Deciding on 5 restaurants to recommend for a first Disney trip is no easy task- that’s why this list has 6! Luckily, with over 300 fabulous eateries in Disney, you really can’t go wrong. I’ve created this list with two factors in mind that I think are important for a first trip- having the best experience possible, and variety. This may be your once-in-a-lifetime trip, or the first of many. Regardless, choose a few different types of dining experiences to make the most of what Disney has to offer and find out what you like best. Of course, common sense should dictate. If your child is terrified of characters, skip the character meal. On a super tight budget? Don’t splurge on the signature dining.
Here are my top 6 dining choices for the first-time Disney traveler!
1. The Character Meal at Chef Mickey’s
All of the character buffet meals are similar. You pay one price and eat what you like, and are greeted at your table by characters (who vary by location) during your meal. These meals can be pricey- remember, you are paying for the character experience in addition to the food.
For a first trip, I recommend Chef Mickey’s, located in the Contemporary Resort. Traveling on the monorail into the iconic resort is a must-do, especially for a first trip. During one meal you’ll get to meet Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto dressed in chef attire. This is a great, no-waiting in line opportunity to see the fab five and get pictures with them, making it an ideal choice for a first trip. Chef Mickey’s offers American cuisine and costs $30-$40 for adults, $17-19 for children. Unless your trip is lengthy with plenty of time for everything you want to do, schedule your character meal for dinner, not breakfast. Your early morning hours are best spent touring the parks, when the wait times for your favorite attractions are shortest.
2. Signature Restaurant – The Hollywood Brown Derby (with Fantasmic Dinner package)
I am not typically a “signature diner.” I enjoy casual food and do not enjoy spending lots of money on my meals. I have found exception with The Hollywood Brown Derby, however, especially when experienced as part of the Fantasmic Dinner Package. Located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, the restaurant is modeled after the iconic Hollywood restaurant of the same name and is famous for its Cobb salad and grapefruit cake. Yes, this place is fancy, but if you aren’t into duck, lamb, and salmon, try their grilled pork chop entrée, served with mashed parsnips and glazed in a cocoa-espresso barbecue sauce. You won’t be disappointed. If you decide to dine here, go ahead and reserve the Fantasmic Dining Package, too. You’ll receive an entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage, as well as VIP seating at Fantasmic, for $57 for adults or $17 for children. Depending on what entrée you order, it may not cost you any more for the package than it would to buy the items separately during a normal meal. Even better, you won’t have to get to Fantasmic over an hour early to score seats- you can show up about 30 minutes prior to the show and get great reserved seating. Read our full review of the Brown Derby here.
3. The Counter Service Meal – Flame Tree Barbecue
Visiting Animal Kingdom requires a lot of walking, and there is no nicer break in the park than stopping for lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue. Known for its delectable ribs, Flame Tree also has delicious salad and sandwich options (try the smoked turkey sandwich and smoked chicken salad). With so many good choices, pick a few different meals and share them among your party. Although the seating is all outside, the area is cool and comfortable because of all of the trees. If you choose to sit on the lower patio, you will have a view of the water with Everest towering in the background.
4. The Unique Experience – 50’s Primetime Café
This 1950’s themed restaurant will be a hit with your whole group. The food is great- home-style meatloaf and potatoes, fried chicken, milkshakes- it’s all there. But be careful- you “cousins” (the wait staff) will make sure you use your finest manners when dining with them. No “walkie talkies” at the dinner table! Mind your elbows! Eat all your vegetables! This place is a hoot, and you must experience it at least once.
5. International Flair – Teppan Edo
Teppan Edo is located in Japan in the World Showcase. You’ll be seated at a table for 8, so you will get to chat with other guests which can be great fun. This is a hibachi restaurant, and the chefs cook at the tabletop and perform hilarious and impressive stunts. The meal is appealing to the whole family, and if you don’t frequent hibachi restaurants at home, this may be a more unique experience for you.
6. The Wildcard – Whispering Canyon Cafe
My wildcard choice is Whispering Canyon Café. This place serves up some really tasty barbeque options- I had a quesadilla here that was to-die-for. Not unlike the 50’s Primetime Café, things can get a little “loud” at the Whispering Canyon Café. The wait staff may put on a bit of an interactive show while you dine, so only come here if you have your sense of humor with you. If you embarrass easily, don’t ask for ketchup!
The location of Whispering Canyon Café is another big selling point. It’s located in the magnificent Wilderness Lodge, and I think that going to this restaurant is worth it just for the sake of walking around the resort. Some people hesitate to leave the parks midday to eat, but this is one case where it’s very easy (and even relaxing) to leave the Magic Kingdom for a lunch . Just leave the park from either a bus to Wilderness Lodge (a quick trip) or take the boat from the dock (The Wilderness Lodge is located on Bay Lake). After your meal, take the boat back to the Magic Kingdom, whether you are going back into the park or not. You can always take a bus back to your resort from the park. On the ride over, you’ll get great views of the defunct Discovery Island (more about that in 6 Unused and Deserted Places in Disney World), Bay Lake Tower, and the Contemporary. You’ll pass under the monorail tracks and enjoy a view of the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian. Of course, the best view is of the Magic Kingdom as you slowly approach by boat.
I hope you’ll enjoy dining in my 6 picks as much as I did! They’re perfect for the first-time traveler looking to experience a little of everything that Walt Disney World has to offer. Remember to make reservations for your meals in advance on Disney’s website! Its #1 on our 10 Things You Must Do Before Heading to Disney list for a reason!