Are Disney’s Hollywood Studios Restaurants A Good Value?

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The Disney Food Blog explores an analysis of costs and experience at the table-service restaurants in the Studios. If you’re a fan of Disney and food, come visit us over on the blog!

The question arose on a recent live WDWToday podcast about whether the restaurants at the Studios are some of the best values on property. I set out this past week to determine whether you can eat hearty, have fun, and save cash at the Studios, or whether you’re better off heading elsewhere in the World.

First, let’s define “value.” There are three components to a meal in Walt Disney World that can make it worth eating:

  • Cost: is the menu a good deal for the money?
  • Experience: can you get this type of theme or entertainment elsewhere?
  • Food: is the grub any good?

Scoring high on any of these scales can make a restaurant worth the trip, but if a dining spot can land on top of more than one scale, it’s a winner in my book. Through this post we’ll look at where each DHS table-service dining location falls on these three scales and determine, overall, if the Studios restaurants are a good value.

Jo-Jo Currently Appears at Hollywood and Vine

Jo-Jo Currently Appears at Hollywood and Vine

Hollywood and Vine
Cost: Pricing at Hollywood and Vine is comparable to other theme park buffet character meals, including Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom and Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom.

Experience: Hollywood and Vine Restaurant is basically an art deco Denny’s with some Hollywood memorabilia on the walls. The architecture is no reason to visit. Characters here include Playhouse Disney favorites Leo and June from the Little Einsteins and Jo-Jo and Goliath from Jo-Jo’s Circus (characters are rumored to be changing soon — though the new folks are still Playhouse Disney mainstays), and if your kid is enthralled with Playhouse Disney, this restaurant gets experience points. However, if your kid is just as happy seeing — or would rather see — Mickey and friends or Pooh and friends, there is absolutely no reason to go to Hollywood and Vine.

Food: This is the only place where Hollywood and Vine scores highly. The food, actually, is quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed the selection of breads and pastries, the warm apple crumble and bread pudding that were out for breakfast, and the south-of-the-border flair of some of the hot dishes.

Overall: Go instead to Tusker House or Crystal Palace, which score highly on all three of our “is it worth it?” scales. However, if you’re already beholden to the Studios for the day, this is a decent meal that isn’t going to break the bank.

Dine in Mom's Kitchen at 50's Prime Time Cafe

Dine in Mom's Kitchen at 50's Prime Time Cafe

50′s Prime Time Cafe
Cost: You can get a very filling, hot lunch here for around $15 and even a steak dinner won’t cost you more than around $21. Prices here are comparable to or lower than those at similar restaurants in other Disney World theme parks (Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Biergarten and San Angel Inn in Epcot, Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom). Food portions are large, too, so I deem this a great value-for-money deal.

Experience: The experience here is like none other in the World. You’re seated in a 1950′s kitchen, with vintage black-and-white TVs scrolling through clips of your favorite mid-century shows. But the best part of the experience is that your server — who happens to be playing the part of your cousin, Aunt, or Uncle — is always in character. Eating here means you’ve got to be ready for just about anything to happen, including standing in the corner for putting your elbows on the table or having the whole restaurant watch your husband perform “I’m a Little Teapot” because he didn’t eat all his vegetables. Hilarity ensues — even if you’re the target.

Food: The food here includes your favorite staples from your childhood — fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, and chicken pot pie — with a few new favorites, like a stuffed pepper and an olive-oil poached salmon, thrown in. In my experience, the food has been fine. Not spectacular, but worth the money. The fried chicken can’t be beat, and I always eat all of my green beans.

Overall: This place is a winner. While so many Disney restaurants are being outsourced to other management companies, you can tell that this restaurant came right off of the Disney drawing board. The good food and fun atmosphere is a combination you won’t find anywhere but here. It’s well worth a trip out of your way to the Studios.

Brass Derby at Hollywood Brown Derby

Brass Derby at Hollywood Brown Derby

Hollywood Brown Derby
Cost: The closest comparisons to the Brown Derby in another theme park would be Coral Reef and Bistro de Paris at Epcot. Brown Derby pricing is very similar to that of Coral Reef for lunch, and it’s a bit higher for dinner. Bistro de Paris is, admittedly, a slightly higher-echelon restaurant, but Brown Derby’s prices are several dollars lower than Bistro’s for dinner. Based on my experience, it was priced right for a mid- to high-end Disney restaurant.

