Disney Dining – Table Service VS Signature Dining

So many dining questions (mostly my own) when planning a Walt Disney World vacation!  One of the most common is…What the heck is the difference between a “Table Service” restaurant and a “Signature Dining” experience?  This is an excellent question!!!  For guests on the Disney Dining Plan, the difference boils down to this:  Table Service = one credit and Signature restaurants = 2 credits.  But what is the difference REALLY?  What do I get for either my money or my dining credits?  That, my friends, is an interesting poser!RM-Yachtsman-Filet

To even the playing field for today’s exercise, I’m excluding all in-park dining options and focusing on two main categories:  1.)  Resort or Downtown Disney Dining Options and 2.)  Places Where I’ve Eaten.  With this information, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two dining categories AND you can think about choosing a restaurant without the added expense/use of a theme park ticket.  Honestly, it’s no big secret that our family generally prefers dining at the resorts over the parks anyway.

Disney Dining – Table Service VS Signature Dining

In General:  

Signature Dining is more grown-up.  With the exception of Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney World restaurants are kid-friendly.  That being said, folks in Signature eateries tend to be adults-out-for-an-evening versus families with little ones.Citricos-Window

Signature Dining tends to involve dressier attire.  From the Disney Dining Plan information sheet:  “Dress Code for Signature Restaurants is Resort Casual. Not permitted in dining room: Tank tops, swimsuits or swimsuit cover-ups, hats for gentlemen, cut-offs, torn clothing of any kind, or T-shirts with offensive language and/or graphics.”  You just get a dressier vibe in general and we tend to clean up at our resort before we hit one of the restaurants of the Signature Dining variety.

Signature Dining is more expensive.  In our experience, this is true.  Sure, you can run up a large tab anywhere, but based on a basic 4-5 course meal, Signature restaurants cost a bit more.

Signature Dining may have better service.  MAY being the operative word here.  We’ve had incredible service at places like Flying Fish but, on the flip side, have never had poor service at any of our favorite Table Service restaurants.  If you want your server to know more about wine pairings and how certain dishes or sauces are prepared, you’re more likely to find that in a Signature Dining restaurant.Citricos-Michael

Signature Dining is quieter and more relaxing (and takes longer).  Fewer kids, generally better pacing – the meals tend to flow better in favor of enjoying each course and the dining experience to a fuller extent than at a regular Table Service place.  There’s no rush to move families along before a melt-down occurs.

Let’s look at specific restaurants and compare!

Our favorite Table Service restaurants include this selection of six from the resorts (all are ONE credit on the Disney Dining Plan):

  • Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Buffet with a fixed price (unless you order adult beverages) that includes a selection of both exotic, African-inspired dishes AND kid (and picky eater)-friendly choices.  Soups, salads, entrées, desserts – a feast to please every taste!
  • Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village) – Feels very close to a Signature Dining experience with exotic flavors and an unsurpassed appetizer, the “Bread Service”.  It’s warm, cozy, and boasts an excellent, knowledgeable wait staff.  (Choose this over Jiko if you need to save a Table Service credit, but want the great flavors and atmosphere if Animal Kingdom Lodge.)RM-Sanaa Server
  • Olivia’s Café (Old Key West) – Underappreciated and off-the-beaten-path, this place is cozy with a homey, beachy vibe.  The service is above par and the relaxed atmosphere after a hectic day in the parks cannot be beat!Relaxed Dining at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West / Walt Disney World
  • Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) – If I had to rank this list, Kona Café would come in last.  Based on the one-and-only time we’ve eaten there, the atmosphere and service left us underwhelmed, but the food was delicious!
  • ‘Ohana (Polynesian Village Resort) – Perfect for families with big appetites looking for a kid-friendly atmosphere.  It helps if you like meat as this is a Brazilian Barbeque-style dining experience.
  • Raglan Road (Downtown Disney) – We love this place!  For an Irish Pub, it’s extremely family-friendly, has fun live entertainment, great music, and a delicious comfort-food-intensive menu.RM-Raglan-Road-Dancers

Resort Signature Dining (TWO Disney Dining Table Service Credits) experiences we’ve tried include:

  • Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – We love this place!  Expensive, yes, but exotic with great service, awesome wine selection, and delicious menu choices that have never disappointed.
  • Flying Fish Café – The artisanal cheese appetizer is amazing, but we also love the service, the interesting menu (something for everyone, even non-seafood-lovers) and the atmosphere – prime location on Disney’s Boardwalk.Disney's Flying Fish Cafe Interior
  • California Grill – More kids than we anticipated!  Of all the Signature Dining places we’ve tried, this one was the nosiest and had the most kids-on-the-loose.  It’s the balcony that allows guests a magnificent view of Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks show) – Access is included with a dining reservation.  The food’s great, the service is awesome, but if you’re looking for a quieter, kid-less dinner, think about trying a different restaurant.
  • Citricos (Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) – This place feels elegant, upscale, and unpretentious at the same time.  The service is excellent!  The menu is broad enough for picky or special-restriction diners.  We also think the atmosphere strikes just the right balance between fancy and on-vacation.Citricos-Interior
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht and Beach Club Resort) – Looking for a great steak dinner?  You’ll find one here.  Compared to the great service we’re received at other Signature Dining restaurants, Yachtsman’s servers possess the most pride in their food, atmosphere, and service.  There seem to be more kids here than at some other Signature Dining restaurants, but they’re too busy enjoying their steaks to make noise or cause a ruckus.RM-Yachtsman-Dining-Room
  • Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge) – Again, if I had to rank the restaurants in this category, Artist Point would come in last.  It’s dark and, compared to Wilderness Lodge’s awesome ambiance, lacks character.  Save your dining credits!  We’ve found much better experiences at NON-signature restaurants.  Rumor has it that changes are on the horizon for Artist Point, but it would take a lot to get me back in there for another meal when there are so many other, more reliable options.

Whew!  I’m exhausted…and hungry.  I hope I was able to shed a bit of light on the differences between the different dining experiences at Walt Disney World for you.  I believe it’s important to be an informed consumer when it comes to my precious vacation dollars.

What would you recommend for an excellent sit-down meal at a Disney resort?

 

Disney World Dining – Best 1-Credit Table Service Restaurants

RM-Be-Our-Guest-Stained-GlassOnce again, in the interest of full disclosure – I’m not a picky eater.  This is, you know, my blog and thus, my opinion.  I get asked a lot about the Disney Dining Plan in general and table service restaurants in particular.  Disney Dining Plans can be a great value (even if you pay for them and don’t get the free dining promotion), but to maximize your investment, you kind of need to choose wisely (if you care about such things).  There are some terrific web sites and blog posts that work out the details on where you can actually get the best value (Here’s a highly detailed great article from 2014) .  I’m not really into that per se.  I’m more about the overall dining experience versus straight up where-is-the-most-expensive-place-I-can-eat-for-one-table-service-credit.

Bearing in mind that these choices are based on my own family’s experiences – unless otherwise noted, we’ve actually eaten in every restaurant listed.  To make the list, we had to like the food, the selection, the service, and the ambiance as a whole.  Oh, and we’d have to want to eat there again.  So, if we’re all on the same page (HA!) here we go!

Disney World Dining – Best 1-Credit Table Service Restaurants

Exterior Rooftops / Animal Kingdom LodgeBoma Dinner Buffet (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Boma’s also available for breakfast, but we haven’t tried anything but dinner.  We’ve eaten here several times because the variety of foods on this amazing buffet is simply unbeatable.  Soups, salads, breads, meats, stews, casseroles, kid-friendly fare, unique desserts – it’s all available at Boma.  As an added bonus, arrive early or stay late and enjoy the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s gorgeous lobby and savannah overlook for animal-spotting, entertainment, and educational opportunities. (More about Animal Kingdom Lodge for an evening out here.)

RM-Sanaa-BreadSanaa Dinner (Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village Section) – We recently ate at Sanaa for the first time and thought the atmosphere, service, and food were all excellent.  A bit more adult-oriented than Boma (our opinion), we adored the bread service starter and felt perfectly comfortable lingering over a leisurely dinner.  Romantic? Yes!

Olivia's at Disney's Old Key WestOlivia’s Café (Old Key West Resort) – We discovered this unique restaurant mostly by accident.  We were staying at Old Key West, but honestly had no intention of eating there!  At the very end of our vacation, we found ourselves starving at supper-time with no ADR (Advance Dining Reservation) booked.  Olivia’s welcomed us with open arms.  Great service, broad selection (for all tastes and appetites), and cozy, welcoming atmosphere – Olivia’s won us over!  (Full review here.)

