Monday, April 9, 2018

Disney World 1- All About Food

I have waited my entire life to go to Disney World!
My brother (N) wanted to take his girls and invited John and I along, so we joined them on the adventure. If you've been to Disney, you know the cult status that something as simple as Dole Whip has! The place is BRIMMING with delicious food so there's no reason to eat even one meal on site that isn't incredible. After doing 8 months of research, I can happily say that we only ate one meal that was standard fare. Everything else was perfection. Below I'll review the Disney Dining Plan and then tell you what our favorites were for each park, as well as the ONE restaurant that missed the mark.

Disney Dining Plan (DDP)

N is a big budget guy, so he wanted to make sure that there were as few variables as possible. The dining plan allowed him to pay for all of his food up front (minus gratuity!) so that he didn't have to think about it again. When traveling with a group, everyone has to be on the same plan- so either EVERYONE gets the DDP or no one gets it. Same goes for park tickets, etc.

We went with the mid-level tier which includes ONE table service meal, ONE counter service meal and TWO snacks per day, per person. Our fee was $75/day per person. That means in order to break even, you need to be spending...

$45/table service
$20/counter service
$5/per snack

Each tables service meal includes a drink and dessert. Each counter service meal includes a drink. I actually found this to be mildly difficult depending on the restaurant. At a table service restaurant like Crystal Palace where the price is $60/adult (most expensive buffet ever?), we nailed it. But in other places I was definitely working to order an expensive meal.

Personally, I found the DDP to be a waste of money. Know yourself! If your stomach doesn't do well either traveling or the heat, this plan probably isn't for you. It's hard for me to eat in the heat, so I was often forcing down food. In some cases, I only ate one or two bites at the most expensive restaurants and had to send the rest away. It was such a bummer.

My brother, however, is a champ when it comes to eating and ate every bite- as did John. He maintains that he would get the DDP every time, whereas I would not get it again. I probably could have gotten by on 2 snacks and one meal per day in that heat, spending about $40 and saving $35/day.

Disney Springs

 We ate at Bongo Cafe in Disney Springs which is AMAZING! I don't remember reading about it on any of the food blogs we scoured and Disney Springs wasn't really on our hit list. However, my niece forgot a bathing suit and so we decided to try finding one there and stopped for dinner.
You guys.
So good.
I got the Cuban sandwich which came on the most perfect bread. I've had a few Cuban style sandwiches in my day, but this was unlike any of them. It was grilled, it was flavorful, the meats were thickly cut. Yes. SO good. Their fries were excellent, too. They had an unusual texture, they weren't standard at all.
John dislikes mustard AND pickles, but still thought my sandwich was delicious. His Cuban coffee was excellent. I highly recommend them both for quality and customer service. We were able to use that meal as a counter service on the DDP.

Magic Kingdom

Be Our Guest:

This was one of my top favorite restaurants. The service is wonderful and the atmosphere is truly magical. Everyone loved what they ordered, though on a second trip I wouldn't get the Croque Madam as it was *slightly* underwhelming compared to what everyone else ordered.
Croque Madam, Master's Cupcake + Pastries for the table

Croissant Donut with caramelized bananas 

My nieces received one of their two free souvenirs there- mickey shaped silly straws- which were a cute bonus. We also loved how the food was brought up to you on a cart to be served.

We obviously tried the gray stuff and can confirm that it IS delicious! You can use a snack credit to snatch up these beauties. They are 80% frosting, so if you love frosting- these are for you. Even once you crack them open, the insides are filled with more gray stuff. 
Since we went for breakfast, this was a counter service meal. Be advised that Be Our Guest books up EXTREMELY quickly. If you want reservations, you need to do them as soon as the window opens. Even if you're dining as quick service, at this restaurant you must make reservations.
Be Our Guest provides several beautiful backdrops that serve as excellent photo opportunities. I wish there had been a photo pass station here!

