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?

 

More Love for Raglan Road

Raglan-Road-InteriorWith all the new shops and restaurants opening in Disney Springs/Downtown Disney, it’d be easy for most people to pass up an old favorite and try someplace new, I suppose.  Not for us, though.  We’d have to put aside a many-years-long vacation tradition to visit Disney’s shopping and nighttime entertainment center and not stop at Raglan Road.

At first glance, Irish Pub and family friendly seem a strange and unlikely combination, but that’s the draw of Raglan Road to us.  It really is a great place to enjoy excellent food and fantastic entertainment – for the whole family!  If you’ve read my dining reviews before, you know I want a good place to sit, decent service (at a leisurely pace), and great food.  Raglan road has never let us down on any of those criteria plus they have the added bonus of some fun and wonderful entertainment.Raglan-Road-Pub

A couple of months ago, we visited Raglan Road once again and, to me, we had the best seats we’d every had.  We got there early and stayed late – our only goal for the evening was to be back in the Magic Kingdom for Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade.  Plenty of time with an early 5pm ADR (advance dining reservation) to relax, eat too much, and enjoy some excellent music and watch some fun and lively Irish Dancing.Drink-Menu-Raglan-Road

We arrived to find we were a few minutes early and there was plenty of room open at the bar.  We checked in at the reception desk first, picked up our pager, and selected a couple of beers to enjoy while we waited.  Beer-Raglan-Road Beer2-Raglan-RoadIn no time at all, we were being shown to our table…and an excellent table it was.  To the right of the stage, we had excellent seats to see and hear the live music and dancing.Raglan-Road-Singers

Our server arrived promptly and (let me just disclose now that we were hungry…very hungry) took our appetizer order.  If you’ve never had the ribs at Raglan Road, I feel sad for you.  “Heaven on Earth – Baby back ribs tossed in a Guinness glaze.” – they are both sweet and savory, tender and crispy, perfect bites of meaty goodness.  Raglan-Road-RibsWe also enjoyed (we always do) the bread and dipping sauce.  This sauce, like the ribs, makes use of a Guinness reduction.  Words cannot describe, so trust me when I say, the hearty bread and the slightly sweet, dark sauce combine perfectly.  If I could only duplicate it at home…wait, no, that would be bad and counterproductive to my weight management goals. Raglan-Road-Bread

We ordered a salad to share.  Did I say we were hungry? “Cashel Castle – Crumbled Cashel blue cheese, caramelized pecans, grape tomatoes, raspberries, pancetta crisps, crostini’s & raspberry vinaigrette.”  You can add shrimp or chicken, but we just wanted the salad as is.  The flavors sounded like a wonderful combination – and they were!  Ribs, bread, salad, and still hungry.  Time for the main course!Raglan-Road-Salad

Raymond chose the ham and I chose the lamb.  Honestly, I was totally shocked by my sweet, but kind of picky, husband’s decision to order something with cabbage in the description:  “Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – Irish Mist glazed loin of bacon with savoy cabbage, colcannon potatoes, parsley cream sauce and a raisin cider jus.”  Must have been the description of the ham that sealed the deal and, sure enough, he was quite pleased with his choice.  Raglan-Road-Entree-HamUpon our server’s recommendation, I ordered the lamb – ” Lambo – Lamb shank braised in rosemary jus with mash, leeks, shitake mushrooms & baby carrots.”  This absolutely yummy dish did not disappoint.Raglan-Road-Entree-Lambo

Full as can be, don’t ask me why, we got a little crazy.  Must have been the music, but we decided to stay for dessert.  We still had plenty of time to spare, so with dessert we ordered up a couple of Irish coffees.  Raglan-Road-Irish-CoffeeI’m so sad I could not do justice to my selection!  The menu said, “Ger’s Bread & Butter Pudding  Like no other pudding you have ever tried.  Believe us.” – and the menu was right!  Holy Moly – that concoction was nothing short of amazing!!!Raglan-Road-Bread-Pudding Raglan-Road-DessertIn fact, I took a picture of Raymond’s chocolaty plate, but I have absolutely no idea what he ordered.  I wasn’t sharing mine, so I certainly wasn’t going to ask for a bite of his.

I’m not exaggerating when I say we could barely waddle out of Raglan Road that night, but we had an absolutely wonderful dinner.  AND we made it back to Magic Kingdom in plenty of time to lower our overly-full selves down onto a Main Street curb in plenty of time to see both Wishes and the Electrical Parade.

