Best of Disney World

Updated 5/23/14 – Crowd Calendar entirely updated. Cost for 2015 dates is a best estimate as rates are not yet available.

Introduction

This is a month by month look at the cost, crowds, weather, and special events at Walt Disney World.

The cost section relates primarily to booking a room at a Disney-owned resort. The cost of theme park tickets, upgrades, and other add-ons generally does not change throughout the year, with the exception of theme park tickets, which usually see one price increase during the course of the year.  Traditionally, that increase comes in August, though it came during June in 2011.

The weather section is based on the historical data available. For a look at the last 15 years of Orlando weather on any date, check http://www.wunderground.com/tripplanner/index.asp?MR=1 This is a handy reference tool, but make sure you look over more than just the past couple of years. The fall of 2009 was one of the hottest on record and January 2010 broke record lows when the temperature dipped below freezing several times.

The crowds section is based on data from the past several years. Generally speaking, the higher the price of a Disney resort room, the busier the Parks will be.  For example, Value season usually has the smallest crowds and Peak and Holiday seasons see the highest crowds.  We’ll also take a closer look at the various exceptions throughout the year.

The Park hours and entertainment section covers the hours of operation at the Disney Parks.  If the hours and entertainment aren’t yet available, you’ll see (expected) after the section header.  In this case, I’m basing the hours and schedule on past years.

The best week to visit section takes into account crowd level, available promotions, Park hours, ride closures, resort cost, special events, and other pertinent information.  Be sure to check out the day-by-day analysis when available to check on the daily crowd levels and dates of important events.

The closures and openings section lists all known and expected ride, Park, restaurant, and other closures and openings throughout Disney World.  If a ride is closed for refurbishment or reopened after refurbishment or a new ride or restaurant is expected, it will be listed here.

Finally, I’ve included a brief description of the special events and other nuances throughout the year.  This will help you plan around events that may adversely affect your vacation or you might want to tweak your plans to visit during a special event of particular interest.  I link straight to the Disney website throughout this calendar so you can read “the official word” about the events or purchase tickets.

January 2015

January Cost:

  • January 1 is New Year’s, which is just slightly less expensive than Holiday, but more expensive than any other date.
  • January 2 – 7 is Value 1, the cheapest season.
  • January 8 – 10 is Marathon, which is similar to Regular and Martin Luther King.
  • January 11 – 15 is Value 1, the cheapest season.
  • January 16 – 18 is Martin Luther King, which is similar to Regular and Marathon.
  • January 19 – 31 is Value 1, the cheapest season.

January Weather: It’s the coldest of the year in Orlando, with an average high of 69 degrees and an average low of 50 degrees. Historically, it rains on 22% of days.

January Crowds: Many United States school districts continue winter break though January 4th, Christmas level crowds continue into the new year. January 1st – 3rd remains extremely crowded with crowds tapering off significantly beginning Sunday the 4th,

Crowds are low for the majority of the rest of the month with two major exceptions. Average level crowds are seen for the Marathon from January 8th to 11th.  While the marathon brings in thousands of people to the resorts, they don’t have as big of an impact on theme park crowd levels. Martin Luther King Jr. crowds from the 16th to the 18th are some of the heaviest crowds of the month and the highest crowd level we’ll see until President’s Day Weekend in the middle of February.  It’s best avoided if possible, but still perfectly doable using the touring strategies discussed on this site.

January Park Hours and Entertainment: The January operating schedule will appear here when it’s available in the middle of June 2014 (until then it will say the page can’t be found): http://media.disneywebcontent.com/StaticFiles/ParkHours/WDWTravelAgent_january.pdf

Best Week to Visit Disney World in January 2015: January 21 through February 11th are several of the best weeks to visit of the year with decent weather, some of the lowest crowds of the year, and the lowest prices to stay on Disney property.

Closures and Openings:

Continuing Refurbishments:

  • None at this time.

New Refurbishments:

  • None at this time – see below.

Notes:

Historically, January has the most refurbishments and closures of any month.  Lengthy pool refurbishments are also common at Disney resorts as are refurbishments at the water rides, including Splash Mountain.

January Special Events That May Affect Crowds or Your Stay:

The Disney World Marathon is held January 7 – 11.  While the Marathon doesn’t increase lines at the rides much, it does cause a lot of congestion in and around the Parks on the mornings of January 10th and particularly January 11th.  See http://espnwwos.disney.go.com/events/endurance/wdw-marathon/index?page=registration for more information on the event, including pricing and exact race times.

The last night of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is expected to be January 4th.  See November and December for more information about the Lights.

Beginning in mid-January, South American tour groups tend to visit Disney World en masse due to a long vacation throughout the continent.  Expect to see large groups throughout the theme parks.  If you do see a group, it’s best to avoid them.  They are not as much of a nuisance as during the summer when overall crowds are so much heavier.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 101 comments }

Best Disney World Moderate Resort Hotel

by josh on March 15, 2013

Quick Introduction to the Disney World Moderate Resorts

The best Moderate resort choice is not as obvious as it is with the Value resorts, unfortunately.  There are many substantial differences in resort size and layout, transportation efficiency, theme, room amenities, pool size, dining choices, and more.  You may have to make some compromises and decide what features are most important.  For example, the French Quarter has the best transportation and layout, but the worst restaurant choices and pool.  Luckily, the Moderates are all priced the same, except for the Coronado Springs which is about $5 more per night, so differences in cost won’t be a major concern.  Take a look at the following ratings to identify which Moderate is the best fit for your group and be sure to read the full review of the resorts you’re interested in to make the most informed decision.  Like with the other resorts on property, all are run by Disney with similar standards of quality.  To a point, the following could be considered splitting hairs and it’s likely that you’ll be pleased with whatever resort you choose.

Click the highlighted links to read the full review of any of the resorts listed or click here for all of the Moderate resort reviews on a scrollable page.

Best Theme/Landscaping

  1. Coronado Springs
  2. Port Orleans Riverside
  3. Caribbean Beach
  4. Port Orleans French Quarter

This is the toughest category because the theme that appeals to you and your group may be different than what appeals to others.

The Coronado Springs Resort, with its Spanish-colonial theme, is a beautiful resort that encircles the 22-acre Lago Dorado lake.  The resort features three different villages with unique architecture that all sit on the lake, which is surrounded by white sand beaches, hammocks, and benches.

Port Orleans Riverside comes in second.  Its lush landscaping, picturesque setting on the Sassagoula River, and the working 35-foot water wheel help elevate its ranking.  Alligator Bayou and Magnolia Bend, the two distinct areas that make up Riverside, are visually interesting and provide two different interpretations of the Louisiana Bayou.

Caribbean Beach is a bright, whimsical resort.  While guest buildings are painted different colors, the architecture of the 50+ guest buildings is mostly the same.  Caribbean Beach also features a lake prominently in the center of the resort and is surrounded by the same kinds of beaches that you’ll find at Coronado Springs.

Port Orleans French Quarter drops to last place.  Many of its decorations appear cheap, especially in the food court and main building where New Orleans paraphernalia merely hangs from the ceiling on strings.  While Disney will tell you that they purchased “some” of the memorabilia directly from New Orleans, it still isn’t that impressive.  On the plus side, French Quarter does open up on occasion with some pretty courtyards.

As far as landscaping is concerned, all of the Moderate resorts are on a level well above the Value resorts and only a small step down from the Deluxes.  Chances are high that you will enjoy your surroundings no matter which Moderate resort you choose.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 52 comments }

Best Disney World Value Resort Hotel

by josh on January 6, 2013

Quick Introduction to the Disney World Value Resorts

With dedicated bus transportation and updated furnishings, it was once easy to recommend Pop Century as the the clear winner in the Best Value Resort category.  With Art of Animation bringing newer rooms, dedicated bus transportation, and flashier theming in September 2012, that distinction became less clear.  Add room refurbishments at the All-Stars and higher pricing at Pop Century and the line begins to blur even more.  On the other hand, Art of Animation’s over-the-top theming, particularly inside the rooms, may not be for everyone.  And the All-Star may still share buses, causing longer, uncomfortable bus rides.  Luckily, picking the right Value resort for your group should be easy if you consider the following categories.

Click the highlighted links to each resort for a thorough overview, including pictures around the resort and inside the rooms.  For Art of Animation and All-Star Music, only Standard rooms are considered in the “Best Rooms” category, since Suites cost more than two times as much as Standard rooms.