Crystal Palace:

If you are traveling with children who love characters- this is a must do. It was also the best use of our DDP (table service credit) monetarily as well since the cost per person was nearly as much as an entire day of DDP credits!
The food was wonderful, the desserts were standard. The ambiance is gorgeous. I loved the architecture and natural lighting.
My littlest niece loved the characters. I've never seen a more glowing face than the tiniest one when she hugged Pooh Bear. You'll also encounter Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore. They even have a little parade a few times per dining experience where children are welcome to join them and march around the restaurant.
This is a buffet, and when we were there they had several options that would suit a variety of tastes. I really enjoyed their specialty salads, shrimp, mashed potatoes and sausage.
Their strawberry basil panna cotta was very, very good. I had THREE cups (they are tiny). The rest of the desserts were fairly standard and didn't inspire me to try more than one bite.
Even though this is covered in the plan, expect to pay quite a bit out in gratuities still. I think we paid about $40 for a 20% tip.

Dole Whip Float:
Obviously. We had a Dole Whip in every park, except for Animal Kingdom where the machine was sadly down. We also traveled to the Polynesian Resort for a fix! I prefer them in float form, and their slightly higher cost makes it a great option as a snack credit on the DDP.

Plaza Ice Cream Parlor:
My nieces FEASTED here! Nearly every item (in fact, as of 4/18, every item except the kitchen sink) is included as a snack credit on the DDP making it a great stop on a hot day and a wonderful use of those snack credits! The brownie sundae (with your choice of ice cream!) is ginormous. I don't think either girl could finish it.

Animal Kingdom

 Satu'li Canteen:
Located in the new Pandora - this was our place of disappointment. It was OK. If you have a CoreLife Eatery near you, this is similar. You choose a grain, protein and dressing for the bowls, or you can order a set meal. Neither of my nieces liked what they got (it isn't super kid friendly) and I felt my bowl was a little sub-standard.

John got the vegetable steamed curry pods and they were super boring. I'm a huge curry fan and these just didn't hit the spot. He was pretty upset with me, because I talked him out of getting the cheeseburger variety thinking these would be better.
However- their cheeseburger version was DELICIOUS. If you do go- that would be our recommendation. All of the adults thought that one item was very good and worth eating a second time. This was a counter service credit. 

Yak and Yeti:

Yak and Yeti was a WIN! You will definitely want a reservation as they do run a bit slow- expect about a 2 hour experience from reservation to check. Our reservation was for 6:15 pm and we finally were seated around 6:45 and finished eating around 8:15. This is a table service credit and well worth it.

I ordered the Malaysian Seafood Curry and it is probably one of the top ten best meals of my life. I was never more sad about being unable to eat a meal (so sick by this point) in my life. The few bites I could get down inspired me. No joke. Great flavor, perfectly cooked and a wonderfully sized portion and presentation.
John ordered the Korean Chicken and Waffles on the recommendation of our server (who we loved) and he said it's the best meal he has ever eaten. Everything will be compared to that from now on. The syrup had a subtle kick to it that he really loved, it was just spicy enough. He passed some to my brother who also gobbled it down.

N had the Ahi Tuna and again- LOVED it. He felt it was perfectly cooked and scrumptious to the last bite.
My eldest niece ordered the Korean BBQ Ribs, which looked fantastic, but were too spicy for her palette. The staff was amazing and allowed her to send them back and order something else. That definitely earned Yak and Yeti a spot on our loyalty list!

For dessert, we ordered the chocolate pudding cake and the fried wonton skewers. Both were great choices! I feel like they had the consistently best everything all around.
We also had their lemonades (lychee and summer breeze flavored?). They were extremely sweet, but really good. As someone who generally sticks to water, tea and coffee they were a fun treat. 
Despite the wait, we really loved Yak and Yeti. I'd go back again and again! 

Flame Tree BBQ- Pulled Pork Fries:
I really tried to research which snack credits were the best use of money- and these were a definite hit! I shared them with John but we probably should have each gotten our own. If we had, they could have made a great little lunch! The portion was generous and they were delicious. 

