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Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL) February 2015 Trip Report (Long)

kathryn | Feb 20, 2015 11:05 AM

Went to WDW for a wedding, and spent a week there with extended family. Food was not a focus of this trip, but I thought I’d report back on what I found. We ate only on Disney property and did not have access to a rental car. Some meals were very pressed for time, or part of wedding festivities, or in the parks with a very large group of people (ten), with three squirrel-y kids under the age of 6, which somewhat limited where we could go, especially during a crowded time of year. We did not do the Dining Plan either and avoided all buffet/character meals.

BREAKFAST - OK

Breakfast was typically quick service meals at the small cafe (Cafe Contempo) in our resort. These meals were efficient and fine for what they were. Cafeteria level scrambled eggs (unseasoned), bacon (salty), sausage (ditto), all as takeout eaten in the villa for convenience. The most annoying thing was probably people staring at the giant printed menu deciding what to order, blocking access to the touch screens for those who already knew what they wanted.

GROCERY DELIVERY / SNACKS - GOOD

Most snacks were from groceries we had delivered, or were food we brought from home. We stayed at a DVC Studio Villa at the Bay Lake Tower and had access to a coffee maker, microwave, fridge, but not a stove or oven due to it being a studio. WeGoShop.com grocery delivery went to both local locations of Whole Foods and Publix in Orlando to find some organic/obscure, perishable items we wanted. Pricey service due to delivery fee & gas fee but totally worth it if you didn’t rent a car and needed specific things. Some very, very nice folks, and this service seemed like the only option if you wanted anything out of the ordinary. (GardenGrocer.com did not have what we needed.)

COFFEE - MEH

Seems like the best you can hope for on property is Starbucks (with very, very loooooong lines). There is no FastPass+ at Starbucks, unfortunately. One morning at Epcot the line was literally out the door on both sides.

Joffrey’s coffee was mediocre but at least it was served hot and at least they had real cream & milk out; all other places in the parks that serve coffee only have Coffeemate single serving cups out (ugh). Additionally, I had a lot of trouble finding unsweetened, non-flavored iced coffee anywhere else but the Starbucks and Joffrey’s locations. All of the other restaurants and food stands had a pre-mixed tank of different sugary iced flavored coffee beverages. Bleh.

Another minus, the baristas at the Contemporary Resort’s Joffrey’s are the slooooooooowest in the entire World. Probably quicker to walk to the Magic Kingdom, get coffee there, ride a loop on the Railroad, and walk back before they finished your order!

COCKTAILS - DOUBLE MEH

The majority of the cocktails we ordered were pretty bad despite the commitment to “mixology” (ha ha) listed on WDW menus. Almost nowhere did bartenders jigger / measure ingredients while making cocktails, or taste the drinks to ensure they tasted correct before sending them out. Poor quality ice (“cheater ice” with holes in the center), and canned juices, most of the time. Tons of free pouring by the bartenders.

We are huge tiki fans and have studied the history of tiki and tiki drinks in the USA (and know what a proper tiki drink should taste like), but Tambu Lounge was an epic fail for us. Everything was too, too, too sweet. My Island Sunset was light on the booze and heavy on the diabetes; I felt like I was going into a coma afterwards. The Lapu Lapu my husband ordered was slightly better. Fun presentation, strong cocktail, but also a bit too sweet.

Elsewhere, I tried a Smoked Turkey, and thought it was like cough syrup with a weird aftertaste that didn’t go away even with a glass of water. Waaaay too much grenadine. I barely touched my cocktail and the bartender didn’t even notice! Ugh. What a waste of three good Luxardo cherries and Wild Turkey bourbon.

My Moscow Mule was better, if only because the strong ginger-y ginger beer cutting through the excess sugar.

The “best” cocktail I had was probably a San Angel Inn margarita at La Cava de Tequila in Epcot after specifically telling the bartender that I didn’t want my drink too sweet (and it was still a touch too sweet anyway). The Jalapeno margarita was fairly tasty as well, with spiciness to offset the sugar. (To quote frequent Chowhound poster ipsedixit, this is the proverbial tallest midget at the circus.)

