Dining at Disney: Meals Together

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It's been more than a month since we've returned from our Disney vacation. Though the thought has crossed my mind more than once, I won't be writing about "re-entry." Because really, you don't want to know. 

On to the final notes from our vacation:-). I loved meal time at Disney. Loved it. Again and again, we sat and talked and ate and just enjoyed being together. There's nothing like a family meal. Whatever it takes, do this at home.

Our Disney dining was dictated by discounts. As an ESPN employee, Mike has some pretty fabulous Disney perks. I dovetailed our reservations with the discount list in order to maximize our dining potential. Not all restaurants are on the discount list and most of the discounts are only applicable until 2PM. So, a late-ish lunch was our big Disney in-the-park meal. I relied on those snacks and made those lunch reservations as close to 2 as possible. That way, evening meals could be eaten later than usual and back at the hotel, where I cooked simply.

For breakfast, I packed heartily at home. We hauled granola and oatmeal and fruit into our hotel room (which had a full refrigerator). In Orlando, we stocked up on milk and eggs. A full breakfast happened every morning. We all knew we needed that breakfast energy to do happy things until lunchtime. 

I made lunch reservations ahead of time. If we'd been at Disney during peak season, I would have had to make reservations six months or more from when we planned to eat. Since it was "slow" season, I made most of them about a week before we arrived there. Sometimes, I made last minute changes the day before. 

Just like it's important to remember that the hotel is part of the experience, dining at Disney is entertainment. I can't speak highly enough about taking some time to research and then time to sit and enjoy–both the experience and your family. 

Some highlights of the mealtime magic:

On a super crowded day at Magic Kingdom, we took a lovely, cool boat ride to the Wilderness Campground and ate at Trail's End Restaurant . The boat ride took us from the crowd and cleared our heads. We had the restaurant nearly to ourselves; the pace was relaxed and pleasant; the food was tasty and plentiful. When we disembarked from the boat back at the Magic Kingdom we were re-energized and ready for the evening.

We went back to Wilderness Lodge on another day and had so much fun at Whispering Canyon Cafe. The wait staff there truly are actors and actresses. Their schtick is that we are all a part of rowdy western bar and grill. They might be a tad "rude," with a goodnatured wink. Nicholas asked for refill one too many times. Our waitress said she was tired of him pestering her and brought him a giant Mason jar so he'd leave her alone. Stephen thought he'd be wise to that system and asked for "small refill." He got the Mason jar equivalent of a shot glass.

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Two of our best dining experiences were near-disasters. The first time, I had carefully researched a counter service restaurant in Magic Kingdom for a quick, relatively inexpensive meal. It was really crowded (again) that day. We walked en masse, confidently, to the restaurant, hoping that a good meal would revive lagging spirits. When we arrived, we learned it was only open during the "busy" season. Seriously? That was so not noted in the book. The park was packed. Mike navigated across the kingdom and we ended up at The Plaza Resturant. He asked me about it. I told him the book panned it. He managed to talk the staff into finding us a table anyway. We were so hungry we didn't care. 

My boys are still talking about those amazing sandwiches. We sat at a corner table as the sun set. There, we were treated to an enchanting view of Cinderella's Castle as it came up in lights on a beautiful Florida evening. Lovely. Just Lovely. It's that serendipitous magic, I tell you.

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One day, in Hollywood Studios, I made a giant mistake and accidentally made us reservations for a prix fixe character lunch. Brain blip. I didn't realize it wasn't a price range a la carte restaurant. There was no way we could pay for that prix fixe without busting the budget. Mike explained the mistake and the manager went next door to the 50s Prime Time Cafe and found us a la carte seats there. We waited just a few minutes in a 50s "living room" and were cheerfully escorted to our seats. The restaurant had a charming atmosphere, where our waitress played the part of the mom in a classic 50s sitcom. We had a darling time.

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On my birthday, we splurged with the girls and ate a Storybook Princess lunch at the Norwegian Akershus Castle. Mike and I had eaten there with Michael twenty years ago and I literally had not stopped talking about the rice cream and strawberries since then. Back then, there was no Google. Now, though, you can bet this will grace my table on a special day very soon. On that trip, our waitress' name was Kirsten. That Disney jaunt was my post-cancer trip. We were just a few months removed from chemo. The waitress was adorable and I told Mike that if ever we lived happily-ever-after and had a (second) baby girl, we should name her Kirsten. (The first baby girl was already promised to Mary and Elizabeth.) It was pretty amazing to sit in that restaurant 20 years later with our own Kirsten Therese.