Joffrey's Donuts and Coffee:
I will mourn the loss of Joffrey's. MOURN. Most of the items on their menu are a snack credit, making them a great "breakfast" stop in the morning. We all got coffee items (frozen cappuccino, Shakin Jamaican cold brew, Caramel Mocha) and felt it was very comparable to Starbucks in quality. The donuts... my goodness.
They're delicious and HUGE. John and I shared one, easily. But we probably would have preferred our own just because they were so good. Definitely a great use of snack credits. There are several flavors, including also a chocolate frosted giant donut and an oreo themed.


Les Halles:

Snack Credit Heaven. This place is wonderfully authentic. We went back twice just to snatch up more goodies! Again- you'll find that most pastries are included in the DDP as snack credits, though some are cheaper to buy than to spend a credit on.
Our first expedition yielded a frangipane and chocolate hazelnut filled beignet that we enjoyed while waiting for the World Showcase to open up. This is another example of how snacks credit can be used to create a breakfast (add a coffee!) on the go. Both were some of the best pastries I've had. The frangipane could have had a little more almond, but overall it was delicious. 
Our second visit, we used our credits to purchase a chocolate coated palmier (SO GOOD!) and the large raspberry and lime filled macaron. If the large macaron is any indication of the standard sized ones, the 6 pack sold at Les Halles is a STEAL. I wish we had gotten one for the road. 
I am already looking forward to many, many purchases there in the future. This was definitely a favorite for Epcot.

Les Chefs de France:

This was a table service credit for us, and one well spent. I loved the ambiance, the sunlight and the service. Everyone was wonderfully kind and extremely attentive despite being busy.
John ordered the Steak-Frites for lunch, and his steak was so exceptional that I wished I had ordered his! He ate every bite of the butter covered goodness. This was perfectly cooked to his request and melted in our mouths. 
I ordered off of the Prix Fixe menu (still covered under the DDP) which allowed me to get their french onion soup in addition to an entree and dessert.
The soupe à l'oignon is topped with gruyere cheese and was some of the best I've ever had. I shared this with John, who was equally impressed. 
I ordered the salmon for my entree. You can't tell- but the portion is HUGE. It's the biggest piece of salmon I've received at a restaurant. This is my favorite fish, but it was a little mushy, sadly. The flavor was good, the sauce was superb and the presentation was clearly really nice as well. 

For dessert I had the creme brulee which was standard, but good. John had the swan cream puff which was beautiful to look at and photograph, but fairly standard as far as taste goes as well. Overall, we really loved the food and atmosphere here. On top of that, several of their staff were kind enough to converse in French with me, which truly made my day.

 Karamell Kuche:

More snack credits! The large AND small bags of caramel corn both cost one snack credit- so go for the large bags! We got two- one to share with the family and one for the two of us. They were very good and at $5.99, credits well spent. Aside from having my booty tapped by a patron here, this was another pleasant experience! 

Pineapple Promenade:

Here we had our final Dole Whip, sadly. We had them floated in Fanta (a favorite from my Germany days!) and enjoyed them almost as much as the standard floats. The sizes are smaller in Epcot than in the rest of Disney World. I think this stand is only operational during the Flower and Garden Festival so check online before getting your hopes up! They also garnished their Dole Whips with an edible violet, grown on site, which is quite charming.

We ate a few other things here and there- but this is everything worthy of noting. Again, the DDP wasn't the best use of our money, but it did force us to try really nice and different things. I honestly enjoyed the variety offered by Disney restaurants and I was extremely pleased by the quality of our meals and service as well. Disney doesn't disappoint when it comes to food!

If you have any questions about these restaurants or the DDP, please ask! I'd be happy to answer. Next I'll be talking about what I wore (on my face, too!) in that crazy heat ... so stay tuned!

Have a great day, and as always, thanks for reading!

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