A Disney World Foodie’s Impression of Dining at Disneyland

I have a confession: I am a Disney World Foodie. A huge part of my Walt Disney World Vacation planning process revolves around making dining reservations and deciding what new treats or new restaurants to check out. But when I visited Disneyland for the very first time, I quickly learned that dining at Disneyland is a little different than what I was used to, or what I expected. So read on to get a Disney World Foodie’s impression of dining at Disneyland!

Churro
My first Disneyland Churro. Milestones, folks.

Churros Galore

They. Are. Everywhere. Seriously! There seemed to be a Churro Cart everywhere I looked during my time at Disneyland and this sweet and crunchy treat seemed to be as much a part of the Disneyland food culture as Dole Whips and Mickey Premium Bars. Now there are Churros at Walt Disney World, but they are few and far between, and I had never tried one myself. So…of course I had to get one to see what I had been missing and to complete my West Coast Disney Park experience. In Fantasyland, I forked over a few bucks at a cart, bit into my Churro, and discovered that they are sugary, crunchy, but somewhat soft in the middle, and the more I ate the more I liked! A few minutes later, there was nothing left but the paper and a thin layer of cinnamon and sugar on my shirt. Regrets? None.

No Need for ADRs

An ADR stands for an Advance Dining Reservation (Ed – this is a term no longer used by Disney, but it is still common parlance among Disney fans). As a Disney World Foodie, I consider the business of securing popular dining reservations at the parks and resorts an art form. I literally start planning my dining reservations the minute I know I’m going to Walt Disney World in order to enjoy a pixie-dusted, delicious meal with my family. If I don’t, I may end up at yet another quick service restaurant, forced to consume yet another serving of French fries. When I first visited Disneyland, I knew ahead of time that ADRs weren’t as important as they are at Walt Disney World; but I guess old habits die hard as I ended up booking two dining reservations for two different nights.

CafeOrleansFries
Café Orleans Pommes Frites with spicy Cajun remoulade!

I booked a dinner reservation for two at the Disneyland Park’s Café Orleans in New Orleans Square. I did my homework before my visit and knew that the restaurant’s Monte Cristo and Pommes Frites are practically their food groups. When I went to check in a few minutes before my reservation at Café Orleans, the experience was very much like Disney World as there was a line filled with other diners checking-in and those looking for an open table. I felt like I was smart to have made reservations when I did as I ended up having to wait a few minutes to get in. My second reservation went rather differently. I booked a dinner reservation for the Carnation Café on Main Street, U.S.A, partly because I love the Disney history surrounding the place and partly for its yummy sounding menu. Much to my surprise, I was almost immediately taken to my table and was shocked to find that there were maybe three other occupied tables. Three! I felt like I had the restaurant to myself, something I’ve never experienced at Walt Disney World during a peak dining time. Lesson learned? Book ADRs for Disneyland’s really popular restaurants, such as the Blue Bayou, Café Orleans, and the Carthay Circle Theater; but no need to stress about struggling to get into other restaurants. Disneyland is much more laidback when it comes to dining.

TiggerTails
Tigger Tails. So cute!

Exclusive Snacks

Disney World is famous for its specialty cupcakes, candied apples, and cult-favorite snacks like Zebra Domes, POG Juice, Carrot Cake Cookies, School Bread, and the like. When I visited Disneyland, I expected the more traditional treats, and to some degree I was right, but I was delighted to discover that Disneyland also offers an array of exclusive treats all their own! For instance, at Critter Country’s Pooh Corner, guests will find Tigger Tails and adorable Honey Pot Apples. In the same land, Fried Green Tomato Sandwiches are well known at the Hungry Bear Restaurant; and on Main Street, U.S.A, the Little Red Wagon serves up some of the best corn dogs you’ve ever had. One of my favorite treats was the Jolly Holiday Bakery Matterhorn Macaroon, which bears a resemblance to the park’s famous Matterhorn Bobsleds snowy peak. Finally, I have to mention the giant sourdough bread loafs in the shape of Mickey’s head at Disney’s California Adventure. They’re not just cute, but so good!

