Dining Review: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

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I sort of have a love/hate relationship with Disney Hollywood Studios’ popular restaurant, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Over the years, I find myself going back over and over, hoping that each visit will be better than the last. I often find myself disappointed with one thing or another. However, a few weeks ago I decided to give it another shot on a whim after completing the 5K during Disney’s Marathon Weekend.

The retro-themed restaurant is popular with solo travelers and families for many reasons. American fare such as hamburgers, fried pickles, and milk shakes are among the options on the menu. The restaurant will never win awards for creativity. It is about as dependable as it is predictable. I think many families choose the restaurant because they do not have to wonder what something is on the menu. However, the basic American menu makes guests wonder if they could get the same food (but for a lot less money) at a counter-service restaurant.

My husband and I were lucky enough to secure a lunch reservation soon after Sci-Fi opened. We came back a few hours later, and we were ready to eat! After a short wait, we were seated at the front of a lovely green Bel-Air style car. In my opinion, Sci-Fi has one of the most immersive atmospheres of any restaurant in Disney World. Themed like a 50′s drive-in movie theater, you dine under the shining “stars” as you watch incredibly campy movie clips on a giant theater screen. The car booths are a little bit cramped, and the lighting is horrifically dark. I understand the concept is dining at night, but it is incredibly difficult to see the food in front of you.

Thankfully on my last two trips to the drive-in, I have had fantastic service. Both waiters were attentive without being intrusive. First off, My husband and I knew that we wanted to share the Spinach and Artichoke Dip. When browsing the menu, I inquired about the Vegetarian Sheppard’s Pie. Since it is a newer menu item, I had not read any reviews of it before. Our waiter told me that it is their standard vegetarian burger patty, mashed potatoes, and cheese on top. I thought it sounded a little bit too simple, but I was willing to give it a shot. I encouraged my husband to try the Vegetable Burger since I liked it so much on my last visit.

The Spinach and Artichoke Dip had a pretty decent flavor of mixed cheeses. My husband and I devoured it. We did agree that the size was rather small for the price that we paid. Now, I hate to say it, but I was right about my entree choice. The Vegetarian Sheppard’s Pie was probably the laziest meal I have ever had on Disney property: mashed up veggie burger placed into a dish with instant mashed potatoes and two American cheese singles melted on top. I really wish I could say that the flavor made up for the lack of effort in preparation, but I cannot. I swear that there was something really off, flavor-wise, about this dish. My husband did not seem to have a problem with it. However, he is known for throwing almost anything in our fridge into a tortilla and calling it gourmet, so maybe he is not the best judge of my dish.

My husband really enjoyed his Vegetable Burger. It is larger than other standard veggie burgers that you find on Disney property, and is also served with a good amount of veggies on top of the burger itself. What made the burger stand out was the balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top. Yum! The burger was served with really delicious sweet potato fries. It was clear that my husband won the battle of the entrees, especially given that his Vegetable Burger was slightly less expensive than my strange pile of mush.

We decided to skip dessert on this trip, despite the fact that the tasty milkshakes were calling to us. One thing I will say about Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant is that the menu gets changed up more often than at other Disney restaurants. I am not sure if that is due to constant misses with the entrees or just because Disney keeps looking for cheaper options on their end.

Overall, this visit to the drive-in for lunch was much like my previous experiences, sort of a hit and miss all around. If you decide to dine there for yourself, I suggest sticking with basic menu options and asking questions about preparation to determine if an item will be worth the cost.

Have you visited Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant lately? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below! 

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Posted on February 5, 2013

27 Responses to “Dining Review: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater”

  • We have always been a fan of the Sci-Fi. Basic good food and a great setting. We love the cars..Pulp Fiction-ish.
    Yes it is expensive….it’s Disney World–get over it!

    • I agree, what you are paying for is the setting. We’ve always just ordered basic burgers and fries, maybe the soup, and enjoyed the food. The dark, cool atmosphere where the kids can sit in a car and watch cartoons/trailers is worth every penny on a hot Florida day! It’s a perfect place to rest and recharge after an early rope drop morning.

