SATURDAY SIX: Your Six Lowest-Rated Disney World Restaurants

by on April 22, 2017 42 Comments

Filed under: Dining, Saturday Six

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Lowest-Rated Disney World Restaurants!  We all know about the amazing benefits of being a TouringPlans subscriber – including unbiased reviews, an amazing WDW hotel room finder, the ability to save hours a day normally spent waiting in line, and of course the world’s greatest Disney Outlet Store Photo Report – but one thing you may not know is that after every trip we send members a survey to see how satisfied they were with each part of their vacation. Last year we received 122,000 responses on Walt Disney World restaurants, a number greater that the amount of Disney reviews Yelp and TripAdvisor got in 2016 combined. Len Testa, the grand poobah of TP, has written several articles on the Walt Disney World restaurants which received the highest scores: including the venues at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom/DHS. But this is the SATURDAY SIX, home of the annual  Turkeys of the Year awards: we want to know what the worst restaurants were.

So today we’re going to look at the lowest rated restaurants in all of Walt Disney World as voted by YOU, Dear Reader, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Garden Grove (Disney World Swan)

I loved staying on property at both WDW and Universal, but despite hearing raves for years on the Swan and Dolphin hotels, I had never stepped foot in either. That changed recently when I booked at stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and I discovered the hotels were incredible. It was much cheaper than my stay just months earlier at the neighboring BoardWalk resort, was situated between two Disney parks, and was filled with great restaurants. However, despite the high marks that Todd English’s bluezoo and Shula’s Steak House receive from TouringPlans members, not all of the resort’s restaurants were thought of as highly, including Garden Grove at the Swan.

Garden Grove. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Garden Grove. (photo by Brandon Glover)

You can’t miss the signature element in the main dining area at Garden Grove as directly in the middle of the room is a 25-foot high faux oak tree. It is pretty impressive to see in person. If you are having a hard time getting a reservation at Chef Mickey’s, you may have better luck at Garden Grove and their nightly character interactions along with a weekend character breakfast buffet (and at a much more reasonable $24.99/$15.99 price point.) Keep in mind that many guests feel the character-t0-guest ratio is completely out of whack compared to similar meals at WDW, so pack your patience. I personally think one thing that hurts Garden Grove is the overall level of the nearby restaurants at the Swan and Dolphin. You have to be really special in the seafood department to compete with the quality and creativity of bluezoo (for example) and Garden Grove just isn’t. If you’re staying at the Swan, it is worth a visit (I thought the pulled pork sliders were terrific) but probably not worth going out of your way with so many other options on property.

 

# 5 – Portobello Country Italian Trattoria (Disney Springs)

Portobello has been in the Disney Springs/Downtown Disney/Disney Village Marketplace for a long time. At one point, Portobello was actually a pretty decent place to go for Italian food. To be fair, at the time one of the only other restaurants it had as “competition” was Cap’n Jack’s, one of the all time worst WDW restaurants. Over the years Portobello has slowly been declining, but what really hurt it was the massive amount of great restaurants that have been added to the area, especially in the last two years. When you are steps away from Paddlefish, The BOATHOUSE, Morimoto ASIA, and Homecomin’, you have to bring your A-game and right now Portobello hasn’t even gotten off the bench to play. Sitting waterside, Portobello has a great location and is about to undergo a refurb that will last until mid-September. While we won’t see the complete overhaul that Fulton’s did when it transformed into Paddlefish, hopefully the newly refreshed Portobello and a new menu by “James Beard Award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano” will push the restaurant back up the Disney Springs depth chart.

Portobello. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Portobello dining room. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Portobello bar. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 4 – Bongos Cuban Cafe (Disney Springs)

With Art Smith’s Homecomin’, Rick Bayless’ Frontera Cocina, and Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Asia, the current trend at Disney Springs now is celebrity chefs and it is paying off in a major way. However there was a time when the restaurants getting green lighted were because of celebrity owners. One such venue is singer Gloria Estefan’s Bongos Cuban Cafe. You can’t miss the three story high pineapple in the back of the building. The Havana-inspired decor and menu inside the building is unlike anything else at Disney Springs. If I were to guess why it scores so low, it is probably because of a menu that many Disney World guests would consider “exotic” and “scary.” When I went to Bongos, I thought everything we got was really good, and I loved the gigantic bottles of Corona, but even I would have a hard time choosing Bongos over the nearby Splitsville (which has a shockingly awesome menu, including some of the best sushi on property).