When considering Family Suites, consider price, theme, and how many people are in the room.  Art of Animation Suites are $50/night more expensive than All-Star Music Family Suites, but they’re also newer, larger, and sleep a fifth or sixth person more comfortably.  The Art of Animation review linked below discusses the options and the differences between the two.

Best Theme/Landscaping

  1. Art of Animation
  2. All-Star Movies
  3. Pop Century
  4. All-Star Music
  5. All-Star Sports

Art of Animation is the clear winner in the “best theme” category, particularly when the Cars and Finding Nemo sections are considered.  Here, you’ll find Lightning McQueen, Mater, Ariel, Ursula, Simba, Pumbaa, Nemo, and other favorites in lands that could just as easily be transplanted into the theme parks.  None of the other resorts come close.  All-Star Movies arrives in second place with its popular Toy Story characters and other Disney properties that are sure to be a hit with kids.  Pop Century is more Disney focused than the remaining All-Stars, with appearances by Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Roger Rabbit, Lady, and the Tramp.  The final two resorts are perfectly themed for those that love music or sports, but the icons are unlikely to excite kids with only a passing interest in music or sports.  With prettier courtyards and a more cohesive theme, Music beats out Sports.  But don’t discount Sports if the kids are into basketball, tennis, football or the other themes represented – it’s a sure hit with certain demographics.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 19 comments }

While Animal Kingdom’s quick service options are fewer in number than the other major theme parks, they are all above average in the grand scheme of things.

Most Unique Menu

  1. Yak & Yeti (Anandupar Local Foods Café)
  2. Flame Tree Barbecue
  3. Tamu Tamu Refreshments
  4. Restaurantosaurus
  5. Pizzafari

Owned and operating by Landry’s rather than Disney, Yak & Yeti offers a diverse menu of Asian favorites along with a cold salad or sandwich if you prefer.  Over at Flame Tree, you can order St. Louis Style Ribs along with a fruit plate, smoked chicken salad, or smoked turkey breast sandwich with cranberry mayonnaise.  While Tamu Tamu Refreshments only has four entrees on the menu, each can’t be found anywhere else, with the exception of the Fruit Salad that is also available at Mr. Kamal’s near Flights of Wonder.  Restaurantosaurus now offers a unique Grilled Chicken Sandwich and Chicken BLT Salad, which are slightly different than others.  Rounding out the choices is Pizzafari, which mostly serves the usual Disney pizza.  But it also offers the unique and very good Chicken & Vegetable Pasta Salad and the Hot Italian Sandwich is only available here and Catalina Eddie’s at Hollywood Studios.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 16 comments }

Best Epcot Disney World Quick Counter Service

by josh on December 13, 2012

Epcot is where you’ll find the most diversity in your dining options.  While you’ll still be able to sniff out a hamburger, it won’t be as easy as at the Magic Kingdom where it seems like they’re haunting you at every turn.   Since the Fountain View Café and Boulangerie Patisserie serve mostly snacks, treats, and desserts, I won’t be considering them in the following recommendations.  Both are strongly recommended for a midday snack, especially the Boulangerie Patisserie where you can purchase a wide variety of delicious, freshly baked French treats. When Boulangerie opens with a larger seating section, I’ll revisit it and add it to the list.  Fountain View will also be closing in January for a six month refurbishment that will see it converted into a Starbucks location.

Most Unique Menu

  1. Tangierine Café
  2. Katsura Grill
  3. Sunshine Seasons
  4. Boulangerie Patisserie
  5. Sommerfest
  6. La Cantina de San Angel
  7. Lotus Blossom Café
  8. Kringla Bakeri og Kafe
  9. Liberty Inn
  10. Electric Umbrella
  11. Yorkshire County Fish Shop

This is kind of a silly list because almost all of the food at each quick service in the World Showcase is unique.  I’ve basically ordered the list as to the number of unique items on the menu.  Thus, a quick service like Tangierine Cafe with a robust menu would have a “more unique” menu than La Cantina, even though both locations offer a completely unique menu.  With the exceptions of Electric Umbrella and Yorkshire County Fish Shop, no matter where you go, you’ll come across food that isn’t available elsewhere. And even Liberty Inn and Electric Umbrella have switched things up so they offer unique takes on the standards.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 10 comments }

Hollywood Studios is not known for its quick service food, but there are reliably good options at several locations.  Let’s take a look:

Most Unique Menu

  1. Min & Bill’s Dockside Diner
  2. Studio Catering Company
  3. Sunset Ranch Market (Catalina Eddie’s, Fairfax Fare, Rosie’s All American Cafe and Toluca Turkey Legs).
  4. Starring Rolls Cafe
  5. ABC Commissary
  6. Backlot Express
  7. Toy Story Pizza Planet

Ranking menu uniqueness is kind of difficult because many of the items are unique interpretations of Disney’s usual sandwich and burger fare. Min & Bill’s offers two “sandwiches” that are entirely unique, in addition to three unique bread cones.  Studio Catering comes in first, offering several pressed sandwiches that aren’t found elsewhere along with a Greek Salad and Chicken Caesar Wrap.  Sunset Ranch Market as one entity offers a ton of options, but most of them can be found elsewhere. Still, you’ll find unique salads, burgers, and hot dogs here. Starring Rolls offers a couple of interesting sandwiches on top of all their cupcake goodness.  When Disney updated ABC Commissary’s menu in August 2012, they added a Quinoa Salad with Chicken or Salmon that’s unique, in addition to the Asian Salad and a couple burger options that aren’t available elsewhere.  Backlot Express is mostly Disney staples, though the addition of buffalo sauce to the nuggets and bacon and onion straws to the burger class things up a bit.  The sandwiches and salads are also a little different than what’s served up elsewhere.  Finally, Toy Story Pizza Planet offers Disney pizza that is the same as Catalina Eddie’s on the other side of the Park in addition to Pizzafari.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 2 comments }

Best Magic Kingdom Quick Service

by josh on December 12, 2012

Magic Kingdom has several of the most popular quick service locations at Walt Disney World, which makes sense because it’s the most visited of the four major theme parks.  With Be Our Guest Restaurant, it also has two of the best choices – that and Columbia Harbour House.  Let’s take a look at what’s available:

Most Unique Menu

  1. Be Our Guest Restaurant
  2. Columbia Harbour House
  3. Tortuga Tavern
  4. Sleepy Hollow Refreshments
  5. Pinocchio Village Haus
  6. Diamond Horseshoe
  7. Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe
  8. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe
  9. Casey’s Corner
  10. The Lunching Pad

Be Our Guest Restaurant’s entire menu is full of items you won’t find elsewhere.  Columbia Harbour House also offers several entrees that you won’t find elsewhere, including tuna and hummus sandwiches.  While it may sound surprising, tacos aren’t that abundant in Disney World, making Tortuga Tavern’s burritos unique.  Sleepy Hollow Refreshments offers waffle sandwiches unavailable at any other quick service.  Since it replaced Disney pizza with flatbreads, Pinocchio Village Haus also offers unique dishes.

The bottom half is less unique.  While it isn’t often open, Diamond Horseshoe offers different interpretations of sandwiches and salads as most other places.  While most of Pecos Bill’s items can be found elsewhere, it does offer a steak/pork platter and chicken wrap that aren’t found anywhere else.  Most of Cosmic Ray’s menu is standard Disney food, though their barbecued items are less common.  Both Casey’s Corner and The Lunching Pad offer similar Hot Dogs that are available at Fairfax Fare and elsewhere.

[click to continue reading..]

{ 9 comments }

Best Disney World Deluxe Resort Hotel

by josh on June 3, 2010

Best Disney World Deluxe Resort Hotel

Quick Introduction to the Disney World Deluxe Resorts

Of the three Disney World resort classes, selecting the right Deluxe is the toughest choice.  Unlike the Values and the Moderates, the Deluxes have wildly different price points, ranging from $240 per night to $410 per night, and that’s just for Standard rooms in Value season.  Some Deluxes have as many as 20 different room categories with prices that top $2,000 per night.  Room sizes are also vastly different, ranging in size from about 340 square feet all the way up to 440 square feet for Standard rooms.  While 100 square feet may not seem significant on paper, in person it may seem like you’re adding an additional planet if your group consists of four or five people.  In addition, there are significant differences in resort layout, dining choices, transportation options, theme, service, location, pool size, and more.  I have ranked the Deluxe resorts in a number of categories to help you decide which resort is the best fit for your group.  Don’t be alarmed if your final choice is rated on the lower end of any of the categories because there is no such thing as “one size fits all.”