Have you eaten at Raglan Road?  What did you enjoy most about it?

Disney Springs’ Chapel Hats

RM-Raglan-Road-Irish-DancersConstruction walls may still be up all around, but excitement is in the air as Downtown Disney’s transformation into Disney Springs is well underway.  New stores are springing up while old favorites continue to thrive.  We recently spent a very enjoyable evening in Downtown Disney/Disney Springs and there’s a new shop I’ve just got to tell you about!

After a leisurely dinner at one of our most favorite dining locations in the World, Raglan Road, we decided to take our time walking back to the bus stop.  Okay, that’s a lie.  We RM-Chapel-Hats-Storehad to walk slowly on account of being inordinately stuffed from the appetizer, salad, entrées, and desserts we’d just consumed.  My only excuse for overindulgence is that watching those famous Irish Dancers burn off all those calories makes me hungry.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Anyway, we were strolling along and noticed a new shop had opened that we both wanted to explore!

I know, right?  What are the chances that Raymond and I both wanted to shop in the very same store when it’s not full of Disney merchandise?  It just so happens that we are both wild about hats!  The new Chapel Hat store was irresistible.  We waddled on inside and stayed for quite a visit.

Simple and well-stocked, Chapel hats is easy to shop – it’s like a gigantic closet of hats!RM-Chapel-Hats-Shelves3Shelves and shelves stacked high with just about any and every style imaginable.  Men’s hats on the left and women’s on the right with the checkout counter in the middle, Chapel Hats is a lid-lover’s dream come true.RM-Chapel-Hats-Shelves2 RM-Chapel-Hats-ShelvesCharmed by the variety of hats ranging in style from whimsical to utilitarian, we made use of the shop’s many mirrors…and had a ball!  RM-Chapel-Hats-Tophat RM-Chapel-Hats-Silhouette RM-Chapel-Hats-Fedora RM-Chapel-Hats-Fancy

What started out as a fun diversion soon became a serious quest for the perfect hat for each of us.  We enjoyed picking out different styles for each other to try.RM-Chapel-Hats-Cabbie RM-Chapel-Hats-Ladies'-HatsWe took turns modeling different types and colors, narrowing our selection down to the two or three we liked the best then helping each other decide on the ONE.  No matter what kind of chapeau you prefer, Chapel Hats has a topper for you!  After about 30 minutes of fun, we purchased our selections.  Shopping bag in hand, we made our way to the buses and on to the Magic Kingdom for Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade.  A perfect souvenir for a truly magical day, our new hats will be a happy reminder of a great Disney vacation for years to come.

Are you much of a hat wearer?  Be sure to check out Chapel Hats on your next visit to Downtown Disney/Disney Springs!  Chapel Hats on the web.

Making the Most of One More Disney Day

 

RM-Magic-Kingdom-SelfieWhen we think back about the happiest days of our lives, we surely remember wedding days, holidays, graduation days, days when we welcomed children or grandchildren into the world.  These happy, joy-filled days usually have something in common – we know they’re coming!  We plan, we work, we save money, we cook special meals – we prepare for these momentous occasions and then hold them, near and dear to our hearts, for the rest of our lives. Once in a while, though, life hands us a day unexpectedly.  A day so special for the simple, happy hours afforded by the hands of fate, that we recognize it as the gift that it is and squeeze every moment of joy we can from one, unplanned, but nonetheless perfect day.  This is the story of one such day.

It did NOT start like any other day.  It was going to be kind of a sad day.  The alarm was set to go off at 7:00 am, we were going to pack our bags, board the Magical Express, and say goodbye to a fabulous, but tiring, long (Princess Half Marathon) weekend at Disney World.  But that’s not what happened.  The phone rang at 5:00 am.  Words cannot really describe how confused and disoriented we were when the call came in that our flight home had be cancelled due to winter weather.  We’d woken up the past four mornings between 3:00 and 4:00 am and we were uncommonly worn out – it took quite a few minutes to process the news and what we might need to do about it.  What I’m trying to say is, we had no idea in the early hours of Monday, February 20th, 2015 that we were about to have one of the happiest, most fun days of our lives.RM-BLT-Dawn-on-Bay-Lake