Bongos Cuban Cafe. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Havana Punch – Bacardi Limon, Bacardi “O”, and orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Bongos Famous Fried Rice. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Gloria Estefan signed CD in Bongos gift shop. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 3 – Picabu (Disney World Dolphin)

It is a little unfair to compare Picabu to the rest of the restaurants on this list, as the rest are traditional table service and Picabu is most definitely not. However, Picabu is almost is a classification of its own and labels itself a “buffeteria.” The decor of Picabu is straight up next level bananas, including a fake fish tank. With the whimsical artwork all around the restaurant, I don’t think many guests are expecting a serious menu but Picabu is actually decent. More amazing is that Picabu is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There have been many a late night on property where I have ended up stopping at one of the Hess stations at WDW to get one of their Godfather’s pizzas because it seemed like literally everything else was closed. We went to Picabu last week for dinner and found the pork carnitas tacos and the carne asada burrito to be a great option.

UPDATE: I have received some questions about why Picabu was included considering all the others on the list are table service, but that is only because no other quick service was rated as poorly. This listing contained the bottom six restaurants, table service or quick service, and it just happened that 5 out of the 6 were table service (which may be because they set a level of expectation higher than your average quick service.)

Picabu. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Picabu. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Carne asada burrito at Picabu. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Phins & Feathers, the exclusive beer at the Swan and Dolphin, at Picabu. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 2 – Planet Hollywood Observatory (Disney Springs)

Planet Hollywood was always an odd duck at the Disney Springs/Downtown Disney area. The chain, launched by celebrity owners Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, has imploded over the years with the near 100 locations worldwide shrinking down to just 6. Planet Hollywood was the 1990s in a nutshell and it did not age well. To try and rebrand the gaudiness of the original design, celebrity chef Guy Fieri was brought in (you can’t make stuff like this up.) The current theme of the restaurant can best be described as BONKERS. Outside you have the retro-inspired “Observatory” theme, but inside you still have the old Hollywood memorabilia stuff everywhere, an odd carnival theme in the menu, music videos playing on a gigantic screen, and – possibly because Universal’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium was such a hit – there is an unexplainable steampunk character who shows up on the screen and is on the merchandise in the gift shop.

Now, to say critics weren’t impressed with the new Planet Hollywood Observatory is an understatement. In fact, some sites that give Disney restaurants a positive review no matter what even expressed disappointment. However we here at the SATURDAY SIX say NAY NAY! Any restaurant that has the courage to serve ribs on a miniature picnic table and a milkshake with an entire slice of birthday cake on top gets our seal of approval. We’re also big fans of the gift shop where you can buy that freeze dried ice cream and other “astronaut” food that every kid wants to get in Tomorrowland as well as Planet Hollywood Observatory shirts which use the restaurant’s concept art on the front of the shirt because it looks so much better than real thing.

 

Planet Hollywood Obseratory. (photo by Brandon Glover)

A look down into Planet Hollywood’s main dining room. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Ribs served on a miniature picnic table. Pinch me, I’m dreaming. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The one… the only… DONKEY SAUCE~! (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 1 – STK Orlando (Disney Springs)

No one saw this coming. Disney has a lot of really good-to-great steakhouses on property including the aforementioned Shula’s at the Dolphin, Yachtsman at the Yacht Club, and Le Cellier in Epcot. When it was announced that STK would be bringing a high end venue to Disney Springs, many – including myself – assumed it would fill a void in the area. The early results? Not good. Not good at all. The surveys from TouringPlans members have scored STK Orlando at a historic low. Lower than even the legendarily awful Cap’n Jack’s.

Many guests have had solid experiences at STK, including TouringPlans own resident foodie Tessa Koten. Personally, I may never go back as the atmosphere was so loud and uncomfortable that I could not hear my table mate speak. For me, that’s not what I want in a restaurant that charges the premium price that STK does. Clearly, I’m not alone as STK has already made some pretty big changes. The restaurant has some prime real estate in Disney Springs, and while you can get a great steak at The BOATHOUSE, I still think a re-imagined STK could be the place to be. That said, no restaurant in the history of TouringPlans surveys has ever come back from the scores that STK Orlando received from guests. Here’s hoping we see a first.