Experience: For those of you who enjoy Disney attention to detail when it comes to history and themeing, this restaurant will be perfect for you. From the caricatures on the wall, to the replicated art deco decor, to the tiny brass derby hat lampshades, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked into the golden age of Hollywood. Rich maroon booths wrap around white tablecloths, servers anticipate your needs, and you really do feel like a bit of a celebrity. Kids — unless yours are experts in design — won’t care about this place, and might even find it boring. Adults, though, should feel pampered.

Food: As is often the case with Disney’s signature restaurants, the food is exquisite. This is the kind of meal you savor. While we weren’t wild about the desserts (they’re often a bit too “pre-packaged” for us), we’ll be talking about the wonderful meal for a long time.

Overall: Book it. Go now. I’m ashamed to say that it took me as long as it did to try this restaurant. It’s absolutely worth the cost, and I would probably pay a bit more. The ambiance is lovely (though it can get loud and echo-y), and the service was good. This is worth a trip — or two — to the Studios. We’re lucky to have such a great spot available right in the middle of a theme park.

Ribs and Fries at Sci-Fi Dine-In

Ribs and Fries at Sci-Fi Dine-In

Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant
Cost: Again, this is another restaurant in the Studios serving big meals for little prices. There are three lunch menu items under $15 and nothing over $23 on the dinner menu, including the steak and seafood meals. Cost is similar to 50′s Prime Time Cafe.

Experience: The imagineers have done it again. This place doesn’t just have themeing — it’s an attraction in itself. You sit in cars to eat. You’re underneath a starry sky. 1950′s carhops wait on you. You watch clips of black and white, mid-century monster and zombie movies while you eat. And that’s not all. When you wander out to the restrooms, check out the drive-in movie props, movie posters, and little Disney details lining the walls of the “studio.”

Food: The menu is short and standard: ribs, shrimp and pasta, burger, chili, milkshakes, etc. But they do have a tofu dish and a steak dish, at least. And the food isn’t bad at all. It’s not a five-star meal, but it’s not take-out, either. In fact, in my experience, the food here has gotten a lot better than it was about 4 years ago. Your kids will love it, and, my guess is, you won’t mind it either.

Overall: This is a solid restaurant, a good experience, and worth the trip. You won’t want to eat here every time you visit Disney World, but it’s a not-to-be-missed experience at least once. Based on cost and experience, it’s a true Disney dining gem.

Mama's Dining Room

Mama's Dining Room

Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
Cost: Compared to the similar Italian restaurant on property — Tony’s Town Square in the Magic Kingdom — the cost here is pretty much in line. Flatbreads at both places are overpriced at around $13, and dinner steaks will run you prices in the low 20′s. The shrimp and pasta dish is $1 higher at Tony’s at the moment. That said, compared to Epcot’s Tutto Italia, which has been panned by many as overpriced and bland, Mama’s is a steal.

Experience: The restaurant is tucked back into the Streets of America and Muppets sections of the Studios, so it can be hard to find. The overall experience isn’t outstanding; the theme is difficult to discern (read the blurb on your menu if you want to know what they’re going for), and there aren’t regular shows to keep you entertained. Mama’s has, however, begun to send Hollywood Studios streetmosphere characters around to the tables during meals, which gives a fun feel to the place. I watched one family interact with a Hollywood Director for quite a while, and he had trinkets and toys for the kids, which they loved.

Mama's Chicken Pipette

Mama's Chicken Pipette

Food: I’ve had several experiences with this restaurant, and my best description of the food is “inconsistent.” Sometimes it’s great, sometimes I feel like I’m at a bad Olive Garden. My most recent experience was a great one for me, but not-so-great for my husband. My chicken pipette with cream sauce and veggies was delish; his chicken parm — a dish I highly recommended from my last few trips — was overcooked and blah. You never know what you’re gonna get here.

Overall: Meh. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but consider booking an ADR at Tony’s Town Square instead of Mama’s on your next trip. The food at Tony’s is bland, but the Lady and the Tramp themeing and potential of seeing a Magic Kingdom parade from your table will probably delight your family more than the indeterminate themeing and inconsistent food at Mama’s.

