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?

 

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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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 – Hollywood Brown Derby Patio Lounge

RM-Brown-Derby-PatioDid you know that the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a patio lounge?  Indeed, you can eat indoors at the Derby and experience signature restaurant dining (2 table-service credits on the Disney Dining Plan) OR you can dine al fresco and save both time and money.  The patio lounge is a great place to enjoy happy hour!  And that’s just what Raymond and I did on our last visit to Walt Disney World.

On the day we visited the Brown Derby’s outdoor eating area, we were spending only the afternoon in the Studios and were looking forward to our dinner reservations that night at The Swan’s Il Mulino.  We were having fun!  Riding rides, taking pictures of the very last bits of the Sorcerer’s Hat left to be disassembled and getting hungry!  We needed a snack, but not just any snack.  We didn’t want to spoil our supper and had only a few minutes before the start time of our FastPass for Rock’n’ Roller Coaster.  We thought an adult beverage would also be a welcome treat at that particular time.  Hmmm…we were making our way from Star Tours toward Sunset Boulevard and I had a craving for wine and cheese.  HA!  I remembered the Brown Derby’s new-ish outdoor eating area (opened in October, 2013).  Perfect!  I told Raymond I had the perfect solution (with a look instead of words, ’cause that’s how we roll after 25 years of marriage) and off we went!RM-Brown-Derby-Outdoor-Seating

We didn’t have much time and the place was crowded.  We were willing to forego the food and just have a glass of wine if we couldn’t be seated within about 5 minutes.  There’s a walk-up bar at the end of the patio, so we ordered our wine and inquired about the chances of getting a snack.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-WineTurns out, we were in luck – a table opened up, we were seated, and our server arrived promptly.  Once we explained our time limitation, he was totally onboard with getting us on our way as quickly as possible.

If you’ve read any of my previous dining reviews, you’ll have noticed that we are a family of cheese-loving people!  The artisanal cheese plate at the Brown Derby was calling our names – and we thought that would be just the right snack…not too much, not too little.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-Artisanal-Cheese-PlateWe were very happy with ourselves when our cheeses (and accompaniments) arrived.  Hungrier than we’d originally thought, we fell upon that plate of cheesy goodness and made short work of nearly every crumb.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio-Empty-Plates

It’s a story with a happy ending – our experience at the Hollywood Brown Derby’s Patio Lounge was everything we’d hoped for and more!  Good wine, tasty cheeses, and excellent service, we were soon on our way to G-Force Records for our limo ride & backstage passes.  If you’re at the Studios and looking for a fantastic, relaxing place to enjoy a cocktail and snack, look no further than the Derby’s patio.

What other places at Walt Disney World are great for happy hour?