Whiskey lists tended to be all the same & very meager except at Ragland Road and Le Cellier (Epcot). Hard to find my husband’s favorite bourbon (Bulleit) on property (they only had the rye), everywhere kept offering the same perfunctory Jack Daniels and Jim Beam when we asked for bourbon. Some places had a decent list on paper, but none of it actually in supply. After a disappointments, he stuck mostly with Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey.

RESORT DINING - GOOD

Our dinner at California Grill at the Contemporary Resort w/ a view of the “Wishes" fireworks was somewhere between good to very good. A few mis-steps but we’d return. Excellent service who bent over backwards. Loved the decor, the loud drunk people at the table next to us taking flash photography, not so much. California Grill is very, very busy especially about an hour before Wishes is set to start.

We started with appetizers of tuna tartare and poke. The raw ahi poke was served with seaweed salad & tasted very fresh, with a little bit of spiciness to it that built up as you ate. The tuna tartare was served with apples and thinly sliced cucumber pickles, an interesting combination of flavors and textures. We enjoyed some enormous wood fired prawns as an appetizer, all three pieces were perfectly cooked, and very meaty and flavorful. Yuzu-marinated sashimi on a big pile of more seaweed salad was next. Knife work and presentation were a bit sloppy, with huge piles of fish roe on top of pieces of fish, all draped in a row on a long plate. Cumbersome to eat but the taste was fine. One of the sashimi pieces was actually two smaller pieces, composed to look like one big piece. It also made me sad to see pre-rolled maki in the case, waiting to be cut! Next time we wouldn’t order any sushi dishes after seeing this.

We shared one main: bison tenderloin, cooked to medium rare, served with roasted baby brussels sprouts, crispy bacon, and a perfectly paired cherry sauce. This was the best part of the meal. The components and textures were balanced and flavorful. We ended with the five cheese plate, which had a good variety of selections as well as toast, a slice of date cake, a piece of honeycomb and honey, a fruity jam, and more on the side to go with the cheese.

Unfortunately, it was very cool and quite windy that night, so we watched Wishes from inside, near the bar area, as the fireworks were being blown over to above Space Mountain. I loved the perspective from California Grill, as well as the soundtrack that they pipe in (so the lulls in the fireworks actually make sense), and the dimming of the lights during Wishes. And it was extremely convenient to the Bay Lake Tower, where we were staying.

Dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort before a wedding related activity at Epcot was also very good. We scored a primo table with a view of the pools and boardwalk, just in time to see the sun setting. It was also another cool and windy day, so very few people in the pools. Skipped appetizers and went straight to the steak! We shared the porterhouse for two. Dry-aged, and flavorful, especially with a huge smear of garlic butter on top. This steak was excellent. Cooked bone-in to the desired medium rare. The sides were also very good. Delicious sautéed mushrooms, cheesy and rich creamed spinach, and sweet caramelized onions. We skipped dessert as we were on our way to a dessert party at Epcot anyway (where we froze our butts off outside during IllumiNations, in cocktail dresses, in 40 degree weather).

Dinner at Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge was the best meal we had the entire trip. The atmosphere was amazing. Loved the hanging lights that looked like a flock of flying birds, as well as the lighted back wall that slowly changed color as we dined. The food was also excellent. Complex, interesting flavors. We loved the wild boar tenderloin, served with stewed onions and tomatoes, with a bit of truffle oil and micro cilantro. I could probably eat two of these on my own. We also shared Caren’s Durban seafood curry, which was chock full of fish chunks, chopped mussels, shrimp, and bits of pineapple, in a wonderful and spicy pineapple-coconut curry. Big, spicy flavors packed into a small bowl. We also shared the Lamb Two Ways for our main course. Two delicious, perfectly cooked, charred lamb chops, with spaghetti squash, brussels sprouts, and what I thought were radishes? parsnips? or some other other root vegetable. Oh, and a luscious, falling-apart braised lamb shoulder. Best thing we ate on property. We would definitely go back to Jiko, probably multiple times, just to try other items on the menu.

