A central challenge faced by Disney Parks is the accommodation of so many people. This manifests itself in the way in which attractions are designed, parks are laid out, and how Disney feeds its guests. The machine Disney has made for feeding the masses is the counter-service restaurant. Considering the concept and purpose of these dining areas, I have been very impressed on most occasions by the quality of the food and service at these places. There are no pointless dining areas; each counter-service restaurant fits into a larger narrative that is being played out by the surrounding attractions, infrastructure, art, cast members, and every little thing you see. So pay attention! Here is a list of my favorite counter-service restaurants, one for each respective park in Walt Disney World:
Magic Kingdom: The Magic Kingdom is a true marvel of theme park design. Everything you see in this place is on purpose. Disney Imagineers put so much effort into continuity of story and experience, and it is never more evident than here. My choice here was not an easy one, as several locations could each be considered excellent in their food and service. However, I have decided to pick:
Columbia Harbor House is located at the gateway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland, and is a perfect example of Disney theming at their dining spots. The name "Columbia" is a cordial homage to the replica vessel that sails the Rivers of America at Disneyland in California. The food and decor of this place, however, is a complete and beautiful throw into the world of sailing around the time of Colonial America. As you can already see, the theme fits beautifully into its host land, Liberty Square. The building is a seemingly endless maze of inviting and enticing hallways, staircases, and little doors that open up into more rooms. The walls are hung with paintings, charts, ropes, and other maritime fun stuff. My personal favorite part of this place is the seating area located in the bridge that extends over the outside walkway. Grab your seafood, sit here, and you will be able to see the Liberty Belle, Frontierland, and all of the mayhem going on in Liberty Square. Ok, I know; The food is great too! I have not eaten one thing that I didn't like here. The place can be really busy, but there will almost always be plenty of seating.
pssst: If you get here in the morning, before the restaurant opens, the door will sometimes be ajar so cast members can get in and out. I'm not sure if this was allowed, but I have several times just walked on in and explored every piece of art and framed cool-stuffs on the wall, without a soul there to bother me.
Honorable Mentions: Pecos Bill's Tell-Tale Inn and Cafe, Casey's Corner
Epcot: And here is the hardest decision of them all. How can I possibly decide to pick from eleven countries and one theme park's worth of great food places?! I guess I can try. Needless to say, Epcot has many many places that will not disappoint you if you decide to eat there. This is why I first feel the need to tell you to try as much food at Epcot as you possibly can! Your hotel has a treadmill! Whether it's sushi at Japan, tacos at Mexico, salad at Sunshine Seasons, pastries in France, or chocolate in Germany, do not miss your chance to eat the amazing food at Epcot. That said, here is my best attempt to decide on a favorite:
Yorkshire County Fish Shop is probably the best fish and chip spot in Florida. The locals come to Epcot just for these little morsels. The United Kingdom plays host to this quaint tudor shack, which is located just to your right as you enter the U.K. from the International gateway or from France. On top of the fantastic fish and chips, there is beautiful seating on World Showcase lagoon right next door as you receive your food. To avoid the huge lines that can form here, try having an early dinner on a day that will allow you to eat outdoors comfortably.
Honorable Mention: Sunshine Seasons, Cantina de San Angel, Tangierine Cafe
Disney's Animal Kingdom: Here is an interesting one. Since Disney is always working to keep continuity of the story, and the Animal Kingdom's story involves real animals and the conservation of said animals, it can be tricky to fit in places to feed real hungry tourists! You will notice here that the places to eat are not quite at the center of focus like they are at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. However, Disney once again has done a great job with their counter-service options, despite this challenge. This is especially prevalent in my favorite counter-service place:
Flame Tree BBQ is located on Discovery Island, and is the premier BBQ spot in all of Walt Disney World. The food is beautiful and delicious, and can even be healthy if you want! However, the real treasure of this dining experience is the seating. I've mentioned this spot in an earlier blog post because it is that good. After you are handed your food, stroll on down into the forest and through the trees. You will arrive at a collection of seating areas. Keep walking down until you arrive at the water-front. Here, you can sit and watch Expedition Everest, as well as the lake and surrounding theming. Take it in! This is one of the finest views in the Animal Kingdom, and I recommend checking it out even if you don't eat here!
Honorable Mention: Eat at Flame Tree!
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Now here is where it gets tricky. Disney's Hollywood Studios is meant to give the impression that it is a busy and functioning studio. And although this isn't really true any more, that is still the story that they are telling. And once again, the continuity of story here is a bit of a hinderance to the quality of counter-service dining. There are plenty of great places to eat if you want to sit down! However, the more outdoor and casual places are lacking a bit in theming, and all generally give the appearance of a Hollywood backlot, which is exactly what they are going for. Here, my pick was based mostly on the air-conditioning and pretty good food available:
ABC Commissary is located in a strange part of the park, between Star Tours and the Great Movie Ride. If you think that's a wide range of the park, you're right. If this helps a bit more, it is right behind the back side of the American Idol Experience. Anyhow, this place wins my award because of my personal experience on a hot day in Florida. Almost every place to buy food (sans sitting down) in Hollywood Studios is located outside. Now, Disney has put fans that blow water on your back at the other locations to try and cool you down, but I was never a fan of that (excuse the pun). Here, you can step inside a relatively quiet corner of the park, and get a pretty good salad or sandwich, and eat it in a quiet and cool place. The food here is also better than any other counter-service place in the park, and who doesn't like watching a little bit of Disney-created ABC television while they eat.
Honorable Mention: Toy Story Pizza Planet, Starring Rolls Cafe
Thank you for reading, and I hope this is of some help for your next trip to Walt Disney World! More to come!
Do you disagree? Comment here! Let's talk!