Monday, August 10, 2009

Learning To Eat: The Basics Of Disney Dining

Disney takes the art of complicating your dining experience to a level you really cannot imagine if you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveler. But to be fair, they also manage to cause even the most prepared planner a certain amount of stress. The key to Disney Dining as an experience is to sort of close your eyes and leap. The good news is... the food at Disney is generally good, with a few notable exceptions. The bad news is... it can be rather expensive and you may be a little frustrated with their pseudo-reservation system.

In this post, I don't wish to really inundate you with the ins and outs of making reservations and how to find deals while dining at Disney. Instead, this post is meant to provide you with some ideas of what types of meals to seek out for your family, depending on their ages and needs. In future posts, we'll look at Advanced Dining Reservations and individual dining experiences and break it down even further.

There are three types of experiences as far as food goes. The simplest way I know to see it is to break it down as "snacks," "counter service," and "table service."

Snacks - Various single-item foods you can get at stands and kiosks around the park, as well as resort gift shops and snack bars. Examples of snacks offered include popcorn, turkey legs, ice cream bars, and various pieces of fruit. These are designed to be eaten "on the go" and stands like this rarely provide seating for you.

Counter Service - These restaurants are similar to fast food restaurants. You walk up to a cashier or, in some cases, a computer screen; place your order; and pay. Then you step up to another counter to collect your food on a tray and carry it off to a table to eat. In some of my favorite counter service restaurants, there is a fixin's bar along the way to add all sorts of tasty items to your burger or chicken sandwich.

Table Service - A real table with real waitstaff and a real bill at the end. Some are casual, some are comedic, some are more formal, and some are a combination. Some have buffets, some have menus, and some even have characters come out to wave and pose in pictures with you and your loved ones.

TIP: Touring Plans (@TouringPlans) recently Tweeted a great tip I've found very useful. Based on your eating habits and those of your child, you can probably split an adult counter service meal with your child. This will save you some money and should still be satisfying. Especially if you are also partaking in several of the snacks around The World as well during the day!

You will always find kids' selections at the Counter Service and Table Service establishments, and snacks are, by nature, very kid-friendly. Items like chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and the trusty PB&J are often part of the menu, and if you are in a Table Service restaurant, they all CAN be if you just ask. Kids' meals come with drink and two "sides" which include items like grapes, apple slices, fries, carrot sticks, etc. You can double up, so if your kid is a future wine-drinker like mine and cannot possibly get enough grapes on his plate, you can ask for two sides of grapes rather than seeking out any sort of healthy, interesting variety.

So as you begin to plot your meals out and compare your hopes and desires to your budget and your length of stay, pay close attention to what your kids will be able to handle. When we went to Disney on our honeymoon, we ate nothing but sit down meals for four days. This was fine until about day four, when we thought we might actually have to roll back to our room at the Boardwalk from the restaurant in Mexico. We were so terribly miserable that we swore off eating for the rest of our stay at Disney. (And we stuck to it since we boarded the Disney Magic cruise ship the next day... which technically is no longer Disney!)

However, kids might not do as many Table Service restaurants as the adults in your party may want to. I wouldn't plan on more than one a day at the MOST. And remember, character meals count as Table Service. These meals are longer, require some patience on the part of your children, and keep you out of the parks where they quite possibly would rather be. That said, the downtime can be quite welcome and you do know your children's capabilities.

Here's a quick rundown of MY favorite Table Service restaurants in each park for kid-friendliness. This does not mean they have the best food, but they are fun for kids and therefore will be more fun for you.

Magic Kingdom - Crystal Palace (character meal with Tigger and Pooh, buffet)

Epcot - Chefs de France (casual French cafe setting where a little extra noise is hardly noticed)

Hollywood Studios - 50s Prime Time Cafe (great atmosphere and your kids might get the chance to laugh at you)

Animal Kingdom - Tusker House (character breakfast with the classic characters featuring Donald Duck. Buffet.)

So those are my favorites for Table Service with kids. What are yours and why?


Unknown said...

Awesome! We already like Crystal Palace (MK), Tusker House (AK) and 50's Prime Time (DHS). Not a big fan of Chefs De France. I'm sure we'll find another place that works for us....maybe Nine Dragons ;)

Ms. Joyner said...

Despite the fact that it's expensive (2 table service credits), Cindy's Royal Table was awesome for my little princess. I'm sure little boys would like it too but we absolutely loved it! My DD also loved Hoop Dee Doo but she's an avid music lover so I'm not sure that all kids would like it as much as she did.

We haven't tried Crystal Palace or Tusker House but they're on our itinerary for our Sept '09 trip! Along with Chef Mickey's and Akershus' Storybook breakfast. I'm can't wait to compare the Storybook breakfast with Cindy's Table!

Anonymous said...

We did the character breakfast on Main Street in Disneyland. The coffee was excellent, the food was good, and the characters were awesome! We got some really obscure characters (Goofy's son Max & Raffiki from Lion King) as well as the classics. I hate waiting in line for characters so this gets it out of my kids' systems early. Plus it wasn't crowded so the characters came around the whole time we were eating, not just in shifts like when we were at WDW.

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