The blissfully unaware could easily write off Walt Disney World as the home of theme park fare that’s riddled with vapid, flavorless dishes churned out in high volume, but they’d be dead wrong. With a little faith, trust, pixie dust (and research), it’s very easy to have a great meal while visiting the most magical place on Earth. But on the flip side, it is just as easy to have something that leaves much to be desired. We’re about to fill you in on the 411 of the gastronomical hotbed that lies beyond the churros and hot dogs. After all, the central Florida attraction is home to one of the nation’s top agave-spirit bars, award-winning food festivals, the only master sommelier-owned wine bar in the state, a AAA Five-star diamond award-winning restaurant, private member’s only clubs, and plenty of celebrity-fueled ventures. Shall we continue?
Planning a vacation here is a daunting task, and certainly throwing the convoluted world of advanced dining reservations into the mix can make this feel near impossible. But, once you look beyond the obvious, you’ll discover the house of the mouse is not a small world after all. Here’s what you should skip on your next visit to Walt Disney World (and what to order instead). Our tastebuds have done all the research for you and our foolproof guide will have you impressing your friends, family, and most importantly, your palate, in no time.
We get it. Mickey pretzels are downright adorable and there’s a time and a place for it. The frozen variety, available with peel top ‘plastic cheese,’ is practically a rite of passage for a Disney newbie (and we do admit makes one heck of a photo). We choose to live by the philosophy that you can find the good in even a bad pretzel. But, we do urge you to do better. And at Disney, it’s extremely easy to do so.
After you’ve hit the gram with your pretzel shot, there are a few more that are actually worthy of your time, attention, money and stomach space. Over at BaseLine Tap House, located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll find a near-perfect execution of a Bavarian pretzel served with beer cheese fondue that can be consumed while imbibing on their impressive selection of California craft brews, wines, and cocktails on tap. Over at Disney Springs, Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, an Indiana Jones-themed watering hole, brings us all the fortune and glory with their loaded pretzel. A carnivore’s dream, their already stellar jumbo pretzel is topped with pepperoni, sliced brats, prosciutto, two types of cheddar, pickles, mustard, and their house-made beer cheese fondue. As you can see, we are knots about Disney pretzels.
Novelty ice cream bar
If you’re on the hunt for adorable looking treats that are worthy of a slot on your feed, you likely have novelty ice cream bars on the list. Found throughout the entire resort, these pre-packaged frozen treats are Mickey shaped and a way to cool down on those sizzling hot Florida days. Couple the fact that they are nothing special with their recent availability in grocery stores, and it’s a "no" from us, dawg.
Disney does ice cream, and they do it extremely well. While everyone knows about dole whip, let us expand your mind with the infinite possibilities. House-made, gourmet-level frozen specialties can be found throughout the world. In EPCOT alone, you can savor gelato in interesting flavors, like Stracciatella and Amerena cherry, from the Gelateria Toscana, aptly located in the Italy World Showcase pavilion. A hop, skip, and a jump away is the France Pavilion, where you can visit L’Artisan des Glaces, a French-inspired artisan ice cream shop. In addition to drool-worthy house-made flavors, like caramelized pecan and cinnamon caramel apple, you can also opt for the more interesting options like macaron ice cream sandwiches or croque glace, a homemade brioche stuffed with ice cream and pressed. It truly is the sweet life.
Quick service pizza
All pizzas are not created equal. We repeat, all pizzas are not created equal. The Italian originated specialty can be found throughout Disney World and in a number of incarnations, from the inspired to the just okay. Their standard quick service variety is fast food pizza in its basic form. The super-doughy, thick-crusted personal pizzas come with toppings that tend to gather towards the center. These mass-produced babies are just fine and will do the trick if you need a carb boost, but we can think of many other options to satisfy your cravings.
Via Napoli is a family favorite spot in EPCOT’s World Showcase. It’s home to Southern Italian-inspired dishes and the main draw: wood-fired pizzas cooked in an open-air kitchen. Making this even more special is the fact that they import water from Pennsylvania, a place where the h20 shares similar qualities to that of Naples, Italy.
If you can’t snag reservations here, they also serve some of their pizza selections from a walk-up window just next door dubbed, Pizza Al Taglio. While not exactly pizza in the traditional sense, Tambu Lounge, a tropical-inspired bar with small plates at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, serves up some well-thought-out flatbreads. Our favorite is a savory-meets-sweet combo of crispy pork belly, pineapple-barbecue sauce, and smoked gouda. For the best classic Margherita on property, head to AbracadaBar, a magician-themed social club with speakeasy vibes located at Disney’s BoardWalk.
Churros may just be the quintessential theme park snack, but, sadly, Walt Disney World’s standard churros can’t hold a candle to their counterparts found across the country at Disneyland. What should be crispy on the outside with a pillowy outside can quickly turn into a sad, stale mess thanks to the stifling humidity of the climate. You’re better off making your own churros at home. Don’t worry, though, we got your back for when these cravings do call while in central Florida.
