Most people who visit Walt Disney World for the first time are unaware of the wealth of dining options provided throughout the Theme Parks and Resorts and end up missing out on an incredible food experience. However, even those who are aware of the amount of restaurants and cuisines on offer can sometimes be confused by the terminology used in describing the differences between one restaurant and another.
If you’ve chosen a Disney Dining Plan as part of your holiday package, or have been lucky enough to take advantage of a ‘Free Dining’ offer, it is particularly important that you understand and are aware of the different types of eating established offered throughout the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Even if you aren’t going to be on a Dining Plan, it is still vital to be aware of some of these difference to avoid confusion or disappointment when choosing where you are going to eat on a daily basis.
To make Walt Disney World Restaurants easier to understand, here is our breakdown of the different types restaurants on offer, and what you can expect from each of them
For this category, the clue is in the name. Quick Service Restaurants are walk-up counters where you place an order for ‘fast food’, pay, collect your meal and then find a table to sit at to eat it. I use the term ‘fast food’ lightly however, the food served at Quick Service Restaurants is not your ordinary Burgers & Chips (although they are frequent options for those who want them!). From soups and salads, to special offerings like sushi or moroccan platters, these meals are fast, tasty and well priced. The majority of Quick Service Restaurants offer meals around the $15 price mark, and no tip is required, making them a convenient stop when in the theme parks but wanting to stay on-budget.
If you are looking for proper tablecloths and a waiter to bring you your meal, this option is not for you. However, Quick Service Restaurants do not need a reservation and therefore do not need to be planned in. This is perfect for those who want to be more spontaneous with their day, or those who want to fit their food around their queue times, as opposed to clock-watching to ensure you don’t miss your reservation time. It is also worth noting that these Restaurants are the basis of the Quick Service Dining Plan, so please be aware of what Dining Plan you are on and what it entitles you to.
Table Service Restaurants in Walt Disney World Resort refer to restaurants where you are served at your table by a waiter. There are an abundance of Table Service Restaurants throughout the Theme Parks and Resorts, and each offer something different; a unique cuisine, themed setting or special view. In the majority of Table Service Restaurants, advance reservations are strongly recommended, and while in low season you may be able to walk up to some and be seated at a table, it proves increasingly difficult each passing year to get a seat in one of these restaurants without booking in advance. You can make reservations for these restaurants up to 180 days in advance, perfect for the avid holiday planner.
Having to book and schedule these restaurants in can be seen as a draw back by many. However, the dining in these establishments is an experience in itself and I would highly recommend looking into trying at least a few of them. If you do your research and time your meal, you can book a table with a fireworks view, taking your dining experience to the next level, for example. Some Table Service Restaurant also offer a Buffet as opposed to a full menu, so please check what type of service is offered before booking. Similarly, Table Service Restaurants can be found open for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, but not all restaurants are open for all three sittings, so make sure you double check what meals the restaurant you are looking at offers to avoid disappointment when trying to book a table.
It is also worth remembering that gratuity is expected for your server at any Table Service Restaurant, usually at around 18% of your total bill. I would recommend factoring these tips into your budget when deciding how many Table Service Restaurants to book, and how much spending money to bring with you
Walt Disney World’s Signature Restaurants are a sub-category of Table Service Restaurants. They are Disney Worlds brand of “Fine Dining” and offer all the comforts of their Table Service Restaurants, but with a more refined service, gourmet food and an excellent selection of wines, beer & spirits. These higher-end Restaurants are the most expensive dining options Walt Disney World offers, but this price tag is worth it for exquisite menus, wine paring options and a more refined & knowledgeable waiting staff.
Signature Restaurants are generally only open for Dinner Service and almost always require an advance reservation. They also have a dress-code to ensure a certain standard of attire for guests, making them a perfect option for any celebrations you may have planned during your holiday.
A second sub-caterogy of Table Service Restaurants, Character Dining experiences are pretty much self-explanatory. These are Table Service Restaurants which generally offer a buffet-style service, but with the opportunity to meet and greet your favourite characters while you’re enjoying your meal. These meals are particularly popular with families, but there are also many couples and groups without kids who enjoy certain character dining experiences for the good food and fun atmosphere.
You can find Character Dining experiences are various restaurants for various meal sittings throughout the day. It is worth noting, however, that just because a restaurant offers a Character experience for breakfast, for example, does not mean that it will offer a Character Experience for its dinner service as well. It is always important to check which sittings these experiences are available for before booking. And, as always, these popular options generally require advance reservations
Another alternative dining option offered at Walt Disney World is the dinner show. A set price is paid for the provided meal, and drinks are generally included in this price also (yes, even some brands of alcohol!). During your meal, you will get to enjoy a preformance of the relevant show. Currently Disney offers 3 different Dinner Shows; Spirit of Aloha, Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Mickeys Backyard BBQ. Each Show offers a unique performance, with the food offered themed around that show. For example, Spirit of Aloha offers polynesian fare and the show takes a look at the traditional dances preformed by different Polynesian islands.
Advance reservations are strongly recommended for Dinner Shows, which are only open for the evening meal and generally have 2 set seating times each evening they are running. A tiered seating system works, with different price bands offered for different table areas based on your view of the stage, allowing you to control how much you wish to pay for this experience. It is worth noting however, that even the cheapest seats for these experiences are on the more expensive side, but they are generally inclusive of a lot of drink and also cover your evening’s entertainment, so it is important to see the value for money in your price for your Dinner Show
Special Dining Experiences & Dinner Packages
At certain times of the year and during special events, special dining events or dinner packages may be offered. Special Dining events have included things like a Fireworks Dessert Party, Epcot After Hours (drink & nibbles in World Showcase Lounges). This events change often and are sold as a ‘hard ticket’ event; a set price for the event and any food & drink offered as part of the package, and therefore need to be book in advance. Special Dining Experiences are most widely offered at Epcot during the Food & Wine Festival, which runs each year from September to November, so if you are very keen to book a special experience, this time of year is your best bet for the most variety of Dining Experience options.
Dinner Packages are also offered at selected Restaurants, whereby you book a reserved table and are also treated to VIP seating at a Theme Park show. Packages such as this are offered in Epcot to allow reserved seating for the Candlelight Processional in the run up to Christmas, and also in some restaurants in Hollywood Studios to enable VIP seating for Fantasmic. Please get in touch with Walt Disney World to hear their latest Dining Expericne & Dinner Package offers.