First things first – We had to call the airline and see what could be arranged to get us home.  In fairly short order and a couple of phone calls later, we were set for a do-over the next day.  Then we realized we’d need a place to stay for the night and a re-scheduled ride to the airport.  We decided our best option was to visit one of Bay Lake Tower’s lobby counters to accomplish these tasks.  We showered, dressed, re-donned our Magic Bands and hit the elevators.  20 minutes later, Nick at the DVC counter had us set for the day and night!  We would, miraculously, be able to keep our same room – we used our DVC points to pay for another night.  We asked and Nick found us a dinner reservation at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney.  We were set!  Being annual passholders, we then bid Nick goodbye and headed out the door for the half-mile walk to the Magic Kingdom – it was 9:30 am.RM-Nick-BLT-DVC

As we were walking, I used the My Disney Experience app on my phone to check for available FastPasses and was pleasantly surprised that I could get Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and Space Mountain fairly close together.  That’s when it hit me.  We had not a care in the world and the unexpected gift of one more Disney day before us.  It was early, the weather was perfect, and I was with my most favorite person in the world.  I suddenly realized – this was going to be amazing! With a spring in our steps and a song in our hearts, we stepped through those archways and onto Main Street U.S.A.

It’s hard to put into words exactly what emotions we experienced over the next 12 hours.  We were lighthearted, footloose and fancy free!  We did so many things yet felt as though we were taking our time and appreciating every moment.  The World was our oyster and around every corner, we discovered a pearl!

We took our time strolling up Main Street.RM-Main-Street-Horse-and-Castle

And joined the 999 ghosts in Haunted Mansion.RM-Haunted-Mansion-Shrinking-Room-PortraitThen dropped in at Grizzly Hall for a show.RM-Country-Bear-Stage2Met a sweet girl when we stopped for lunch in Columbia Harbor House.RM-Columbia-Harbor-House-CMThen we cruised waterways around the world on the Jungle Cruise with one of the best Skippers EVER!RM-Jungle-Cruise-SkipperSafely back on land we took our time enjoying the sights and sounds of Adventureland.RM-Adventureland-ShieldThe new sunglass store was doing a brisk business on such a sunny day!RM-Adventureland-Sunglass-StoreThen we got an early peek at the hub refurbishments…RM-Magic-Kingdom-New-Hub-FeaturesBefore perusing the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street shops.RM-Main-Street-ShoppingBack outside, we were treated to a song by the extraordinarily talented Dapper Dans!RM-Dapper-DansWe stopped to enjoy the beautiful warm sunny day.RM-BalloonsMoving on to Tomorrowland, we made a new friend.RM-Stitch-Meet-and-GreetAnd decided we needed a little early afternoon rest and relaxation on the PeopleMover.RM-PeopleMover-CruisingNext we opted for a little Classic Disney…RM-Carousel-of-Progress-SelfieAnd sang along with every verse…”And it’s a great big beautiful tomorrow…..”RM-Carousel-of-Progress-DadOur FastPass for Space Mountain was ready and we took a quick tour around the galaxy.  RM-Space-Mountain-Sign

Re-energized, we decided to see who could score the highest in Buzz Lightyear’s epic battle. (It was not me!)RM-Buzz-Lightyear-Space-Ranger-Spin-InteriorBefore making friends with some Main Street Cast Members…RM-Main-Street-CMsWho were kind enough to recommend an excellent spot for parade viewing!RM-Festival-of-Fantasy-Maleficent-2015Then it was off to Downtown Disney for our dinner at Raglan Road…RM-Raglan-Road-BeerWhere we, in keeping with the day, had the best seats EVER!RM-Raglan-Road-DancersAnd we enjoyed the amazingly talented performers while we ate…RM-Raglan-Road-RibsFive delicious courses!  Bread and dipping sauce, appetizer (ribs), salad, entree, and dessert (oh, that bread pudding!).  Full to the brim (haha!) we decided to check out Downtown Disney’s new hat store, Chapel Hats!RM-Hat-Shopping-Downtown-Disney RM-Chapel-Hats RM-Chapel-Black-HatDozens of hats later, final selections wrapped and ready to go, we hopped the bus back to Magic Kingdom and located the perfect spot to sit curbside on Main Street and catch Wishes.RM-Wishes-2015AND the Main Street Electrical Parade!RM-Main-Street-Electrical-Parade-Dragon

Elated but exhausted, we slowly made our way back to Bay Lake Tower.  What a day we’d had!  We could go home the next morning with the very special memories to cherish of an incredible day full of our most favorite attractions, foods, and magical Disney touches!

Little did we know that the very next day we would, once again, get one MORE Disney day which we decided to spend in a different, but no less memorable way.  I’ll save that story for another post.

Have you ever had an unexpected extra Disney day?  What did YOU do with it?