Also, be sure to read the full length reviews of the resorts you are interested in to get a better idea of what they offer as well as a list of the best rooms.  You can either click the highlighted links throughout this post or click here for a scrollable page with all of the resorts listed alphabetically.

Best Theme/Landscaping

1. Polynesian Resort

2. Animal Kingdom Lodge

3. Wilderness Lodge

4. Grand Floridian

5. Beach Club Resort

6. Boardwalk Inn

7. Yacht Club Resort

8. Contemporary Resort

Save for perhaps the Contemporary, all of the Disney Deluxe resorts have lush surroundings and immersive themes.  I have the Polynesian in first place because of the beautiful grounds, impressive Great Ceremonial House, perfectly-themed volcano pool, and lake-side white sand beaches overlooking Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom.  The Polynesian is one of the most relaxing, pristine resorts at Disney World.  The Animal Kingdom is in second place, but could just as easily take first depending on your own preferences.  Surrounded by 43 acres of African savanna and featuring the most remarkable lobby of any of the Disney Deluxes, the Animal Kingdom is a striking resort and the favorite of many guests.  Few other resorts in the world can boast panoramic views of 30 specifies of indigenous African wildlife and more than 35,000 native shrubs.  It’s an amazing place and an experience every Disney guest should take advantage of, even if you decide to stay elsewhere.

The Wilderness Lodge is a gorgeous, casual resort with a Pacific Northwest flavor.  It shares the beautiful Seven Seas Lagoon with the Deluxe Monorail resorts and has the feeling of being removed from the ruckus of Disney World while still being right in the middle of the action.  The Grand Floridian, Disney’s Flagship Resort, is decidedly “uppity,” yet accommodating and friendly with beautiful architecture, white sand beaches, and a Victorian themed lobby.  Guests looking for upscale surroundings (and price point) should strongly consider it.  The Beach Club Resort is the most friendly and relaxing of the Epcot-area resorts, offering a cool New England seaside vibe and a soft, welcoming color palette.  The Beach Club is the favored Epcot resort for families.  The Boardwalk Inn, themed like an elegant 1940s Atlantic City resort, features an impressive façade and an inviting lobby.  It drops substantially on the list of best themes because the resort itself doesn’t necessarily leave guests exclaiming “Wow.”  Its location right along the Boardwalk is definitely something special, but the resort itself isn’t as extravagantly themed as other Deluxes.

Coming in next to last is the Yacht Club, which isn’t necessarily an indication of an extremely lacking theme.  The Yacht Club is still a solid “B to B+” on a graded scale, but falls to seventh due to its somewhat pretentious tone that doesn’t appeal to some guests.  Anyone looking for a classier, upscale resort should consider the Yacht Club along with the Grand Floridian, but many families report feeling a bit unwelcome at the Yacht Club.  While I’ve never felt that way about the Yacht Club personally, it’s difficult to ignore the feelings of so many past guests.  The only Deluxe with a disappointing theme is the Contemporary Resort, which doesn’t boast much decoration at all.  While the structure itself is a technical feat on a grand scale, most guests won’t appreciate the bland, concrete architecture.  The inside of the resort is void of most things Disney and the industrial atmosphere seems out of place in Disney World.  On the plus side, the lake and Magic Kingdom views from the Tower rooms are spectacular.

Overall, the Disney Deluxe resorts are extravagantly and diversely themed.  It’s likely that more than one of the resorts will appeal to you and your group and you’ll want to take into consideration the other categories.  For some guests, the theme is the most important part of their resort choice.  While the theme may be vital to your vacation, I would still strongly recommend taking into consideration dining, transportation, room quality, and pool areas.  Suffice to say, you won’t be disappointed by the top choices in this category and the resorts at the bottom of the list have something to offer as well.

Best Layout

1. Grand Floridian Resort

2. Contemporary Resort

3. Wilderness Lodge

4. Animal Kingdom Lodge

5. Polynesian Resort

6. Yacht Club

7. Beach Club

8. Boardwalk Inn

This is a difficult category to quantify for the Deluxe resorts because so much of it depends on your room location and your personal preferences.  I have the Grand Floridian in first place because the restaurants, monorail station, and check-in are all located in the centralized main building that is relatively near all of the rooms.  It’s easy to move around the resort and find what you’re looking for and none of the points of interest are far from one another.  The Contemporary Resort comes in second because rooms in the Tower are so convenient to the restaurants, check-in, and monorail station.  Guests are just a short walk and elevator ride away.  However, guests staying in the Garden Wing must walk a considerable distance to the Tower and Tower guests are relatively far from the dock and pool.  Still, it’s generally quick and easy to find what you need as you move about the resort.  In third place, the Wilderness Lodge is shaped somewhat like a large “V” with two long wings jutting out of the main building.  The good news is that the walkways are easy to traverse and air-conditioned; the bad news is that a room at the end of one of the wings means a considerable walk to get to the restaurants, check-in, and bus stop.  The wings are shorter than the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s and a slightly longer walk is better than the confusing hallways of the Epcot-area resorts.  The pools are also centrally located behind the resort along with the dock and beach areas.  In fourth place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which has a similar design to the Wilderness Lodge, only the wings are longer.  This can equate to a long walk to the buses and restaurants if you find yourself at the end of the wings.  Luckily, the rooms at the end of the wings generally have the best view of the savannas and the hallways are nicely air-conditioned.  Request a room on the Zebra Trail to be nearer to the pool facilities.

The Polynesian is a small resort with a centralized main building, pool, dock, and transportation stations, but the layout can be confusing due to the meandering walkways and scattered guest buildings.  It’s fairly easy to find the main building with the restaurants, check-in, and monorail station, but getting back to your room may be difficult because the buildings all look the same.  Chances are you’ll get the hang of it by the time you leave, but it may take a few trips before you figure out exactly which path to take.  The pools, dock, and beaches are all centrally located in the middle and the back of the resort which is nice and nothing is more than five or ten minutes away from anything else which cuts down on walking.  The Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club, and Beach Club, all feature a similar layout with long winding hallways and points of interest that may be far away or at another resort entirely.  For example, the Yacht Club and Beach Club share amenities, including Stormalong Bay and a counter service.  This can mean a substantial walk to and from the pool and a particularly long walk for Yacht Club guests to get to the Beach Club’s counter service location.  The Beach and Yacht Club also share a dock, which is directly behind the Yacht Club.  This equates to a 10-15 minute walk over to the Yacht Club for guests at the Beach Club who want to use water transportation.  Finally, both the Yacht and Beach Club sit next to the beautiful Crescent Lake, but few rooms have balconies that look directly out at it.

Considering Disney’s attention to detail and careful planning, it’s a bit surprising that many of the Deluxe resorts have poor, confusing layouts. While it’s unlikely the resort’s layout will ruin your vacation, long walks from the bus to your room in the heat or rain after spending ten hours running around a theme park can make a wonderful day end on a sour note.  Pay attention to the “Best Rooms” categories of each resort to hone in on the best room locations.  While the best rooms are also usually the most expensive, there are advantages to some Standard rooms too, which is what those sections cover.  If you’re able to get one of the “best” rooms at the Yacht Club, then chances are it will be better than one of the worst rooms at the Contemporary or Grand Floridian.  For this reason, room location is even more important than overall layout, but it’s important to keep the overall layout in mind, especially when considering the bottom five choices on the list.

Best Dining

1. Grand Floridian Resort

2. Polynesian Resort

3. Animal Kingdom Lodge

4. Contemporary Resort

5. Wilderness Lodge

6. Boardwalk Inn

7. Beach Club

8. Yacht Club

Most of the Disney Deluxe resorts have at least one excellent restaurant.  It’s the secondary restaurants and counter services that may be lacking.  With the most overall choices and Victoria and Albert’s, the finest restaurant in all of Disney World, the Grand Floridian wins this category.  Citricos and Narcoossee’s are both excellent choices and 1900 Park Fare is a great character meal at breakfast.  Gasparilla Grill and Games, while not amazing, is a decent counter service that is convenient when your pocketbook is eyeing a cheaper alternative.  The Grand Floridian also serves a relaxing afternoon tea with a wide variety of drinks and snacks.  The Polynesian Resort is a close second, featuring Kona, one of the best non-signature restaurants at any of the Deluxes and ‘Ohana, a popular family style meal.  The Polynesian also offers the Spirit of Aloha Polynesian dinner show with good food and fun entertainment.  In third place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which features Boma, one of the best buffet meals at Disney.  You’ll find a great number of authentic African-inspired dishes as well as traditional buffet flavors.  Jiko, the resort’s signature restaurant, is also an excellent restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere and fantastic wine.  The Animal Kingdom Lodge’s counter service is also among the best at Disney and the new Sanaa restaurant at Kidani Village is a welcome addition as well.  The California Grill, located on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort, still features some of the best views at Disney World.  Unfortunately, the quality of the food and service has diminished in recent years.  It remains a recommended restaurant because of the fantastic view, especially during the fireworks show, and the food is above-average.  Also at the Contemporary, The Wave is a vastly underrated table service restaurant and the Contempo Café is your standard counter service – too small to meet demand, but efficient enough.  I don’t recommend Chef Mickey’s, but it is still one of the most popular character buffets and a decent choice if you’re staying at the Contemporary, don’t mind crowds and noise, and don’t have a particularly discernable palette.