DOWNTOWN DISNEY

Dinner at Ragland Road at Downtown Disney was loud but fun. Great atmosphere, tons of people, lots of bustle and live entertainment (live music and dancers). Just wish they’d shut the doors — it was freezing inside due to unseasonably low temperatures outside. Most people in the restaurant were wearing coats and hats indoors. Freshly steamed mussels in a spicy coconut curry broth were great. We also enjoyed the garlic & chili lemon butter sauteed shrimp. Meaty and spicy, and good for a cold night. The mixed grill plate was a mixed bag. The steak was overcooked and dry, the lamb chop was fine but really unmemorable, but the chicken leg, blood sausage, and bangers were all interesting & tasty. I actually thought the seafood items were better than the meat items.

PARK DINING - BETTER THAN EXPECTED

At the Magic Kingdom, lunch from Columbia Harbour House was much better than I had expected, reading that the Magic Kingdom has the worst food out of the four parks. Grilled salmon and steamed broccoli were not dried out or over cooked despite being in a theme park. However, the broccoli peppercorn salad was swimming in dressing. Portions were very generous, and sitting upstairs was much more calm than downstairs.

Dinner at Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom had great atmosphere (we were in the main dining room with cute snow falling outside, a very pretty painted ceiling with cherubs, etc) and the kids loved meeting the Beast afterwards. And yes, the “grey stuff” is pretty good. We tried a variety of mains, and between the strip steak, herb encrusted lamb, and braised pork, the general consensus was that the lamb was the best dish. Vegetable side on each dish were surprisingly well done, with cauliflower puree, sautéed asparagus, buttered celeriac, and etc. all being winners. This meal was worth the 180+ day Advance Dining Reservation chase, especially as we observed the number of disappointed walk-up patrons, as the restaurant was fully reserved that night.

Lunch at Sunshine Seasons at Epcot was also better than expected. We had done The Land ride beforehand to see the greenhouses and to show the kids what they were about to eat. Tried to keep it healthy and light with oak grilled rotisserie chicken and green beans. The chicken was pretty good (for a theme park) and once again, we received a lot of food and had leftovers.

Dinner at Le Cellier (Canada) in Epcot was one of our best meals as well. I can see why some think it’s not worth the wait/effort and cramped quarters, though. The tables are quite close. Regardless, we loved the tea dusted scallops served with roasted fennel and parsnip puree. The Canadian mussels with vegetable ceviche and yellow pepper butter were recommended by our server and she was spot on. Fabulous dish with a bit of heat. We also shared the dry-aged boneless ribeye between the two of us, cooked to the desired medium rare. This steak was good but just a notch below what Yachtsman had offered. Still, not bad for being in the parks.

Lunch at Pizza Planet at Hollywood Studios was fine. We were nearby and it was very convenient to some of the shows and character meet and greets. The kids had pizza & subs while I had the antipasto salad with salami, pepperoni, kalamata olives, tomatoes, mozzarella, chopped romaine, and Italian dressing. Actually not bad for a pizza joint, where the pizzas did not look that great.

Dinner at Sci-Fi Dine-In at Hollywood Studios was better than anticipated. I’d read lots of negative reviews beforehand. But our burgers were perfectly serviceable and I enjoyed the sauteed onions on offer. The park was already near closing and this restaurant was dark, soothing, and quiet, which is very much appreciated after your fifth straight day at the parks. And of course the kids love sitting in the “car” tables.

We avoided eating at Animal Kingdom park entirely.

OVERALL

I’d say that it did seem true that the resort dining is the best, with Epcot being the best of the theme parks overall. We unfortunately didn’t get to anywhere in the Grand Floridian.

I would say that our best meals were at Jiko (#1 with a bullet), then Yachtsman Steakhouse, with California Grill and Le Cellier (at Epcot) falling closely behind. Quick service lunches in the parks seem to be serviceable if you don’t have high expectations and know where to go. Hope this helps someone in the future!

Publix Super Market at The Paramount on Lake Eola,
Publix Super Market at Colonialtown,
Le Cellier Steakhouse,
Jiko - The Cooking Place,
Columbia Harbour House,
Be Our Guest Restaurant,
Sunshine Seasons,
San Angel Inn Restaurante
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