STK Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)

STK Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)

STK's filet with bearnaise sauce

STK’s filet with bearnaise sauce. (photo by Tessa Koten)

STK's fresh-baked bread with blue cheese butter

STK’s fresh-baked bread with blue cheese butter. (photo by Tessa Koten)

So there you have it: YOUR Six Lowest-Rated Disney World RestaurantsWhat do you think? Any surprises on this list? What’s on your personal Lowest-Rated Disney World Restaurants list? Talk about it in the comments or make your voice heard by taking the survey.

See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

Planet Hollywood Observatory in a nutshell.

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

Your Top-Rated Disney World Restaurants

Your Top-Rated Magic Kingdom Restaurants

Your Top-Rated EPCOT Restaurants

Planet Hollywood: 6 Crazy Road Stops on the Drive to FLAVORTOWN

Six Most Unique Dining Experiences at Walt Disney World

Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.

FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now and support SIX NATION (boy do we need a better name than that.)

Picabu makes me think BURGAN FINE ART could have a second career in the restaurant design business.

Posted on April 22, 2017

42 Responses to “SATURDAY SIX: Your Six Lowest-Rated Disney World Restaurants”

  • I’ll kick it off with my personal bottom 3. I mentioned my reasons for STK Orlando, while I enjoyed the food at The Fountain at the Walt Disney World Swan thanks to a major service error we may never return (they also removed the vegetarian sloppy joe off the menu which was one of my all time favorite WDW dishes) and – this one will probably be controversial – lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant. I think dinner at BOG is one of my favorite things on property, but I have tried lunch many times and it has always been a disaster. I’m not a fan of the almost school cafeteria-noise level and the ordering process at the kiosks is a major pain. We’ve also done breakfast there, which our meal didn’t even arrive, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed that.

    • We usually do lunch at BOG and find a couple of things diminish the problems you cited. We do pre-order online and skip the kiosks (they will ask when you arrive if there are any changes to your order in case someone has changed their mind), just paying and heading for a seat. We also sit in the Music Box room, preferably on one of the banquets around the base of Belle and the Beast. The noise level is much lower in there than in the other two rooms, likely because it is smaller and has more padding. Sorry you have had such negative experiences. I wouldn’t say it is my favorite,, but our four times dining there have been fine.

    • I have to agree—lunch at BOG was probably the worst meal of our most recent trip. The food was uninspired, and not particularly fresh or flavorful. I’m surprised reservations here are still so hard to come by.

    • The first time we did BOG for lunch we thought it was the best lunch we ever had a MK. That was in 2013. Fast Forward just one year and three months to 2015 and it was disappointing we have decided to never go back.

  • Tried Bongos once. There was a a hair in my sandwich. They gave me another. YUCK. I carried it around DTD and tossed it in the trash.

  • Picabu is horrid. Awful! And they charge you a service charge. For what? Being open? It’s just bad all around. We’ve given it a few chances because we stay at Swan/Dolphin several times a year but it’s just time for us to move on. We like Garden Grill and Fresh. We get both for free as platinum members so we have no complaints.

    The second worst place for us is San Angel Inn. My sons (teens) will eat just about anything but found this place disgusting. We couldn’t wait to just cut our losses, get the check and go. Even our water side table couldn’t salvage this experience.

    A very distant third to us would be Skipper Canteen. It’s a cute idea but the food just never lives up to the ambiance.

  • What sticks out for me are restaurants that are supposed to be amazing that just disappointed us. Two that stand out are Kona Cafe (dinner only; breakfast I liked) and Les Chefs de France. Our meals at Les Chefs de France were lukewarm and boring, and I couldn’t get over the stale baguette and cafeteria style pat of butter in what is supposed to be a French restaurant.

  • I was really shocked to see stk on there. We ate there last September and I thought it was probably the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Well I agree it might be a little noisy, it was just the best dining experience I have ever had.
    The 2 worst dining I’ve had was the French restaurant in Epcot and the jungle navigation in magic kingdom. The French place wasn’t that bad, it was just plain compared to other places I’ve eaten. However the jungle navigation restaurant was Horrible. The atmosphere was cool but the food was horrible

  • My parents and brother (AP holders) ate at the Garden Grove during their last trip and were pleasantly surprised – they now consider it a hidden gem. They were staying at the Swan for the first time (which they LOVED) and stopped in for breakfast. Granted, my father is basically satisfied with any breakfast that includes sausage gravy and biscuits, but my mother and brother are quite a bit more discerning, and they both agreed it was a hit. They all think that it is worth a stop for breakfast if you are staying at any of the Boardwalk area resorts.