Coming in fifth is the Wilderness Lodge.  Artist Point, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves great food and the service is generally good as well, but it’s lacking the flair that several of the higher rated restaurants possess.  While there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, there just isn’t anything special about it either.  Roaring Fork is the resort’s undersized counter service.  Like most of the resorts’ counter services, the seating area is inadequate, so expect to take your food elsewhere if you visit during peak times.  Whispering Canyon can be a fun restaurant, but both the service and food are inconsistent and the prices are on the higher side.  If it’s convenient or you’re visiting the Wilderness Lodge then it’s a good choice if you don’t mind the prices, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here.

The bottom three resorts are all nearby each other and the idea seems to be that if you’re staying at one then you should be willing to walk to the others to fill your dining needs.  In last place is the Yacht Club, which has no counter service location.  Even people that swear off counter services all together usually visit sometime during their stay for a quick coffee or ice cream.  It also makes refillable mugs less desirable because you’ll have to walk to Stormalong Bay or the Beach Club to fill it up.  The Yacht Club’s two sit-down restaurants, the Yachtsman Steakhouse and Captain’s Grill, are both fine choices for a meal, but neither of them offers much Disney magic.  The Yachtsman is superior in service, food, and price and is comparable to the popular Le Cellier at the Canada Pavilion in Epcot.  Unlike the Yacht Club, the Beach Club offers no signature restaurants and no real “fine dining” options.  Instead, you’ll find Beaches and Cream which is a fun place for a burger or an ice cream, but the seating area is grossly inadequate and you’ll likely be looking at waits in the one hour range.  The Cape May Café is an interesting buffet, serving all-you-can-eat crab legs at dinner, and is a good choice for big eaters.  The Beach Club Marketplace is disappointing, serving only sandwiches and salads for lunch and dinner.

At the top of the Epcot-area resorts is the Boardwalk Inn, which sits on top of several restaurants.  Unfortunately, while there may be a large variety of choices, none of them are particularly good and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend any of them.  Flying Fish is the best of the bunch, but it also costs two credits on the Disney Dining Plan and most entrées are in the $40 range, which makes it considerably overpriced out of pocket.  Despite the high prices, the restaurant’s atmosphere is decidedly relaxed, which may or may not be a good thing. The best feature of the Epcot-area Deluxes is that they are near Epcot, which means you’re just a five to ten minute walk away from all of those restaurants.  The bad news is that you’ll need a Park Hopper ticket to eat there unless you plan to spend the entire day at Epcot.

Overall, the Deluxes have the best dining options of the Disney resort classes.  Even the last place Yacht Club is far superior to anything you would find at the Moderates or Values.  The unique characteristic of the Deluxes is that unless you’re staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’re close to at least two of the other Deluxe resorts and one of the major theme parks.  For example, if you’re staying at the Contemporary Resort then you’re only a monorail ride away from the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Magic Kingdom and only a boat ride away from the Wilderness Lodge.  If you’re staying at the Boardwalk then you’re only a walk or boat ride away from the Yacht and Beach Club as well as Epcot and the Hollywood Studios.  This gives you a lot of dining options, even if the restaurants at your particular resort don’t sound appealing.  If you’re staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge then it’s going to be less convenient to hop to the other resorts, so you’ll want to make sure those restaurants sound appealing.

Best Transportation/Location

1. Contemporary Resort

2. Polynesian Resort

3. Boardwalk Inn

4. Yacht Club

5. Grand Floridian

6. Wilderness Lodge

7. Beach Club

8. Animal Kingdom

The Contemporary is the only resort where guests can easily walk to and from the Magic Kingdom.  It also offers boat service to the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Cabins as well as Monorail access to the Magic Kingdom, Transportation Center, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. Finally, the Contemporary has the best bus service of the Monorail Deluxes because it’s picked up and dropped off before the others when bus service is shared.  Coming in second is the Polynesian, which is on the monorail line, has an easily accessible bus stop, and is in walking distance to the express monorail line to Epcot.  Walking to the express monorail will save you a lot of time because you won’t have to travel around on the resort monorail and then wait for the express monorail to show up at the Ticket and Transportation Center.  The Polynesian also offers boat service to the Magic Kingdom and Grand Floridian which is handy as well.  The Boardwalk Inn is at the top of the Epcot-area resorts because it’s the closest and has its own dock that is centrally located at the back of the resort.  It’s also the closest resort within walking distance of the Hollywood Studios.  With boat access to the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, there are plenty of places to visit via boat, which is much more fun than riding a stuffy bus.  Of course, the Boardwalk Inn is also right on top of the Boardwalk area with its fun restaurants, night clubs, and street shows.  Coming in fourth is the Yacht Club, which is rated higher than the nearby Beach Club because the boat dock happens to be behind the Yacht Club.  This makes it much more convenient for guests to travel via boat to all of the same locations as at the Boardwalk Inn listed above.

Leading the bottom half of the list, the Grand Floridian is on the monorail line and has convenient boat access to the Magic Kingdom and Polynesian resort.  Why is it so low on the list then?  Unfortunately, the Grand Floridian has poor bus service, usually sharing with the far-away Wilderness Lodge which gets picked up and dropped off first.  This can mean longer than average bus rides to the Hollywood Studios and the Grand Floridian is the farthest resort away from the Animal Kingdom.  Coming in sixth is the Wilderness Lodge, which has boat access to the Magic Kingdom, but buses everywhere else.  The Wilderness Lodge often shares buses with the nearby Fort Wilderness Campground and the much less convenient Grand Floridian, which adds considerable extra time to bus rides.  It’s not in walking distance of any of the theme parks and is relatively isolated away from the rest of the action.  The Beach Club falls all the way to sixth because guests will have to walk all the way to the back of the Yacht Club for boat transportation that is shared by many other resorts and theme parks.  Like the Yacht Club and Boardwalk Inn, there is also no bus service to the front of Epcot.  Last place goes to the Animal Kingdom, which only offers bus service to all of the theme parks.  It’s also the most remote Disney resort and the furthest from all of the theme parks other than the Animal Kingdom.  You’re looking at a 45 minute drive to and from the Magic Kingdom.

Overall, the Deluxe resorts offer the most diverse transportation options of the Disney resort classes.  Both the monorail and boats offer a more fun way to get around the World and the convenience of being so close to the theme parks and other resorts is a nice bonus.

Best Rooms

1. Contemporary Resort

2. Grand Floridian Resort

3. Polynesian Resort

4. Yacht Club

5. Beach Club

6. Boardwalk Inn

7. Animal Kingdom Lodge

8. Wilderness Lodge

Disregarding price, the updated Contemporary Resort rooms are the nicest, most modern rooms at Disney World.  Some guests may still prefer the subtler elegance of the Grand Floridian’s large, well-appointed rooms.  In third place is the Polynesian Resort.  Although its rooms feel a bit dark and outdated, they are still among the largest at Disney World and feature upgraded fixtures, bathrooms, and televisions.  The Yacht and Beach Club as well as the Boardwalk Inn all have rooms that are about 380 square feet in size.  As far as the room itself is concerned, they are all similarly outfitted with the only major difference being the theme.  The Yacht Club is the most recently renovated, followed by the Beach Club and then the Boardwalk Inn.  Chances are you won’t notice much difference between the three.  Both the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge have rooms that are much smaller than the other Deluxes, at only about 340 square feet.  They are also dark and standard rooms sleep only four people, compared to five at the other Deluxes.  While the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge are considerably less expensive, the major reason behind the price difference is the smaller rooms with lower quality furnishings.