‘Ohana Dinner (Polynesian Village Resort) – This place has wide appeal for the entire family.  All you care to eat, great setting, tasty Brazilian-barbeque-style dinner, decent service – you won’t leave hungry!  If you’re tempted to give this place a try, you must book your ADR 180 days out.  You snooze, you lose…if you want to eat at this uber-popular restaurant.RM-Be-Our-Guest-Sign

Be Our Guest Dinner (Magic Kingdom) – Out of pocket, I thought this was an expensive dinner (review here), but for one table-service credit?  Absolutely I’d book an ADR at Be Our Guest.  It’s gorgeous, the service is great, and the food is fine.  Best, most gorgeous dining room(s) in Magic Kingdom.  Let’s put it like this – if you must book a table service restaurant in Magic Kingdom, make it Be Our Guest where, no matter your opinion on the food or atmosphere, you can at least enjoy an adult beverage with your meal if you like. (Full review here.)IMG_0931

Rose & Crown Restaurant (UK Pavilion, Epcot) – We loved this place.  When we ate there (once so far), we were outside on a lovely evening with a great water view.  The service and food were both great.  We love the UK pavilion – enjoying dinner there is just one more great way to immerse ourselves in its awesomeness.

50’s Prime Time Café (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – This place is so cool!  The “props”, the atmosphere, the humorous servers, the comfort-food-based menu – it all adds up to a fun place for the whole family.  A good experience and value for one table-service credit.  I’m a notorious anti-fan of the Studio’s restaurants in general, but this place is a winner in my book.

Character Dining:

 Meeting Minnie at Chef Mickey'sChef Mickey’s (Breakfast or Dinner Buffet / Contemporary Resort) – For years (and years!) we ate at Chef Mickey’s on every single Disney World visit.  First for dinner, then when the kids were older, for breakfast.  We’d eat there again – and probably will next time we’re all together on vacation.  The Fab Five and a decent buffet – especially during the summer, this combination at an indoor venue, for a meal, just a monorail stop from Magic Kingdom is a pretty good deal!  (Review here.)

1900 Park Fare / Drizella and Anastasia1900 Park Fare Dinner (Buffet / Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) – We loved meeting Cinderella and her Prince, but Lady Tremaine and the Step Sisters steal the show.  What this restaurant lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in character-meeting experiences and a good variety of tasty food.  We saw families of all ages there and our family of four adults had a great time! (Check out all the details here.)

Honorable Mentions:  Places we haven’t tried, but are on our to-try list because we’ve heard great things:

  • Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort)
  • Whispering Canyon Café (Wilderness Lodge)
  • Cape May Café Dinner (Buffet)
  • Tusker House Dinner (Buffet)

Your turn!  Which table service restaurants would you recommend?

 

Saturday Salute – Boma’s Chicken Corn Chowder

If you ever have the opportunity to eat at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, jump on it!  We eat there every time we’re at Disney World and have enjoyed every single bite.

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Topsy from South Africa

The lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge is worth a visit even without the delish food!  It’s HUGE and themed extremely well.  PLUS, you can walk right out onto the savannah for a look at the many different African animal species that roam all around the Lodge.  You know how I feel about Kilimanjaro Safari, so you can just imagine how much I like the savannah overlook area.  There is usually at least one castmember from Africa out there to answer any and all questions you might have about their homeland.  Raymond and I spoke to a young man from Botswana for quite a while one evening and enjoyed hearing him talk about Africa and what it was like growing up there.  Topsy from South Africa was there on our last visit.  She was so funny when we introduced her to Perry the Platypus.

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Raymond Checks out the Animals on the Savannah with Joseph’s Assistance

Okay, back to the food.  We’ve eaten at The Mara (quick service), Boma (buffet) and Jiko (table service), but I’m sure Sanaa (maybe next visit) is equally as fabulous.  It’s Boma and Jiko that keep us coming back – the food is unlike any other found at a Disney World resort and the service is always top notch.

Let’s just focus our taste buds on Boma.  The African-flavor-inspired dishes on this buffet are so plentiful, everybody finds something to love.  As with all Disney buffets, there are plenty of options for less-adventurous diners like mac-n-cheese and pasta.  Boasting an impressive variety of salads (oh, that watermellon rind salad is to die for!), several soups (thus, today’s Salute!), and main dishes (rice dishes, ribs, chicken, beef at a carving station, and much more)  to choose from.  And lets not forget about dessert and Boma’s famous Zebra Domes (little striped cake bites from heaven)!

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I found the recipe for Boma’s Chicken Corn Chowder at Magical Recipes.  The weather here has finally cooled off a bit and that always puts me in the mood for soup.  We (Raymond and I of the empty nest) particularly like this soup because it’s not only satisfying, but it has a spicy kick that makes it not-just-another chowder.  Bread and a side salad make it a meal.  Since this post is a tribute to Boma’s recipe, I made it exactly as written.  I did specifically use Tobasco brand sauce because to use anything else in Lousiana is at least a sin (if not illegal).  The result?  Mmmmmmm…Good!

What’s your favorite place to eat at Disney World?