Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

There are so many Walt Disney World restaurants to choose from!  Frequent visitors, like our family, develop a passion for certain snacks, an emotional attachment to a few quick-service places, and we’re downright territorial about our table service favorites!

Let’s talk about Disney’s Signature Dining.  If you’re going to splurge on a meal either out-of-pocket or by burning two table service dining credits on the Disney Dining Plan, it’s important to choose wisely!  While we haven’t quite made it to all the finest dining Disney has to offer (I’m looking at you, Victoria and Albert’s), we’ve tried a good many and have indeed developed enough of a fondness for a few to do what we can to squeeze them into our budgets for both time and money as often as we can.Signature Dining - Yachtsman Steakhouse

For those of you with little ones, fully enjoying a Signature Dining experience can be challenging.  You know you kids best and whether or not they’d like to sit in a fancy restaurant for a lengthy meal.  This is Disney World so signature restaurants are kid-friendly, but they are not as fun as character dining (like at Tusker House or Chef Mickey) or some places with funny servers (think Whispering Canyon Café or 50’s Prime Time Café) and cool themes (Sci-Fi Dine In Theater).  These places also tend to have more “adult” foods on the kids’ menu.  The list I’ve put together here is mainly geared towards families with older children and groups of adults.  If you’ve got something to celebrate, like an anniversary or graduation, signature dining is the way to go!

Disney World’s Best Signature Dining

In The Resorts

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Hands down this is our favorite Signature Dining Experience, but it’s not for everyone!  Jiko is best enjoyed by diners with adventurous palates.  That’s not to say that picky eaters won’t find something to love, but it may take a little creative work with the cooperative servers and chefs.  We’re game (see what I did there?) for trying exotic dishes made with wild boar or buffalo.  We welcome new flavors from African-spiced dishes of all kinds.  Options like pork and lamb shanks, beef short ribs, scallops, halibut, lobster, and vegetarian dishes make up the creative menu.  We have never been disappointed.  The wine list is as fantastic as the food.

California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – The food’s good, but the setting is great!  The view from the top of the Contemporary Resort is fantastic and at sunset it’s downright awesome!  The California-inspired menu is broad and boasts a great selection of sushi along with other, many very complex, dishes.  Service is excellent and compared to Citricos and Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian (also signature), California Grill manages to seem extra special.  No matter what time you have dinner, you’ll be welcome to stay (or return) and enjoy Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s fireworks spectacular) from the restaurant’s outdoor viewing area.  We celebrated our 25th anniversary at California Grill and our experience was wonderful.

Flying Fish (Disney’s Boardwalk) – Recently renovated and with a new chef, Flying Fish has an awesome location (a short walk from Epcot) and has been very popular in the past.  One of our best vacation meal memories is of dinner at the Flying Fish.  Disney's Flying Fish Cafe ExteriorI don’t know firsthand how the restaurant’s new version compares to the old, but our next Flying Fish dinner is just days away.  The new menu looks fantastic (albeit expensive!) and it may well be worth two dining credits.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club) – A solid choice for steak-lovers, Yachtsman’s proximity to Epcot makes it a stellar alternative to Le Cellier in World Showcase’s Canada Pavilion.  Good service, solid menu, and the butcher/meat viewing area is cool!  We thought the atmosphere a bit more laid back than some of the other signature restaurants and that complimented, rather than detracted from, the overall experience to us.  If you’re not a steak fan, there are better places to eat.  If you love a good steak, I found even the smallest one on the menu (6-ounce Black Angus Filet) to be perfectly cooked, tender, and delicious.

In The Parks

Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) – As I mentioned in the review I did recently, this place is probably not for picky, non-adventurous eaters.  If you love Animal Kingdom for the incredible theming and you want to feel like you’re eating in an exotic far away place with amazing service, consider Tiffins.  It can be a bit expensive, but is very special, so worth it in my opinion (at least once).  The menu is extraordinary and the beer and wine lists are carefully cultivated and unique.  While all signature dining restaurants try to offer exceptional service in a special atmosphere, Tiffins succeeds in a way few others manage.The Hollywood Brown Derby / Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Brown Derby (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – While this may be our least favorite of the group I’ve listed here today, it’s worth mentioning.  The Derby has many devoted fans and it offers a wonderful respite from park noise and crowds.  The atmosphere is very cool and the menu offers a good variety.  The Cobb Salad is famous as is the Grapefruit Cake dessert.  If you’re on the dining plan, don’t waste two table service credits here.  If you want a nice meal at a low-ish price for signature dining and/or want the best meal in the Studios, give the Hollywood Brown Derby a try.

What did I miss?  Do you have a favorite signature restaurant that didn’t make our list?


Walt Disney World Food Surprises

RM-California-Grill-Dessert2Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.  The end of the year will be here before we know it.  I always like to take time to reflect on the impressions the waning year has made on me even while I’m making plans and resolutions for the one to come.

