Disney Dining – Try This Not That

RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Restaurant-ExteriorDisclaimer:  I’m the least picky eater I know.  I like nearly all foods.  I shy away from fried foods as they tend not to agree with me (although I think they taste great), I’m not eating tuna-noodle-casserole or black licorice – not really a problem since I can’t think of a single person I know who would happen to accidentally serve those to me should I be a guest in their home.  I suppose, actually, under those circumstances, I’d give the consumption of my personal culinary kryptonite my best try so as not to be considered rude.  My mom taught me better than  that.  And back to the point of this post.

Disney Dining – Try This Not That

Let’s assume for the purposes of today’s sharing-of-Disney-advice that we’re all adults.  I’m talking to you as a grownup, not to those of you trying to please little ones with park food, okay?

  1. Try the Roasted Pork Shank (NOT the Turkey Leg) – What they have in common:  fatty, roasted, savory meaty goodness.  What the Pork Shank has over the Turkey Leg is that it’s texture is better, its seasoning is more delicious, and Gaston’s Tavern (Magic Kingdom, Fantasyland) is far superior in atmosphere than anyplace offering the Turkey Leg.  You’ll still feel like Medieval royalty, don’t fret.RM-Gaston's-Pork-Shank-and-Lefou's-Brew
  2. Try the Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel (NOT the plain Mickey Pretzel) – Oh, stop it!  Mickey is cute and iconic and delicious, I’ll give you that.  The Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel is just SO much better (and unique versus what I can get in my local mall’s food court).  If you like a little spice in your snack, this one’s for you.RM-Jalapeno-Cheese-Pretzel
  3. Try Italy or France for Ice Cream (NOT the ubiquitous ice cream cart) – I’m not saying you should go an entire Disney vacay without a Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar or your beloved Dole Whip.  I’m just saying, give the “Gelati” gelato stand in Epcot World Showcase’s Italy Pavilion a try (our favorite: Espresso Gelato “Affogato”).  Or the L’Artisan de Glaces shop in France – YUM!  The beauty of these more exotic frozen treat options is that they have something for everyone.  You will not be disappointed.RM-Epcot-Italy-Gelato-Affogato
  4. Try Yachtsman Steakhouse (NOT Le Cellier) – Both are beef-lovers’ hot spots in the Epcot area.  Yachtsman’s is a short walk from Epcot via the International Gateway (a.k.a. the backdoor) at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.  Le Cellier is in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion.  The problem with Le Cellier is that it’s overcrowded and overrated (our opinion, which is heartbreaking since in the early years, this was a must-do for us).  For the price, Yachtsman’s menu, atmosphere, and service are superior.  Both restaurants are considered “Signature Dining” locations – so if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, they’ll cost you TWO Table Service credits.RM-Yachtsman-Filet
  5. Try Il Mulino (at The Swan) (NOT any other Italian restaurant on Disney property).  We loved everything about this place and can’t wait to go back.  It’s not Disney-owned, but IS easy to get to – and worth the effort and the price.  You can read my full review here, but let me just say – if you’re looking for a casual, grown-up evening out without pressure to eat quickly and leave and you want delicious food, great service, and a complimentary swig of limoncello to top off  your meal…this is the place for you.RM-Il-Mulino-Interior

What are your best suggestions for an eat-this-not-that Disney food or restaurant?  Would you choose Kona Café over ‘Ohana?  Sanaa over Jiko or Yak-n-Yeti?  School Bread over a Croissant Doughnut?  Tell me!  I’m 92 days away from needing to know!

Disney Dining and the Two-Strike Rule

RM-French-Regional-Lunch-DessertI believe everyone deserves a second chance, including restaurants.  With Walt Disney World dining, if my first experience in a restaurant isn’t all I’d hoped for, I’ll gladly give the place another try.  I have come to realize though, that two tries is my limit – if a table-service eatery cannot make me happy after a couple of meals, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever darken their door again.  I’ve come to think of it as the Two-Strike Rule.

I am not a picky eater and I don’t think my restaurant requirements are all that stringent.  All I want is a decent table location (not near the kitchen and a window seat is a nice bonus) and a server who paces the meal well and is attentive without hovering.  I’m usually not in a hurry and prefer a leisurely dinner.  The food has to be fresh and well prepared – hot foods hot, cold foods cold; and I’m hoping for a good, moderately-priced red wine selection, but will make do with beer if necessary.  I don’t have any allergies or special dietary needs and will eat nearly anything but black licorice and tuna-noodle casserole.  See?  It’s really not hard to make me a happy restaurant consumer.RM-Brown-Derby-Outdoor-Seating

When we ate at Disney Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood Brown Derby the first time, the service was poor and slow (we were basically ignored except when our order was taken and our food delivered).  The food was good and we loved the Derby’s atmosphere, but strike one.  Poor service has a major impact on overall dining satisfaction!  The next time we ate at the Brown Derby we were on the patio for wine and cheese and loved everything about it.  SAFE!  We’ll be going back!RM-Kona-Entrance

I fully expect the next time we eat at Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) to be a better experience than our first.  All the components of a great meal were there, but the execution left us dissatisfied.  I’m also willing to give Tutto Italia (Epcot’s Italy Pavilion) another try, but not for a LONG time since we used to love it, but found our last meal there to be a disaster on every level.

