It’s been a while since we’ve taken a look at Tusker House, the character meal in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so I thought it would be prudent to bundle a review along with a look at what the Rivers of Light Dining Package includes in terms of seating/convenience.
In my past dinner review, I noted how pleasant the then-characterless buffet was at dinner with so few people around. Of course, an empty restaurant is not good for business and Disney added characters to dinner and now charges the same price for either lunch or dinner. Currently, lunch and dinner will run you $45/adult and $27/child. Breakfast is $32/adult and $19/child, which is a pretty sizable “savings” compared to the later meals. With breakfast served from 8am-10:55am and lunch served from 11am, you can typically book a later breakfast around 10:45am and then enjoy both breakfast and lunch options. Disney will usually keep one side breakfast through shortly after 11am and then bring more and more of the lunch items to replace them.
With the Dining Package, lunch/dinner will run you $52/adult and $32/child or $7 more per adult and $5 more per child than the meal costs without the Dining Package seat. Breakfast is $39/adult and $24/child, which is the same $7 per adult and $5 per child upcharge.
On one hand, the upcharge is kind of annoying, but if the Dining Package was the same price as just the buffet…then everybody eating there would do the Dining Package…and there either wouldn’t be enough seating or there would be even fewer spots available in standby. So Disney either “has” to charge a premium for the Dining Package or not offer one at all…and considering how popular the Dining Packages are…there is certainly demand for them. There are also no discounts on the Dining Packages, which may make the meal 20% more expensive for Tables in Wonderland holders. With tax and 18% gratuity, my meal cost $63.48. With my 20% Tables discount, the lunch without the Dining Package seat would have cost $47.03 or a difference of $16.45. Take that into consideration should you carry a Tables in Wonderland card or other discount.
Dining Package seating is on the DinoLand side next to standby while the entirety of the Asia side is devoted to FastPass+.
I put this picture together to sort of show the difference in viewing angle from the FastPass+ side versus the DinoLand side, though it obviously matters where in the sections you sit. I don’t think viewing from the DinoLand or Asia side is overwhelmingly or clearly better in all scenarios and part of it is going to come down to how tall the person sitting in front of you is and how prone to talking the people behind you are.
I will say that the Dining Package side typically has a more straight-on view of the main water screen. But I think you see more movement and action on the Asia side. The DinoLand side almost exclusively looks out at the blue/water boat while the Asia side sees the red/fire boat. It may just be that the red “pops” a bit more in the dark.
So why would you opt for the Tusker House Dining Package over FastPass+…I think the main reason would be opening up a FastPass+ selection to use elsewhere, particularly after Avatar opens in May. Because the show is typically scheduled around Park close, you obviously can’t see the show and then book subsequent FastPass+ selections after. Or with a show starting at 9pm and Animal Kingdom open until 11pm or later over the summer, you’d have limited opportunity. Booking the Dining Package would allow you to use your FastPass+ experiences earlier in the day and then book additional selections as they become available throughout the afternoon and evening.
Currently, FastPass+ for every Rivers of Light show scheduled over the next 30 days is unavailable. It remains unclear how common cancellations are. If Disney is distributing around 2,000 experiences per show per night then it stands to reason that people will change their mind and the show will become available, but I don’t think it will be like Fantasmic where it’s easy to secure FP+ for the show throughout the afternoon and early evening as people cancel to book a just-available Toy Story Mania or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster experiences. Of course, we may see more cancellations once Pandora comes online. But if you do want FastPass+ for the show, I’d book it as one of your initial three selections.
If there is only one show scheduled then I would forget about standby. The line snakes back around from the theater entrance in DinoLand all the way out past Flame Tree Barbecue and up the path towards Asia.
If there’s a second show, standby is much more doable, but it’s still an incredibly slow process as Disney tries to fill every seat in every row in every section rather than letting people find their own seats. The whole process takes nearly an hour to complete.
I’ll write a new review for Tiffins as well, but you may remember my initial review here is quite positive. That package is $67/adult and $26/child. That includes any appetizer, any entree, any dessert, and any non-alcoholic beverage, in addition to the seat in the same reserved section as those eating at Tusker House.
