This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Most Unique Dining Experiences at Walt Disney World. Nobody enjoys eating at “The World” more than us. From outrageous snacks like the King Cupcake at Pop Century, to Disney food trucks, to table service restaurants like Bongo’s Cuban Cafe or ‘Ohana, food may have actually replaced attractions in what we look forward to the most on our Disney vacations. Can you blame us though? WDW has some of the greatest restaurants you will ever go to, with several one-of-a-kind experiences that you will never get back at home. So today we’re going to take a look the six most unique dining experiences on property, starting with…
# 6 – Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
The Animal Kingdom Lodge just may be our favorite resort at Disney, and one of the biggest reasons is how much we love Sanaa. Located in Kidani Village, this is the only restaurant at AKL that has a view looking out into the beautiful savanna and all the animals. The decor is fantastic, with the chairs having backs echoing tribal shields and lighting fixtures based on nests that Weaver birds would make in Africa. The dining room floor has beautiful representations of acacia trees while the entire room is filled with art, which is appropriate since Sanaa is the Swahili word for artwork. Sanaa is hands-down one of the most gorgeous restaurants in Orlando.
There are plenty of places at Walt Disney World to get chicken fingers and hamburgers, but Sanaa (along with other AKL venues such as Jiko and Boma) is where you can expand your culinary palate and try dishes you normally wouldn’t. It is worth making an ADR for Sanaa based on their bread service alone. There are five different types of Naan and you can choose up to 9 accompaniments to go with the bread. From a gamut running sweet to spicy, there is a dip for everyone in your party.
Sanaa is off the beaten path, but it is worth your time and effort. How many places can you dine while looking out at a giraffe or a zebra? The restaurant also a good sized lounge and bar area, so you can always stop by for some food and drinks without a reservation.
# 5 – Sci Fi Dine-In (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
We may get some heat for this choice, but hear us out. Yes, the menu at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at DHS is not going to earn any Michelin stars. In fact the food would have a hard time cracking the top half of all WDW sit down restaurants. However, this list is about unique experiences and Sci-Fi delivers that and then some. The restaurant simulates diners being at a ’50s drive-in movie theater at night and does so spectacularly. Guests are seated in a faux classic American car, which is an attraction in and of itself. Meanwhile all the cars are facing a giant movie screen playing classic clips from the 1950s. Our best bet? Get some appetizers and a couple milkshakes and just enjoy yourself. The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is what immersive theming is all about. The food may not be memorable, but the experience itself is something you will remember for years to come.
# 4 – California Grill (The Contemporary)
The first rule of real estate is location, location, location, and no restaurant at WDW can top the California Grill when it comes that that. Sitting high atop the Contemporary Resort, the California Grill’s floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Magic Kingdom. During the park’s nighttime spectaculars, such as Wishes, the lights in the California Grill dim while the fireworks music is played overhead. It’s also a truly wonderful place to be eating while enjoying the sunset. The service is more reminiscent of a fine dining restaurant than your average Disney table service restaurant, and is impeccable. The prices can be expensive, and the food can hit or miss (the hits are strong though,) but this is one venue you need to add to your Disney Bucket List just to get that million dollar view. Keep in mind you don’t have to schedule your dinner for a time during a nighttime spectacular. As long as you have your receipt from earlier in the day, you can go to the special viewing area take in one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see.
# 3 – Be Our Guest Restaurant (Magic Kingdom)
When Be Our Guest opened in 2012, it became the first E-Ticket restaurant. In many ways, Be Our Guest is the WDW version of the experience guests having walking through Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as it transports you completely into the world of a beloved film. We’re huge fans of Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, but Be Our Guest Restaurant is the real deal when it comes to delivering the goods. Seeing the chandeliers in the main dining room, or being able to walk into the “west wing” to see the cursed rose brings several iconic moments from Beauty & the Beast to life. Little touches such as snowfall outside the windows, or Beast’s painting transforming into being slashed add to the overall atmosphere.
To continue with the Wizarding World analogy, the Grey Stuff is the Disney equivalent to Butterbeer, something that almost everyone who enters the world is going to want to try. It comes from one of the most memorable lines in one of Disney animation’s most famous songs. The Grey Stuff had to be good, and it is. During dinner, there is also an opportunity to have a picture taken with the host himself, the Beast. While many restaurants in the theme park world start off busy and soon level off, Be Our Guest continues its massive popularity and has even added breakfast to it its repertoire.
# 2 – Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom)
Remember we talked about location earlier? Cinderella’s Royal Table has the ultimate location, inside Cinderella Castle smack dab in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. This is the place many children (and adults) dream of being inside, and it lives up to the hype. Akershus in Epcot may be a better bang for the buck when it comes to meeting princesses, but Cinderella’s Royal Table is the experience you’ll be telling family and friends about when you return home. The entire process is a memorable one, including the walk up the stairs to the actual restaurant. Is it pricey? Yes, but there’s a reason Cinderella’s Royal Table books up almost 180 days out consistently. There are so many little details in the building, and fun surprises for the kids throughout, that being able to meet several Disney princesses without waiting in line is just cherry on the sundae.
# 1 – Hoop Dee Doo Revue (Fort Wilderness)
Back? Good. Now Walt Disney World is filled with wonderful shows, from Festival of the Lion King to Finding Nemo: The Musical to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, but Hoop Dee Doo Revue blows them all away. It’s funny, entertaining for all ages, and has songs you’ll be humming to yourself long after the show ends. Not only is the all-you-can-eat food incredible, but even the plates that you eat on and the mason jars you drink out of just add to the overall dining experience. It’s one thing to for the delicious fried chicken and finger lickin’ ribs to be unlimited, but for the adults beer and sangria can be poured all night long. If we’re dreaming, don’t ever wake us up.
The gigantic strawberry shortcake that caps off your dinner is one of the best desserts at WDW, and trust us, we’ve tried them all. It is rare to find something that can appeal just as much to the 7 year old in your party as it does to the 70 year old, but Hoop Dee Doo Revue hits that sweet spot and continues to be a jewel in the Disney World crown. On your next vacation you owe it to yourself to book a family dinner at Hoop Dee Doo Revue, and consider making a day or night of it and explore everything Fort Wilderness has to offer, you may surprised with what you find!
So there you have it: Six Unique Dining Experiences at Walt Disney World. This is definiitely just part one in a series, as we’re dying to talk about others that are our favorites, including ‘Ohana and the Coral Reef. Have your own favorite unique dining experience? Share in the comments below.
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 Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:
Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, cover band magnate Morgan Crutchfield, Disney photography icon Tom Bricker, Rapunzel and Anna’s friend Stacey Lantz, and Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire country to get one of these articles done. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 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. PRE-ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)