Best Pool

1. Stormalong Bay at the Beach and Yacht Club

2. Boardwalk Inn

3. Grand Floridian Resort

4. Wilderness Lodge

5. Polynesian Resort

6. Contemporary Resort

7. Animal Kingdom Lodge

Far and away, the best pool complex is Stormalong Bay, which is shared by guests of the Yacht and Beach Club.  It’s also the most heavily secured and resort guests must show their room key to receive a wristband and gain entrance. Boardwalk Inn features a spectacular slide, a fun theme, and a large pool which puts it in second place.  The Grand Floridian’s main pool, while not ornately themed, overlooks the pristine Seven Seas Lagoon and the quiet pool is the largest of its kind.  It ranks so high because there is usually plenty of room to swim and move about the water.  In fourth place, the Wilderness Lodge features a beautifully themed pool and a second quiet pool.  While the feature pool gets busy in the summer, the quiet pool usually has plenty of room.  The Polynesian would be much higher on the list, probably in second place, except it’s so popular with “pool hoppers.”  Although people staying at other resorts are expressly forbidden from swimming at the Polynesian, plenty of people still do and the resort does a poor job of keeping them out.  This makes the Polynesian’s Volcano Pool extremely busy in the warm months.  Although there is a smaller quiet pool, it’s much less fun to swim in than the Volcano Pool.  Next to last is the Contemporary Resort, which has two large pools, but little theme or decoration.  The slide is also not particularly exciting.  In last place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which only has one pool open to all guests (guests staying at the Kidani Village Disney Vacation Club have access to a second pool).  While it is the largest single pool in Disney World, it doesn’t make up for the convenient quiet pools at other resorts.  If your room is at the end of Kudu Trail, you’re looking at a 15+ minute walk to and from the pool, which may be a hassle.

Chances are you’ll be pleased with the pool facilities at any of the Deluxes.  Although the Animal Kingdom comes in last, the pool is still fantastic and it’s located in a beautifully themed area.  It’s just unfortunate they neglected to build a second one on the other side of the resort.

Best Disney World Deluxe Resort Hotel

1. Grand Floridian

2. Polynesian Resort

3. Beach Club

4. Wilderness Lodge

5. Contemporary Resort

6. Yacht Club

7. Animal Kingdom Lodge

8. Boardwalk Inn

The “best” Deluxe resort is difficult to quantify because of the varying price points and substantial differences between the resorts.  At the very least, I would recommend reading over the “best for” and “worst for” sections along with the “summary of key points” for each of the Deluxe resorts you are considering.  While the Animal Kingdom Lodge may be listed seventh on this list, it may be ideal for your family if you don’t mind the longer-than-average bus rides, four person limit per room, and the possibility of substantial walks to the main building and pool.  In addition, the Grand Floridian is the most expensive resort at Disney World and may not be worth the $200 extra per night over the Wilderness Lodge if your group doesn’t plan to spend much time at the resort.  Unlike the Values and Moderates, the Deluxes have more substantial differences and the top rated resorts may not be the best choice depending on your wants and needs.  Here’s as short of an explanation as I can give on the pros and cons of the various Deluxes and why they fall where they do, generally speaking.

The Grand Floridian is the best of the Deluxe resorts, with the largest rooms, easy to maneuver layout, oversized pools, finest restaurants, and quick transportation to the Magic Kingdom.  The only deterrents are its bus transportation to the other theme parks and the high cost.  While some visitors report feeling “stuffy,” the great majority of Grand Floridian guests are just like you and me.  That is, people who have diligently saved over the year(s) to afford to stay at Disney’s best.  It’s truly a beautiful resort with all of the amenities one would expect from a top resort.  On the other hand, it may only be worth the money if you plan to spend a considerable amount of time relaxing and enjoying the resort and its amenities.  The Polynesian has many of the same pros and cons as the Grand Floridian, but falls below it due to the somewhat outdated décor in the rooms, more difficulty finding what you’re looking for inside of the resort, and the overcrowded pools.  On the plus side, the Polynesian has much better transportation, including a walkway to the Ticket and Transportation Center and a more relaxing, family friendly atmosphere.

The Beach Club tops the Epcot-area resorts because of its ideal location within walking distance of Epcot, its relaxed atmosphere, superior service, Stormalong Bay, and several casual restaurants on-site.  The major downsides are its lack of balconies overlooking the lake, its shared bus and boat transportation, and a lackluster counter service.  Luckily, you can visit Stormalong Bay for a burger or walk to Epcot and visit one of their excellent counter service locations, so there really isn’t that much of a need for a counter service with more abundant options.  Of course, it would still be nice.  In fourth place is the Wilderness Lodge, which has a tranquil atmosphere, attractive price point, above-average transportation, and a fun pool area.  Although the rooms are smaller than the other Deluxes, the significantly lower price reflects it.  The Wilderness Lodge also has boat service to the Contemporary and Magic Kingdom, which easily connects guests to the other Monorail Deluxes and Epcot express monorail line.  Although it appears to be secluded, it actually isn’t that far away, so you get the benefit of being away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks while still being close to the action.  It’s an excellent resort for guests wanting to be conveniently located near the Magic Kingdom without the additional expense of the Monorail Deluxes.

Falling to fifth place is the Contemporary Resort, mostly due to its lack of a theme and high cost for rooms outside of the Garden Wing.  While it’s true that the Contemporary Resort boasts the cheapest rooms on the monorail line, the Contemporary’s Tower rooms start at $400 which is in line with Standard rooms at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, both of which have a superior theme.  The Contemporary’s strong points are its convenience to the Magic Kingdom and other Monorail Deluxes, boat service to the Wilderness Lodge, modern rooms, and easy to navigate layout.  If you don’t care for a lush tropical atmosphere or the opulence of the Grand Floridian, then the Contemporary may be your best choice.  I recommend either getting the cheapest room in the Garden Wing or upgrading to the Magic Kingdom View in the Tower.  There’s really no reason to spend the money to upgrade anywhere else.

In sixth place, the Yacht Club completely lacks a counter service location, has a confusing layout, shares buses and boats with many other resorts, and features a less popular theme.  While guests looking for a more upscale atmosphere may appreciate the Yacht Club, it may feel a bit stuffy to guests with younger children.  The positives are similar to the Beach Club and include the best pool complex at Disney World, an excellent location within walking distance of Epcot and many other resorts, and upgraded rooms.  If you prefer a fancy resort and don’t plan to eat any counter service meals on-site, then the Yacht Club may be your ideal resort.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge drops to seventh because of its remote location.  Unless you plan to spend considerable time on your balcony looking at the animals, you are better off staying closer to the other theme parks and visiting the Animal Kingdom to enjoy its restaurants or the public animal viewing areas.  It’s about a 35 minute drive from the Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom and 25 minutes or more to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  If you have to wait 15 minutes for the bus then you’re looking at 80-120 minutes or more on the buses, assuming you only ride to and from the theme parks once.  Depending on room location you’re also looking at considerable walks to and from the bus stop, main building, pool, and restaurants.  On the plus side, the Animal Kingdom is a beautiful resort with a striking lobby and three superb restaurants.  If you don’t mind the long drives or plan to spend a significant portion of your vacation at your resort then the Animal Kingdom may be a good choice.  There are better options for first time Disney vacationers and those who plan to spend most of their time away from the resort.

In last place, though not without its positive attributes, is the Boardwalk Inn.  While I love the exterior theme and the rooms overlooking the Boardwalk are among the most fun at Disney World, the interior leaves a lot to be desired.  The layout is particularly confusing, with long winding halls and inconvenient elevator locations.  There is also no on-site counter service and no restaurants inside of the resort.  Instead, you’ll have to exit the resort and enter the restaurants from the outside.  While there are plenty of choices, the ESPN Club, Kouzzina, and Big River Grille are nothing special and do not come highly recommended.  At a minimum of $425 per night, the rooms that overlook the Boardwalk cost about as much as a Magic Kingdom View room at the Contemporary Resort or Standard room at the Polynesian or Grand Floridian.  I would recommend visiting the Boardwalk area during your vacation, but don’t generally recommend the resort itself.  One more positive that I have not previously mentioned is the Inn’s underutilized Bellevue Lounge, which is a fantastic place to sip on a fine cocktail and enjoy an afternoon or evening.

There is a Disney Deluxe resort that will fit anyone’s needs, provided you have a budget that allows for it.  With a large pricing gap and a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses, it may take some time to research and determine which resort will best fit your group’s needs.  Hopefully this abridged guide will help.  Be sure to read up on the individual resorts that sound intriguing for even more information.  I have a detailed overview of every Disney resort, including a closer look at each of the categories listed here and suggestions on room reservations.  Good luck and happy planning.

