For someone who is visiting Walt Disney World Resort for the first time, there are several different rites of passage that make it onto various must-do lists. Among the most universally sought-after experiences for most folks is the chance to dine at one of those actual Disney Restaurants of great acclaim and fame. But there are just so many different options, each and every option offering something unique and wonderful. It can be a little overwhelming, trying to pick and choose which restaurants to try out on your premier visit. Well, to help you out, here are nine excellent recommendations for Disney World Restaurants that every first-time visitor should experience.
9. Chef Mickey’s
One of the most immersive experiences you can ever hope to have is a Disney Character Dining meal. And Chef Mickey’s, on location at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, is one of the best options available. Presented as an all-you-can-eat buffet with plentiful picks for everyone in your group, as you dine you get to enjoy onsite appearances by some of your favorite classic Disney Pals. You have Mickey Mouse, of course, as well as Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck. Decked out in traditional chef attire, each one makes their rounds about the restaurant, stopping individually at each and every table for Meet and Greets, autograph signing, and photo ops. It truly is a novelty experience that combines it all—great food and fun with Disney Characters.
Related: 6 ‘Must Try’ Restaurants at Disney
8. Garden Grill Restaurant
There is another rather unique all-you-can-eat Character Dining experience to check out over in the Land Pavilion at EPCOT. It’s Garden Grill Restaurant, featuring Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast. It should be pretty obvious as to at least two of the Disney Characters in attendance here, but joining mischievous chipmunks Chip and Dale are Farmer Mickey Mouse and his faithful Pal Pluto.
Garden Grill Restaurant is served up as an all-you-care-to-enjoy family-style feast, featuring freshly made enticing entrée specialties, including in-house grown greens. But one of the most unique features about this restaurant is the fact that it slowly rotates in a circular loop as you dine. Being situated just above EPCOT’s Living with the Land attraction, you get to enjoy changing scenery all throughout your meal.
7. California Grill
In addition to meeting Disney Characters, another Disney World rite of passage is, of course, viewing the fireworks at a Nighttime Spectacular. And that’s one of the main things California Grill Restaurant over at Disney’s Contemporary has bragging rights on. In addition to featuring some phenomenally enticing entrée selections, encompassing fresh and innovative takes on California famed specialties, this high-in-the-sky rooftop restaurant is an optimal viewing spot for the fireworks taking place right over Cinderella Castle within Magic Kingdom Park, which is just next door. Not only that, but during the grand event, the lights inside go dim, and the same music projected during the Nighttime Spectacular fills the dining room, making you quite literally feel like you are right there.
While it is true that you may not be able to secure a spot to dine live and in tandem with the nightly fireworks, the restaurant allows any Guests who either dined earlier in the day or have reservations set afterward to come in and access the same exclusive viewing vantage points with proof of reservation or receipt.
6. Topolino’s Terrace—Flavors of the Riviera
The Contemporary’s famed California Grill isn’t the only rooftop dining option on Disney Property. This exquisite establishment, over at Disney’s newer Riviera Resort, is an excellent standout option as well. Daily dining options include two events—a signature dinnertime experience and a casual, family-friendly breakfast offering. For first-timers to Disney World, my primary recommendation is breakfast, or more particularly Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends. Again, you get a wonderful Character Dining experience paired with some rather scrumptious breakfast offerings, all presented prix fixe. Disney Friends who are in attendance for this engagement include Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy, all of whom don some rather artsy and stylish fashions just for the grand occasion.
5. Beaches & Cream Soda Shop
This is an admittedly casual, low-key option to consider, but given its all-around favorability with families, it’s definitely a recommendation worthy of a spot on this list. On location at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, the setup of this unassuming establishment exudes vintage vibes that are somewhat reminiscent of local beach-based malt shops. You get all those traditional Americana-style favorites, like hot dogs, grilled cheese, milkshakes, and more. But it’s also worth noting that this is the go-to for some of Disney World’s most famous ice cream sundae renditions that deliver on all the works. Most notably, Beaches & Cream is home to the infamous Kitchen Sink Sundae of legendary fame. As a confectionary creation designed to be shared among four people, this is certainly a rite of passage for the whole family to tuck into, as far as sweet treats go.
Speaking of favorability with families, no first-timer should miss out on the novelty of dining at ’Ohana. With a name that literally means “family” in Hawaiian, you’ll find this popular pick over at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. What’s more, both breakfast and dinner are done up in all-you-care-to-enjoy family-style presentations featuring some unique Island-fusion cuisine creations that will have you instantly hooked. Both mealtime engagements come with their own in-house interactions sure to delight all diners in attendance, but for those who are ever-mindful of getting in some of those classic Character Dining options take note that the breakfast presentation here takes the form of the Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch.
3. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there are many interesting dining establishments to take note of. But as far as truly unique experiences go, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant truly outdoes itself. Modeled after vintage drive-in movies of old, the second you step inside you feel like you’re transcending into an outdoor, open-air nighttime scene with parked cars and a large film screen playing constant trailer loops for campy classic science fiction movies circa the 1950s. Most table and chair setups take the form of vintage cars with working lights as well, adding to the appeal of the venue’s motif.
While the atmosphere is impressive enough on its own, the food here succeeds at impressing most diners as well. While considered American fare, they have a pretty profuse array of elaborate options to go around, including many house-exclusive features and options for special diets.
2. Be Our Guest Restaurant
With a name taken from one of the top Disney earworms ever, it shouldn’t be too hard for adamant Disney fans to figure out that this Magic Kingdom-based restaurant is themed after that iconic tale as old of time, better known as Beauty and the Beast (1991). And to dine here is an experience worth any first-timer’s venture. Not only do you get to enjoy a rather impressive presentation of traditional French-inspired cuisine picks, all offered prix fixe, but the very awe-inspiring setting alone is definitely worth the experience. There are three main dining rooms, all offering up their own elaborate in-house effects, done up in a most enchanted way that truly pays homage to film(s). And keen diners should be on the lookout for a possible glimpse of the Beast himself roaming about.
1. Cinderella’s Royal Table
This has pretty much always been (and still is) the number one must-do dining experience to try out at least once while visiting Walt Disney World. It’s understandable, though. Who can pass on the opportunity to dine in the one and only iconic Cinderella Castle, after all? Even with the various changes that have come and gone in the way the restaurant operates through the years, one thing that remains constant is the high demand for dining here.
Whether you come in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the menu options feature plenty of traditional familiar favorites in addition to novelty house exclusive fixings as well. While I must confess that the meal presentation is not overly impressive in what you’d expect of a declared “royal feast” the overall intricate décor and motif you get to delight in while you dine more than makes up for it. And it is really that wow factor of being in a Disney Castle that really delivers the most.
While this restaurant does not currently feature Character Dining, you can still find Cinderella in the lobby for photo opportunities as a nice added magical touch.
In truth, there is really no shortage of exceptional Disney dining experiences for a first-time visitor to take delight in. All the same, these are the best ones to start out with, in my opinion. But I do encourage those currently planning their first-ever Disney vacation to do their own research as well, to get a feel for some other great options that might fit the bill for what you and your traveling party are looking for most.