CarnationCafe1
Outdoor Dining is popular at Disneyland

Lots of Outdoor Seating

At Disneyland, almost all of the parks’ restaurants have outdoor seating. But what was the most surprising to me was that people actually sit outside by choice. While Disneylanders may not understand my shock at this, my fellow Disney World regulars will. You see, there are very few times of the year in warm and sticky and thunderstorm-prone Orlando, Florida where enjoying a meal outside is something you would choose to do. If I ever find myself eating outside at Walt Disney World, it’s out of desperation because I failed to find a table inside or had to grab something quick. But at Disneyland, the California sunshine is rarely accompanied with humidity and rain is a rarity. I was also surprised by how much I actually liked eating outside while in Disneyland. It was great not having to be removed from the park by being inside a restaurant, and the views of the park and its atmosphere can’t be beat. One of my favorite memories from my Disneyland trip was eating lunch at the Hungry Bear and watching the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes and the Sailing Ship Columbia pass by. In fact, the Columbia was so close to my table that I felt as if I could reach out and touch it!

PopcornTurner2
Isn’t he cute?

Adorable Popcorn Turners

Why is this not a thing at Disney World? Popcorn is a staple snack on both coasts and always has been; but Disneyland takes the Disney popcorn game up a notch with their cute, little popcorn turners that match the theme of the different park lands! There’s a Abominable Snowman turning the popcorn near the Matterhorn, a Rocketeer in Tomorrowland, a Frontiersman at a cart in Frontierland, just to name a few. Snacking on some buttery fresh popcorn is a Disney Park tradition of mine, and these sweet turners just make it better.

Random Characters at Character Meals

Character meals are restaurants where Disney characters come to meet with guests while they dine for a few pictures and some autographs; and as you can imagine, they are very popular with families and Disney Park must-dos. As a Disney World Foodie, I know that the characters at a meal usually match the restaurant’s theme. For example, Lilo and Stitch and Mickey and the gang, dressed in Hawaiian garb, entertain guests at ‘Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast at the Polynesian Village Resort; and an array of Disney Princesses meet with guests at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella Castle. However, at Disneyland, I was surprised that somewhat random characters appear at character meals. Take the “Minnie and Friends – Breakfast in the Park” at the Disneyland Park’s Plaza Inn. In addition to Minnie Mouse and maybe Chip and Dale, Rafiki has been known to drop by to mingle with guests. Rafiki on Main Street, U.S.A? That would never happen at Disney World. Also, at Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel, guests may get to meet with Princess Jasmine from Aladdin or Sleeping Beauty‘s Prince Phillip. These character choices don’t fit the theme or the restaurant’s location as they do at Walt Disney World; but hey, a little bit of unpredictability is fun. Besides, who says character meals have to make sense?

DisneylandDoleWhip
Would it really be so hard for WDW to add umbrellas?

Fancy Dole Whips

Dole Whips are incredibly popular at Walt Disney World and can be enjoyed at a variety of locations these days. Disneyland, however, still offers Dole Whips exclusively at its traditional spot, the Tiki Juice Bar in front of the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland. Of course, I had to experience Disneyland’s take on the Dole Whip and found that Disneyland tops my favorite treat with a tropical umbrella and cherry! Who doesn’t love those little umbrellas and why is Disney World clearly slacking in Dole Whip presentation?

Historical Experiences

One of my favorite things about Disneyland is its history. I love getting the opportunity to walk where Walt once walked and to see his original vision, and many Disneyland restaurants have a rich Disney history or choose to celebrate it and educate guests about it. I’ve already mentioned that I visited the Carnation Café for dinner during my stay, a restaurant that Walt was known to dine at. If you’re a Disney history buff, be sure to take note the framed artwork on the walls and order Walt’s Chili, as chili was one of Walt’s all-time favorite meals.The Carnation Café is also home to Chef Oscar who has been a fixture in Disneyland since the early days of the park.

