My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney Resort Hotel Restaurants

by Chris Barry, staff writer
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Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.

I just checked our My Disney Experience page and today the official countdown to our next Walt Disney World visit is at 91 days! This, of course, means there are some excited people in the Barry household, with yours truly probably the most excited! We're taking advantage of the fact that the schools in New York close for the Jewish holidays in September and we're headed down to Orlando for another magical four-day weekend.

This will be our first time using MagicBands, our first time riding the Seven Dwarfs MineTrain, our first time seeing the new Festival of Fantasy parade and our first time in four years we'll be staying at one of our favorite places, the Yacht Club. On our previous trip last September, we traveled with some neighborhood friends for the first time and we're thrilled that they're along for the ride again this year. We definitely feel like we've found the perfect Disney traveling companions. Needless to say there's a lot to look forward to on this upcoming trip.

As we all know, one of the most important parts of planning your Disney vacation is figuring out which of Walt Disney World's more than 100 restaurants you'll be enjoying. While I still believe the idea of making dinner reservations three months ahead of time is an abhorrent practice… it is an unfortunate reality. Naturally, I've begun looking at where I think we'll be and when and where we might want to eat.

Some of my top choices are already booked 91 days out: no surprise there, but we won't suffer. There's plenty of food to be had throughout the resort. Besides, we'll be there for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. Considering we're going to be walking distance from Epcot, I see us dining at festival booths throughout World Showcase for quite a lot of our meals.

Still, I'll need to make a few dining reservations just in case. I also needed a Top 5 for this week. So, I put the two together and came up with today's list. Instead of doing an all-encompassing Walt Disney World restaurant list, I thought I would break them up into different sets. I've previously listed my favorite counter service establishments. Today, I'm talking about full-service sit down meals. This time I'll focus on resort hotel dining and on a future date I'll tackle in-park dining. For the most part, they are two very different beasts with most of the finer choices existing within the Disney resort hotels. With all that set-up, let's get to it and count down my Top 5 Walt Disney World Resort Hotel Restaurants.

5 – Boatwright's, Port Orleans Riverside


The boat frame and tool-covered walls of Boatwright's. Photo by Brian Bennett.

That's right, I included a Moderate hotel choice on this list and there are two main reasons. The first is an entrée and the second is a dessert. One of my favorite dishes in all of Walt Disney World is Boatwright's jambalaya. It's hard to beat the Spanish rice topped with spiced chicken, Andouille sausage, shrimp and vegetables. Cool the spice down with some of the cornbread from the table and some genuine New Orleans microbrews and you will definitely be happy. But save room for my all around favorite WDW dessert—the Bananas Foster angel food cake is just divine. While you're there enjoy all of the boat making tools on the walls and maybe a seat by the fire. Boatwright's, in my eyes, is the best of the three Moderate hotel restaurants. It's never let me down.

4 – Kona Café, Polynesian Resort


Time your meal right and when you're done at Kona Cafe, walk out to the Polynesian beach to watch Wishes across the lagoon. Photo By Chris Barry.

Let's face it: Tonga Toast is the stuff of legend. If you've had it, you know. If you haven't tried it yet, by all means get yourself over there and have some. It's decadent. I would suggest a nice walk over to the Grand Floridian along the lagoon to walk it off. It's not all about the toast though, the Kona coffee-rubbed pork chop is excellent and so is the pan-seared duck breast and the Pan-Asian noodles. If you're a bread addict like me, beware; the complimentary sweet bread and macadamia nut butter are pretty awesome. Wrap all of this in an open, classy décor, and you've got one of Walt Disney World's unsung gems.

3 – Citricos, Grand Floridian Resort and Spa


The comfortable elegance of Citricos. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Citricos is plush and comfy without feeling like a stuffy, fancy restaurant. The service is top notch. The food is excellent. It's a Disney signature dining experience. Translate that to pricey. But trust me, it's worth the splurge. My wife and I ate here alone, so I can't comment on the more typical Disney-dining-with-my-kids aspect. There were, however, plenty of kids in the place. It is, after all, Walt Disney World so kids are more than welcome, they're expected. We, on the other hand, had a wonderful, adult's only, slow-paced, bottle-of-wine-with-dinner meal at Citricos and I remember it quite fondly.

I can suggest the seared tuna carpaccio and the cheese course trio to start. The Central Florida lemon ricotta on the cheese plate is delicious. I loved the red wine-braised short ribs and the lemon cheesecake with fresh raspberry sauce. If you're looking for a fine-dining experience in a beautifully bright and comfortable atmosphere then this is an amazing choice. See if you can get a seat by the window overlooking the Grand Floridian grounds, take your time and enjoy.

2 – California Grill, Contemporary Resort


The view from California Grill is as good as the food. Photo by Brian Bennett.

This restaurant, perched majestically at the top of one of Walt Disney World's original hotels, is truly a dining experience. I had one of my favorite meals of all time there. That's not just a Disney all-time favorite, but also an anywhere all-time favorite. It's that good. Everything I ate here was fantastic. The service was outstanding. Our server knew so much about wines and allowed us to sample different ones until we found one that we loved. Let's not forget where this restaurant is located. The view is amazing. There's nothing quite like dining at California Grill when the lights are dimmed, the music is piped in, and Wishes fireworks show explodes in the sky next door at the Magic Kingdom. It's unforgettable.

