Disney World Dining – 5 Great Lunch Spots

Twilight-Zone-Tower-of-TerrorThere’s a lot to be said for a sit-down lunch on a Disney World vacation.  Especially during the hot summer months – a table service meal provides an excellent break from the scorching sun and high humidity.  It gives you time to rest, re-hydrate, cool off, and re-energize so you can get back to park touring action!  Sometimes a restaurant’s lunch menu is less expensive than their dinner menu, making this strategy a money-saving one as well.  While there are many (MANY!) restaurants on our favorites list, today I’d like to recommend a few we particularly love for a mid-day break…

Disney World Dining – 5 Great Lunch Spots

Magic Kingdom Area – When it’s hot, I want to eat outside the park.  A short (and wonderfully cool and scenic) boat ride away is the Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Café.  What we like about this restaurant is the no-frills but tasty menu and the casual, relaxing atmosphere.  Keep the fun going with an eatery that’s packed with great Disney service and a few hilarious antics.  Check out the menu here.Whispering-Canyon-Burger

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – The Hollywood Brown Derby is right in the middle of the action, but makes you feel miles away.  The inside dining room provides a beautiful, old-Hollywood setting, but the outdoor patio lounge is our favorite (menu).  With shaded tables and an interesting menu (offering plenty of light options on a hot day) – we love grabbing a late lunch or happy hour snack here.RM-Brown-Derby-Patio

Animal Kingdom – I’m a big fan of lunch on the go in this park during the not-so-summery months of the year, but when the weather is at its hottest, I want to escape the heat inside the Yak & Yeti’s dining room.  Like everything and everywhere else in Animal Kingdom, Yak & Yeti is elaborately themed.  The menu is great and it’s easy to find something refreshing and not too heavy on a hot day.

Epcot – The choices are overwhelming!  I would love to say it’s an easy decision, but I’d be lying.  My absolute favorite thing about needing to eat lunch in Epcot is the opportunity to dine around the World (Showcase).  Most of the time, we opt for sharing counter-service meals so we try food from several different countries.  When we want a light lunch on a hot day, though, it’s hard to beat Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar in the Italy Pavilion.  Tutto Gusto in Epcot's ItalyThe high top tables and wine cellar atmosphere are great and the food and beverage options even better!  We like to share a couple of small plates of Italian meats and cheeses then enjoy an entrée of pasta or a panini.  The servers are always happy to help with wine selection if you aren’t up on your Italian labels.Morimoto-Asia-Dining-Room

Disney Springs – Now this is a great place for a cool, relaxing mid-day break…and the choices are awesome!  I could recommend several excellent options for a fabulous dining experience, but I’ll narrow it down to one great restaurant – Morimoto Asia.  What we love about Morimoto’s is the perfect combination of tranquil atmosphere and excellent food (share some spareribs – they’re amazing!).  Morimoto-Asia-Spare-RibsThis place may be a little pricier than the other options I’ve listed, but the experience and service are worth a bit extra to me.  The menu is extensive and a meal here is the kind of experience that can’t be rushed, so set aside a couple of hours and just relax!

Do you like a sit-down lunch at Walt Disney World?  What’s your favorite place to eat on a hot day?

Disney Dining – Adventureland’s Skipper Canteen

“Magic Kingdom’s newest themed table service eatery boasts both excellent service and uniquely delicious fare – in an exotic setting full of humor and whimsy.” – Me (my inner restaurant critic)

We found ourselves in Magic Kingdom with the huge post-Christmas crowds on a gorgeous Monday morning.  While we didn’t arrive for the 7:00 am park opening, we had managed to ride Big Thunder Mountain by FastPass, eat breakfast at Be Our Guest, tour Haunted Mansion on standby (less than 30 minutes), and FastPass Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – all by about 10:45…why not wander over to Adventureland?  Maybe, by some miracle, we could lunch at the new Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen before our last FastPass of the day (Enchanted Tales With Belle)?Skipper-Canteen-Courtyard-Ceiling

Disney Dining – Adventureland’s Skipper Canteen

Once we located the entrance, it was about 11 o’clock.  Two Cast Members were working the podium outside and just a couple of other parties were already waiting in the courtyard.  I was quickly told that our wait would be about 20 minutes and if I provided my cell phone number, I’d receive a text when our table was ready.  We may have just eaten breakfast about an-hour-and-a-half earlier, but I was not missing this opportunity!  Raymond’s pretty flexible and was happy to go along.Skipper-Canteen-Waiting-Area

While we waited, I wandered around taking pictures and, exactly on time, I got the text to tell us our table was ready.  The next step is to go inside to another waiting area.  Skipper-Canteen-interiorOur name was called right away and the hostess escorted us to our table in the large main dining room called “The Mess Hall”.  There are a couple of smaller dining rooms off of the main one – The Falls Family Parlor and the S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventurers) Room.Skipper-Canteen-Mess-Hall Skipper-Canteen-ArtifactsAs one would expect, and similar to the much larger layout of Be Our Guest, each room is fantastically themed.  There are too many details and Jungle Cruise artifacts to take in during a single visit…very clever!  (More on the Canteen’s back story here.)

