We’ll take a brief moment to consider Shula’s Steakhouse, which you’ll find just off the main lobby area at Walt Disney World’s Dolphin Resort.
The main purpose of this post is pointing out the fact that Shula’s offers a buy one, get one free entree on the month of your birthday via the free-to-join Shula E-Club, which you can pull up here. Yes, they will really give you a $50+ steak “for free.”
Around the time of your birthday, you’ll receive the below email noting exclusions along with the fact that they’d like you to print the email.
Doing so will expedite things a bit. We neglected to print it ourselves and the restaurant manager asked us to forward her a copy of the email at the same time they granted the discount.
Shulas’s is a classy, yet inviting restaurant that caters primarily to conventioneers. How busy it is depends largely on who’s in town, but reservations are typically easy to come by via OpenTable here. You can also book through Disney’s system here. The two typically don’t share inventory, so if you don’t see a date and time that works on one, try the other.
In addition to the white linen tablecloths and tuxedo’d staff, you’ll see a lot of dark wood and elegant details. There’s also some amount of memorabilia spread out around the numerous dining rooms that’s fun to look at while you walk to your table. Or if you’re a Bills fan, it’s probably easy enough to ignore all of the photos, banners, and trophies.
You’ll find a classy lounge next door that serves the full Shula’s Steak House menu. We started here with a drink and the service was friendly and inviting. I asked about one of the drinks and the bartender immediately assured me that they’d make me something else if I didn’t like it. I liked it.
Speaking of cocktails, the menu is a competent one:
With some contemporary takes on the classics.
I started with a $15 “MVP – To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Shula’s Steak House, we created this signature cocktail, consisting of Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon, Orange Juice, House Sour, Agave Nectar, Club Soda, and a dash of Angostura Bitters.” If this was a “Disney cocktail,” it would be overloaded on bitter, pulpy orange juice, but this was strong, refreshing, and well-balanced.
Three more selections round out the list.
This murky-looking $15 “Maple Nut Manhattan – A classic cocktail reborn! Bulleit Bourbon and Rye Whiskies in-fused with Organic Vermont Maple Syrup, Butter and Toasted Pecans, and mixed with Dolin Sweet Vermouth and Angostura Bitters served chilled over a large ice cube” was actually delicious. I was a little concerned that it would be sweet and syrupy, but it somehow wasn’t, probably due to just a little bit of the syrup being used to sweeten up the brown sugar flavors in the whiskies. Really exceptional.
The complimentary bread served is baked fresh, warm and thick with a satisfyingly crusty…crust.
And the butter was actually served at the appropriate temperature – soft, creamy, and easy to spread. Both items are straightforward, but executed well.
The list of starters is more robust than your typical Disney signature restaurant with prices that are in line with what you’d pay at Yachtsman or Flying Fish, both nearby:
I like to start with a little seafood when I’m planning on ordering steak and there are several options to choose from along with salads, soups, and a Steak Tartare if you want to start with beef or are going seafood for the main course.
Here’s the current lineup at Yachtsman, where you’ll find nine starters versus the fifteen served at Shula’s. Most appetizers are either the exact same price or within a dollar of each other. Those Moroccan Kefta Beef Blossoms sound good.
Amusingly, when we’re out with the intention of writing a review of a restaurant, I’ll order whatever sounds least appetizing as we’re typically after pictures and reviews of as many items as possible. A lot of the time, a couple of friends will be with us, and they’ll typically make their selections first since they wouldn’t come with us otherwise.
Like at Sebastian’s Bistro, the new table service restaurant at Caribbean Beach Resort, I ordered this “Island Curry Eggless Salad Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries,” which I would probably not ordinarily key in on with a Crab Cake Burger and Chimichurri Steak on the menu. This is all well and fine, but I now find myself ordering whatever the weirdest-sounding thing is outside of Walt Disney World out of habit. The conversation usually starts with “Why are you ordering that?” followed by my canned response, “It sounds like the grossest thing.”
I took a rare opportunity to order what I wanted in the $25 “Shellfish Trio – Shrimp cocktail, Jumbo Lump Crab Meat, and Half of a Maine Lobster Tail served with a trio of Sauces.”