So unlike Tusker, where you always pay $7 more per adult and $5 more per child than the meal would cost otherwise, you can actually come out ahead at Tiffins without much trouble if you order the pricier items. Currently, you could order the $16 Grilled Marinated Octopus, $53 Wagyu Steak, $12 Chocolate Ganache, and $6 Zingiber Fizzie drink and come out with a meal that would have cost $87 or $20 more than the fixed price Dining Package. And even if you order the $12 Apple-Walnut Salad, $39 Pork, $10 Cheesecake, and $4 Diet Coke, the meal would still run you $65 or just $2 short of the Package price. So that’s something to consider if you’re planning at least one big meal.
And for those on the Dining Plan, the Dining Package costs the same one credit at Tusker House and two credits at Tiffins that the meal would cost otherwise. It’s a slam dunk for those eligible, particularly because you’ll get the appetizer and the reserved seat at Tiffins, which increases the value of the credits substantially.
Back to Tusker House, where the characters are typically Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy.
For a while, Donald took pictures with guests outside the restaurant, but instead he now visits diners tableside.
As fabulous as ever. Love that scarf.
Food wise, there are just under 40 selections assuming you consider these “breads” to be five different things.
The restaurant was real busy and I think stealing the Death Star plans would have been easier than getting these buffet-pictures-at-the-buffet. The reflected gentleman reached in between my legs to grab a plate as I snapped this picture. Apparently brownies are serious business.
Focaccia Bread, Pita Bread, Jalapeno Corn Bread, Wheat Bread.
Housemade Pickles, Ranch, Mixed Greens, Italian Dressing, Coconut Curry Vinaigrette, Broccoli, Tomato, Olives (not pictured), Cucumber, Grapes.
Even if you’re not in the market for salad, the pickles are worth trying.
Whipped Butter, Taboulleh, Hummus, Other Hummus, Mixed Fruit Preserves, Blatjangs (a recipe for which you can find here if you’re curious but it’s like an apricot chutney).
Seasonal Fruit Salad, Toasted Couscous Salad, Grapes.
I really liked the various couscous(es) available. This one featured larger pearls with a nice fruity crunch.
Trek Power Salad, Black-Eyed Pea Salad, Spiced Beet Salad.
Obviously one of the positives about a buffet is the opportunity to try some different things and I was impressed by the beet salad, which is something I wouldn’t ordinarily order. It had a nice cinnamon-y flavor that helped sweeten up the flavor profile while adding a bit of spice and the plentiful beets were soft and earthy. Very good.
The bean salad, with its perfectly al dente legumes, had a sharp onion-y bite that was tempered by the more mildly flavored beans. Very good.
The Trek Salad was a nice mixture of quinoa, spinach, beets, edamame, and dried cranberries that has never really come together for me, but it’s a protein-packed dish for vegetarians that should rank highly.
Ham and Vegetable Soup.
Brown Gravy, Whipped Mashed Potatoes, Collar Greens, Roasted Vegetable Couscous.
Spicy Green Coconut Curry with Shrimp and Basmati Rice.
I thought the shrimp were fantastic – thick and plump in a mildly spicy, flavorful curry. I can’t think of a buffet dish that I’ve enjoyed more and would have been happy being served a plate of this at any restaurant. It was that good.
Even the rice was masterfully prepared – soft and fluffy with an aromatic quality to it along with a lingering nuttiness.
While not the most photogenic dish of all time, the Cape Malay Curry Chicken was another standout with thick, juicy pieces of chicken soaking up the spicy sauce well. Very good.
Oven Roasted Red Skin Potatoes, Tandoori Tofu, Oven Roasted Rainbow Carrots.
More of the same here…the potatoes were excellent with a really nice spicy rub to them with a crispy exterior and a soft inside. The carrots were a fun finger food with a nice roasted quality to them. And the tofu had a nice crispiness to it along with a smoky flavor amidst the vegetables. All very good.
Sweet Plantains, Spit-Roasted Chicken, Mealie Pap, Pigeon Peas and Rice.