Nomad Lounge is the definition of a hidden gem. Located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this tucked-away waterside lounge celebrates globally inspired bites and drinks in an exotic locale suitable for the wanderlust traveler. We head straight for the dessert here, which happens to be perfectly executed churros served with vanilla crema and chili-strawberry dipping sauce. These also, shocker, happen to be safe for our gluten-free friends. If you’re looking for a standard variety done exceptionally well, head to Sunshine Churros at Disney Springs. In addition to standout classic churros, they also have more inspired flavors, like apple cinnamon and watermelon flavors, as well as Nutella and milk chocolate dips.
Quick service burger
Quick service burgers aren’t inherently bad, but one wrong move and they can quickly cook into an unchewable, hockey puck. Sure, with enough cheese and condiments you can cover it up, but why settle for anything less than perfect? Theme park calories are invaluable, and you have to make every single one of them count.
Walt Disney World has put some serious thought into bringing your standard cheeseburger to the next level. Located in Disney Springs, D-Luxe Burger is dishing out gourmet-level burgers and expertly crafted milkshakes in a casual setting. Far from the mundane, they offer a Diablo burger which features a patty that blends their signature beef with chorizo and is then topped with fried banana peppers. Over at Satu’li Canteen in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this Pandora themed eatery is serving up one of the more interesting versions of the American standby. Their cheeseburger steamed pods look like your typical bao bun but with a major twist. The doughy, almost pillowy-like exterior encases the ultimate spin on your traditional cheeseburger and is stuffed with ground beef, ketchup, mustard, pickle, and cheddar cheese.
We won’t shun you for choosing French fries. After all, they are your run-of-the-mill, go-to when looking for a side dish. Disney World’s standard fry offering is your basic, shoe-string style French fry that’s not too far off from McDonald’s French fries. In a place full of so many interesting snacks, let us explore a whole new world of possibilities.
The Daily Poutine is a convenient, walk-up spot at Disney Springs serving, you guessed it, poutine. They take thick-cut steak fries and load them up with everything from the traditional to creative, adding global flair to the Canadian snack. You can’t go wrong with the classic that features beef gravy and cheese curds, but the more adventurous can snack on New Delhi poutine with paneer cheese and tomato curry sauce. EPCOT also offers a rotating seasonal poutine at the Refreshment Port, like the house-made Italian sausage and peppers poutine. For a more elevated experience, Le Cellier Steakhouse at EPCOT has long been serving a standout version of poutine using fresh-cut fries, Canadian cheddar, truffle, and red wine reduction.
Canned cocktails and spiked seltzers may be all the rage in everyday life, but you’re in fantasyland, baby, and now is not the time to be drinking a lame beverage. It’s a world of wonder here where they take cocktails very seriously. We’re sure you’ve heard of drinking around the world at EPCOT, a staple for anyone visiting of drinking age. You can sip on Iced Mint Tea with gin in Morocco and a Canto-loopy glass of boozy and fruity delight in China all before making a pit stop in the U.K. for a properly layered snake bite. No spin around the World Showcase is complete without a stop at the agave spirit-focused bar, La Cava Del Tequila. This nationally recognized den of tequila delights is even connected to several A-listers, like The Rock, Lily Allen, and Neil Patrick Harris, who actually created his own signature cocktail for the menu.
The libations aren’t limited to the parks. Walt Disney World’s many resorts are home to some of the best themed lounges with inspired beverage programs. At Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Enchanted Rose is a Beauty & The Beast-themed lounge with an inventive cocktail list, including table-side beverage service. Over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll find Sanaa Lounge, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of theme parks and home to an extensive collection of South African wine.
Pre-packaged ice pops
Convenience may play a factor in your dining choices while visiting Walt Disney World, but as we’ve shown, with a little preparation there’s no reason you should be settling for anything less than practically perfect in every way. Pre-packaged ice pops and fruit bars can be found from any numbers of carts and counters throughout the world. While suitable for a backyard soiree, you should simply let it go on your next vacation.
World Showcase at EPCOT is a celebration of the many nations of our planet and home to some of the most unique snacks, meals, and beverages that will introduce even the most cautious palate to a new world of flavors. While you can grab a Frozen Kirin in the Japan Pavilion, if you’re looking for something of dessert variety, Kaki Gori Treats is home to some inventive shaved ice options. A traditional Japanese dessert, shaved ice is covered in sweet syrup — you can choose from fun flavors like tangerine and melon — that is then covered on top with creamy sweet milk. At Disney Springs, our of-age friends can cool off with adult wine slushies from the high-end bakery, Amorette’s Patisserie.
Quick service hot dog
Hot dogs have become synonymous with visits to the county fair and the snack of choice to chow down on while watching a baseball game. So, what’s the issue? A standard hot dog isn’t really that great. Our fascination with it is more tied up in memories and nostalgia than biting into something so delicious our tastebuds are sent dancing. While you can find standard hot dogs all over Walt Disney World at walk-up service spots and on kids’ menus, the theme park has truly excelled at some really special versions worthy of our stomach’s starting lineup.