Same thing with Le Cellier (Epcot’s Canada Pavilion) – we were, until this year, staunch supporters with years of happy family meal memories there.  RM-Le-CellierSadly, the reports you hear now about it being over-hyped, over-priced, and over-booked are absolutely true.  We ate there in February and I was absolutely miserable.  Bad food, so-so service, and the bill was staggering for what we experienced.  We were crammed in the middle of three tables-for-two, so close to the ladies sitting next to us, we at least had their entire dinner conversation to entertain us – we had no choice but to hear every single word.  We might as well have been sitting at the same table.  RM-Le-Cellier-Entree-2015The servers appear to have a hard time making their way between tables and really have to stretch to deliver plates to some guests.  Now we’ll just leave Epcot and eat at Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club) if we want an excellent steak dinner.  If I hear things have changed for the better, I will absolutely try Le Cellier again.RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Waterfall

Has anyone struck out?  Have we tried a restaurant twice and decided we’re through forever?  As a matter of fact, we have.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I believe in total honesty.  I’m allowed to dislike a restaurant and still love the resort where it’s located, aren’t I?  I love Wilderness Lodge!  The grandeur, the beauty, the massive lobby and fantastic details – yes, indeed, Wilderness Lodge is wonderful!  RM-Artist-PointArtist Point?  Not so much.  It’s not for us.  There.  I said it.  Artist Point struck out and we will not be going back.  We tried it for the first time in 2010 and thought…meh.  For the price, we just didn’t feel the love.  Everything was extremely mediocre.  There are so many restaurants at Disney World that we think are extraordinary, we don’t need to spend money on mediocre.  But, the Two Strike Rule, right?  We had to give Artist Point another try.  And we did in February.RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Exterior

We arrived at Wilderness Lodge with enough time before our reservation time to stroll around, take some pictures, explore the lobby, and stop by the Territory Lounge for a glass of wine.RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Lobby RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Lobby-Totem RM-Wilderness-Lodge-Territory-LoungeSo far, so good!  We soaked up the atmosphere and felt hungry, but relaxed and ready for a great meal.  The dining room was as I remembered it – nothing remarkable, but cozy.  Our server was clearly overworked – we noticed that at once.RM-Artist-Point-Artisanal-CheesesWe ordered the artisanal cheese platter appetizer and a bottle of wine.  After we ordered our entrees, things went downhill fast.RM-Artist-Point-Swordfish RM-Artist-Point-Entree

I won’t bore you with every detail, but I, the non-picky eater, ate about three bites of my burnt, dry fish and was ready to get back to Bay Lake Tower for dessert at the Top of the World Lounge.  You can see in the picture that my fish was black – I don’t mean blackened – I’m from Louisiana and I love blackened fish. RM-Artist-Point-Burnt-Fish I wasn’t going to utter a word of complaint, but the experience was truly awful and we had to wait so long to catch the server’s attention to get our check.  When he looked at my plate and asked me if he could box up my leftovers, I couldn’t be quiet.  I said, “No, thank you, but for the folks that come after me, please let the kitchen know that this was the driest, most burnt piece of fish I’ve ever been served.”  Here’s the key part of this story – he never made eye contact, never said he was sorry, he just mumbled, “I take that off your ticket” and that was it.  He did!  My entrée was not on our bill and it seemed like a normal, regular thing.  THAT, friends, was what caused strike two.

Have you tried a Disney World Restaurant that you want to visit again and again?  What about one that you can live without?  If you have a bad experience, will you return?

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Thought for Food – Choosing a WDW Restaurant

RM-Be-Our-Guest-Stained-GlassI’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to plan a Walt Disney World vacation for the first time.  How overwhelming!  With no prior experience to draw from, choosing a resort would be exciting, but really and truly challenging!  At the 180-day mark, when the Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) system opened up for my first visit, I think I’d have a terribly difficult time selecting any, much less several, places to eat!  I like food and Walt Disney World has some truly wonderful restaurants!

Thought for Food – Choosing a WDW Restaurant

Quick service counters, snack carts, signature dining, World Showcase kiosks…so many choices, so little time!  I mean, unless vacation will last months and funds are unlimited, some tough decisions will need to be made.  The first decision has got to be whether or not any Table Service, Signature Dining, or Dinner Shows will be on the agenda.  Booking those reservations six months in advance may seem completely ridiculous (I got used to it, you can too), but it’s seriously necessary if any particular dining experiences are on your must-do list and you want to pick the day and time.RM-Yachtsman-Dining-Room

In the Table Service or Signature Dining categories, these three:  ‘Ohana (Polynesian Village Resort), Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom), and Le Cellier (Epcot World Showcase, Canada Pavilion) are constantly in extremely high demand.

My two cents:

‘Ohana is a very popular, all-you-care-to-eat, Brazilian Barbeque-style family restaurant.  It’s worth the hype, give it a try.  There’s little chance you would ever get in without an ADR – this place is awesome for a Magic Kingdom day.  Catch the monorail, eat, and if you’re up for it, head on back for Wishes or the Main Street Electrical Parade…or even just a few more rides and attractions.