1 – Artist Point, Wilderness Lodge


Stroll the beautiful grounds of Disney's Wilderness Lodge after your Artist Point meal. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

So if California Grill is so unforgettable, why is it that I put Artist Point as my number one choice, you may ask? There's a rather simple answer. When I think about meals that I just can't wait to have in anticipation of a trip to Walt Disney World, Artist Point comes to mind first. The food blows me away every time. The wine list does the same. The service is always on point. Everything is just awesome. A seat by the window overlooking the stream that flows down through the main courtyard is all I need to instantly relax me and prepare me for the great meal that I know is on it's way.

Take your pick. The artisanal cheese plate is always a must to start. The portobello soup is dreamy. Try the buffalo striploin, the sweet potato gnocchi or the seared scallops. Better yet, eat here over and over again and try everything. But no matter what you do, do not pass up the truffle fries. I could go to Artist Point and have an exquisite gourmet meal paired with a delicious Pacific Northwest wine. I could also go to Artist Point and order a cold anchor steam and an order of the incredibly, delectable truffle fries and die a happy man and that's why it's my number one.

My father-in-law is fond of saying "dining out is an adventure." To paraphrase him; "dining out at Walt Disney World is most certainly an adventure." To be honest, I can't say that I've had a bad meal on property. I've had good ones and I've had better ones. I've elevated good to great and then surpassed great going so far as to enter the "best ever" category. The Disney resort hotels have quite a few choices that either flirt with or full on deliver a meal in the latter category.

I know I've excluded many fan favorites. There will quite certainly be some vocal opposition out there from the Boma and Jiko lovers. As hard as it is to believe, I still haven't made it to either of these favorites at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Nor have I ever seen fit to bring a jacket and tie with me to Disney and spring for Victoria and Albert's at the Grand Floridian. (That may never happen.)

Having a great restaurant in your Disney hotel makes things all the more magical. Visiting one when you're staying in another hotel is almost as much fun if not more.

These are my favorites. Click on the link below; let me hear your favorite Disney resort hotel restaurants and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.

Comments

  1. By mkelm44

    I'd probably swap out Boatwrights for Narcosee, but I appreciate that you've put in a moderate priced restaurant on the list. It could be a worthwhile second list- the top hotel restaurants not at a Deluxe Resort. But my argument for Narcosee is this- the food is excellent (not suprising), you get the music piped in for the fireworks as well, and the landscaping around it is amazing. It is truly an experience to be able to stand outside on their porch and watch the fireworks explode for wishes- it seems more intimate to me than California Grill. Also, it has the effect of not requiring you to book your reservation 4000 years in advance like the California Grill does (yes, you have to do the reservation, but it's a better kept secret). Then at the end of the meal you can walk back to the Magic Kingdom or just go down to the water and sit on the deserted beach for a while.

  2. By DwarfPlanet

    "As we all know, one of the most important parts of planning your Disney vacation is figuring out which of Walt Disney World's more than 100 restaurants you'll be enjoying."

    This always just boggles my mind. Maybe it's because we go during off season, or maybe we don't eat very large portions, or maybe we just like downright simple but seeing all the hassles folks go through to get someplace to eat in WDW has always just boggled me. I don't think we have ever did a ADR and we usually are able to just walk into one of these nice places everytime we go, not that we go for the fancy much. Then again maybe we're just lucky

    But those truffle fries you talked about have really intrigued me. We'll be down there in around 90 days ourselves so maybe we'll see what happens.

  3. By carolinakid

    Chris, I've only dined at 1 of your top 5, Artist Point. We are trying California Grill for the first time in November and Citricos is definitely on our must-do sometime list. My absolute favorite resort restaurant is Shula's but I'm choosing to not include any of the fine establishments at the Swan or Dolphin. Therefore my current list of Top 5 WDW Hotel Restaurants is:

    5. Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
    4. Captain's Grille (Yacht Club)
    3. Narcoossee's (Grand Floridian)
    2. Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge)
    1. Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club)

    I would also include Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge) and Flying Fish Café (Boardwalk) if my list were longer. We are trying several places for the first time later this year including Jiko, bluezoo, Il Mulino and the aforementioned California Grill, so I may have to revise my Top 5 in the near future.

  4. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh citricos !!! Shrimp app is well, mouth watering . Brasied ribs devine. Try & arive early sit in the lobby of the grand flo & people watch . Listen to the grand pianio play & the 6 piece band play anything from glenn miller to disney tunes. Pull up a plush chair have tammy mix up a adult beverage for you & let all your stress leave your body & watch the world go by . Christmas time is the best with the gingerbread house & xwas tree up .cant wait

  5. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by DwarfPlanet View Post
    "As we all know, one of the most important parts of planning your Disney vacation is figuring out which of Walt Disney World's more than 100 restaurants you'll be enjoying."