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All the food at Akershus was fabulous. Just fabulous. And the experience was every bit the storybook we had hoped it would be. The princesses came from table to table and talked with the girls. It was just darling. Unlike our very gregarious Sweet Karoline, Sarah Annie is shy and soft-spoken. Her speaking voice is barely a whisper. While every little girl in the room cavorted and jostled and chattered around her, she waited patiently to catch Ariel's eye.

"You're my favorite princess," she whispered. 

"And you," Ariel answered in her most regal princess voice, "are my favorite little girl."

Magic.

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh my GOSH. Yes, I realize I’ve already made too many comments on this post on facebook, but that last part about Ariel and Sarah? Total heart melt.

  2. says

    Okay, a post about food, at Disney World, has me tearing up. Thank you Elizabeth! :) We have had budget restrictions making a trip impossible at this point and we worry about Shelby (autism, how you confound me sometimes!) but your experience with the princesses is making me re-think how we might work at trip in in the near(er) future. Especially for Shelby who LOVES princesses.

  3. says

    Kristen, I replied on Facebook and hopefully my cousin will chime in about their Disney experiences with Mason, who has profound communication and motor challenges. Also, look to Dawn’s Disney blog–she specifically addresses how they prepared and navigated disney with a child with autism. http://dawnathome.typepad.com/disneyblog/
    Disney has lots of special accomodations built in, not the least of which is the important ability to jump to the head of the line while waiting to introduce an autistic child to a Disney princess. :-)

  4. says

    Kristen,
    My oldest has autism. I despaired of us ever making through Disney and never considered it until I learned of a special pass. You will need a note from the doctor but go to Guest Services and you get a special guest pass. This pass helps you to get through the handicapped line of all the rides and events. It really helped to make the trip. Actually, without it, we wouldn’t have even tried. My son would not have been able to make it through Disney without these special allowances.

  5. says

    So glad to see I’m not the only one with tissues dabbing the eyes after reading this post!! Tears of joy and happiness that you had such a wonderful experience and everything worked out so well.
    We love Disneyland and go about once a month. We were very lucky to make it to DisneyWorld 2 years ago.
    My first favorite & tearing up part was the special spot you had to see the Cinderella Castle light up, but of course Ariel’s comment…. gush!

  6. Mary Lou Shookhoff says

    I hope you made it to the Coral Reef restaurant! I love that one because of the window into the aquarium. There was a humungous grouper who was even bigger that the tortoise that kept swimming by. And the food was great. It looks like you had a great time. Did you take pictures of the light parade down Main Street? I have some wonderful ones somewhere. Your color-changing Cinderella’s castle just made me think of them. So now, dear Elizabeth, You have given me a wonderful evening of memories. Thanks.
    Mary Lou

  7. Elizabeth KP says

    Elizabeth, Thank you so much for these great posts of family travel! We are not Disney fans at all, but your experience covers all travel and all families! It is so nice to hear of families cherishing their times together, that is such a fleeting opportunity:) Bless you & your family,
    Elizabeth K.P.

  8. says

    oh how I love all things Disney — except really the food. The breakfasts have always been good, but for the most part, the lunch and dinner fare at most of the restaurants has sadly disappointed us on our trips. And paying full price for less-than-tasty food makes it taste even worse. I agree with someone above, the Coral Reef restaurant was great. We ate their on our honeymoon. The restaurants in Epcot are pretty good too. But never had luck with anything in the Magic Kingdom for Lunch or Dinner, except the Crystal Palace.

  9. g says

    Imagine if everyone was as dedicated and caring as Ariel – the world would be a better place. Thank you for sharing that lovely story. I wanted to hug both princesses, Ariel and Sarah Annie…

  10. says

    We really did have good food. Mary Beth reminds me that I ate some variation of a chicken breast on a salad at pretty much every restaurant except Akershus. And she’s right–that was the simplest way to stay gluten free. But there were lots of variations on that theme:-). both the Wilderness restaurants had good food and the ment in the bunch seemed pleased. The Prime time Cafe wasn’t anything to write home about but I was just so grateful we didn’t get stuck having to do the prix fixe (it had a credit card hold on the reservation) that I would have eaten cardboard happily.

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