Carthay Hall
Carthay Circle Restaurant

The Blue Bayou is another a historic restaurant at the Disneyland Park. While it’s not as old some park restaurants and attractions, it’s Disney history because it’s situated in arguably one of the most famous and iconic Disneyland attractions of all time: Pirates of the Caribbean! While the setting truly can’t be beat, the menu is fantastic in its own right with items such as the Monte Cristo Sandwich and New Orleans Gumbo. Finally, at Disney’s California Adventure Park, there’s plenty of history to be found at the Carthay Circle Restaurant. While this dining destination is actually only a few years old, it was modeled after the real Carthay Circle Theater where Walt Disney’s first animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, first premiered in 1937. The restaurant captures the “Old Hollywood” that Walt knew in his early career and is filled with nods to Snow White and Seven Dwarfs and photos of Walt Disney himself.

HarbourGalleySome Restaurants Have an East Coast Twin

Some of the restaurants at the Disneyland Park and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom share striking similarities, and sometimes even the same name! Both parks have Plaza Inn Restaurants with locations on Main Street, U.S.A. Disneyland’s Refreshment Corner (also known as Coke Corner) is in the same spot as Casey’s Corner at the Magic Kingdom and both feature entertaining pianists, and the Village Haus at Disneyland’s Fantasyland is very similar to Pinocchio’s Village Haus at the Magic Kingdom. Also, as big fan of the Magic Kingdom’s Columbia Harbour House, I was delighted to discover the Disneyland Park’s Harbour Galley. While I know the Harbour Galley is just a walk-up window and Columbia Harbour House is a spacious restaurant, they both share a similar old nautical theme, familiar atmosphere, and yummy Clam Chowder.

So those are a few impressions that this Disney World Foodie had of dining at Disneyland; but I have to say, what I was most pleased to find was that dining on both coasts is unique and not a repeat experience, yet equally delicious and magical! Do you have any favorite Disneyland restaurants or snacks? If you’ve been to both Disney World and Disneyland, what was your impression?

Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

14 thoughts on “A Disney World Foodie’s Impression of Dining at Disneyland

  • October 18, 2015 at 9:48 am
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    Churros and popcorn turners aren’t at WDW?!? What will my children eat on our next trip?
    I hate to admit it, but I think I prefer DLR to WDW. That said, the last time we visited in January 2015, the food was flat out bad. Of course, some things were fabulous (Cafe Orleans, Dole whip, the quick service right outside DCA in the Grand Californian), but as a whole, the food was definitely the low point of the trip. So sad, but I know a California trip isn’t about the food, and that’s ok.
    What’s worth mentioning is how close other options are (Walt is rolling in his grave to hear me say it), but it’s nice to take a half hour, walk to McDonald’s, enjoy a leisurely Happy Meal, stroll back and jump back into the magic. One of my favorite pictures is me throwing away my McDonald’s cup on Main Street.

  • October 18, 2015 at 11:09 am
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    Awesome writeup – thank you so much for this. I’m visiting DL soon for the first time, and like you, am enamored with the food options in WDW (been there 5 times). This makes me feel good about my upcoming experience in DL.

    • October 18, 2015 at 2:28 pm
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      So glad I could help, Melanie! Hope you have a magical time at DL and thanks for commenting!

  • October 18, 2015 at 12:01 pm
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    I recently learned that those little popcorn turners are called “Roastie Toasties”!

  • October 18, 2015 at 12:41 pm
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    We visited for just two short days this past August and the low point of our trip was realizing that I wouldn’t be able to get a Dole Whip, one of my favorite snacks at WDW, because the line was at least 50 people deep and never got any lower! I’ve waited at WDW but nothing like this and the process just seemed to be much less efficient than at Aloha Isle. I did love eating outside at Hungry Bear as well and we enjoyed Big Thunder Ranch BBQ for dinner. My husband and son did get McDonald’s a few times as well! LOL!

    • October 18, 2015 at 6:42 pm
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      The key to getting a Dole Whip with a short line at DL is to go into the Tiki Room waiting area. There is another Dole Whip service counter in there, and the line is usually much shorter!

  • October 18, 2015 at 4:43 pm
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    We were at Disneyland in mid September, and I had gone through all the menus online ahead of time, to choose where the 3 of us adults would eat-and all be happy.

