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?


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?



Disney Dining – Flying Fish Cafe

Flying Fish Cafe Menu CoverI’d heard great things about Disney’s Boardwalk (especially the Flying Fish Cafe) for a long time.  I can’t believe it took me so long to finally get there!  The Boardwalk is fantastic!  And the Flying Fish is on par with (or better than) any signature dining experience we’ve had at Walt Disney World.

We took a bus to the Boardwalk from (I think) Magic Kingdom – Old Key West to Magic Kingdom, Magic Kingdom to Boardwalk.  I know we could have actually taken a bus to Epcot, walked through Epcot, exited through the International Gateway and walked on to the Boardwalk – we wanted to be…uhm….fresher than we would have been had we walked all that way.DSCN3950

We dressed a little nicer for the Flying Fish having heard it was similar to places like Jiko or California Grill.  Arriving early enough to check out the Boardwalk area, we were delighted!  Street performers, shops, refreshment stands – there was a lot to enjoy.  We had time to watch a juggling mime and explore a couple of shops before checking in at Flying Fish.  After inquiring about waiting in the bar, we were directed to another place entirely, ensured our flashing buzzer would work at a distance.  We found the Belle Vue Lounge iDisney's Flying Fish Cafe Interiornside a different entrance at the top of a staircase – laid back, relaxed, cool and comfortable…the perfect place to enjoy a pre-dinner beer.  We had just enough time to order and pay the tab – we took the beers with us back downstairs and down the walkway to the Flying Fish when our buzzer went off.

We were seated by a very friendly hostess who informed us that our server would be Bob.  Bob sounds like such a regular name…he is, however, an extraordinary server.  Bob was fantastic from the first moment he arrived at our table to the moment we left the building…he made our dinner at the Flying Fish into something amazing!

Bob explained that the menu is customized weekly based on the freshest ingredients availableFlying Fish Cafe Artisanal Cheeses he made recommendations and described various options and daily specials in a way that made us certain of one fact:  If an old boot were on the menu, Bob would make you want to order it!  We started with appetizers.  Having heard great things about the Artisanal Cheeses, we ordered that to share.  This consisted of five tasting portions of cheeses and accompaniments – cheeses included “Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk”, “Beehive Cheese Creamery ‘SeaHive'”, “Lamb Chopper”, “Midnight Moon Goat Cheese”, and “Flora Nelle”.  Accompaniments included Fig and Almond Torta, Raisins on the Vine, Honeycomb, and a Spiced Spring Melon, Sweet Onion, Golden Raisin and Mandarinquat Chutney.  If you like cheeses and trying new flavor combinations, we highly recommend this delicious and exotic plate of goodness!  Soups, salads, Flying Fish Cafe Menuand other appetizers like calamari, crab cakes, mussels, and vegetarian sushi were also available.

For entrees, Joseph and I decided the Chef’s Special – Thunder Fish (delicious!).  Raymond ordered the Idaho Potato-wrapped Red Snapper and Megan had the Oak-grilled Maine Sea Scallops.  We are a family of seafood lovers, but if your family is not, there are other (non-seafood) options.  When we were there, the menu included Lamb Chops and New York Strip.  Salmon, tuna, and pasta with shrimp were also on the menu. Flying Fish Dinner at the Boardwalk

Normally, we skip dessert in favor of appetizers (we end up too full!) and occasionally pick up something sweet later in the evening.  We were having such an exceptionally good time at the Flying Fish Café, that we lingered as long as we could.  We ordered hot tea and coffee after our meal and Raymond and I split a dessert called “Sinful Dark Chocolate Delice Creation” which had a description so unique we felt we had to try it – “Amaretto-laced Chocolate Mousse, Brownie Torta, Thai Chili-laced Caramel Sauce, Candied Bacon and Dark Chocolate Sorbet”.  Sounds like a LOT going on there, but the flavors blended SO well together and the bacon, welllll – who doesn’t like bacon?  Megan and Joseph had spotted a shop on the Boardwalk earlier that had a Flying Fish Cafe Chocolate Desserthuge candy selection and opted for something there for dessert.

Waddling happily to catch a bus for the return trip to Old Key West, Raymond and I made plans to visit the Flying Fish again.  Megan and Joseph headed back out to the parks to enjoy some more rides.  It was a GREAT evening.

Have you eaten at the Flying Fish Café?  If a meal there is in your plans – ask for Bob!