The tiki drums are pounding, the tropical libations are now flowing, and there is cause for celebration. Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is now open at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort to the delight of Disney fans and tiki lifestylers. There is so much to love about this East Coast installment of a Disneyland Resort treasure. But as is always the case with siblings, there are some characteristics that set the two apart. These little touches give a difference that is just distinct enough between these two enchanted tiki destinations.
A Dream Come True
Before we begin our list of differences, let’s take a moment to look back. About three years ago I sat at the Tambu Lounge on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. I nursed a tall frosty mix of tropical juices and rum; like so many Disney fans, Tambu Lounge had earned its place on my regular rotation of Disney bars & lounges.
Yes, The Three Broomsticks may be the best quick-service restaurant at Universal Orlando Resort, and, yes, a lot of Broomsticks’s impressiveness is due to its immaculate theming, which is arguably in a league of its own.
But Mythos differentiates itself in a number of key ways, from the small (it’s a table-service eatery rather than a counter-service one) to the large (instead of being based on a pre-existent intellectual property, it has the double duty of creating another world for guests to inhabit from scratch while simultaneously transporting them there). When added together, it becomes quickly apparent that Islands of Adventure’s premiere venue is also its most immersive one, and that, indeed, Mythos takes top thematic billing at the entire resort.
What, exactly, is in a theme, and how does it impact your culinary experience? Let’s find out.
We’ve already taken a look at the best full-service and counter-service restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort. Now it’s time to take a step back from the bigger picture and dive into the scrumptious details, considering some of the best individual meals instead of a holistic dining establishment.
And it just so happens that these best of the best dishes at the ever-expanding resort are probably ones that you’d normally – and tragically – pass by, making this spotlight all the more necessary.
If you would normally eschew NBA City during your rounds at Universal CityWalk, we could hardly blame you. The first location of a proposed chain that never really managed to take off, the restaurant features bland décor and, should current scuttlebutt prove true, an incredibly short lease on life (Universal is currently in the midst of booting all older or under-performing venues from CityWalk and replacing them with more original – and more intriguing – fare).
On the one hand, it’s extraordinarily easy to pick The Three Broomsticks as the best quick-service restaurant at all of Universal Orlando Resort – it’s one of the best-themed experiences to be had in the entire industry, generally, let alone a culinary one, specifically. (Of course, the accomplishment is only abetted by Harry Potter’s whimsical mythology and engrossing details, which already does much to transform eating into a magical experience [no pun intended].)
On the other hand, however, it’s a rather controversial choice. First, there’s the little matter of Three Broomsticks’s competition at the resort, which is considerable; everything from the quick-service Fast Food Boulevard to CityWalk’s ever-expanding options to, of course, that other Potter establishment, The Leaky Cauldron, offer compelling reasons – especially of the gastronomical kind – to stay away from the first Wizarding World’s dive.
There’s also the little matter of the restaurant’s menu not being the most expansive, and that the quality of its food, while still substantial, isn’t of the same level as, say, Mythos, Islands of Adventure’s flagship eatery just down the path a ways (though the latter is a full-service stop, which might be comparing apples to oranges).
It’s actually a testament to The Three Broomsticks’s wonderfully addictive atmosphere that the restaurant more than manages to make up for its shortcomings, and that the overall experience truly is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
New Orleans, the Big Easy, is known for many things. Jazz, art, voo doo, and of course tantalizing Cajun cuisine. Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is a popular annual event, but not necessarily because of the special food and beverages offered during this special time of the year. Yet, if you head to Universal Orlando to take part in Mardi Gras, your experience isn’t really complete if you don’t let your taste buds in on the fun.
Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is held each weekend from the beginning of February to mid-April (specific days and dates vary by weekend) and personally it is one of my favorite things about visiting Universal. The fun is definitely saved for the afternoon and evening. It’s touted as “Florida’s Biggest Party.” While this is one heck of a marketing claim, it isn’t too far off the bulls-eye, in the eyes of this Florida Native. I’ll confess, I am not a fan of most of the in-park counter service food offered here at Universal, but I will say some of the better quick style food can be found during Universal Mardi Gras.
Waterfront dining at The Cove in Port Canaveral, with something for everyone.
Port Canaveral has always been unique — a commercial fishing port sharing space with recreation and dining. Today, it’s becoming one of the busiest cruise ports in the United States, as a home port for Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Lines, as well as numerous deep-sea fishing, casino, and sight-seeing boats. Despite all the tourism, Port Canaveral remains a thriving port for fishermen, and that makes its restaurant and bar corridor, The Cove, an awesome place to check out local, fresh-caught seafood.
What restaurant should you visit while you’re at the Cove? Well, they’re so close together, a bar crawl isn’t out of the question. But if you’re looking for the perfect Port Canaveral dining for you and your family, we’re here to help! My family and I have sampled the dining, drinks, and atmosphere at several Cove restaurants, and we’ve ranked them for you based on the best for vacation atmosphere, fresh seafood, family dining, and hanging with the locals. Take a look!