While it might not look like much on the plate, everything was incredibly fresh and flavorful and I thought there was a decent amount of it, though the two shrimp could probably be larger given the price. The cocktail sauce had a nice zesty quality to it and the remoulade carried a nice tang in its own right.
Making French Onion Soup look attractive is difficult in the best of lighting conditions, but trying to photograph a cup in the dark presents another set of complications. Fortunately, the soup is excellent with a rich onion-y broth and plenty of ooey, gooey melted cheese enveloping the top. You’ll typically see reviews stating that this is “the best we’ve ever had” and that’s true in our case as well. I would quote the fact that Shula’s is the #12 highest rated restaurant in Orlando among more than 3,000 choices, but they also have “The Melting Pot” in the number two slot over Victoria & Albert’s, so I think we’ll go ahead and ignore that.
One note on service – it was impeccable. At most of Disney’s signature restaurants, service might be described as “purposefully casual,” but only a small number of servers can actually pull off that “everything is being taken care of, but I’m going to be coooool about it” vibe. Instead, things typically “feel” haphazard. Restaurants operated by third parties can be hit or miss – I’ve been to Morimoto Asia more than a dozen times and wouldn’t characterize the service during any of those meals better than a miniature disaster. But our servers at Shula’s were charming, knowledgeable, and incredibly professional while still making us feel welcome and important, despite the fact that the majority of their clientele is closer to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company than the seventh most popular Disney blogger without a Shula’s review.
Anyway, the server will offer to come around with the meat cart and describe the cut and characteristics of each variety.
Supposedly, the beef served is better than USDA Prime and comprises less than one percent of the best beef served in the country.
You can’t argue with a Powerpoint presentation.
There’s a pyramid of beef. What else do you need to know?
On a “serious” note, my 20-ounce Kansas City Strip was among the best steaks I’ve ever eaten – tender, juicy, and cooked perfectly with just a bit of seasoning to help bring out the meat’s bolder flavors. I think my eyes actually enlarged in the middle of the first bite. Granted, my memory is not as good as it once was, but I’m fairly positive that this is the best steak I’ve enjoyed on property, eclipsing recent experiences at Tiffins, STK, Flying Fish, Yachtsman, The BOATHOUSE, California Grill, etc.
If you’re interested in something else, there’s a variety of other options:
They’ve got your bases pretty well covered, though you’re looking at spending at least $28 on an entree and as much as $130 on the lobster.
A number of shareable sides are offered.
Of course, we tried the economically-priced “Fresh Asparagus Spears Grilled with Truffle Ponzu or Steamed with Hollandaise Sauce.” They’re grilled here, perhaps a little more than I’d like with a mushier texture than you’d probably hope for from a side of asparagus. Still, it was nice to mix things up a bit since the steaks are otherwise served a la carte.
A few of the desserts at Shula’s Steakhouse need to be ordered about 30 minutes in advance, so your server will inquire as to whether or not you’d like them to put in an order for the Souffle when your entrees are delivered.
We were celebrating Brer Taylor’s birthday – a name you might recognize from the joy that is Twitter. This is the $10 Crème Brûlée Trio with Vanilla Bean, Godiva Chocolate, and Grand Marnier. Each was rich and tasty with that perfectly-sugary crystallized top and the creamy custard filling underneath. Surprisingly, it might have been the unadvertised almond brittle that stole the show – crispy and flavorful.
Overall, it was a delicious meal with some of the best service I’ve experienced at any on-property restaurant. The Swan/Dolphin restaurants don’t receive a lot of attention – I’ve always said because nobody cares – but that may be my fault as I’ve dined at the resorts several times with nary a word about it. While Magical Dining Month has come and gone this year, two of the other restaurants in the complex – the Italian Il Mulino and seafood-focused bluezoo often participate, each offering three courses for $35, typically from around August 24th through the end of September. Valet parking is also included and the Swan/Dolphin even throws in two hours of complimentary childcare at Camp Dolphin as described here when dining at any of those three restaurants.
So free valet or self-parking, free childcare, and a free entree during your birthday month. It’s definitely something to consider, particularly with the elevated food and service. And yes, the $51 steak was actually free. Disney buses service the resort just like they do the Beach Club, Yacht Club, and BoardWalk. Boat service is also available from those resorts along with Epcot and Hollywood Studios.