    This always just boggles my mind. Maybe it's because we go during off season, or maybe we don't eat very large portions, or maybe we just like downright simple but seeing all the hassles folks go through to get someplace to eat in WDW has always just boggled me. I don't think we have ever did a ADR and we usually are able to just walk into one of these nice places everytime we go, not that we go for the fancy much. Then again maybe we're just lucky

    But those truffle fries you talked about have really intrigued me. We'll be down there in around 90 days ourselves so maybe we'll see what happens.

    You do have a substantial point here and we are very kindred spirits as well. I hate the dining plan. I hate having to make reservations so far in advance. But the fact is, we like to go down there with a few ADR's under our belt just in case. We do end up canceling a lot and eating counter service somewhere, but we have certain favorites that we like to revisit. I don't think we make as big a deal as others.

    And yes, the truffle fries should intrigue you. Trust me on this. Cold Anchor Steam, the cheese plate and an order of the truffle fries can be a satisfying meal.

  6. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by mkelm44 View Post
    I'd probably swap out Boatwrights for Narcosee, but I appreciate that you've put in a moderate priced restaurant on the list. It could be a worthwhile second list- the top hotel restaurants not at a Deluxe Resort. But my argument for Narcosee is this- the food is excellent (not suprising), you get the music piped in for the fireworks as well, and the landscaping around it is amazing. It is truly an experience to be able to stand outside on their porch and watch the fireworks explode for wishes- it seems more intimate to me than California Grill. Also, it has the effect of not requiring you to book your reservation 4000 years in advance like the California Grill does (yes, you have to do the reservation, but it's a better kept secret). Then at the end of the meal you can walk back to the Magic Kingdom or just go down to the water and sit on the deserted beach for a while.

    You'd have to swim to walk back to the Magic Kingdom from the Grand Floridian

  7. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by carolinakid View Post
    Chris, I've only dined at 1 of your top 5, Artist Point. We are trying California Grill for the first time in November and Citricos is definitely on our must-do sometime list. My absolute favorite resort restaurant is Shula's but I'm choosing to not include any of the fine establishments at the Swan or Dolphin. Therefore my current list of Top 5 WDW Hotel Restaurants is:

    5. Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
    4. Captain's Grille (Yacht Club)
    3. Narcoossee's (Grand Floridian)
    2. Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge)
    1. Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club)

    I would also include Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge) and Flying Fish Café (Boardwalk) if my list were longer. We are trying several places for the first time later this year including Jiko, bluezoo, Il Mulino and the aforementioned California Grill, so I may have to revise my Top 5 in the near future.

    Great choices John. And I've only eaten in one of them on your list, so there's still so many to try.

    We ate at a Todd English restaurant at Mohegan Sun Casino in CT. Fantastic meal, so I'm guessing bluezoo is pretty awesome as well.

  8. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by relaaxedwheniamthere View Post
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh citricos !!! Shrimp app is well, mouth watering . Brasied ribs devine. Try & arive early sit in the lobby of the grand flo & people watch . Listen to the grand pianio play & the 6 piece band play anything from glenn miller to disney tunes. Pull up a plush chair have tammy mix up a adult beverage for you & let all your stress leave your body & watch the world go by . Christmas time is the best with the gingerbread house & xwas tree up .cant wait

    Great description. Makes me want to be there as well.

  9. By cstephens

    OK, I'm going to say it. I know, I'm pretty sure it's against the rules here, but I'm doing it anyway. I don't get Tonga Toast. I kept hearing how amazing it was. So I tried it one time. Our server warned me to try it before actually pouring the syrup on, and I'm glad she did, because it was already too sweet without the syrup. Maybe I just don't like things as sweet as others. Maybe I just know that I need some kind of protein for breakfast. Dunno. But I've had Tonga Toast and can't imagine ever ordering it again.

    I haven't been to that many of the restaurants at WDW, but making a list off the top of my head of the places we've been to (which I then had to edit as I realized it's only for hotel restaurants):

    1. Flying Fish Cafe - Chef's counter. I've never eaten in the regular part of the restaurant, and I've never ordered there.
    2. Raglan Road - Love the food and the atmosphere. (It's not a hotel restaurant but it's not in-park, so I think it should count.)
    3. Kona Cafe - I've only ever been there for breakfast, and it's now become our go-to breakfast place on the day that we're flying out.
    4. Cape May Cafe - Loved the dinner buffet, and the seafood selections were really good.
    5. Spoodles - I know it's not there anymore, but even though I only ate there once, I realllllllly liked it.

  10. By SunnyLovesWDW

    Quote Originally Posted by MousePlanet AutoPoster View Post
    My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney Resort Hotel Restaurants by Chris Barry

    Chris Barry looks at some of his favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World.

    Read it here!

    Awesome Choices!
    1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian has a spectacular Sunday Brunch.
    But does anyone remember Sunday Brunch at the Papeete Bay Veranda at the Polynesian Village? They actually had chunks of coconut that you could dip in coconut syrup. It was incredible. That was many, many years ago...

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