This article is the final installment in a series ranking counter service restaurants at each of the Disney Parks at Walt Disney World. In case you missed them, you can review each article regarding Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
One of Epcot’s most notable experiences is the unique dining options. So notable, in fact, that every Fall it plays host to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, a must try if you haven’t already experienced it. Epcot has simply dozens of restaurants, carts and kiosks to try little morsels of culture. Though many of these carts and kiosks are considered by Disney to be “counter service” most of them are stands, windows, or carts, allowing guests to grab a specialty food item and continue their journey around World Showcase. There are actually relative few “counter service” locations that offer multiple menu selections and ample seating on the same level as other counter service option in the other parks.
If you use the Disney App, or the Disney website and filter restaurants by “counter service” and “Epcot”, the results will yield 24 locations. However, upon further inspection, these 24 locations also include options like popcorn carts and coffee stands. For the purpose of this article, I’ll limit the term “counter service” to only include options that offer meals, and not merely snacks (though there is something to be said for “snacking around the world”). This brings the results down to eleven locations. So, let’s start our culinary adventure!
There are so many different classifications one can sort a theme park restaurant into – best themed, best ambiance, best location, best food, best price. But what of the best overall venue, the one that most successfully manages to not only balance all of these different considerations, but to also be more than just the sum of its parts? That would surely be a difficult feat to pull off, and the eatery would probably be jam-packed full of people day in and day out.
Whatever the reason, Mama Della’s is typically devoid of the long lines and online buzz that is associated with much of the rest of Universal’s lineup, making it a superlative dining experience in nearly every sense – terrific food, atmospherics, and wait times.
Thank you all so much for the feedback on part 1. One comment was about how there were a lot of mediocre and not-too-original places on the list. For this part, you’ll see quite a few more interesting spots—and one exception that sticks out like a sore thumb.
If you haven’t read part 1, the brief recap is that the Orlando area has a lot of amazing dining options, many of which are near Walt Disney World. Readers of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper vote on them. The food critic weighs in. And the results are shared. You can read part 1 here. And now, here’s the second round of the award-winning restaurants.
While the gelati they have is good, there’s a reason why it is called Jeremiah’s Italian Ice. If you’re going there, try a sample of some of their unique flavors in the gelati and Italian ice rotation, including cotton candy, horchata, salted sea caramel, and Key West tropical.
At Menchie’s, pick your frozen yogurt, your toppings, and the amount of each and pay by the ounce. (Photo by Julia Mascardo)
Menchie’s (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best Frozen Treats), Multiple Locations
I am old enough to remember when frozen yogurt started to become “a thing”. This ain’t the TCBY from my teen years! Come in, grab a cup, and fill it up with as much or as little of a variety of self-serve flavors and dozens of toppings, then pay by the pound. (Or, if I had the option to eat there every day, I would pay by [putting on] the pounds! But it’s yogurt, so it’s healthy, right?)
Biergarten (Runner-Up, Readers’ Choice: Best German), Epcot
The level of detail that Disney Imagineers put into the theming of the parks is astonishing. If I can be perfectly content just sitting in an area and soaking in all the details, then that to me is a wonderfully themed area of a Disney park. The same goes for Disney dining. Obviously, food quality comes first but with the premium that you’re going to pay at Disney, I always try to eat at restaurants that are immersive and give me that feeling that I’ve actually entered the setting that the Imagineers were trying to convey. If you have that same desire to be transported away during your next Disney dining experience then you’re in the right place. Below, you’ll find a list of my personal five best themed restaurants at Disney World. Each of these restaurants has excellent theming that will surely enhance your meal. Luckily, the food happens to be great at each of them as well.
5. Flame Tree Barbecue
Might have to talk to your kids about the birds and the…snakes?
Starting off our list is the only quick service entry and the only outdoor entry on our list. Located in Animal Kingdom, Flame Tree Barbecue is my favorite place to eat a meal outdoors in the parks. Animal Kingdom is already a beautiful park so it’s no surprise that Flame Tree lives up to its park’s reputation. There are both covered seating areas and more sunny areas that are overlooking the water with Everest in the distance. There’s also a beautiful pond/pool towards the back of the seating area as well. Along with the great views, the covered areas I mentioned before are cool looking and come complete with a surprisingly “real” Circle of Life theme. Each patio features a predator eating its prey, which shows that Disney can take the kid gloves off every once in a while without going over the top. When it comes down to it, Flame Tree has arguably the best counter service food and best outdoor seating areas in the parks, which make it my fifth most atmospheric restaurant at Disney World. Note: Flame Tree is currently closed during Rivers of Light construction at Animal Kingdom, though some of its seating is open and you can find your smoked meats other places in the park.