I’ve been thinking about this year as “The Year of Disney Foods” – I made a point to try as many new snacks and restaurants as possible (with gusto!) during our May visit to Walt Disney World.  Then in October, we experienced our first Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  I even cooked a few Disney restaurant recipes at home.  Overwhelmingly my experiences were positive ones, but as usual, I wouldn’t be offering balanced feedback if I didn’t also include the disappointments.  In some cases, my taste-testing netted surprising results – I liked a few things way more than I thought I would.  And I was let down by some foods unexpectedly.  Which finally brings me to today’s topic…

Walt Disney World Food Surprises

IMG_3812Croissant Donut – What I was expecting:  Fluffy plain donut with cinnamon-sugar coating.  What I got:  Warm, flaky, delectable pastry with a delightful texture.  Surprisingly delicious!  Don’t take my word for it – head on over to the Refreshment Port in Epcot (on the Canada side as you enter the World Showcase).

IMG_3355Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel – What I expected:  Plain, giant pretzel with a hint of jalapeno and cheese in the background behind the pretzel taste.  What I got:  A very tasty blend of pretzel bread and jalapeno cheesiness – much more front and center pepper/cheese flavors than pretzel.  Tastes as good as it looks.  This is now going to be a must-have Animal Kingdom snack!

RM-Gaston's-Tavern-Roasted-Pork-ShankRoasted Pork Shank – What I expected:  Somewhat greasy, gristly smoked meat akin to the infamous turkey leg. What I got:  Nothing short of one of the best hunks of meat available for purchase anywhere at Walt Disney World!  Seasoned well, fall-off-the-bone tender with very little to discard except the bone.  These will save the legs of millions of turkeys!  Best thing in Gaston’s Tavern!  In fact, make a special trip TO the Tavern just to feast on a shank of your own.  They’re really filling, too.

RM-Gaston's-Tavern-Cinnamon-RollCinnamon Roll (Also from Gaston’s Tavern) – What I expected:  Big, warm, soft, well-blended cinnamon/sugar/glaze/roll flavors.  What I got:  Enormous disappointment!  It was cold, dry and offered very little to love.  I can’t believe I would say this, but the taste of cinnamon was much too strong.  The whole roll seemed like a day-old bakery reject.  And it was HUGE, so I felt like I was wasting a lot of food when I threw most of it away.

Pineapple Dole WhipDole Whip – Yes, I know!  Everyone’s favorite Disney snack – thousands upon thousands of guests wait patiently in line, sweating under the Florida sun to partake of this famous frozen treat in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.  What I expected:  Refreshing pineapple flavor in a creamy soft-serve form.  What I got:  Overly sweet, overly pineapple-flavored ice-cream-ish blob.  It melted all over me.  I wanted to like it and I tried my best, but no…which means one lest person in line with the rest of you.  I’m going to try a Citrus Swirl next time and see if that suits me better.

Flying Fish Cafe Artisanal CheesesFlying Fish’s Artisanal Cheeses – What I expected:  Good selection of cheeses and a good choice for an appetizer to share.  What we got:  Best cheese “starter” for any meal I’ve had at a restaurant anywhere.  Interesting flavors and textures – the perfect way to kick of a great meal.

RM-Sweet-&-Spicy-Chicken-Waffle-SandwichSweet & Spicy Chicken Waffle Sandwich (Sleepy Hollow, Liberty Square) – What I expected:  Crispy waffle wrapped around a mildly spicy chicken tender with a lettuce garnish.  What I got:  A completely mixed reaction!  I loved the chicken.  Raymond loved the chicken – we were both surprised a Magic Kingdom eatery would serve something with such a spicy kick!  The chicken was amazing!  The rest of the waffle’s contents were perfect with the chicken – arugula and coleslaw complimented the heat of the chicken in both flavor and texture.  There was one, glaring downside to this sandwich – the regrettable sogginess of the waffle!  I wanted it to be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside – the way a well-cooked waffle should be.  Instead it was a limp, soggy mess.  I’d probably order it again, though, just to have that chicken.

RM-Be-Our-Guest-Grey-Stuff-Master's-CupcakeThe Grey Stuff – When Lumiere said, “Try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious” I believed him.  I wanted to love it.  So much so, I tried two different desserts containing the mysterious substance to be certain I was 100% sure about my feelings.  What I wanted:  Something with texture and flavor befitting such a touted edible blob.  I guess I was imagining something like cream cheese icing’s texture.  In fact, cream cheese icing infused with pulverized Oreos would probably taste really good.  What I got:  Room-temperature, grey Reddi-Whip.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just hoped it would be more substantial.  It’s clever, don’t get me wrong.  Everyone who dines at Be Our Guest should indulge in some Gray Stuff.  Just don’t expect to be blown away.

RM-Pecos-Bill's-Taco-SaladTaco Salad at Pecos Bill’s – It was just announced this week that Disney is discontinuing the taco salad at Pecos Bill’s in Frontierland.  This was the best thing on the menu and the only reason I would darken the door of Bill’s establishment.  Taco shell and a warm scoop of seasoned ground beef is what you got – the famous fixin’s bar was what made it worth the trip.  Your shell and beef could be transformed into the salad of your dreams!  Ah, well.  The surprise here is that Disney would remove what had to have been a popular menu item (also quick and easy to serve).  Columbia Harbor House here we come!

You know I love discussion!  Weigh in now!!!  What were your biggest Disney dining surprises this year?