Disney World Prep Stage Two: Let’s EAT!

Congrats! You’ve booked your trip to Disney World. You want to start packing your swimsuit & Mickey Ears now, but guess what?

You have more planning to do!!

That’s right. Just because you’ve nailed down your Disney World dates, snagged park tickets, booked a hotel & flight doesn’t mean the planning is over.

On the contrary, your planning has only begun.

For annoying planners like me, organizing our Disney World schedule was 1 part fun & exciting and 2 parts stressful. Aligning dining reservations with park & travel plans, and knowing full well that we were traveling with two unpredictable kids set my Google spreadsheet into a tailspin.

This will be my longest post of the week, and there’s a reason for that: I’m about to bombard you with a ton of information your Disney World Planning butt won’t want to live without.

Plan your park schedule around your meals.

Whether you choose park-hopper tickets or not, you probably shouldn’t be doing tequila shots in Epcot if you have a 2:30p date with Pooh & friends at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. It is doable, of course, thanks to the monorail system… it’s just not a stress-free choice. Of course, if you’ve drank enough tequila, you probably wouldn’t care…

Resort Table-Service Meals = more travel time. 

There are many options for dining in certain Disney World Resorts, just make sure you pick a resort that’s easily accessible, and adjust your reservation time accordingly. If you’re hitting up the Magic Kingdom, meals at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary, O’Hana’s in the Polynesian and the 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian are all easy to access via monorail. If you’re hitting up Hollywood Studios or Epcot, you can get to the Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club via boat. Just keep in mind the extra time it’ll take to transfer to the resort. If you’re not staying at that resort or a neighboring resort, it may be easier, i.e. less stressful to stick to in-park character meals.

Dining Reservations.

If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, make reservations online for your table-service meals 180 days in advance. That’s a full 6-months in advance, friends, and many places will and DO sell out quickly. In fact, if you arrive in Disney World and didn’t make dining reservations, you may be out of luck, especially when it comes to character meals. If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can make all of your reservations on the first day of your 180 day window. So, if you’re staying 5 nights, for example, you can reserve all 5 table-service meals over those 5 days in one shot.

When scheduling Disney World dining reservations, keep in mind:

Travel-issues.

I can’t emphasize this enough. If you have to travel by bus to get to a morning character meal, know that the buses are always standing-room only until a least 10am. I have witnessed people being turned away because the bus was too full, forcing them to wait for the next bus. There were times we waited over 45 minutes for a bus. Allow yourself at least 45 minutes of travel time. If you’re early for your reservation, they may seat you early. If you’re late, you may miss out on your meal altogether, depending on how busy the restaurant is that day. We were late for 2 meals because we underestimated how paralyzing parades can be, but only 15 minutes. We had to wait for a little extra time for those tables, but we did still get a table. Disney has implemented a new rule that you will be still be charged a fee if you don’t cancel a reservation within 24 hours or are a no-show for your reservation time. Timing is everything.

Mid-day park-fatigue.

We enjoyed 2 character meals on Sedona’s birthday, one in the morning at the 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian and an early dinner at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. We planned on the Magic Kingdom all day, thinking we could get a quick pool break back at the Polynesian in between and therefore, have enough energy to see the Electrical Parade that evening. I was wrong. We didn’t get to the Kingdom until 11am and got screwed out of any fast-pass options we wanted. By the time we got to our early-bird dinner with Pooh, we were pretty wiped. There’s a reason they offer one table-service meal/day. I don’t have regrets about our trip, but I doubt I’d do 2 character meals in one day again.

Know your children.

Our first character meal was breakfast with Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland & the Mad Hatter at the Grand Floridian. We had no idea that Pooh & Tigger would be joining us too. Sedona was not a fan of the large characters like Tigger, especially just after waking up, and flipped out at first. If you know your kids are leery about characters, the “human” characters seemed to ease her fears. Just so you know, the more time Sedona spent with the characters, the more she loved them.

Character Meals.

Why character meals in Disney World? No lines to wait in. The Disney characters come to YOU. All the food you can eat. You enjoy a nice break off your feet in a chair, at a table — your own space, away from the lines & the crowds! Fun for all ages. What more do you need?!  I’ve experienced quite a few meals in Disney World, so here are my picks for the best of the best:

 

Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom

My absolute FAVORITE! Donald, Daisy, Mickey & Goofy will make stops by your table while you dine. The food, coffee & jungle juice are incredible; much more variety than most of the buffets I’ve visited. There’s a parade with the characters and every child gets an instrument to play as they parade around the restaurant. Bonus? You are steps away from the Safari ride, you can get a fast-pass before you go to breakfast, or, just stand in line for 20 minutes after breakfast. The lines for the Safari only get longer as the day progresses.

