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Scoping the Parks
Practical tips for Walt Disney World travel
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Mike Scopa

Unique WDW Dining Experiences

The Walt Disney World vacation experience goes beyond the thrill of the theme park attractions. This vacation capital of the world offers guests unique dining experiences that also serve as fond memories of their vacations.

Chef Mickey himself!
Chef Mickey himself!

In this session Mike highlights the most popular eating places that offer unusual and entertaining dining experiences in and around Walt Disney World focusing on character meals, dinner shows, and just plain fun places to eat while visiting the happiest place on earth.

(Editor's Note: "Priority Seating" is the Walt Disney World version of reservations for on-site restaurants. Priority seating arrangements are NOT the same as a guaranteed reservation. Instead, having a priority seating simply means that when you arrive at the restaurant at the pre-arranged time, you'll be put at the front of the line for the next available table for your group size. Actual "reservations," in which a specific table is set aside for you, are made for any of the dinner shows or restaurants where pre-payment is required, but for most dining at WDW, priority seating is what is available.)

Character Meals

A few years back a large percentage of WDW guests made comments regarding how they would prefer to have more access to the Disney characters. A plan was put in place to increase the interactivity between the most favorite characters and their fans, the guests of Walt Disney World. Part of this plan was to increase the number of character meals. Today guests can enjoy practically any meal of the day while also enjoying their favorite Disney characters.

What is a character meal? Simply put, it's an opportunity for you and your family to enjoy a meal while enjoying the company of the characters. What better way to save time than to fuel up while you get those photo opportunities with the characters?

Some of the more popular character meals can be found at Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort, The Crystal Palace in The Magic Kingdom, The Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot's Land Pavilion, Hollywood & Vine in MGM Studios, Restaurantosaurus in Disney's Animal Kingdom (character breakfast only), Cape May Café at Disney's Beach Club, 1900 Park Fare in The Grand Floridian Hotel, 'Ohana at Disney's Polynesian Resort, the Liberty Tree Tavern (character dinner) in the Magic Kingdom, and the Wonderland Tea Party at the Grand Floridian.


The hottest ticket for character meals is Cinderella's Royal Table high up in Cinderella Castle. How tough is it to make priority seating for this character meal? Most experts will tell you that it's next to impossible unless you call well in advance every day until you have your most valuable priority seating. Those guests who have secured reservations at an on-site resort can request a priority seating at Cinderella's Royal Table as far ahead as 60 days (that priority seating "window" is subject to change, but is the policy as of this writing). Why is this character meal so popular? First, because the restaurant is located right in Cinderella's Castle. Second, because the Disney princesses are the characters that greet the guests there.

Dinner Shows

There are several dinner shows in the Walt Disney World resort. To be honest, not all of them get great reviews. What is a dinner show? It's basically a sit-down meal in which you are treated to not only a good meal but also a form of entertainment.

The leader among all WDW dinner shows is the Hoop Dee Doo Review, which is held nightly at Frontier Hall at Fort Wilderness Campground. What makes this dinner show so popular is the amount of interaction between the performers and the audience. No matter where you're from they'll have a song for your state or country. And if you happen to attend on your birthday or wedding anniversary be prepared for some extra attention. Audience members also get to participate in the "pageant" held during the show and several lucky guests are picked out of the audience to participate. It's a lot of fun for the whole family and something that a family should experience at least once while at WDW.

Guests help out during the Hoop Dee Doo
Guests help out during the Hoop Dee Doo

Fort Wilderness Campground also hosts the all-American Barbeque at the River Country Pavilion. If you love Country & Western music and being entertained by cowboy Mickey and his friends then you will enjoy this dinner show. This meal is held only two or three nights a week. With that in mind priority seating arrangements should be made well in advance.

The Polynesian Luau is held at Luau Cove at Disney's Polynesian Resort. Besides the all you can eat dinner guests are treated to entertainment that is best described as both Hawaiian and South Seas like. Here's a tip...attend the later show as the effects are improved due to the lower lighting levels.

Are you into Gospel Music? If so you may want to take in the Sunday Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. At this all you can eat brunch you will find yourself listening to a number of gospels groups which entertaining you with hymns and gospel music.

A dinner show that does not get much fanfare is the Murder Watch Mystery Dinner Theater at the Grosvenor Hotel. This all-you-can-eat-buffet is supplemented with a murder mystery storyline in which guests are invited to become crime-solving sleuths. This theater show is lesser- known primarily because it is not in a theme park or in a prime WDW resort. However, it offers a great meal and entertainment value for your vacation dollars.

Just Plain Fun Places to Eat

Besides the character meals and dinner shows at WDW there are also some very unique dining opportunities. These may not always include your favorite Disney characters but have their own special personalities, which make them enjoyable in their own right.

