My Disney Top Five - Walt Disney World Counter Service Restaurantsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
Steve Russo had a great article last week about the upcoming changes to the Advanced Dining Reservation process at Walt Disney World. If you haven’t read it, and really…what kind of MousePlanet reader are you if you haven’t read Steve’s latest…in a nutshell, all Disney dining reservations must now be made with a credit card number attached. If you don’t cancel at least 24 hours in advance, you will receive a penalty charge. Previously, this policy was reserved for only the signature Disney Dining experiences. Now, it will be for every reservation taken.
I joined in on the lively MousePad discussion and stated my (forgive me) distaste for the Disney Dining Plan and what I feel it’s done to the whole idea of dining out while on a Disney World vacation. We’ve all been there. Unless you figure out where you’ll be and what you’ll want to eat 6 months ahead of time on a given day in a given Disney park or hotel, you’re more than likely going to get shut out of the most popular restaurants. Over the last several years, especially since the Dining Plan came into existence, it’s become commonplace for guests to plan out their dining reservations way ahead of time to insure that they will have a place to eat and make sure they use their pre-paid dining credits. Quite honestly, I have no interest in doing this. We had the Dining Plan once when it was offered for free. Despite the obvious cost savings we received on a ten-day trip with free food, we vowed never to use the plan again. It was too much food. There was too much planning centered around food. There were too many carrot cakes jammed into my Port Orleans fridge by the end of the week. I took it for free, but I couldn’t imagine ever paying for it. We haven’t opted for it since and probably won’t.
That said, we do make dining reservations. We don’t make them six months out. We don’t panic about them. We do get into great restaurants and if we don’t score that coveted reservation at Le Cellier or ‘Ohana, there’s always plenty of great food to be found throughout Walt Disney World. Places like the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian Café at Disney’s flagship hotel of the same name, and Marrakesh tucked away in the back of Epcot’s Morocco pavilion have always been delicious dining experiences and are always an easy reservation to get.
Sometimes, however, you just don’t want to be tied down to a reservation. You don’t want to completely stop what you’re doing and leave the park you’re in to make your way over to a sit-down restaurant. Sometimes you just want to grab something good on your own terms. And that’s where the topic for this article comes into play. Counter service food at a typical theme park consists primarily of hot dogs, burgers and deep fried stuff. Granted, there’s plenty of that to go around in the Disney parks, but there’s also some great atypical counter service food to be had throughout the resort. So, let’s put down the menus, stand in some lines and check out my Top 5 Walt Disney World Counter Service Restaurants.
5 – Captain Cook’s Snack Company – Disney’s Polynesian Resort
There are two main reasons to start off with this counter service restaurant at my all-time favorite Disney hotel – the Tonga Toast and the self-serve Dole Whips! This small and simple dining area on the ground floor of the Polynesian’s Great Ceremonial House serves up some good solid food choices. The Aloha Pork Sandwich is great as is the stir-fried noodles with chicken. Make sure to give the flatbreads a try as well. My favorite meal here was an early morning breakfast. We sat outside, surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers, listening to the calm sounds of the stream trickling down to the volcano pool, feasting on the delectable Tonga Toast – battered and deep fried sourdough bread stuffed with bananas – and gazing at Cinderella Castle out across the Seven Seas Lagoon. What could be better than that? Oh yeah – how about stopping by here midday for a cold, creamy, refreshing, world famous Dole Whip and sitting out on the beach in a hammock or on a swing? Need a break from the Magic Kingdom’s craziness? Hop the monorail or the ferry and pay a visit to Captain Cook’s…no reservation required!
4 - Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe– Magic Kingdom
Pecos Bill’s, tucked back in the Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland is a great place to grab dinner, find a place to sit outside afterwards and wait around for the nighttime parade to come by. This place is known for its burgers, but it’s even more known for having an awesome fixins bar. The heaping bowls of sautéed mushrooms are the perfect compliment to a delicious Angus burger and fries. Sounds simple, but sometimes the right burger with the right fixins really hits the spot and for that, Pecos Bill’s delivers.
3 - Sunshine Seasons – The Land, Epcot
This is a great example of Disney trying to offer more and more variety as well as healthier choices at their counter service locations. Sunshine Seasons is essentially a food court with five different food stations; the Asian Wok Shop, the Sandwich Shop and Bakery, the Soup and Salad shop, the Wood-Fired Grill Shop and a well stocked selection of “Grab & Go” scattered in between each station. This has to be the most varied quick service location in all of Walt Disney World. There’s beet and goat cheese salad with honey sherry dressing, or the oak-grilled vegetable flatbread sandwich. I love the tabbouleh rolls from the “Grab & Go” and my son Alex says they have “the best mac & cheese in the world.” Once you’re done with this delicious healthy meal, grab a Fastpass for Soarin’, and then hop on the classic Living with the Land boat ride and you'll see why this is a true gem of a spot to dine in Epcot.
2 - Tangierine Cafe - Morocco, Epcot
We’ve always found this to be one of the most underappreciated places to eat in Walt Disney World. The detail throughout the entire Morocco pavilion is truly breathtaking and this café is no exception. The food is fantastic. The shawarma platters are always my favorite – chicken or lamb served with hummus, tabouleh, tangierine couscous salad and Moroccan bread. It’s delicious and healthy and it’s what an Epcot pavilion meal should be—a non-threatening taste of the host country’s food culture. Couple your meal with my favorite soft drink in the entire resort, the Moroccan Mint Iced Tea; finish it off with some excellent fresh pastries and you’ll be more than satisfied, I promise you.
1 – Flame Tree Barbecue – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Flame Tree is hands down the best counter service restaurant as far as seating goes. The gardens, pools and views of the Flame Tree’s seating areas are some of the nicest places to sit and enjoy a meal anywhere in Walt Disney World. The intricately detailed dining pavilions featuring Animal Kingdom’s beautiful woodcarvings are a sight to see. The surprising theme carried throughout this area is animals eating other animals! You may have missed it on your last visit. Check it out the next time you’re there. It’s interesting and disturbing at times, but beautifully pulled off. Order up a smoked chicken salad, go grab a seat by the reflecting pool or alongside Discovery River gazing out at Everest and you’ll see why Flame Tree Barbecue is widely considered one of the best places to have a meal in Walt Disney World. The food is great and the setting is absolutely amazing.
This was a tough list. There are plenty more places that could have made the cut. Boulangiere Patisserie in France, Kringla Bakeri og Café in Norway, the Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom and of course the brand new Be Our Guest Lunch in the Magic Kingdom all could have found a place on this list. You may have your own favorites that I didn’t mention. My point is this: the dining options are pretty endless when it comes to Walt Disney World. There’s everything from a killer hot dog at Casey’s Corner in the Magic Kingdom to the Five-Diamond exclusive Victoria and Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian and everything in-between.
Enjoy the dining experiences when you’re there, but if you happen to get shut out of the most popular sit-down restaurants, don’t fret. All throughout the “World” there’s a wealth of great food waiting for you being served across a counter. Some of them are as good, if not better than some of the full-service restaurants. You may wait in a line, but you don’t have to book a spot in line 180 days in advance, now, do you?
Did I miss your favorite counter-service food at Walt Disney World? Do you agree with my list? Click on the link below, let me hear your thoughts, and I’ll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.