    • Yes, the best breakfast buffet! Custom omelets! Excellent fresh fruit, unlimited real coffee, juice, and the typical standard breakfast buffet items.
      AND we got 20% off (can’t recall if it was AAA or AARP). Think they also offer 20% off with Tables in Wonderland. The fruit makes it just a little better than the buffet at Fresh in the Dolphin (same discounts offered). Are all the bad reviews from dinner? Can’t speak to the Character breakfast since we haven’t been, but the breakfast food would likely be the same.

  • Isn’t it interesting what some of us like and some do not? We went to Skipper Careen last May and loved it. My kids still talk about it. We had the fish collar (which is no longer on the menu) the Pho and the dumplings. I thought everything was really good. I don’t have a discriminating palate, though. I like most things. I do figure, though, that with as many great places as Disney has there’s no need to try out low-rated places.

    • We are on the same page Kelley. My wife and I did Skipper Canteen in November and found the food to be quite good. We will definitely be back.

    • We also love the Skipper Canteen. The atmosphere is fantasic, we have always had really fun servers, and we love the variety of dishes.

  • My absolute least favorite is Coral Reef at Epcot. It was so horrid! Only the dessert was good. I also was not a big fan of Via Napoli. The service was terrible and the pizza wasn’t THAT great. We have an amazing wood fired pizza place in our town, so I wasn’t impressed. Nine Dragons at Epcot wasn’t very good either–so blah! I agree about BOG for lunch. I’ve given it several chances, and it just isn’t good. Dinner there was amazing and breakfast was pretty good too.

  • STK where even the vowels are a la carte.

    /shamelessly stolen from another discussion.

  • This probably won’t count for most readers, but I hate it so much I’m going to make the comment anyway. Every single item I’ve ever had at Starbucks have been terrible. I only go there because I sometimes receive gift cards and I save them to buy snacks when I’m in the parks, and I spit hatred at them with my last breath.

  • Herr Burgan, I would like to offer another choice for the worst restaurant, which is . . . Tiffins! This seems to be an “I love it” or “I hate it” choice, and trust me, Baggins, we hates it !!! It costs an arm and a leg, and when we were there, the place was empty, the service was slow, and the food was (for dishes that should have been hot) luke warm at best. I can only conclude there must be a complete inconsistency in service based on the reviews I have seen, and apparently, we came out on the short end. Never again, my precious, never again.

    • Tiffins has generally received extremely high scores from TouringPlans members. In fact, it is already the highest rated restaurant in Animal Kingdom, which is saying something because both Tusker House and Yak & Yeti always get good scores. You’re definitely not the first to see it empty, but those days are probably coming to an end once the nearby Pandora opens.

    • I agree with you Matthew, it didn’t help it was so quiet on a weekday evening in October in Tiffins but I just didn’t like it. I couldn’t pick out any special flavours in the food, although the lamb was tasty the spices didn’t stand out. The service felt overdone and smarmy and we just didn’t get on with it.
      The service at California Grill just felt more natural.

    • We went to Tiffins and Nomad Lounge on our most recent trip and had an amazing experience. We absolutely loved it. I agree it is pricey, but it’s a signature restaurant, they’re all expensive. Our food was all absolutely amazing. Our server went above and beyond for a simple allergy request. We’d eat there weekly if we could.

  • I would like to add a vote for the Skipper Canteen, Hated it! So unimpressed, food was flavorless, way too expensive for what it was. Disappointed because the idea and rooms are so cute. Really wish they would overhaul the menu. We had enough people in our party to try 6 of the main entrees and we shared. There was not one meal that any of us would reorder again and we are not hard to please. We eat just about anything.

  • What do all of the above places (except STK and only to an extent) have in common? Simple. They all ignore the bloggers, the podcasters and the Lifestylers. There is not a single locale above that I have ever heard a Disney fan mention wanting to go. They are not sexy. They are not hot. Indeed, with the exception of STK, they are old and, to some degree, tired.

    Still, I don’t agree at all. And that’s fine. It’s all opinion anyway. I have eaten at Garden Grove multiple times (although not since 2013). It was always very good to excellent. Indeed, the idea of having a character buffet that one could walk right up to should have made it more popular as should its lower than Disney price points. But it was ignored by the blogosphere. The fact it looks like the 90s in there likely doesn’t help. Portobello has been a favorite for me for a good dozen years. Other than Il Mullino, which most Disney fans also don’t know exists, it has been one of the best locations for Italian cuisine and values at WDW. I worry about what it will become when I look at the soulless Paddlefish and its prices.

