The Incredible Evolution of Walt Disney World Food
Deep fried frozen chicken nuggets and pre-made fries that costs $12 = theme park food. Foil-wrapped and bagged dirty water hot dogs that run you over $5 = theme park food. Popcorn (perhaps the cheapest of all foods) that has been sitting in a machine that will cost you $4 = theme park food. It’s true that you can find all of these items at Walt Disney World. You’ll be sadly mistaken though if you’re one of the many who believe the above options are all you’ll find in the Parks!
I consider Walt Disney World Resort a destination for fantastic food just as much as I do the world’s best Theme Park destination, but it wasn’t always that way! I can remember back to my childhood when the best option for food in the parks was Pinocchio Village Haus and Rainforest Café was classified as good eating.
Times have drastically changed, and if you’re still of the old ‘theme park food’ mindset, take this culinary journey through Walt Disney World history with me, and you might just become a believer!
The Evolution of Magic Kingdom
From Crystal Palace…
We’re harkening all the way back to opening day at Walt Disney World Resort for this one! The Crystal Palace has been a mainstay for in-Park character dining since the Resort opened, and although what I’m about to say probably makes me a hypocrite, I like every and any opening-day experience that’s stood time’s test!
Dining with Pooh and his friends in the expansive restaurant on Main Street USA is a fantastic setting to meet characters…until it’s time to eat. The buffet-style food has always been overcooked, lacking in flavor, and falls completely flat…especially considering the price! If you actually get past the mediocre menu and book a reservation, the fishy-tasting seafood and overcooked, dry carved meats will remind you just how off-putting theme park food can be…
To Skipper Canteen…
Charming themeing, an eclectic menu, and alcoholic beverages are what perked our ears when Skipper Canteen opened a few years back at Magic Kingdom. On the heels of the massive success of Be Our Guest Restaurant, it was clear that guests of Magic Kingdom craved high-quality meals.
Inspired by the worldwide cultures and lands visited on the Jungle Cruise, it’s a prime example of how Disney is not only upping their menu standards, but also ‘plusing’ the entire in-Park dining experience! The Jungle Cruise skippers’ ridiculously cheesy sense of humor is adopted by the servers in the restaurant, and if you can squeeze in bites of food between giggles, you’ll leave with a brand new notion about food at Walt Disney World!
The Evolution of Animal Kingdom
In terms of Walt Disney World Parks, Animal Kingdom has the widest variety of food of all. The amount of walk-up kiosks and carts and trucks makes me a little dizzy, and every time I visit I always find at least one brand new menu item! I do not believe that lowering food standards goes hand in hand with scanning into a Park, but until recently, that’s how Animal Kingdom’s table service restaurants made me think.
When I get pizza, the crust has to be thin, the sauce has to be fresh-tasting and well proportioned, and the cheese must- I repeat, MUST- be so sour and melty that I would swear I was in Midtown Manhattan. That’s not the quality of pizza I’ve ever found at Pizzafari. Actually, I would barely classify this pizza as pizza at all, because in what world does chewy and undercooked bread count as crust?
To Satu’li Canteen…
Comparing Quick Serve to Quick Serve here…ok, there isn’t a comparison at all! Satu’li Canteen opened in conjunction with Pandora a few years ago and has single-handedly changed how I think about Quick Service dining options in the Parks! Their focus on fresh, healthy, sustainable foods is matched equally in their focus on flavor, and their dedication to perfecting this menu shines clearly!
As someone who likes to stick to my everyday eating regiment as closely as I can on vacation, finding food that is tasty is hard enough- let alone food that’s good for me too! Satu’li Canteen’s flexible menu lets you build your own bowl! Choose from grains or a greens base and pick your protein (I can never decide between the fish, beef, and chicken!).
Watch as your meal gets prepared to-order right before your eyes! Disney knew they were creating an above-average Quick Serve spot here, because you get to use real silverware with every meal!
From Rainforest Café…
The evolution of Disney Springs is a perfect mirror of the food evolution we’ve been witnessing at the Resort. When Disney went back to a story-first way of creating, the newly branded Disney Springs served as the inspiration for incredible new restaurants to take up occupancy! But it wasn’t always this way…
Rainforest Café is still holding its ground over in the Marketplace, and it remains a good spot to take youngsters for an immersive dining experience. And that’s where the positives stop. I think the massive volcano on top of the restaurant was put in place in the hopes of actually setting this debacle of a food service establishment on fire. No luck yet though…
To The Boathouse…
The waterfront sunset view overlooking a deeply-shadowed and gorgeously lit Saratoga Springs while boats and Amphicars leisurely cruise the waterway before you is a lovely night out. Pair that experience with waterside seating, impeccable service, and some of the best food you can find in Central Florida, and you have the Boathouse!
If I’m visiting with my parents who like salads and seafood, my friends who like strong drinks, young cousins who bore easily, or grandparents who wretch at the mention of seafood- EVERYONE has loved the Boathouse!
The expansive menu makes it the perfect choice for parties with various palettes, and I can honestly say that I have never had one bad food item here! Starting with the slightly sweet freshly-baked rolls, your meal experience begins from the moment you sit, and the memory lasts until your next visit!
A Change in Thinking
So, after diving deep into the not-so-outstanding history of Walt Disney World food and comparing those establishments with those we have today…are you a convert? Hey, I have a middle-aged uncle whose diet consists solely of grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries (I wish I was kidding) and he never has trouble finding something he likes in the Parks, so that ‘theme park food’ is certainly an option if you want it.
For those of us with more expansive palettes though, Walt Disney World Resort can be an equal vacation spent at the world’s best Theme Parks while also enjoying world-class meals. The moral of the story is: if you seek great food at Walt Disney World, all you have to do is change your mindset!
So, did I change your mind? Do you think the food options at Walt Disney World have improved over the years? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!
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