{ 15 comments }

With only three sit-down restaurants, the Animal Kingdom has the most limited choices of any of the theme parks that make up Walt Disney World.  In fact, there are fewer options at the Animal Kingdom than there are at several of the Deluxe Resorts.  Considering about 30,000 people visit the Animal Kingdom every day, it may appear as though the dining facilities are inadequate.  However, the Animal Kingdom usually closes around 5-6pm, and many guests choose to dine elsewhere.  It’s not uncommon for visitors to bus over to the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge to dine at Boma, Jiko, or Sanaa or park hop over to Epcot for a meal and a few late evening rides.  Luckily, all three of the restaurants at the Animal Kingdom have something to offer.  The Yak & Yeti and Tusker House buffet in particular are vastly underrated and would be an excellent choice on or off the Disney Dining Plan.

Be sure to read over the full reviews for more information on any of the restaurants listed.  You can either click here for the full list in alphabetical order or click the individual highlighted links throughout this post.

Most Unique Menu

1. Yak & Yeti

2. Tusker House

3. Rainforest Café

Yak & Yeti has the most unique menu, featuring a wide variety of Asian inspired dishes including roasted duck, baby back ribs, skirt steak, lettuce cups, and wonton soup.  Yak & Yeti also offers one of the best beer, wine, and mixed alcoholic drink menus at Disney World.  With a menu similar to the popular Boma buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Tusker House serves a number of interesting African and Indian inspired dishes including seafood stew, curry chicken, couscous, and about a dozen unique salads and soups.  For the less adventurous, there are also plenty of “normal” dishes like rotisserie chicken, top sirloin steak, cold cuts, and a host of others.  Rainforest Café comes in third because it’s a chain restaurant that has about two dozen locations nationwide.  You’ll find the usual variety of sandwiches, burgers, and salads as well as some more interesting dishes.

Best “Value” AKA Most Expensive Meal on the Dining Plan

1. Yak & Yeti (Average Entrée Cost $19.63, Average Dessert Cost $7.99, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $24.99, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $9.99, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $37.98)

2. Tusker House (Adult Breakfast: $20.99, Child Breakfast: $11.99, Adult Lunch: $20.99, Child Lunch: $11.99, Adult Dinner: $28.99, Child Dinner: $13.99) Price goes up about $ for adults and $1 for children during Holiday Season dates

3. Rainforest Café is not on the Disney Dining Plan or Deluxe Disney Dining Plan, but it is on the less common Premium and Platinum Dining Plans

Of the two restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan, Yak & Yeti is clearly the most expensive at about $10 more than Tusker House at Dinner and about $17 more expensive at lunch.  The Yak & Yeti only has one menu for lunch and dinner, so it’s just as expensive at lunch. Rainforest Café is not on either of the two most common Dining Plans, but the most expensive entrée at Rainforst Cafe is $31.99 for the tenderloin steak.

Best Value Out of Pocket

1. Yak & Yeti

2. Tusker House Lunch

3. Rainforest Café

Yak & Yeti is the best value out of pocket because of the high quality of the ingredients, large portions, interesting atmosphere, and superior service.  Although the most expensive entrée at Yak & Yeti is $24.99, there are also several entrées in the $16-$18 range for those looking for a more economical choice and you can always split an appetizer, entrée, or dessert to cut down on cost.  Tusker House’s prices are about average for a Disney buffet, but it does offer high quality food and great service.  At Rainforst Café you’re paying for the scenery and animatronics as much as you are for the food and the quality suffers because of that.  It may be a worthwhile stop with kids, but you can also walk through quickly without sitting down to eat.  With most entrées $25 or more, the food simply does not offer a noteworthy value, although kids may love the ambiance.

Best Atmosphere

1. Rainforst Café

2. Yak & Yeti

3. Tusker House

The Rainforest Café is a successful franchise not because of its food, but because of its fun atmosphere.  The T-Rex restaurant at Downtown Disney is even more extravagantly themed, but the Rainforst Café is probably the second best themed restaurant in Disney World.  The caveat is that it does get loud and it won’t be an intimate dining experience, so I wouldn’t suggest it if you’re looking to get away from the noise and crowds of the Animal Kingdom.  Yak & Yeti comes in second, but it would be number one at any of the other Disney theme parks.  With a plethora of interesting relics, statues, artifacts, and art, entering the Yak & Yeti may actually make you feel like you’ve left the Animal Kingdom.  No two rooms are decorated alike and you’ll probably want to make a trek up to the bathroom just for an excuse to walk around and check everything out.  Tusker House is sparsely decorated and not particularly interesting, but it is roomier than most other character buffet locations.  Personally, I would take room to walk and a little privacy over neat décor, so Tusker’s House’s lack of an extravagant theme isn’t so bad.

Best Food

1. Yak & Yeti

2. Tusker House

3. Rainforest Café

Yak & Yeti consistently serves the best food at the Animal Kingdom.  Tusker House is one of the best buffets at Disney World, but bite for bite it doesn’t compare to the more careful preparation and quality control of Yak & Yeti.  If buffets are your thing then you’ll be more than satisfied with Tusker House, but anyone looking for a traditional table service meal should make a reservation at Yak & Yeti.  While many of Rainforest Café’s entrées may sound appealing on the menu, they generally aren’t executed well.  The sandwiches, wraps, and burgers are all perfectly decent, but don’t expect a world-class paella or steak.

Overall Best Sit Down Table Service Restaurant at the Animal Kingdom

1. Yak & Yeti

2. Tusker House

3. Rainforest Café

It’s fairly easy to hone in on the best table service restaurant at the Animal Kingdom, considering there are only three choices.  Yak & Yeti is the clear favorite, serving high quality, affordable entrées in a beautiful setting.  Service is usually great and the restaurant is well air-conditioned and comfortable, which makes it an even better destination after rushing around the Animal Kingdom for most of the day.  Tusker House is an excellent buffet, but comes in second because of the relatively high cost, the possibility that some of the buffet items may not be enjoyed by all visitors, and the lack of interesting decorations.  Rainforest Café, not on the popular Disney Dining Plan, comes in third due to the inadequate quality of many of its entrées and the fact that it’s inconveniently located at the front of the Animal Kingdom.  If you have a reservation in the middle of the day then you’ll want to plan to be near the front of the theme park or risk having to walk the entire Park to get to the restaurant.  While it may be a favorite with kids, if you have a Rainforest Café nearby then you may want to save it for another day since there are so many other fun activities to keep kids occupied at Disney World.  If you would prefer an entertaining meal surrounded by audio-animatronics and extravagant scenery over quality food and lower prices, then the Rainforst Café may be the best choice.  Anyone looking for a more relaxing meal with quality food should consider the top two choices.

{ 11 comments }

Best Epcot Sit Down Table Service Restaurants Disney World

Updated October 7, 2010 with La Hacienda de San Angel

Oh, boy.  There are a lot of choices at Epcot – 16 sit-down restaurants to be exact.  That’s eleven more than at the Magic Kingdom, eleven more than at the Hollywood Studios, and thirteen more than at the Animal Kingdom.  Several of the best or otherwise most popular restaurants in all of Walt Disney World are found at Epcot.  At first it may seem difficult to decide which restaurant to choose.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to select which restaurants you want to eat at well before you even think about leaving for Disney World.  The days of walking up to a restaurant and getting a table with a minimal wait are long gone, in part due to the popular Disney Dining Plans.  Le Cellier, for example, is almost always completely booked 180 days out (180 days is the farthest in advance you can make a reservation) and your chances of getting a table without a reservation are about one percent.  While it does occasionally happen, it’s very rare.  The following analysis should make it easier to hone in on which restaurants sound like they would be the most ideal for your group.

Be sure to read over the full reviews for more information on any of the restaurants listed.  You can either click here for the full list in alphabetical order or click the individual highlighted links throughout this post.

We’ll skip the “Most Unique Menu” category for Epcot.  Every one of Epcot’s restaurants features interesting and unique food, save for perhaps the Garden Grill and Coral Reef.