    Bongos is much like Portobello in that they’ve been there forever and no one gives them much cred. But the food is always good to excellent and the prices are actually … reasonable. PH I will agree with, but only based on the old one. I have heard very good things about the new menu and I like the new look.

    STK … no comment. Haven’t been. It does seem — like the Edison — a concept that isn’t going to fly with most of the Demos who visit TSFKaDDPI.

    And when you realize that the average Guest loves places like Chef Mickey’s and makes reservations six months out for a $50 a la carte steak for lunch in a theme park at Le Cellier that …well, the average Guest’s tastes and ability to determine what’s a good meal deal may not mean very much.

    Oh, and I have had three FREE lunches at BoG. I won’t go back for a fourth.

    • Il Mulino would definitely be on my list of Restaurants Disney Fans Need To Try. Il Mulino is the best Italian restaurant on property, although because I’m a pizza guy, you’ll probably find me going to Via Napoli instead 9 times out of 10.

      • We love Il Mulino! Excellent bar, great service and very good food, similar in style to what I was used to in NJ. A great choice for a relaxed dinner in a more adult atmosphere.

  • by Ruth Woodhouse on April 23, 2017, at 3:27 am EDT

    I keep trying for BoG each time we go to WDW but can never get in – I don’t feel so disappointed any more.

  • I have heard people complain about BOG lunch and have always been so confused. We’ve eaten there several times and have absolutely loved it. We order ahead online so it’s basically like table service for a quick service price. We get three courses (soup, sandwich, and dessert) and our total has always been reasonable imo when compared to Disney standards. The service was great, we barely waited to be seated, and the restaurant itself was beautiful. Now on the other hand…Dinner (which people usually rave about) has been lackluster for me. We’ve been a handful of times, I’ve tried just about every entree on the menu and can’t find anything I like. The rest of my family loves steak so they are always pleased with that there. After our first trip in the year it opened, they took the seafood in puff pastry off the menu and since then I’ve had no luck. What I guess this all boils down to is everyone has different tastes and after 122000 responses I think touring plans did an awesome job compiling the info.

    • I have a family member who swears by BOG lunch and has been so many times they have tried every single thing on the menu. HOWEVER, like you every single time they had gone they had been on the Dining Plan and ordered ahead. On our last trip we were all together and they were not on the dining plan. She could not believe how awful the ordering experience at the kiosks was and how entirely unhelpful the Cast Members were.
      Actually unhelpful is probably they wrong word, the CMs wanted to help but they just had no idea how to fix any problem. We ended up eating in the West Wing for the fist time (which was great) and the food was terrific, but the ordering process was such a cluster mess that she said she would never again do BOG lunch unless she preordered.

  • Ruth, Have you tried the reservation finder on this website? Works for me every time! Love it!

  • I would like to see this list with restaurants that are inside the parks only and another list for hotels only. Are any of these six restaurants ‘Disney-Owned’?

  • On vacation at Disney Springs, my family ate at Paddlefish. There was so much wrong with that meal, all of us felt slightly sick after eating there. On our whole vacation, it was the worst meal we had — frozen partially thawed seafood, slightly yellowed shrimp. Don’t eat there.The Florida Department of Health needs to close that place down.

  • Our standard statement for Disney restaurants has become;”If this was my first visit I wouldn’t be back.” Our biggest peeve is the inconsistency at any given restaurant. One time the meal will be amazing and the next time mediocre. Sometimes it is the kitchen’s fault, sometimes the service. Speaking to management often falls on deaf ears and one is made to feel like a whining child.

  • None, repeat NONE of these restaurants are managed by the Walt Disney company! Your reviews and post is totalling misleading.
    These restaurants are operating participants. Disney feels they are OK for guests but there is no Disney personnel or food / beverage involved.
    So your post reflects poorly on Disney and it’s false. Get smart mate!! Know what you’re talking about before you ‘critique.’

  • by V No Privacy on April 24, 2017, at 3:00 pm EDT

    I had a really bad experience at STK in New York (hair in my food) so I’m not at all surprised that it’s rated poorly here. I won’t be dining there in NY or Florida!