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 – Try This Not That

RM-Yak-&-Yeti-Restaurant-ExteriorDisclaimer:  I’m the least picky eater I know.  I like nearly all foods.  I shy away from fried foods as they tend not to agree with me (although I think they taste great), I’m not eating tuna-noodle-casserole or black licorice – not really a problem since I can’t think of a single person I know who would happen to accidentally serve those to me should I be a guest in their home.  I suppose, actually, under those circumstances, I’d give the consumption of my personal culinary kryptonite my best try so as not to be considered rude.  My mom taught me better than  that.  And back to the point of this post.

Disney Dining – Try This Not That

Let’s assume for the purposes of today’s sharing-of-Disney-advice that we’re all adults.  I’m talking to you as a grownup, not to those of you trying to please little ones with park food, okay?

  1. Try the Roasted Pork Shank (NOT the Turkey Leg) – What they have in common:  fatty, roasted, savory meaty goodness.  What the Pork Shank has over the Turkey Leg is that it’s texture is better, its seasoning is more delicious, and Gaston’s Tavern (Magic Kingdom, Fantasyland) is far superior in atmosphere than anyplace offering the Turkey Leg.  You’ll still feel like Medieval royalty, don’t fret.RM-Gaston's-Pork-Shank-and-Lefou's-Brew
  2. Try the Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel (NOT the plain Mickey Pretzel) – Oh, stop it!  Mickey is cute and iconic and delicious, I’ll give you that.  The Jalapeno Cheese Pretzel is just SO much better (and unique versus what I can get in my local mall’s food court).  If you like a little spice in your snack, this one’s for you.RM-Jalapeno-Cheese-Pretzel
  3. Try Italy or France for Ice Cream (NOT the ubiquitous ice cream cart) – I’m not saying you should go an entire Disney vacay without a Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar or your beloved Dole Whip.  I’m just saying, give the “Gelati” gelato stand in Epcot World Showcase’s Italy Pavilion a try (our favorite: Espresso Gelato “Affogato”).  Or the L’Artisan de Glaces shop in France – YUM!  The beauty of these more exotic frozen treat options is that they have something for everyone.  You will not be disappointed.RM-Epcot-Italy-Gelato-Affogato
  4. Try Yachtsman Steakhouse (NOT Le Cellier) – Both are beef-lovers’ hot spots in the Epcot area.  Yachtsman’s is a short walk from Epcot via the International Gateway (a.k.a. the backdoor) at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.  Le Cellier is in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion.  The problem with Le Cellier is that it’s overcrowded and overrated (our opinion, which is heartbreaking since in the early years, this was a must-do for us).  For the price, Yachtsman’s menu, atmosphere, and service are superior.  Both restaurants are considered “Signature Dining” locations – so if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, they’ll cost you TWO Table Service credits.RM-Yachtsman-Filet
  5. Try Il Mulino (at The Swan) (NOT any other Italian restaurant on Disney property).  We loved everything about this place and can’t wait to go back.  It’s not Disney-owned, but IS easy to get to – and worth the effort and the price.  You can read my full review here, but let me just say – if you’re looking for a casual, grown-up evening out without pressure to eat quickly and leave and you want delicious food, great service, and a complimentary swig of limoncello to top off  your meal…this is the place for you.RM-Il-Mulino-Interior

What are your best suggestions for an eat-this-not-that Disney food or restaurant?  Would you choose Kona Café over ‘Ohana?  Sanaa over Jiko or Yak-n-Yeti?  School Bread over a Croissant Doughnut?  Tell me!  I’m 92 days away from needing to know!

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?