Filed under: Dining
Making Walt Disney World Dining reservations is like a chess match. Except there’s no board and game pieces, and dining reservations are much more high-stakes because the fate of your stomach depends upon them. Actually, now that I think about it, making advance dining reservations is nothing like chess. It’s more like an episode of WWE Smackdown, except without the farcical nonsense.
Two competitors, both jockeying to be the champion (i.e. the restaurant at which you ultimately dine) enter the ring, and only one may exit. At least this is the case for us. On an average trip, we want to eat at approximately 24 table service restaurants. Unfortunately, we can actually only eat at a few. If you’re anything like us, you face the same dilemma: so many excellent Walt Disney World dining options, but so little time.
To that end, I’m here to help you knock-out and eliminate some similar dining options that you may be considering. While I believe that every restaurant on this list is pretty good, 10 enter the ring, but only 5 may exit. NO HOLDS BARRED!
'Ohana (menu) v. Kona Cafe (menu) – Just to show that I’m serious, I’m starting out with quite possibly the biggest showdown. This is the main event, featuring two great restaurants. In my Disney dining reviews, both restaurants scored a 9/10. With these two heavyweights squaring off in the ring, things are about to get real. REALLY real. If you’re staying at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, I’d recommend giving both a try. If you’re not, and are only planning on making one stop at the Polynesian, I’m going to give the edge to ‘Ohana. ‘Ohana steals the win here almost entirely because of its ambiance, as I think the food is actually slightly better at Kona Cafe. However, Kona Cafe’s open-air setting doesn’t offer much in the way of theming, and actually exposes patrons (ironically) to the hordes of loitering guests waiting for their reservations at ‘Ohana. By contrast, ‘Ohana offers a very relaxed tropical setting that is enriched by storytellers and fun interactions for kids. As childless adults, my wife and I would normally prefer a restaurant with a more restrained atmosphere, but ‘Ohana just exudes fun and this is really captivating. I can’t say I’d recommend it as a nice romantic date-night meal, but it definitely feels like a family venue in the Polynesian should, and when we’ve visited, all guests have really gotten into the spirit. It’s tough to see one of my favorite Walt Disney World restaurants eliminated right from the get-go, but in a match-up between ‘Ohana and Kona Cafe, I’ll take ‘Ohana!
Les Chefs de France (menu) v. Bistro de Paris (menu) – By contrast, this challenge isn’t difficult at all. At least, not for me. Bistro de Paris is one of my new favorite restaurants in Walt Disney World, offering an incredibly romantic ambiance and a surprisingly affordable menu given that ambiance, its location, and “Signature” status. On our last visit to Chefs de France, I was underwhelmed. The cheeses and the entrees we had were unimpressive, and the disinterested attitude of the servers was disappointing. Heck, I even hear that the place is infested with rodents! If you’re paying out of pocket, choosing Bistro de Paris is a no-brainer for me. Especially if you’re not taking kids. That said, if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, it becomes a much closer call. Chefs de France is the #2 restaurant on my objective rankings of table service restaurants to maximize your value on the Disney Dining Plan (behind only Tutto Italia) and Bistro de Paris is one of the least-expensive 2-credit Signature restaurants (which are also mostly bad values on the standard Disney Dining Plan–making this a doubly bad standard Disney Dining Plan option). If I were on the Disney Dining Plan and I had to choose between using 1 credit at Chefs de France or 2 credits at Bistro de Paris, I’d choose neither. I’d go to Tutto Italia, or Le Cellier for lunch. If that cop-out weren’t an option, I’d probably give Chefs de France another chance, as I have heard some good things about it, and it would be cool to see that rodent-chef they have.
Narcoossee’s (menu) v. Citricos (menu) – The Grand Floridian is Walt Disney World’s best restaurant for table service dining, a crown it earns thanks to both of these contenders. In the historic “Battle of the Grand Floridian,” several restaurants entered, and only one was left standing. Victoria & Albert’s. Unfortunately, it’s not fair to compare Victoria & Albert’s to any other dining options at Walt Disney World, so we’re going with the two Signature restaurants at the Grand Floridian instead. Both offer great service and menus, but Narcoosee’s gets the nod. I think its cuisine is a bit better, it’s a better value for people on the dining plan, and I prefer the more isolated ambiance of Narcoossee’s. On top of that, window tables at Narcoossee’s offer great views of Wishes!, so it gets added points for that.
Jiko (menu) v. Sanaa (menu) – The smackdown of Jiko and Sanaa is a modern-day David and Goliath story. Jiko is frequently considered one of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World (it’s one of my top five restaurants) and it has earned many accolades since it opened its doors. By contrast, Sanaa has been overlooked since it opened, with a location that’s way out of the way. It frequently offers deep Cast Member discounts just to fill tables, and we’ve eaten lunch here on a couple of occasions when almost every table around us was empty. Yet, David beats Goliath. Sanaa is arguably the most underrated restaurant in Walt Disney World. It offers a complex menu with interesting tastes that will please a wide range of tastes. It offers great views into the savanna. It’s a 1-credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, and it offers some really expensive meals (so you can maximize your value if you want) and some really inexpensive options (so you can save money if paying out of pocket). Most importantly, the food is wonderful at Sanaa. On the other hand, Jiko is an expensive 2-credit Signature restaurant, but the food is absolutely amazing. If money or Disney Dining Plan credits are no issue, go with Jiko. I’d recommend that everyone else give Sanaa a chance instead. It’s the feel-good winner!
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (menu) v. 50’s Prime Time Cafe (menu) – The two restaurants with the zaniest themes and backstories at Walt Disney World are Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Growing up, we dined at 50’s Prime Time Cafe every year because my mom loved the atmosphere so much. I still love the atmosphere and the schtick. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater doesn’t have the same type of crazy servers, but the setting alone is pretty zany. Both are incredibly impressive, and are the epitome of Disney dining theming to me. Considering ambiance a draw, this one comes down to menu. Given the amount of animosity online towards Sci-Fi Dine-In, my decision here is likely to enrage 99% of those reading, but I’m giving the edge to Sci-Fi Dine-In. Sci-Fi Dine-In received a new menu around September 2011, and that new menu has kicked things up a notch (so before you go decrying my decision, when was the last time you dined at Sci-Fi Dine-In? If the answer is “before September 2011,” your opinion is a bit stale…). 50’s Prime Time has great milk shakes and Mom’s Sampler, but I have to give a slight edge to the new menu at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Since these restaurants are the epitome of Disney theming and show in dining, I would highly recommend visiting both, but I can’t in good conscience recommend visiting the Studios on two separate days of your trip!
There you have them, the 5 champions of this Disney Dining Battle Royale! While these recommendations aren’t one size fits all (as explained above), I really think you can’t go wrong with any of the winners here (or most of the losers, for that matter).
What do you think of my winners and losers? What picks did I get wrong? Let us know your “ultimate champions” in the comments!