Bobby was our server and he was excellent!  Passionate about his new Skipper position, he delivered our food and those famous Skipper puns with equal skill.  That’s where this restaurant sets itself apart – the food and service are much better than typical theme-park fare and the theming and back story are so well done – the overall experience is wonderful!  (Seriously – every tiny detail made me happy!)Skipper-Canteen-Menu-ArtSkipper-Canteen-Menu

Bread arrived while we were looking over the menu.  The round loaf of Ambasha bread is accompanied by honey seasoned with a healthy dose of Fenugreek (herb with a maple-like flavor commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine) which made this starter taste exotic and delicious!Skipper-Canteen-Bread

Since we had just eaten breakfast, Raymond and I decided to share three courses so we could taste a whole meal without stuffing ourselves or wasting food.  We started with the S.E.A. Shu Mai (A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Mung Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed) $10.  This was perfect!  The dipping sauce was exactly right – a little spicy and salty and the perfect complement to the dumplings.Skipper-Canteen-Appetizer

Our entrée selection was the Rice Noodle Bowl with Chicken (Pho Broth served with Jalapeños with mix of fresh Herbs) $22. This sounds plain but was spicy and delicious!  Everything prepared on site from scratch makes this experience extra special.  The flavors and presentation of the food, combined with the atmosphere and service, truly make you forget you’re eating in a theme park.Skipper-Canteen-Noodle-Bowl

We wrapped up our little culinary adventure with the Sugar Crusted Congee Pudding (Caramelized Custard with Millet, Almonds, Apricot, Dates, and Honey-Almond Tuile) $8.  Normally, we aren’t big on dessert, but this sounded unique and interesting and was absolutely delicious.  The combination of flavors and textures was perfect.Skipper-Canteen-Pudding

We did not take advantage of the specialty (non-alcoholic) drink menu on this visit, but opted for iced tea and water.  Our total bill was very reasonable and we walked away completely satisfied.  If Skipper Canteen represents the future of in-park dining at Walt Disney World, we cannot WAIT to see what’s next!Skipper-Canteen-Display Skipper-Canteen-Jungle-Cruise-Sign Skipper-Canteen-Collection Skipper-Canteen-Barrel

Are you adventurous enough to try the new Jungle Cruise Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen?  What would keep you from dining there?

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Starring Rolls Cafe

Baked Goods in Starring Rolls CafeOne of the most fun things to do while on vacation at Walt Disney World is eat!  There are so many choices, so many foods!  Snack food kiosks, counter service restaurants, sit-down table service dining, dinner shows…this list goes on and on!  If you visit Walt Disney World, it’s hard not to fall in love with certain foods and eateries that you’ll want to visit again and again.  One of those special places for our family is the Starring Rolls Café in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I know!  You’re thinking – that’s just a little bakery, there are so many WAY better places to eat than that.  I’d have to disagree.Starring Rolls Bakery Goods

The reason we love Starring Rolls so much is that it fills a very specific niche in our dining lineup.  It’s the one place I can think of where we will eat two or three times in a single WDW vacation.  Here’s why:  We love to hit Hollywood Studios early in the morning and get right to our favorite rides and attractions.  I’ve mentioned before that we bring packaged breakfast foods from home so we don’t have to make time to eat while we get an early start on a busy park day.  We get up and GO!  So, at the Studios, once we’ve hit Toy Story Midway Mania, Tower of Terror, and Rock’n’ Roller Coaster, Bagels / Starring rols Cafewe can sort of slow down a bit before moving on.  We usually realize that our portable breakfast has long worn off by then and we need a little something to tide us over until lunch – THAT is what makes Starring Rolls perfect!  Centrally located at the beginning of Sunset Blvd., this little bakery/café offers us just exactly what we need – when and where we want it!