So ARE the Studios Restaurants a Good Value?
Overall, yes. They’re comparably if not lower-priced than similar restaurants in other parks, and the true-to-form themeing of the Studios comes through in its restaurants. Plus, you won’t find any horrible food here — everything’s at least decent, and I find most of it pretty good.

But what makes the Studios a great dining park is that it has a little bit of everything: character buffet; mid-priced, well-themed restaurants; and a high-end signature dining experience. Only Epcot offers as diverse a dining experience as the Studios — Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, as they’re lacking signature dining experiences, can’t compare.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Posted on February 16, 2010

29 Responses to “Are Disney’s Hollywood Studios Restaurants A Good Value?”

  • Great report AJ! Overall, I think the sit down restaurants are the best value of the in park sit down restaurants for what you get for what you pay and overall it sounds like your research backed up that theory.

    I loved the very thorough descriptions of everything, nicely done!

  • Matt — I really do think DHS and Epcot, on a whole, offer the best microcosms of Disney food options. The themeing of Sci-Fi and 50′s Prime Time along with the excellent menu from Brown Derby are huge components.

  • I personally haven’t ate at any of the restaurants in Studios, although we did consider 50′s primetime cafe back in October, we instead went to the Yachtmans Steakhouse at Yacht & Beach Club. This is a great post and very informative. It’s almost good to know I won’t have to bother wasting my time or money at some of these restaurants, but also, as a Studio’s employee, I can better recommend some of the restaurants now! Thank you!

  • Thanks for reading, Katherine! Yachtsman Steakhouse is one of my all-time favorite restaurants; I hope you enjoyed!

  • i agree with your review of brown derby! it is one of the restaurants we go to every time! we always do it as part of the fantasmic package, and have never been disapointed.

  • On the dining plan, I love 50′s Prime Time. Not the best “deal”, but the food is always solid, and usually a very entertaining place to eat. For us, it is a not miss on our vacation. I also like Brown Derby, though not sure it is with the 2 table service meals per person. We often do an adult only meal here, and split an appetizer and entree, really good food, pretty decent deal that way.

    Nice round up, thanks for making me hungry!

  • Amy — I will definitely be using Brown Derby on the Fantasmic package from now on!

    Keith — Thanks for the tip on splitting an appetizer and an entree to save some dough. The food is rich enough, to be sure. Do you ever have a problem splitting an entree at a Disney restaurant? I’ve often wondered if they’d want you to pay extra for the split.

  • I’ve been to all of them except Hollywood & Vine. Mama Melrose’s was just a shambles. The Brown Derby was so-so, but I probably won’t return for those prices. Sci-Fi had decent enough food, similar to eating in a local pub, but the theming was certainly different. I might return to this one every few years. The 50s Prime Time was a little better than the Scu-Fi in food quality, but the experience was unlike anything else, making it my favorite choice in the Studios.

  • Rich, thanks for your comment. I’d love to hear more about your Mama’s experience. The jury’s still out on that one for me…and it has been for several years!

    • Forgive the long post, but you asked. It had the trifecta of being the antithesis of everything I look for a Disney restaurant.

      The food was worse than my local takeout pizza place here in NY and cost more than a local Zagat-reviewed sit-down Italian restaurant. In fact, one of our dishes was actually burned.

      The theming, if you can call it that, was nothing I would want to remember or even try to make sense of.

      The service was slow, inefficient, and brusque.

      Normally, I could forgive one of those things, or depending how great the last one is, maybe even two. How does a restaurant fail at all three?

    • Oh, and if it makes any difference, this dinner took place in May 2009.

      • Rich, Thanks for filling us in on the story! In my experience, Mama’s has either been very VERY good or very VERY bad, and service has always been a big part of it. Sorry you happened to hit it on a bad day. Everyone wants a Disney trip to be ideal, and a bad meal anywhere just puts a big ol’ splotch on the whole thing.

  • I personally LOVE MaMa Melrose’s as does the rest of my family and friends. It is a must do on most of our trips. Going in May and doing all new restaurant experiences EXCEPT MM. And that was by popular demand. Go figure. Different strokes and all that!

  • Debra — I hear ya! I’ve had some great experiences there as well; I wish mine were as consistent as yours! :-) So, where are your new dining experiences going to be on this upcoming trip?