      As for dessert, we’ve never had it at the Sci-Fi Diner. Somehow we always end up heading over to Starring Rolls mid-afternoon and having fabulous cupcakes instead!

      • i LOVED the restaurant when it came to the setting. however our wait time was WAY to long, and then on top of that i was very disappointed with the food. i do not regret the visit, but i would not go back to this particular restaurant :-\

  • What is the first food picture supposed to be?!

    • I think it’s that vegetarian shepherd’s pie. The stuff on top looks vaguely like two melted slices of American cheese! :P

      • Yes, it is a picture of my lovely entree.

        • The picture makes it kind of look like salmon. That’s… cheese????? Congealed cheese???

          I’ve always gone for the Reuben sandwich there. It’s a tad greasy, but really tasty.

          • I like the reuben, too. The shrimp pasta is fine. The vegetarian shepherd’s pie sounds and looks revolting. No restaurant I can imagine would serve instant mashed potatoes over a crushed veggie pattie, melt kraft singles over the top and call it food. I don’t know how Disney gets away with things like this and I hope you didn’t pay for it!

  • What a timely article! I’m in the major OCD stages of planning our June trip. I made the effort to hold off till now, since I tend to get way too excited way too soon. Of course, when I tried to make a reservation for Sci Fi, they were all full on the day we will be at DHS. I called a few times and got a reservation, later than I wanted, but at least I got one. My sons REALLY want to go here! We are taking the advice of the Unofficial Guide and considering it an attraction, not a fine dining experience. (Although, in my book, anything that I don’t have to cook or clean up after IS fine dining!) Maybe we’ll try the dip! Thanks for the article!

    • If you are unhappy with your reservation time, I suggest that you check with them right after they open and see if they can possibly squeeze you in anytime earlier. They might just tell you to come back at a certain time and they will put your name on a list.

  • I’m sorry, but I never understand the complaints about this place. It’s a drive-in. They serve perfectly acceptable burgers, fries, sodas, and milkshakes, which is what you’d expect in such a place. You’re going for the atmosphere, not an extraordinary dining experience.

  • by Just some guy on February 5, 2013, at 5:44 pm EDT

    My daughter and I have been fortunate to have dined there over a dozen times. Never a bad meal, never anything but excellent service. We adore the theming and have yet to tire of the decor and the film loops. I know everyone has their individual style and taste and preferences, and that’s fine. It is what it is, and that’s why we love it. We’ve also been to Victoria and Albert’s and loved that, too. We find having fun at WDW usually depends on us deciding to have a good time and choosing a positive attitude. Sure, food gets sent back occasionally or things go “101″ but we don’t let it get us down. The CMs and other guests and our own positive energy guarantees a great time, every time.
    By the way, they also have excellent bathrooms…a key to any vacation. :-)

  • We almost always eat here, and enjoy it. However, I have to say our last visit this past December (beginning of the month) the service was really bad. We ordered appetizers, and asked for ranch dressing. She never brought it out. Our dinner was delivered by a different waitstaff, and after they left I realized we didn’t have any ketchup for our burgers. We figured our waitress would be by shortly to check on us but it was a good 5-10 minutes. My husband finally went searching for ketchup himself. He told someone and they said they would let our waitress know. Wait some more. We flagged down another waitress who kindly got us ketchup ASAP. Five minutes later our waitress showed up with ketchup. LOL. Thanks, but I’m now 1/2 way done with my cold burger.

    Again, we’re chalking it up to a one-time experience with a lousy waitress. But it did leave a bad impression for us. Not sure we’ll be back our next visit or not.

    • Your experience with lazy service sounds a lot like a few previous visits of mine to Sci-Fi. With the last two however, we got lucky! I feel like they are always understaffed at that restaurant for some reason. At other restaurants (Les Chefs de France comes to mind), there are people just standing around bored.