The Pap in particular was superb – creamy, cheesy, corn-y, and buttery smooth. The chicken was pretty straightforward but had a nice spicy rub to it that lent itself well to the rice. I’m starting to suspect that plantains are just not my thing – greasy and hard.
Unfortunately, I thought the two weakest links were the two featured entree-ish items. You can see an uncensored picture of the Peri Peri Whole Salmon here, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you. I thought the fish was off-putting to look at and more importantly, tasted incredibly salty and fishy. And it is the whole fish sitting out there, so you get a lot of little bones and after cleaning it up a bit and removing the skin, you don’t come away with more than an unsettling bite or two.
Pork on this scale is typically difficult to execute and Tusker’s was dry and salty. They’re probably going the pork route to save some money over serving steak, but getting the sirloin back would be a welcome change in my opinion.
Corn Dog Nuggets, Macaroni and Cheese, Corn Medley.
Realistically, I think this pile of deliciousness is why we’re all here and it’s pretty easy to get your money’s worth if you bring this station back to your table. Protip: Get some of the spicy mustard that’s supposed to go with the pork for dipping.
The kids have a pretty nice setup over here and you’ll probably notice a lot of adults picking up a little of this and a lot of corn dog nuggets also. Here we have more Whipped Mashed Potatoes in addition to Sauteed Green Beans and Chicken Drumsticks.
A rather unappetizing picture – Pickles for some reason, Apple Sauce, Cheese, and Ham.
Banana Bread Pudding with Vanilla Anglaise and “Duffin,” which is a donut/muffin with a Nutella Ganache. Very good.
7-Layer Bar. Almost healthy.
Passion Fruit Spice Cake and Flourless Chocolate Cake.
Chocolate Chip Cookies and Brownies.
While I do deduct 500 points for the lack of soft serve and sprinkles, I thought Tusker House offered a nice variety of mostly quality options. A couple of the buffet items, which may be entirely different than my selections, should stand out as restaurant quality. Between heaping spoonfuls of the curry shrimp and chicken, the various couscous and salad options, and more corn dog nuggets than I’d like to admit, I felt like there was some value here. The characters all stopped by for pictures and autographs and while the buffet is probably busier now with the Dining Package folks, Donald and the gang were sure that everyone had an opportunity to visit before moving on to the next table.
Atmosphere-wise, Tusker House does a nice job of transporting you to an open-air market and I like the layout of the buffet with its wide walkways. It can “feel” a little hectic when it gets busier as you have people trying to peer around at what’s available, others picking out just the good stuff from the buffet dishes, and people inexplicably trying to take buffet food pictures at the buffet. I mean, what are you reasonably going to do with a closeup of rice? But the theme really works well and the restaurant is a lot of fun.
If you have kids, you may consider requesting the main dining room rather than one of the side rooms because that’s where the various antics typically occur.
If you’re looking for a slightly calmer experience, you might request one of the other rooms. We were seated at the table on the lower right and even if the room initially “looked” like it was going to be loud, it really wasn’t too bad.
Overall, I would have probably gotten more value out of the Tiffins meal myself, but having just been there earlier in the month and already having written two recent reviews, felt like Tusker House was the way to go. On one hand, an extra seven bucks for a reserved seat isn’t terrible and people have been taking “advantage” of a similar setup for Fantasmic for years and years at the likes of Hollywood & Vine and Hollywood Brown Derby, where the pricing and setup are similar to here. On the Dining Plan, it obviously makes sense to book the Package for the same number of credits.
The lineup of characters is arguably a little weaker than some other character buffets with just four of them and no Minnie, but the safari outfits are fun. You can of course meet Mickey and Minnie in similar outfits at the Adventurers Outpost Meet and Greet and Donald meets in DinoLand on the Cretaceous Trail near DINOSAUR. Daisy is a little harder to find, but Pete’s Silly Sideshow at Magic Kingdom is probably your best bet and you’ll meet Minnie in a fun getup without having to wait in a second line.
We’ll return to Tiffins and take a broader look at how to work Rivers of Light into your day next.