Best “Value” AKA Most Expensive Meal on the Dining Plan

1. Tutto Italia Ristorante (Average Entrée Cost $26.93, Average Dessert Cost $10.13, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $36.00, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $14.00, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $55.00)

2. Le Cellier (Average Entrée Cost $27.89, Average Dessert Cost $6.89, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $36.99, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $7.99, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $47.98)

3. Chefs de France (Average Entrée Cost $27.50, Average Dessert Cost $7.25, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $34.95, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $7.25, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $45.20)

4. Coral Reef (Average Entrée Cost $24.43, Average Dessert Cost $7.99, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $30.99, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $7.99, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $41.98)

5. San Angel Inn (Average Entrée Cost $24.70, Average Dessert Cost $5.75, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $33.00, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $5.75, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $41.75)

6. Via Napoli (Average Entrée Cost $18.10, Average Dessert Cost $8.83, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $26.00, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $10.00, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $41.00)

7. Teppan Edo (Average Entrée Cost $24.83, Average Dessert Cost $5.50, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $29.95, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $6.50, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $39.45)

8. Nine Dragons (Average Entrée Cost $20.72, Average Dessert Cost $6.21, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $26.98, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $7.98, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $37.96)

9. La Hacienda de San Angel (Average Entrée Cost $24.55, Average Dessert Cost $7.53, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $25.95, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $7.95, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $37.90)

10. Restaurant Marrakesh (Average Entrée Cost $24.05, Average Dessert Cost $5.95, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $27.95, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $6.95, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $37.90) This only includes the items that do not have an “upcharge.”  There is an extra fee for the “royal feast” and the “sampler platters.”

11. Tokyo Dining (Average Entrée Cost $21.32, Average Dessert Cost $5.65, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $26.95, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $6.50, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $36.45)

12. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Breakfast: $28.99 for adults, $17.99 for kids 3-9; Lunch: $30.99 for adults, $18.99 for kids 3-9; Dinner: $35.99 for adults, $19.99 for kids 3-9)

13. Rose and Crown Dining Room (Average Entrée Cost $18.49, Average Dessert Cost $5.49, Most Expensive Entrée Cost $24.99, Most Expensive Dessert Cost $5.99, Most Expensive Entrée + Dessert + Beverage $33.98)

14. Biergarten (Lunch: $19.99 for adults, $10.99 for kids 3-9; Dinner: $32.99 for adults, $13.99 for children)

15. Garden Grill ($31.99 for adults, $14.99 for kids ages 3-9)

16. Bistro de Paris (Not on Dining Plan)

Many of Epcot’s restaurants are among the most expensive at Disney World.  The most expensive combination of entrée, dessert, and beverage exceed the cost of a day on the regular Disney Dining Plan at any of the top five restaurants.  Even the buffets are a few dollars costlier than the other theme parks and resorts.  If members of your group tend to order the cheaper entrées on the menu (and you don’t catch the waiter and switch out the spaghetti for the steak), you might want to consider the buffets for dinner.  Akershus, at $36, costs more than the average meal at many of the restaurants.

Best Value Out of Pocket

1. Rose & Crown Dining Room

2. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

3. Via Napoli

4. Bistro de Paris

5. Le Cellier

6. Biergarten

7. Teppan Edo

8. Tokyo Dining

9. La Hacienda de San Angel

10. Chefs de France

11. Restaurant Marrakesh

12. San Angel Inn

13. Coral Reef

14. Nine Dragons

15. Garden Grill

16. Tutto Italia

Not only is Rose and Crown the cheapest restaurant at Epcot, but it also features (arguably) the best vantage point to enjoy Illuminations (the fireworks and laser show) in the evening.  Lunch at Rose and Crown includes many entrées that cost $12 or less, making it less expensive than some counter service locations.  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, the hybrid buffet, comes in second even though the cost is higher than average.  The princess interaction, “free” photo package, and abundance of food make it a good value.  Breakfast is the best meal at Akershus and you can actually enter Epcot before the official opening with a reservation between 8 and 9am.  This is a fun opportunity to be inside Epcot when almost no one else is around. If you don’t have any interest in meeting the princesses, you may want to dine elsewhere, but this is one of the best character meal buffets at Disney World.

Via Napoli comes in third, even though the prices may appear high at first glance.  A $36 half-meter pizza is plenty of food for most groups of four to share, which makes the per-person cost of each entree just $9.  This is well below the price of entrees at almost all other Epcot restaurants.  However, the cost is substantially more if each person orders their own individual pizza ($15-$17 each).  The appetizers are also on the expensive side considering the portion size and the specialty lemonades are expensive, at $4-$5 for a single glass.  Nonetheless, the opportunity to save money is readily available for those willing to share and the quality of the ingredients and final product is high enough to elevate it to a top three finish.  Despite its high cost, Bistro de Paris comes in fourth because it’s your best bet to get away from the hustle and bustle of Epcot and the food is higher quality than other Epcot restaurants.  The Bistro is not on the Disney Dining Plan, which means you won’t have to deal with the crowds and popularity that it brings.  The wine list and romantic atmosphere are popular with adults as well.  With kids, you might want to make another selection because Bistro is one of the rare restaurants that frowns at youngsters.  There is no children’s menu, if that’s any indication.

Le Cellier is fifth on the list.  Although the prices are high here, the meat served is better quality than almost all of Disney’s non-signature restaurants.  Le Cellier is also one of the few restaurants at Disney that could survive charging similar prices outside of Disney World.  If you’re looking for a steak, Le Cellier is  one of your best bet.  If lunch is your main meal or you’re happy to eat a big lunch, you’ll get a tremendous bang for your buck at Biergarten.  Offering a 20-minute music show and a wide variety of traditional German favorites, Biergarten is a great choice for big eaters.  I would recommend it for a late lunch (at 3:30pm the prices go up).  Coming in seventh, Teppan Edo scores highly because of the entertaining hibachi grill show and the simple, tasty food.  It would be higher on the list, but the portions are relatively small and it’s one of the noisiest restaurants at Disney World.  Tokyo Dining finishes the top half of the list.  You’ll find some of Disney’s best sushi here, which translates to above average.  As usual, prices are higher here than they would be at your local sushi restaurant and the cost can add up quickly if purchasing a la carte.  Tokyo Dining is also a noisy restaurant and the menu is fairly limited, so make sure you want to eat sushi or tempura before choosing it.  La Hacienda de San Angel only offers five entrees, the cheapest of which is $22.95.  Portions are relatively small for the price and the quality of the food doesn’t make up for the higher than average entree cost.  The view of Illuminations adds considerable value if you can swing a reservation by 8pm, but La Hacienda’s food and service only don’t make it a notable value for the money.

The prices at Chef’s de France are high for the quality of the food and most meals here are rushed, which is why it has fallen to tenth.  While the food is good, it’s difficult to justify a $20 plate of macaroni and cheese or $26 half chicken.  While it may be true that an authentic French café would have tables so close together, it doesn’t make for an intimate meal.  Although Restaurant Marrakesh provides entertainment in the form of a belly dancer and band, the performances are only about 10 minutes long and similar to what you can see for free outside in the Morocco Pavilion.  Prices are also above average and $10+ more than you would expect to pay at a similar restaurant outside of Disney World.  Overall, the quality and cost of the ingredients doesn’t justify the high prices.  San Angel Inn is another restaurant on the expensive side, especially considering Mexican food is usually much cheaper.  While the setting can’t be beat (if you can get a table overlooking the water), the prices are wildly expensive.  The Coral Reef is another restaurant that relies on its setting to lure diners.  No doubt, the aquarium views are unique, but you would be better off spending 20 minutes at The Seas Pavilion and eating elsewhere.  The prices are high and the food is certainly nothing to write home about.  If it weren’t for the fish, this restaurant would be empty.  Coral Reef is also exceptionally loud because the noise bounces off the aquarium glass and not all seats have excellent views.

Nine Dragons is probably not as good as your favorite local Chinese restaurant and the food is much more expensive.  While the setting is pleasant, it doesn’t make up for overpriced food.  While you can certainly have a good meal at Nine Dragons, it doesn’t offer a whole lot of value for your money.  At $32 per adult and $15 per child, a family of four would expect to pay $94 + tax + tip for a meal at the Garden Grill.  Featuring entrées similar to the other “family style buffets,” there’s really nothing special here.  For $4 more you can go to Akershus and find more interesting food and receive the imaging package.  In last place is the most expensive Epcot restaurant, Tutto Italia.  While the food is good, you’re going to have a tough time convincing me that a pasta dish is worth $25 or a basic baked chicken breast entrée is worth $26.  The touch of authenticity is nice and the restaurant is beautiful, but the cost of a meal is too high and service is too rushed to enjoy it.

Best Atmosphere

All of Epcot’s restaurants feature an interesting atmosphere and it’s impossible to put them in order from first to last.  Nearly all of them would be ranked first at any of the other theme parks.  The two best restaurants in terms of atmosphere are probably the Coral Reef, with its aquarium, and San Angel Inn, with its tables overlooking the Three Caballeros water ride.  Suffice to say, you shouldn’t be disappointed with the setting of any restaurant you choose.