  • I wanted to stick some (maybe) interesting thoughts in here. I have read the Unofficial Guide cover to cover a few times over (mainly because I have to do something to get my Disney fix while I’m waiting for our trip!)
    I agree that sometimes the folks here are very tough on the restaurants. I agree that theme parks aren’t so much about dining, anyway. But I go into the reviews knowing that the gang here is going to be brutally honest. I temper their opinions with my own less picky standards and decide if I am interested.
    Again – to feed the need for all stuff Disney – I ordered another guidebook. This was the Official one that begins with a B. It was very fun to read and the pictures were great. It was informative too. BUT according to this guide, absolutely everything was wonderful and magical and delightful and exceptional. There was some good advice in it, but it definitely had the uber-positive spin on it.
    It made for an interesting conversation with my kids — how it’s important to use a variety of resources when you are researching something, etc.
    Anyway — the review and the comments made me think about the difference between the official and the unofficial books. I’m using them both — but I really LOVE y’all at Touring Plans!
    I can’t wait to eat at Sci Fi — although I may skip that shepherd’s pie in the picture!
    4 months to go!
    :)

    • We appreciate your comment and support of what we do! I feel like it is my responsibility to give an honest review, even if that means mentioning a less than stellar moment in my meal. More often than not, I encounter people saying, “I wish that I had known it was not that great of a place” or, “I am so glad that I followed so and so’s advice about coming here!” There are people in the Disney community that are far far tougher on Disney in general than I will ever be. Most negative situations are often isolated to that particular day or waitress. Overall, Disney does way better than other theme parks in every field.

  • I think sometimes restaurants like this one rely too heavily on cutesy theming. Just because the theme is cute, doesn’t mean they can slack on the food. I wouldn’t want to eat a bowl of mush even if the restaurant was cute. I’d still want my food to be edible. It sounds like the basics – burgers and fries – at this place are probably perfectly fine. But some other dishes don’t sound so great.

    Of course, based on some comments…it sounds like many people care more about the theme than the food. But that just isn’t the case for me.

    It’s sort of like Coral Reef. People rave about that place. But I thought the food basically sucked. Not worth it just to sit by an aquarium.

    Then you have a place like Restaurant Marrakesh….the atmosphere is great AND the food is great. They don’t drop the ball on either side.

    • I agree with you on the entrees, Jill. The less you get away from basic diner food, the more you risk paying significantly more for a mediocre meal. Their pasta dishes are around $20, which I just cannot justify, especially when there is such a risk of it being unimpressive.

      I have not tried out Restaurant Marrakesh yet, but it is on my to-do list!

    • I wasn’t going to say anything but now I feel I should for balance. Our waitress was great. But service was very slow. Over an hour lost eating the worst Burger fries and shake ever. How do you screw those up?

  • I always enjoy the Sci-Fi Dine In, though I wish they’d update or change the movie loop once in a while (perhaps they could get ideas from MST3K/Rifftrax for other trailers to include? I think the loop they use today is the same one they used when I went as a kid in the late 90s.) This seems similar to the Bistro de Paris review complaining that they couldn’t cater to vegans. The food is supposed to be American 50s diner–that means burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, and milkshakes. Not vegetarian shepherd’s pies. You wouldn’t go to a steakhouse and review them based on their vegetarian entrees, would you?

    When I went in May 2011, I thought it was good; the burger was better than most of the CS burgers in WDW, the onion rings were very good, and they’re one of the only places in WDW that has alcoholic milkshakes. For a good vegetarian dinner in DHS, you’d probably do better to get a vegetarian pizza at Mama Melrose’s or splurge on Brown Derby. But at Sci-Fi, you’re paying for the atmosphere and decent diner food, and that’s what you get.

    • Shepherd’s pie and burgers is diner food – even vegetarian versions. So if you are a vegetarian you shouldn’t get to eat at the cool restaurants or should have to put up with instant mashed potatoes with cheese slices melted over it? Would this be acceptable if it was real crumbled hamburger underneath instead of veggie burger? I wouldn’t eat that!

  • When dinning on the DDP, Sci-Fi Dine-In is one of the places that you can use your dessert option to get a milk shake. You can do that most anywhere they serve milks shakes. I know it’s not that unique, but it’s a fun twist when you’ve had too many desserts over a weeks time.

  • I have to say that for the past couple of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this website. Keep up the great work.

  • Nice write up. I’ve been to Disneyworld countless times and I’ve somehow overlooked the SciFi restaurant at Hollywood Studios. Tried to go last year but they were only seating by reservation. The lady in the green car is HOT!