Food may not be top of the priority list when you’re heading to Walt Disney World , but there’s no denying that thanks to the themed snacks and secret menus , it’s become a firm part of the overall experience.
However, there’s nothing worse than wandering around a theme park trying to decide where to eat – especially when you’ve got exciteable and hungry little ones.
From French cuisine at Beauty and the Beast ‘s castle – we’ve heard the dinner here is never second best – to buffet breakfasts joined by your favourite characters, there’s plenty on offer whether you’re heading for a day out or planning a longer stay.
Abigail O’Leary headed to Walt Disney World to find out exactly what’s on offer at each of the parks…
Abigail’s travel diary
My first visit to Walt Disney World in Florida was at the age of 18 months, then again at five. There are hazy memories of character breakfasts, parades of spectacular floats and Mickey Mouse butter pats – a favourite of mine according to my parents.
Twenty-one years later, I was lucky enough to revisit the jaw-dropping theme parks in Orlando and can truly say the magic is no less tangible and exhilarating when you're an adult.
My partner Oliver and I were testing Disney's 2018 Free Dining Plan, which will offer complimentary food throughout your stay if the hotel and park tickets are booked together.
Plus, you can receive an extra discount on your room when booking your package with Attraction Tickets Direct.
What’s included in the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan?
Dine at over 50 locations across Walt Disney World Resort at the Self Service restaurants . Enjoy a wide variety of food for breakfast, lunch or dinner from soups, sandwiches and salads to pastas, fish, chicken and more.
To qualify for a FREE Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan , book a package for 5 nights or more at a participating Disney Moderate Hotel .
Per person per night stay includes:
• 2 Self Service meals
In order to enjoy the FREE DINING offer, you’ll need to book by Monday 6th November 2017.
Why it’s worth booking
The ease of knowing your meals, theme park snacks and drinks are catered for took away the pressures of tracking the price of food and drink during our five-night stay.
Plus, providing you reserve in advance, the free dining plan gives you the chance to experience some of the best food Disney has to offer.
Forget burgers and fries – there's some real gourmet delights on offer here.
Dining at the Grand Floridian Hotel
We stayed at the charming Grand Floridian hotel, Disney's luxury spa resort, where the breathtaking lobby, with its ornate chandeliers, live band and stained glass rooftop windows, serves up the most magical welcome you could imagine.
An evening meal at the Citricos restaurant kickstarted our superb week of Disney dining.
Certain restaurants, such as Citricos, will take up two table service credits, meaning you'd skip table service on another day – although it's well worth it for this particular spot which serves up superb steaks.
This banking-up of certain credits works across all service types, making it really easy to alter your dining plans to fit around where you'll be on certain days.
Our first full day started with a beautiful character breakfast at the hotel's 1900 Park Fare, using one table service credit.
This buffet style breakfast is a perfect place to set up for the day, and really does have something for everyone – including life-size Disney characters. If I thought myself too adult to feel excited at the prospect of meeting Disney characters while chowing down on my Mickey waffles, I was mistaken.
Like Tigger himself, I was soon bouncing around having my picture taken with Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland.
We also ate at the hotel's Grand Floridian Cafe for one table service credit on another evening, where the varied menu includes stuffed ravioli and spicy chicken wings.
The best places to eat in the Disney Parks
On our first full day we headed to the Magic Kingdom – where else? The sights, sounds, colours and characters welcoming guests was an overwhelmingly nostalgic experience on my part. I was experiencing my favourite childhood films brought to life before my eyes.
Our lunch stop was at the Beast's castle, where the Be Our Guest restaurant's setting of a gold-gilded ballroom straight from the classic Beauty and the Beast is topped by a French-themed menu.
A meal here counts as one quick service credit, with menu offerings of delicious French onion soup, croque-monsieur and fries, plus some themed cupcakes for dessert.
Another superb lunch stop and a particular dining highlight on day two was the Teppan Edo, a Japanese restaurant in Epcot. Booking is essential if you want lunch or dinner here and will take up one table service credit per person.
The menu boasts gorgeous filet mignon, which is truly as soft as butter, great tempura prawns and excellent punch-packing cocktails.
After experiencing the thrills of Epcot's 65mph Test Track and Soarin' Around the World flight simulator, we headed to Hollywood Studios for the afternoon.
There are some great attractions here, including the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and the stunning Fantasmic! evening show.
Dinner at the park's Hollywood Brown Derby called for a break from the ever-tempting steak and something lighter with the Waldorf salad a popular choice, although I opted for salmon served on a bed of soft potato and a goats' cheese cream – totally mouthwatering. This restaurant will take up two service credits per person.
Getty Images North America)
Typhoon Lagoon water park
Our third day was spent at Typhoon Lagoon water park, where you can take it as easy or as action-packed as you like. Head to the lazy river to relax, or blast down the Storm Slides or brand new Miss Adventure Falls.
You'll almost certainly use up some snack credits here and we ate at Typhoon Tilly's, where the fish and chips and chicken wraps are a quick and tasty lunch.
Our evening was spent at the Disney Springs dining and leisure complex where The Boathouse, two table service credits per person, offers fantastic seafood such as oysters, softshell crab and a stuffed whole lobster, which tastes as amazing as it looks. If you fancy a cocktail, I can report that the cosmopolitans were the best in Disney.
Our final full day was spent at Animal Kingdom, my favourite park.
Here, you can get a superb safari experience, touring through the African-themed wilderness spotting lions, buffalo, hippos and giraffes.
It's also home to Disney's new Pandora – The World of Avatar attraction, based on the Oscar-laden James Cameron movie, and which offers visitors the chance to experience the alien world of the Na'vi.
The scale of design and attention to detail is something to marvel at – and that's without stepping foot on a ride – as lush foliage mixes with surreal rock formations, hanging vines and tumbling waterfalls.
The two attractions are the Na'vi River Cruise and the 3D Avatar Flight of Passage simulator.
Neither are particularly fast and the water ride offers a very gentle boat trip, while Flight of Passage lets you soar through the majestic forests of Pandora on the back of a banshee.
While there's no hurtling down a track at 60mph, it's equally as thrilling as any roller coaster. Expect plenty of gasps, tummy tumbles and sheer astonishment at the beauty of this otherworldly attraction.
Our final dinner was at Animal Kingdom's Yak & Yeti, using one table service credit per person. While the Asian-inspired menu looked tempting, the main courses were fairly bland all round.
That aside, the sharing platters were very tasty.
Animal Kingdom's Rivers of Light night-time water display rounded off our final day perfectly with the beautiful nature-themed show projecting images on a screen of water in a lake.
My trip was a total eye-opener for what Disney World has to offer in terms of dining.
Yes, there are times when only a juicy burger will suffice as you're tearing up the rides and bursting with adrenalin.
But there are some genuinely magical menus to tempt you too.
- 14 nights at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa , including 14-day Ultimate park tickets with free Memory Maker and free dining plan, costs from £2,096 per adult and £2,076 per child based on two adults and two children (aged nine and under) sharing.
- 14 nights at Disney's All-Star Music Resort with the same package costs from £694 per adult and £674 per child.
- All prices are based on value season (September 6–December 20, 2018) and include the Attraction Tickets Direct special launch offer of up to £100 discount per booking at attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk .
- Tourist info: visitflorida.com visitorlando.com disneyworld.disney.go.com
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