RM-Be-Our-Guest-Grey-Stuff-Master's-CupcakeBe Our Guest – Also for a Magic Kingdom Day.  You should try very hard to get either breakfast or lunch reservations because the very best thing this place has going for it is the décor.  Don’t misunderstand me – you really need to see Be Our Guest if you liked Beauty and the Beast even a little.  This is the most incredibly themed restaurant I’ve ever seen and I loved the details in each room.  That being said,  dinner is over-priced and over-hyped.  (Full review here.)  Save those dinner Table Service credits or dollars for tastier fare. NOTE:  The FastPass referenced in my review has been discontinued.  Advance Dining Reservations at Be Our Guest are now accepted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (breakfast & lunch are quick-service, dinner is table service).RM-Le-Cellier

Le Cellier (Epcot) – for the money (or the two-table-service-credits), there are MANY better places to eat a steak.  I’d pass and not feel a smidge of regret if I were you.  I’ve eaten many a meal in Le Cellier, but the past couple of visits did not measure up to earlier great experiences.  The dining room is crowded and the tables are extremely close together, the food is okay, but not a good value.  If you want alternatives, leave a comment and I’ll suggest some other choices. (Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club would be at the top of my list.)RM-Yachtsman-Steakhouse

Back to planning – Most quick/counter service meals can be planned (but usually, except for Be Our Guest, cannot be reserved) in advance.  You can pre-screen places based on reviews, menus, or dietary needs OR, you can just go with what’s nearby when hunger strikes – an excellent option for non-picky or diet-restricted families.  I love go-with-the-flow opportunities, but I try to keep places I’d like to try in mind.RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Fried-Rice

One last thing – I know I’ve been talking about the importance of making dining plans, but please do not let a little thing like the inability to get a reservation at a particular restaurant ruin your vacation!  In the grand scheme of things, Walt Disney World is so fantastic, you need not count on a particular dining experience to make or break your trip.  Don’t hesitate to ask me if you need more info – you know I’ve got opinions to spare and will be happy to help you any way I can.  Detailed information on the Disney Dining Plan options can be found here.

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World before, what’s your best tip on planning where to eat?

Walt Disney World for Cheese Lovers


RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-CheeseHow appropriate that it was “all started by a mouse” – Walt Disney World is a great place for cheese lovers.  And we ARE.  Cheese lovers, I mean.  This would include nearly every member of our family.  Joseph’s a little iffy at times with his cheese passion, but when we’re at one of our favorite Disney World table service restaurants, he can scarf down cheeses with the best of us.

We sincerely hope it’s not just a fad or the latest trend for there to be so many interesting artisanal cheese offerings around the World.  We love the unique selections and how nearly every cheese appetizer we’ve tried comes with interesting accompaniments like jams, marmalades, relishes, and more.

Walt Disney World for Cheese Lovers (here are a few of our favorites):

Flying Fish Café at Disney’s Boardwalk:  Hands down our family favorite.  Flying Fish Cafe Artisanal CheesesIf you want a great cheese starter for an equally awesome meal, this is it!  What’s so special?  It’s big (to share), it’s different, and it’s a great way to sample “craft” cheeses of every type along with very carefully selected accompaniments for each cheese.  Just look at the menu and tell me you (if you love cheese) could resist?

Citricos at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa – Maybe not as robust as Flying Fish’s offering, this is still a cheese lover’s delight.  Citricos-Cheese-TrioCurrently $16 in the appetizer section, referred to simply as “Cheese Course” the selection is described as “Wijngaard Chèvre Affiné from Holland, One Year Reypenaer Dutch Gouda, and Cashel from Ireland served with Seasonal Accompaniments” – so, it’s not a huge variety, but I can vouch for the flavors, which were all delicious!

Hollywood Brown Derby (patio dining) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Need cheese?  In a hurry or just want a leisurely happy hour snack?  You can’t go wrong with a stop in at the Studios’ coolest outdoor eatery – the Brown Derby patio lounge.  When a craving for wine and cheese strikes, this is the place to be.  RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-Artisanal-Cheese-PlateA mini cheese smorgasbord, this is what you get: “Wensleydale Cranberry, VSOP Reypenaer Gouda, Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese with House-made Pickles, Spiced Pecans, and an Apple-Mustard Marmalade“.  Talk about a perfect snack!  Mmmmmm.

On our Next Cheeses to Try:

Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge – A family favorite, we’ve eaten at Jiko many times and will return there again.  The menu is so unique, we’ve resisted the cheeses, but next time?  We are eating their artisanal cheeses and seasonal accompaniments!  At least I am and maybe, if I’m lucky, I won’t have to share.  Check out the details here.

Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club – If we can resist the lobster bisque, we are getting the cheese plate!  This will prove much harder than it sounds – the lobster bisque is SO delicious.  Okay, maybe we’ll order the bisque AND the cheeses.  Mmmhumm….sounds like an excellent plan to me!

Are you a cheese lover?  What’s your favorite cheese dish at Walt Disney World?