloom-tomato starter at California Grill
Protein-filled sashimi at Disney
Yes to the sashimi at Disney’s California Grill (Photo by Edward Pizzarello)

Our Least Favorite Disney Meals

Even with all the magical pixie dust at Disney World, there are misfires.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: Character dining is a big part of the Disney experience, and you might think you can save a few dollars by dining with the princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot rather than Cinderella’s Royal Table, but it’s a poor substitute (unless you just need a bite near the Frozen ride in Norway). While your favorite princesses will join you for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the food just isn’t on par with the other Disney eateries. That said, it is an easier reservation to snag than Cinderella’s Royal Table, so file it away in your back pocket if you need a “last minute” princess meal.

Teppan Edo: This spot in the Japanese Pavilion at Epcot is another relative downer. The food is decent, but there’s not a lot of performance factor at this teppanyaki place. Frankly, we’ve seen better performances at a more reasonable price point in teppanyaki restaurants in strip malls closer to home. At Disney prices, there are definitely better values for your hard-earned dollars, with themes you can’t easily recreate elsewhere.

Be Our Guest: Surprised this perennial favorite made this list? Consider it a victim of its own success. We’re not saying that it’s a bad place to eat, as watching the rose petals fall when the lightning crashes is a nice effect, but the crowds at lunchtime can be brutal.

Consider making a reservation for dinner, when it’s calmer and offers a prix fixe signature dining menu. If you do dare to go at lunch, at least pre-order your food in Disney’s app to help a bit with the process. Regardless of when you eat, ask for the Beast’s dining room, as it’s by far the coolest of the three.

The Beast
The Beast’s West Wing at Be Our Guest. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)

To give you a better idea of what we mean by lunchtime crowds, here’s the stock image for Be Our Guest, and then what it actually looks like at lunch.

Photo courtesy of Disney
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
Be Our Guest at lunch can be an absolute zoo when you just want a mid-day break
Be Our Guest at lunch can be an absolute zoo when you just want a midday break. (Photo by Summer Hull)

Our Final Tip

Remember that plenty of restaurants at Disney will allow you to order food ahead of time via the mobile app. You can also charge Disney meals to your room (using your Magic Bands) and then earn a bonus on all of your in-park meals by paying with a card at resort checkout that gives you a bonus on travel. Paying with Disney gift cards you purchased at a discount is another great idea to save a bit while dining at some of Disney World’s best restaurants.

If you pay for your Disney meal on the spot with a credit card, use one that gives you the best payout on dining. Most Disney World restaurants do code as dining charges, even within the parks. This makes the four points per dollar awarded on dining at US restaurants with the American Express® Gold Card our top choice.

Charge meals to your room with a Magic Band (Photo by Gary Swartz via Flickr)
Charge meals to your room with a Magic Band. (Photo by Gary Swartz via Flickr)

Featured photo courtesy of Walt Disney World.


Want to read more about Disney parks around the world? Check out our other Disney guides…

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