Best Food (With Score Out of 100)

1. Bistro de Paris (95)

2. Teppan Edo (90)

3. Le Cellier (88)

4. Tutto Italia (85)

5. Via Napoli (83)

6. Biergarten (80)

7. Tokyo Dining (78)

8. Rose & Crown Dining Room (76)

9. La Hacienda de San Angel (74)

9. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (72)

10. Garden Grill (70)

11. Chefs de France (67)

12. Nine Dragons (65)

13. San Angel Inn (60)

14. Restaurant Marrakesh (55)

15. Coral Reef (45)

This is a difficult category because not every entrée at the top rated restaurants will be excellent and not all entrées in the bottom three restaurants are terrible.  I’ve added scores out of 100 to better show the differences in quality between the restaurants.  As you can see, there isn’t that much of a difference between some of the restaurants, so don’t discount Biergarten just because it’s sixth on the list.  You should be satisfied with the food at any of the restaurants in the top ten and even Nine Dragons is fairly decent.  The bottom three are the most questionable in terms of food quality and taste.

Overall Best Sit Down Table Service Restaurant at Epcot

1. Rose & Crown Dining Room

2. Le Cellier

3. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

4. Teppan Edo

5. Via Napoli

6. Biergarten

7. Bistro de Paris

8. Tokyo Dining

9. La Hacienda de San Angel

10. Chefs de France

11. Nine Dragons

12. Garden Grill

13. Tutto Italia

14. Restaurant Marrakesh

15. San Angel Inn

16. Coral Reef

Rose & Crown earns the top spot because of its inexpensive, quality entrées and the fact that you can view Illuminations either from your table or the private viewing area.  At lunch, several entrées are only $12 and you can choose whether you want to be seated overlooking the water or inside in the air-conditioning.  You also won’t be able to beat the beer and liquor selection.  A close second is Le Cellier, the most popular restaurant at Epcot.  While it’s probably overrated, there’s no denying the fact that they serve high quality, well-prepared meats.  Jump on it if you can get a reservation as it’s unlikely there will be any availability the next time you check.  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall comes in third, particularly because of its excellent breakfast, princess interaction, “free” imaging package, and quality cold-bar buffet.  The entrées may leave something to be desired at lunch and dinner, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Teppan Edo is a personal favorite and comes in fourth.  It is a noisy restaurant and you may be seated with strangers, but the hibachi grill show is fun and the food is prepared fresh in front of you.  In fifth, Via Napoli is an inviting pizzeria with authentic flavors and high quality ingredients.  The casual atmosphere and well-lit, airy interior are welcome additions to the World Showcase that is made up of primarily dimly-list restaurants.  The food is prepared fresh and the show-kitchen with wood-burning ovens is fun to watch.   Biergarten is a terrific deal for big eaters at lunch and everyone should enjoy the oompah band and Oktoberfest atmosphere.  Dinner makes more sense on the Disney Dining Plan because of the additional cost, but most people won’t miss the few dishes that are only available at dinner.

Bistro de Paris is a bit more expensive than most of the other Epcot restaurants, but the quality of the food, service, and presentation are higher and it’s your best chance to get away from the crowds and loud children.  If you’re looking for a slightly more romantic, intimate meal then Bistro de Paris is your best bet.  If you’re looking to get in and out of a restaurant quickly then this is not your best choice though.  Tokyo Dining has a large selection of above average a la carte sushi and some delicious combo meals and tempura.  Service is usually among the best at Disney World and the atmosphere is pleasant a well, if not a bit loud when the restaurant is full.  For a quieter, more relaxed meal, consider eating at off-peak times.  La Hacienda offers a fantastic vantage point to enjoy Illuminations at night, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of value earlier in the day.  I would recommend it if you can get a reservation after 8pm, but the portions are small and the flavors aren’t as interesting and unique as the presentation.  Despite its popularity, I have Chef’s de Paris in tenth place because of the crowded tables, rushed service, relatively high prices, and food that isn’t cooked to order.  The Chefs menu isn’t particularly unique either and offers the same mahi mahi, half chicken, steak, and salmon you can get at many other Disney restaurants.  While it’s likely you would enjoy a meal at Chefs de France, it isn’t highly recommended.  Nine Dragons would suffice if you’re in the mood for Chinese and it’s one of the rare restaurants that can probably seat you even without a reservation due to the amount of tables available.  Nine Dragons has improved a lot over the last few years, but it’s still expensive for food similar to what you would find at a local Chinese restaurant.  If Chinese sounds good then Nine Dragons shouldn’t disappoint, but the high cost and the fact that the cuisine is so common drops it down towards the bottom of the rankings.  Garden Grill is a decent character meal featuring Chip, Dale, Mickey, and Pluto, but with so many outstanding restaurants at Epcot you’re better off saving your character meals for Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom, Tusker House at Animal Kingdom, or one of the buffets at the Deluxe resorts.  At $32 per adult, it’s unlikely you’ll be eating your “money’s worth” and the menu items offered aren’t particularly unique or outstanding.  On the plus side, you should have a good meal at Garden Grill, you can just do even better elsewhere.

In 13th place, Tutto Italia is simply too expensive to be recommended out of pocket.  It is a good choice on the Disney Dining Plan, especially if you’re keeping track of how much you would have spent out of pocket.  Even lunch at Tutto is uncharacteristically expensive.  Although Le Cellier is more expensive on average, Le Cellier serves high quality, expensive beef.  Tutto serves mostly pasta with indistinguishable sauces and cheeses.  Unless you love Italian food, don’t care about the cost, or are on the Dining Plan, I would skip Tutto Italia and try to find something more economical.  Restaurant Marrakesh is also expensive, especially considering the low quality food and service you will receive.  Morocco’s counter service, the Tangierine Café, is a better stop to fill your need for Moroccan food, especially on the Disney Dining Plan where you can put together a meal that exceeds $20.  Since you can see the belly dancer and band outside in the Morocco Pavilion for free, there’s really no reason to visit the table service restaurant.  Despite improvements in its menu and service, San Angel Inn comes in next-to-last.  If you could guarantee yourself a table overlooking the water, it would rate much higher, but the fact that you don’t know where you’ll be seated makes San Angel Inn a potential disappointment.  If you enjoy authentic Mexican flavors and have the Disney Dining Plan, I would give San Angel Inn a chance, despite its low ranking.  Eat at off-peak times (11am, 3pm, 8pm) for a better chance at getting a desirable table and make sure to request one at check-in.  Despite its novel aquarium setting, Coral Reef isn’t recommended due to the excessive noise and the poor food and menu choices.  There are no crab, shrimp, lobster, or scallop entrées.  Instead, you’ll find the usual chicken breast, short rib, salmon, and steak you’ll find at many other Disney restaurants.  The aquarium is neat, but chances are the novelty will wear off fairly quickly and you may not even get a table with a good view of it.

Overall, Epcot offers the best dining choices at Disney World.  The chances of having a great meal are higher here than they are at any of Disney’s other resorts and theme parks.  Even the lower rated restaurants at Epcot would be ranked above many of the top rated restaurants at the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios.  It’s safe to say that any of the restaurants in the top ten would be ranked number one at either the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios.  With a Park Hopper ticket, you may want to plan to hop over to Epcot for several of your meals, especially after a day at the Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios.  Since the Animal Kingdom closes most days at around 5pm, there is an excellent opportunity to end the evening at Epcot.  If you’re having trouble deciding where to eat at Epcot, find solace in the fact that it’s hard to go wrong.  Also take into consideration that you may want to eat at restaurants with a variety of food.  If you have a few steak houses planned already then you may not want to eat at Le Cellier because you’ll just be eating another steak, even if it’s highly rated.  If you have several character meal buffets planned then Akershus may not be the best choice either.

You’ll find poor reviews of every restaurant at Disney World, so don’t let one or two negative reviews change your mind about a restaurant.  There are people who seem to have a poor experience no matter where they go.  At the same time, one or two stellar reviews shouldn’t change your mind either.  Your best bet is to try the restaurant for yourself.  The great majority of people thoroughly enjoy their experiences at most of Disney’s restaurants, even the low rated ones.  Putting yourself in a position to have the best experience possible is all you can do.  You may have a poor meal at one of the top-rated restaurants.  It happens.  Don’t be mad at yourself for poor planning.  You did the best you could and it didn’t work out.  Next trip, you can try something else.  Have fun and enjoy your vacation.

{ 13 comments }