  • by Richard Mercer on February 17, 2010, at 12:34 pm EDT

    Very sensible and well thought out reviews! One additional point in favor of table service restaurants at DHS is that good counter service is not easy to find there….
    Until recently Brown Derby has been a bargain for signature dining, but they have recently dropped their lunch menu and switched to an “all-day” menu, meaning you get to pay dinner prices all day long. The cobb salad is still on the menu as an “appetizer for two”, but they are happy to serve it to an individual requesting it. Also the grapefruit cake is a unique dessert and a very good one.

    • I gotta tell ya, Richard, we were unimpressed with the Grapefruit Cake! Can you believe it?! I know; sacrilege. Alas, thanks for pointing out the all-day menu vs. what used to be a better bargain. I had no idea; that would definitely have played into the review. I did see the Cobb as an app for two at $15!! We ended up not ordering it, as the price point was a bit too high when we wanted to focus our hungry stomachs on the rest of our courses.

  • AJ, I’m always thrilled when someone wants to know about my palns for an upcoming trip. We have ADR’s for our May trip at Captain’s Grille, Narcossees, Boma, Yak & Yeti, LeCellier and Kona Cafe(for breakfast). Of course our standby trip to MaMa’s. Really excited about all of them and that we are staying at BLT. This is a ‘girl’s trip’ with my Mom and best friend. Just came back last week from Ft Wilderness with grandchildren and ate for the first time at O’hanas. Another do over!

    • Debra, I’m so jealous of your line-up! Those are some of my very favorite restaurants, and I know you’re going to be SO pleased with the choices! You’re going to have a whole list of do-overs once you’re done. Also, girls’ trip sounds fantastic. It’s been a while since I’ve done one, but I might be due! They’re so relaxing and fun.

  • Great post! We ate at 50′s Prime Time April,09 and had a blast! It was our first meal at the World that trip and it was such a fun way to start our trip. We also ate at Hollywodd and Vine that trip for lunch one day. We really enjoyed the variety of food! We had the deluxe dining plan that trip, so we experienced many wonderful restaurants throughout the World!

    • Cool, Cindy! So glad you enjoyed those two spots. Would love to hear about the other restaurants that made your favorites list from the trip.

      • Our family loves Ohana’s and Restaurant Marrakesh. We also really like Ragland Road and Rose and Crown. (Although I’m not much of a drinker, I now make it a point to get a Cider and Black Currant from Rose and Crown there when I get the chance to go to the World.) Our favorite signature dining meal so far is the Hoop De Doo Revue. It was so much fun and the food was pretty good! We also liked Sanaii at AKL. We haven’t tried Jiko’s yet.

        • I’m getting hungry just thinking about these spots! Thanks for the note on the Cider and Black Currant as well — I’ll have to try it! I can highly recommend Jiko. It really is in my top five at WDW. Beautiful restaurant, yummy food. Thanks again!

  • We took my 4 year old to WDW last October for the first time (my 2nd visit). One of our best meals was at the Crystal Palace. The food was better than we expected it to be – very good, the service was fabulous, and of course we loved Winnie the Pooh and friends.

    Another GREAT dinner was at California Grill, where we all had a lovely dinnner and caught the Magic Kingdom fireworks show. We ate there on our last night, and it was a special way to celebrate our vacation. CA grill might not be for every 4 year old, but it wasn’t the first nice restaurant that mine had eaten at. We felt pretty safe taking him there, and he loved their salmon.

    We also ate at Boma, Chef Mickey’s and the Biergarten. We tried Bahama Breeze outside of the world, and were very disappointed to find that almost everything they serve has MSG – a big allergy for me. Overall, we were happy with our meals at WDW.

    • Amy, you’ve just named some of my favorite restaurants in Disney World, to be sure. I’m so glad you had a great trip. Thank you for your comments and tips on Cali Grill and Bahama Breeze, too!

  • by [ this is jerry ] on February 22, 2010, at 2:27 pm EDT

    Yay for cross-posting.

    Just a small note to say that AJ also favors the bakery there: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2010/01/05/disney-world-bakery-throw-down-starring-rolls-bakery/ (Great minds think alike…)

  • Good blogpost, I bookmarked your site so I can visit again in the near future, Cheers, Hoa Uzun

  • Thanks for all these great places to eat at WDW. We are really looking at going later this year and doing free dining. So many places to try, so little time. – Steve

  • After lots of research and extensive digging – I finally found a company that is the real thing and not rip off artists like all the others.

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