    We had dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen our first night, and were VERY disappointed. Huge bill ($150 +!) for the three of us and the buffet food was blah. Like reheated frozen things with no flavor. Definitely the food was geared towards small children.

    When we got to the Hungry Bear on our first park day at 5:00 PM, not only did they no longer serve the fried green tomatoes, but they were also closed! Double bummer!

    Day #2 we walked into Carnation Café for dinner,5 minute wait with no reservation. They had a spicy chicken sandwich which was not on the menu, but special for Halloween time. It was the BEST thing I ate in 3 days at the parks!

    Ariel’s Grotto WOC dinner package on our last night was pretty good and also very expensive. $189 for 3 entrees and 2 glasses of wine.

    Also day #3 I finally got my Dole Whip. They had no umbrellas or cherries.

    Having been to WDW in March, I would say I really prefer the food there. Many more choices and I believe, much better food.

    • October 19, 2015 at 10:28 am
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      Sorry to hear your DL dining experience wasn’t the best, (particularly the part about the absent cherries and umbrella for your Dole Whip!) but glad to hear that the Carnation Café met expectations! Thanks for your comment.

    • October 19, 2015 at 2:15 pm
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      My wife and I noted the same thing the last time we were at Goofy’s. We have been to Goofy’s 7-8 times over the last decade or so and they used to be so much better both in terms of the variety of food and in terms of the variety of characters you would get to see.

  • October 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm
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    Did you try any of our Signature places? Napa Rose and Steakhouse 55 are both great dining experiences.

  • October 18, 2015 at 6:48 pm
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    You gave a pretty good summary of the better food options at the DLR (Napa Rose and Steakhouse 55 aside). There are also some good places in Downtown Disney, including the massive pizzas at Naples which are very similar to the massive pizzas at Via Napoli in Epcot, and the all-important Earl of Sandwich. But the one thing I think you missed is the counter service. Clearly WDW has far more TS options, and can offer more variety in that arena, but I have found that the CS options at the DLR are more varied and flavorful thank those at WDW. Regardless, we have our favorite foods and places at each resort (WDW and DLR) and enjoy visiting these locations when we are there.

    And kudos for mentioning our top 4 favorite DLR foods: monte cristos, pommes frites, Tigger Tails and corn dogs!

    • October 19, 2015 at 10:32 am
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      HelenB, good points about DL Downtown Disney dining options and I agree with your observation about DL CS options. I too think that there are more options and variety on the West Coast. Thanks for commenting!

  • October 19, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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    ..just a couple more thoughts… My husband and I were at WDW for our anniversary in March. We visited a few of the resorts just for fun, and oh what fun that was! When we were at the Polynesian, we visited with many of the cast members, one was the manager of Captain Cooks. When I gushed about my love for Dole Whips, she told us they were now being served outside at a counter service. When we got there, maybe 3 minutes later, the server gave us a HUGE Dole Whip and a big smile, and wished us a Happy Anniversary- and the Dole Whip was free! The manager had called her and told her to do this for us. There was no cherry or umbrella but honestly it was the “sweetest” Dole whip ever! I still smile when I think about that experience. Special things like this happened several times during our 5 days in the WDW parks,and all the cast members were so very friendly and went out of their way to spread happiness.

    At Disneyland, in September, having read that it is quicker to go inside/around to the Tiki Room waiting area for a Dole Whip, we were surprised at how packed that area was, because so many people were waiting to go in. The lines were LONG at both areas. But Dole Whips are always worth the wait, right?!

    We were at Disneyland to celebrate our daughter’s birthday and yes, she wore her birthday button. Aside from some happy birthday greetings, she did not experience any of that special Disney “magic’. I even had to ask 3 times at Goofy’s Kitchen if they could sing happy birthday to her. I was just disappointed for her, and we felt like the overall experience, and the meals, were so much better at WDW.

    OK, I’ll shut up now! 🙂

  • October 22, 2015 at 12:35 pm
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    The best thing I ate at California Adventure was the soup and bread bowls. You can get chowder or broccoli and cheddar in a freshly baked bread bowl. The servings are huge and very tasty! Their is often a long line for the soup but it is defiantly worth it.

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