Tip: Schedule your breakfast for around 8:45-9am, and do your best to get into the park 15 minutes before your reservation. There is a big welcome parade that will stop the flow of people cold. However, if you arrive before the parade begins, there will be Tusker House hostess to check you in & guide you through the people-wall,  and you’ll feel like you own the park during the remainder of your walk to breakfast!

Pooh and Friends at the Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. 

I’ve dined here several times, and it’s always a little chaotic, but it’s really nice to get a sit-down meal right in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. The food is good, nothing special, but satisfying, and there’s a soft-serve ice-cream bar. The main reason I enjoy it? It’s pretty much the only place to meet characters like Piglet & Eeyore. And trust me, you don’t want to miss hugging Eeyore. He’s the snuggliest!!!

Princess Dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway, Epcot.

We’re not a big “Princess” family, but not knowing how Sedona was going to do with the characters, I wanted to be sure we had a good balance of “human” characters. I had heard so many great things about Cinderella’s Royal Table in the castle at Magic Kingdom, but it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation there — AND — it costs 2 table-service credits, not to mention, Magic Kingdom is alcohol-free!! *GASP* The meal at Akershus only costs one table credit, you are still dining in a castle, they have beer, wine & cocktails, and the Princesses’ personalities were Disney-rific. We met Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), and Snow White. This was a buffet & entree combo. You snagged your first course at a buffet with yummy meats, fish & cheeses as well as a few salad options, then had a plated entree & dessert at your table. Bonus here: a professional photo package with a Princess upon arrival is included (it’s about $30 extra elsewhere).

Tip — We were late for our 5:15p reservation (Epcot is huge, yo!) and didn’t get seated until just after 6p. Also, fill up on the buffet. I got the traditional Norwegian dish, the hubs got pork tenderloin… both entrees were overcooked and mediocre at best. The girls ate hot-dogs. Yup. It’s still a really great experience, overall.

Mickey’s Backyard BBQ Dinner Show at Fort Wilderness.

Sadly, I’ve never done this, but I’ve tried to get reservations the last several times we’ve gone and failed! I hear it’s fantastic, but it does cost 2 table-service credits. Upside? Beer & wine are included!

What? Where are the non-character table-service options? I highly recommend hitting up the Magic Kingdom Resort hotels or Downtown Disney for table-service restaurants if you’re not into the whole character dining experience. The places I’ve experienced in the parks that didn’t have characters, such as the Coral Reef in Epcot was awful: although the aquarium was beautiful, we had a long wait, bad service and overcooked fish. You’re going to Disney World, with or without kids — try a character meal — you won’t be disappointed. 

Quick-Service Options

There is a wide-range of options when it comes to quick-service meals in Disney World. I’m going to walk you through a few of my favorites, and the ones that will give you the most bang for your buck. If you have any to add, please feel free to do so in the comments below!!!

*Note* Disney urges you to choose from the children’s menu for your kids, but with quick-service meals, you aren’t locked into doing so. We had our kids split a meal during our quick-service dining and ended up with an “bonus” meal for all of us that we ate on the bus to the airport! 

Captain Cooks at the Polynesian

I’m drooling just remembering how awesome this place was. Oh yes, my friends. Our room was only 20 steps away from this fantastic quick-service pit-stop, and it was worth it! Enjoy Tonga Toast for breakfast (french toast stuffed with bananas and deep-fried…. zomg… so good… so filling… so worth it) or a Mickey Waffle as big as your head, Flat-bread pizza for lunch & Sushi for dinner!! Also, beer & wine and self-serve Dole-Whip for dessert!!! Even if you don’t stay at the Polynesian, it’s worth the stop on the monorail, you get to soak in the breathtaking main building (that smells like Hawaii!!!) and enjoy a filling meal. Probably the best quick-service stop in all of Disney World, IMHO.

Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios

Remember where the aliens came from in Toy Story? The claaaaw… Hollywood Studios brings the Pizza Planet to life, complete with 2 rows of “claw” machines, an air-hockey table, skee-ball and really good pizza!

Tip: The line can be long at lunch. We snagged the last table on the game-free 2nd floor, and then I had to sit with my cranky kids while the hubs stood in line to order. Not cool. But the pizza & entertainment afterward was worth the wait. 

Flame-tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom

Incredible BBQ options in a serene setting, there is also a pavilion with tables to eat at near-by. In the usually congested Animal Kingdom, this is a rare find.

