As a Disney fan, I find myself trying to convince friends how Walt Disney World is a “Dining Destination!” Usually it falls on deaf ears as the last thing people want to do is drop $100+ on each meal dining at The California Grill, or Yachtsman’s Steakhouse (high priced Signature restaurants) when they are already shelling out large sums of money for travel, hotel, and park tickets.
Yet, the most recognized theme park in the world, and the central focus of most any Disney vacation, is definitely lacking in good/great dining options. Hmm… Is that fair?
To be honest, it’s really only lacking in comparison to the the other theme parks and resorts within the Disney area.
Let’s take a look at the different levels of dining in Magic Kingdom and see if there is a way you can make a plan that really fits for your next vacation. As you probably know, Disney designates it’s restaurants into three categories: Counter Service (lowest), Table Service (mid), and Signature Dining (which fork do I use?). Across all of Disney World you will find each of these levels to have surprisingly good and surprisingly mediocre options. As far as Magic Kingdom goes:
- Counter Service– The options here are just about what you’d think. The lowest level Cosmic Ray’s makes an edible burger and fries… Pecos Bill’s is a similar level but has a few different options. Casey’s Corner has great theming and decent corn dog or hot dog options for a quick bite. There are also many different bakeries/ice cream parlors/etc scattered throughout MK. You’ll see Columbia Harbour House featured below.
- Table Service– This is probably the weak point for Magic Kingdom dining. Since there are no signature restaurants, you’d think an effort would be made toward some better table service dining establishments. Be Our Guest gets a nod because, while it is counter service level for lunch, it is table service for dinner (more below). Tony’s Town Square is either loved or hated (meh for me) but it’s just odd to have a Spaghetti and Meatballs spot right after the park gate on Main Street USA. There is a new Jungle Skipper Canteen in Adventureland that looks interesting, but the menu is pricey and looks like a little more specialized cuisine than your average Disney visitor will want before riding “The Jungle Cruise”. The Liberty Tavern gets high marks from visitors but, again, is Thanksgiving style roast beef or Turkey the best idea when you are sweating it out in the Florida heat?
My recommendation is to just embrace the fact that your Magic Kingdom day(s) may not be a fine dining day. Mostly, people are really trying to see and experience as many attractions as possible, and I guess it’s ok that the food takes a bit of a backseat. Eat where it best suits your schedule.
As with any blog post, it’s all made more clear by a countdown list! Here are my top choices for dining in Magic Kingdom.
5. Crystal Palace- This restaurant is a character experience for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It only gets my recommendation for one of those meals and is very specific. It’s one of the only ways to get an early enough breakfast reservation where you can enter Magic Kingdom before it’s officially open. This presents the unique experience of seeing MK with relatively few people in it. Other than that, the buffet just ok and the characters are from Winnie the Pooh. Don’t get me wrong, I love A.A. Milne’s characters, but for that kind of money, I’d rather see the characters at Chef Mickey’s!
4. Casey’s Corner- If you are going to eat theme park food, you might as well have a hot dog! Better yet, a corn dog…. no wait, Corn dog nuggets! Need I say more? Well, I’ll just tell you that the baseball theming is very fun and you are right at the end of Main Street ready to head any direction after your meal.
3. The Plaza- Located just across Main Street USA from Casey’s, The Plaza is known for 3 things. A simple menu, great views, and desserts. The sandwiches and burgers are a nice simple prelude to the great sweet options you’ll have after your entree. Looking out on the newly refurbished and expanded “hub” in front of Cinderella’s Castle isn’t too bad either.
2. Columbia Harbour House- I guess I just like the idea of a counter service spot with more than hamburgers and chicken tenders. The Harbour House has a nice variety of sandwiches, seafood, and some of your more standard fare for the pickier eaters in the group. It’s also worth noting that the second floor seating has some good views for the people watchers out there (you know who you are). It’s also in a good central location easy to get to from just about anywhere.
1. Be Our Guest– I think Be Our Guest was Disney’s answer to opinions like the one’s I’ve shared here. First and foremost, the theming and decoration or breathtaking.
Food or not, I could just sit in their different rooms (with different themes) relaxing and taking in the ambiance. The food is good but, again, they went a very specific route and chose not to provide options for picky children (or adults for that matter). Having said that, make sure you order a variety of cupcakes… they are all wonderful. And anyone who’s seen Beauty and the Beast has to try “the grey stuff” just for fun! This restaurant does require a reservation and make sure you get it early. Lunch is counter service and dinner is table service.
Gosh… I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bashing on Magic Kingdom too much. The farther I got in this blog post, the more I came around on MK dining. Still, the fact remains that it doesn’t shine the way the table service does at Epcot… or the counter service at Animal Kingdom. So, try a corndog or some fried shrimp and load up on dole-whip and other treats!