Let's look at the most popular places to eat:

In the Disney-MGM Studios you will find the 50's Prime Time Café where you walk into a time warp where everything seems like it came out of the 1950's including the black and white television show in full view from every table.

Don't forget to eat your veggies at the 50's Prime Time Cafe!
Don't forget to eat your veggies at the 50's Prime Time Cafe!

Also in this park is the Sci-fi Dine-In Theater where you can enjoy your meal while seated in an "automobile" while watching trailers of old science fiction movies. If you're lucky, you may get a server who comes and goes from your table while wearing roller skates.

In Epcot the top fun places heralded by guests start with the Coral Reef Restaurant in The Living Seas. Many guests feel like they are eating in an aquarium as they watch sea life swim by their table.

If you eat at the Biergarten in the German Pavilion be prepared to sit at a large table with other guests and enjoy the German band. This restaurant offers an all you can eat buffet and I recommend this as a topnotch lunch spot in Epcot.

The Biergarten at Epcot's Germany Pavilion
The Biergarten at Epcot's Germany Pavilion

Of course if you love Moroccan cuisine then consider Restaurant Marrakesh in the Morocco Pavilion. Musicians and belly dancers will entertain you as you feast on some interesting entrees.

If you want some close up entertainment then head for the Teppanyaki dining room in the Japan Pavilion. Sure you've had Japanese food before but wait until you see how much fun it is to watch your chef prepare your meal.

Animal lovers will enjoy visiting The Rainforest Café at both Disney's Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney. Be advised that the restaurant located at the animal kingdom is larger and therefore easier to get a priority seating. Be prepared to eat among the tenants of the rainforest, and be forewarned... they can be noisy.

Also planned for 2002 is a special type of dining experience at the Tusker House in Disney's Animal Kingdom. This dining experience is supposed to educate and entertain the diners with story telling and fact filled entertainment.

That's Not All Folks

We have looked at the most popular eating establishments in and around the Walt Disney World Resort and have only scratched the surface. Our focus here was not to discuss all the places where you can find something to eat but to highlight the most popular ones involved with character meals, dinner shows, and just plain fun.

Remember that since these are the most popular places for guests to eat then take note to plan accordingly and make your priority seating well as soon as you have decided where to go.

For character meals, it is never too soon to make priority seating arrangements. Just remember that in order to make dinner show priority seating arrangements months ahead of time you may need to have a Walt Disney World hotel reservation in place.

Another tip to keep in mind that if you visit during the high crowds season that you may want to adjust your eating times (late lunches and early dinners) to give yourself the best chance of getting to that special restaurant.

When you visit Walt Disney world embrace it fully and take time to enjoy one of the fascinating dining experiences waiting for you. A visit to WDW should not only be entertaining to your eyes and ears but also to your palate.

Minnie visits with the kids at Chef Mickey's
Minnie visits with the kids at Chef Mickey's

Before we end we should always remind ourselves that nothing ever remains static at Walt Disney World. Everything we have discussed today is subject to change without notice. Let's hope that the popular places don't change.

Next time: The Walt Disney World Bibles

Class dismissed.


Photos on this page by Brian Bennett unless otherwise noted


Also, Visit MousePlanet's

Walt Disney World Restaurant Resource
for information on the restaurants, priority seating, dinner shows, character meals, and more!

Here are some links to pages in the Restaurant Resource on issues that Mike discussed in this article:
Character Meals  |  Dinner Shows  |  Discounts  |  Fantasmic! Dining Experience
And here's a page that explains Disney's Priority Seating process (which is similar, but not exactly the same, as reservations... and you definitely want to completely understand the system before your trip!)

Here's a list of the trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives!

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, "The Trip Planner" for more travel planning information!


Brian Bennett, author of MousePlanet's WDW Trip Planning Guide (and publisher of the Disney Trip Report Archive), writes:

The first Disney trip report that I ever read was a report by Mike Scopa that I downloaded from the America Online travel library in late 1994. The report was a detailed description of the Scopa family's trip to WDW in the summer of that year.

As soon as I was done reading it, I was hooked.

I picked my own brain and documented my own trips and the things I'd learned from my own experiences. Then, in 1995 I actually wrote a report as the trip unfolded. I took a laptop with me and spent some time in the evenings documenting what had happened that day. (I've repeated that process for my own reports ever since.)

In July 1996, I started my Disney trip planning Web site. Besides including my own reports, I asked for permission from the authors of several other reports and added them to the offering. Since then, the number of reports has expanded greatly. In 1997, I added an information summary for each report to make it easier to sort through the reports that are available.

I still 'blame' Mike for hooking me on this Disney habit.

Thanks Mike!

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