Bagels (and cream cheese), Danish, cinnamon rolls, sandwiches, sushi, fruit, cheese, yogurt, cupcakes – Starring Rolls is Darth Vader Cupcakes / Starring Rolls Cafelike a bakery and deli combined.  Big snack, small meal, breakfast, brunch, lunch, dessert – this place has got what you’re looking for and the food is very good!  Coffee, juice, water, tea, wine and soft drinks are all available to accompany your treat of choice.  The cafe’s outdoor seating area offers plenty of shade.  The cupcakes at Starring Rolls are a very popular treat for good reason.  One of the most popular is the Butterfinger Cupcake, but the Red Velvet is also excellent!  During the Studios’ Star Wars Weekends, the Yoda and Darth Vader cupcakes are a big hit!

To me, great counter service restaurants are not the Studios’ strong point.  Starring Rolls allows our family to catch a tasty and filling brunch Yoda Yum! / Starring Rolls Cafe(or Second Breakfast if you’re a Hobbit fan) while saving room for a more substantial dining experience later in the day.

Are you a Starring Rolls fan?  What’s your favorite thing to order there?

Starring Rolls Shaded Seating

Disney Dining – Olivia’s Cafe at Old Key West

Relaxed Dining at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West / Walt Disney World“All in all, we found Olivia’s Café an unexpected, hidden treasure.  Our experience there seemed pixie-dusted since it was a spur-of-the-moment restaurant choice and the evening turned out to be one of the loveliest of our trip.” – Me, once again channeling my inner restaurant critic.

While Staying at Old Key West, we found ourselves with an open evening – no reservations booked, no major plans.  Our vacation was winding down and we returned to the resort after a long day that had started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and ended in the Magic Kingdom.  We had intentions of making sure our transportation on the Magical Express to the airport the next morning had been arranged, scheduling someone to collect our luggage from our room then returning to the parks for a last night out at Walt Disney World.

We’d just gotten off the bus at Old Key West’s Hospitality House to check on our morning Dining room at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West Resortdeparture schedule (sad, so sad) and we realized we were starving!  That’s when I remembered having heard good things about Olivia’s Café and suggested we stop in and see if any tables were available.  We checked, a table was immediately available, and we had a fantastic dinner with delicious food and terrific service!

The atmosphere in Olivia’s is laid-back and very old-fashioned-Florida-Keys.  It’s open and airy as one would expect, yet homey and comfortable – very welcoming.  You can dress very casually here and be yourself.

One thing you can count on at Olivia’s (I’ve read this over and over and our own experience Olivia's Tomato-Mozzarella Saladconfirms it) is outstanding service.  It felt to us as if, knowing they’re a bit out of the way for many Walt Disney World guests, the staff at Olivia’s goes above and beyond normal Disney service.  They seemed genuinely appreciative of having us there.  Our server was Moe – super friendly and attentive (without hovering).  Moe started us off by bringing us some bread and butter.  Fans of ‘Ohana over at the Polynesian will recognize Olivia’s delicious pineapple-coconut bread.  SO unexpectedly scrumptious!  Even the super-picky one among us enjoyed it.

Olivia’s menu is made up of “home-style American cuisine with a Caribbean twist” (as Olivia's Cafe / Conch Chowderdescribed by Disney World’s web site) and is full of abundant choices sure to satisfy any diner (view the entire dinner menu here).  Raymond started off with the tomato-mozzarella (with mixed greens and balsamic syrup) while I had the Conch Chowder (reminded me of Manhattan-style clam chowder) which was hearty and delicious.  I don’t recall if either of our children had an appetizer – I believe I may have been too busy enjoying the bread and the chowder!

Main courses for the four of us were:  Raymond and Megan both had Shrimp and Grits (“Sautéed Shrimp with Vegetables, Tasso Ham, and fresh Herbs served over Olivia’s Famous Shrimp and Grits at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key WestGrits”) while Joseph and I both ordered burgers.  His was plain, mine…not so much.  I ordered what has to be one of the most delicious, extravagant, decadent burgers in all the World – The Duval Street Burger.  This behemoth burger described as being “topped with Grilled Shrimp, Pepper Jack Cheese, Avocado, and Pico de Gallo on our Pineapple-Coconut Roll” was unbelievable and I’m sorry to say I could not do it justice – I managed to finish about half.  The burgers were served with fries, coleslaw, or chips.  Joseph and I both chose the fries which were nicely crisp on the outside.  Old Key West, Olivia's Cafe / Duval Street Burger

Full as we could be, we excused Megan and Joseph so they could hit the parks for their last night of vacation.  Raymond and I lingered a while over coffees (mine of the “Irish” variety) and were a little bit sad that we had no room for dessert.  The Banana Bread Pudding Sundae and Mascarpone Cheesecake sure looked tempting.  For our last meal at Walt Disney World, we couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable one.

Olivia’s accepts the Tables in Wonderland discount card and is one table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.

Have you eaten at Olivia’s?  What was your favorite part of the meal?