Pinocchio Village Haus in Magic Kingdom

Chicken Parmesan, Meatball Subs, a couple of salad options, etc. You can get a table right beside the window to watch the boats go by in It’s a Small World… or not. The restaurant is large, so no shortage of tables, and the lines move fast.

Katsura Grill in Tokyo, Epcot

Sushi! Teriyaki! Sake! Beer! Need I say more?

Groceries.

I know, it sounds crazy, but since there’s a fridge in just about every room in Disney World, I had groceries delivered to our room the day we arrived. I know my family; when we wake up, we’re hungry bears! I’m pretty religious about eating a banana with my vitamins every morning, I practically crave it when I wake up, so I needed bananas, even if we were going out to breakfast. Same with my children — so a variety-pack of cereal & milk fit the bill there. I ordered groceries online at Garden Grocer about 3 weeks before our trip, and they called us when it was delivered to our room when we were about to board our plane! I completely over-purchased, but the only things we left behind was the crappy Canada Dry ginger-ale I ordered to mix liquor with (Vernors is so superior), a couple cans of V8 and chips… because, they were chips. As much as I loved them, I didn’t want to eat crumbs. 

Ordering groceries prevented those whiny “I’m hungry” moments… from all 4 of us. And it also meant that our food was completely paid for. And it worked! I never heard one single whine about being hungry, and we didn’t spend a dime on overpriced food while we were there. Drinks on the other hand… will be a topic covered tomorrow. And I promise it won’t be as long as this post.

Have you been enjoying my week-long Disney World series? Are you just checking in for the first time today? Make sure you check out No Diapers in Disney World and Disney World Prep: Stage 1!

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7 Comments

  1. Posted March 15, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    Okay, how much do I love this post? (Hint: a lot.) I could (and probably will in a few months) write one myself. We are going to WDW in June, it will be our second trip with the kids (hubby and I went once pre-kids). We were last there in 2009, but we have since been on a Disney cruise and to Disneyland Paris twice. (I know, we are big fans.) Anyway, I have 6 character meals already booked. The only reason we didn’t book one for our 7th day is because we are going to see Cirque du Soleil and are eating that “table service” meal in Downtown Disney that day.
    We absolutely totally freaking loved Tusker House. Best. character. meal. ever. Glad to hear positive things about the Princess thing in Epcot; we booked that as well specifically for all the reasons you listed. And I didn’t realize they had a Pizza Planet themed restaurant. (We went to the one in Paris, which is a giant buffet and huge play area; we were there for over two hours.)
    Anyway, thanks for the info and looking forward to the next installment.

    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much, Momma!!! The first time we went to Tusker House, I was over the MOON for it, and I was so happy to go back last week, I was choking back tears the first 10 minutes! The Safari Breakfast is always my #1 recommendation whenever anyone asks me about *anything* Disney World. Ok, ok, sometimes it’s unsolicited, but I can’t help it. So happy someone else shares my love for it!! And yes, Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios is another hidden gem. It’s right by the Star Tours ride, which *spoiler alert* I’m hoping to talk about in Friday’s installment, because that was my family’s favorite!

    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      And can I just say I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me until I read your post: I should be planning our quick service meals, too. Duh. I mean I know we don’t need reservations, but the table service meals we have booked are pretty much laying out our schedule for us as far as what park when, so why not? One less thing to think about when we are there, and we can make sure we hit the places we really want to go instead of just wandering up to the nearest place because we’re starving and delirious.

    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      So true. It seemed like overkill to the hubs… but let’s be honest here, there are some pretty lame quick-service options. I wanted to avoid the lame, if at all possible, and get the most bang for our buck!! Glad my post could help guide you to the awesome yummies, girl!!!

  2. Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Looks like you guys had such a great time. I can’t wait for our trip. And, I refuse to drink anything but Vernor’s for ginger ale. We started getting it in our stores here a few years ago, but only like one six pack at a time.

  3. Mandy
    Posted September 29, 2015 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    LOVE all these posts. We are leaving in literally 3 days for our very first Disney trip and I have a couple of questions. First, we are driving in so could we take I our own groceries like cereal and milk? Second, if so, could we take in our own alcohol as well??? I’m thinking a bottle or two of liquor.

    • Posted September 30, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      As long as you are staying at a Disney Resort, check before that there is a fridge in your room. You shouldn’t have an issue with bringing groceries (including alcohol) into your room. I don’t think you can bring alcohol into the park with you, but you can bring snacks! Enjoy!!

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