We’ll start with what could best be described as the most perfect interpretation of the hot dog: the hand-dipped corn dog. Found at Sleepy Hollow in Magic Kingdom, they are made-to-order and hand-dipped in a sweet batter before being fried. Also worthy of mention are Magic Kingdom’s corn dog nuggets. They’ve long been a park staple and our preferred snack to pop in our mouths when we’re on the go. If you’re looking for something truly unique, Satu’li Canteen in Disney’s Animal Kingdom serves what they call Teylu Dogs. This one finds the basic hot dog, but instead of bun, it is wrapped in buttery and soft Parker House roll dough.
Macaroni and cheese
You’re an impasta if you order the basic macaroni and cheese. There. We said it. Macaroni and cheese is the staple of many a child’s diet, and even some adults, tbh. There’s no shame here with this accessible item that combines carbs with cheese in an explosion of flavor. Or, that’s how it should play out. Walt Disney World’s version could be described as basic at best. It’s suitable for the picky eater, but you’ll find us heading elsewhere for the creamy, ooey gooey goodness.
For a twist on the traditional dish suitable for the more sophisticated palate, the Enchanted Rose at Disney’s Grand Floridian welcomes you in to their elegant atmosphere and invites you to be their guest as you dine on lump crab with Gnoccheti and mornay sauce. This is mac and cheese opulence at its best. For the less frou-frou, Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Flame Tree Barbecue offers a just as good but more accessible baked macaroni and cheese topped with barbecue pulled pork and onion rings.
Our preferred way to cap off a perfect park day is at The BOATHOUSE, a dockside seafood haven at the dining and entertainment district Disney Springs. We’re not coming here for seafood (although their raw bar selection is incredible) but we’re coming for their macaroni and cheese made with Merkts Wisconsin cheddar cheese sauce and jumbo shell pasta. It’s so creamy while the pasta remains perfectly al dente. This is the pinnacle, our dear friends.
Quick service chicken fingers
Chicken fingers are there to provide just enough protein, fat, and carbs to keep you going on those marathon park days. The problem with this standard very basic quick service Disney option? They are nothing more than frozen, pre-breaded chicken pieces thrown in a deep fryer. If you’re still pining for something of the fried variety, we’ve got your future grease and salt-coated hands covered.
There’s a Guy making something better than your average quick-service chicken finger … and that guy is Guy Fieri. The Food Network star has opened his own Disney outpost with Chicken Guy!. His ostentatious personality might be a turn-off for some, but we’ll be the first to admit that he’s serving outstanding chicken fingers. The all-natural chicken pieces, that are hand-breaded each day, are made even better with their selection of over 20 sauces, including a classic bourbon brown sugar bbq and a habanero hot sauce. For the chicken maven looking for a more Southern approach, former personal chef to Oprah (!) serves up outstanding fried chicken at his Disney Springs spot, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’. If you’re craving something fried sans the poultry, EPCOT has long been serving authentic British style Fish & Chips from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop.
Sorry people, but the most important meal of the day is not the basic breakfast platter found at your resort. While they do a good job of providing a vast amount of food options accessible to guests, we can easily chow down on the same old eggs and bacon from the comforts of our home. You’re on vacation and you should act like it.
Disney’s Riviera Resort, one of Disney’s newest properties, beckons visitors to the sights and tastes of the Mediterranean. It feels far removed from the standard theme park resort you may be picturing, and the food is a direct reflection of that. Housed just off of the resort lobby is Le Petit Cafe. This sophisticated, French-influenced all-day cafe is home to some of the best pastries you can find on property. Here you’ll find everything from miniature madeleines to art-worthy tarts that can be paired with their almond cold brew that uses house-made honey-almond whipped cream. If you find yourself starting the day at EPCOT, Les Halle Boulangerie & Patisserie is a long-time family favorite serving a number of sweet offerings in addition to standout savory options, like their bacon and cheese roll as well as freshly baked baguette sandwiches. We also can’t get enough of the whimsical "Alice in Wonderland" inspired Cheshire Cat tail —a puff pastry stuffed with chocolate— found at the Magic Kingdom.
If you promise us one thing, please don’t drink crappy beer on your visit. We can get over your less ambitious palate for adventurous foods, but we can’t get over this one. Walt Disney World’s beverage program puts an incredible amount of effort and thought into its beer offerings. There’s an entire team dedicated to outreach to local and small craft breweries. That means that at any given point, you’re basically experiencing a micro-brew fest at the property’s nearly 400 on-site restaurants and bars that are serving up a multitude of new and interesting beers on tap, straight from the brewery.
A favorite way to imbibe in these interesting beverages is at any one of their seasonal international food and beverage festivals taking place at EPCOT. This low-risk commitment allows you to try sample sizes of their beer offerings, like 3 Daughters Brewing Pink Lemonade Hard Cider from nearby St. Petersburg. You may also be surprised to learn that Disney World is the largest importer of the German grapefruit flavored beer, Schofferhofer. It’s the little touches like these that set the Disney Company apart from their competitors and largely to thank for their fiercely loyal following.