Where to Eat in Walt Disney World: Character Dining and Fine Dining

Cornel Schalkwyk on 23 July 2022
Think you know the kind of food that’s served at Walt Disney World? Think again! Yes, there are burgers, but there is so much more. There are more than 200 places to get food, a mixture of quick service food outlets and full service restaurants and it can be difficult to know where to head for and where to avoid.

I must say that the food and dining experiences were the highlight of my most recent trip. I was lucky enough to sample fine dining and character dining, but every single meal we had was impressive.

This blog focuses on character dining and fine dining and is based on my personal experience of where I’ve been.

CHARACTER DINING: Character dining is literally dining with characters! Before you eat or during your meal, you will actually meet the characters and have some time to take photos with them. It's the best way to be up close and personal with the characters instead of just seeing them at a distance.

Top tip: Advance reservations for all character dining restaurants are essential.

My favourite meal for character dining is breakfast. And my favourite experience is Tusker House Restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's an African/American-themed restaurant where all the classic characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy are in themed clothes - it’s so cute to see them in their safari outfits. The inside of the restaurant looks very African as well. But the reason this is my absolute favourite is because even the food is themed. There’s leopard print and zebra print bread, sweetcorn muffins and Simba-shaped waffles, all adding to the fabulous theme and experience.

Another popular choice is Chef Mickey’s, a restaurant in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, a hotel close to the Magic Kingdom. Here you see all the classic characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto, all in their chef outfits. I particularly like Minnie Mouse in her chef outfit. I prefer the chef outfits to the safari outfits, but liked the theme of Tusker House more. The food is similar in both but the overall Tusker House experience wins it for me.

As you’d expect, there’s a great choice of Disney Princess dining. If your children are into princesses this is a bit of a must, depending on which princess they prefer. Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Be Our Guest restaurants are good options, both located in the Magic Kingdom. At Cinderella's Royal Table you eat in the castle, in the centre of the park, and you get to meet Cinderella while you're there. The Be Our Guest restaurant is Beauty and the Beast themed and you get to meet Belle and the Beast.

These two restaurants are classed as fine dining. The food was nice, as you’d expect, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It’s more about meeting the princesses than the food.

Top tip for these two restaurants is to book for dinnertime. If you book around 6pm, you can have dinner from about 6pm - 8pm and finish in time to go and get your preferred spot to watch the fireworks.

FINE DINING: I’m going to start with Tiffins, an African-themed restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I have a bit of a soft spot for it, as I am South African, and it is fantastic. Fabulous food. A Tiffins’ signature dish is their Bread Service where different flavours of bread come with things like coriander yogurt, ginger-pear chutney and guava jam. I had the 50th Celebration Braai-spiced Veal - braai is the Afrikaans word for barbecue - which was super tender and tasty and covered with South African spice. Amazing. And my dessert was pretty special too, 50th Celebration Lemon Meringue Pie, one of the best desserts I had. If you like African food or any type of barbecue, Tiffins is definitely a fine dining restaurant to consider.

My next recommendation is the Hollywood Brown Derby, a fine dining restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios. It serves American food with signature dishes of Cobb salad and fillet of beef. The signature dishes on all the menus really are to die for!

A lovely fine dining restaurant in the Contemporary Resort Hotel is the California Grill. This is American/seafood/sushi, absolutely fantastic food. It’s set on the top floor with great views, and the main attraction for me is the massive floor to ceiling windows looking out on the castle. You have access to the rooftop terrace where you can see the fireworks and hear the music played as if you were in the Magic Kingdom. The perfect spot if you hate crowds! If dining here, choose a time of around 8pm so you can watch the fireworks at 9/9.15pm.

The restaurants carefully time your courses so that you are not in the middle of eating when the fireworks start. We initially thought that the service was quite slow because we had a reservation for 8pm and we only finished our starter before the fireworks started at 9.15. But then we realised they were slowing things down to give us time to go and watch the fireworks first - they’re a 15 - 20 minutes show so if you're in the middle of your meal and you want to stop eating to watch the fireworks, your food would be cold by the time you get back.

Next is Flying Fish, probably my absolute favourite restaurant in the world. It's located on Disney’s BoardWalk. This is quite a different area. If you've spent a lot of time in the parks or in hotels, then having at least one night in the BoardWalk area is quite a nice change of scenery. It's next to a lake, in front of the hotel and a big lawn. There are movies for children and everything is lit up with little fairy lights in the evening. There’s a row of restaurants and shops, and even a nightclub. It’s a really nice evening area to visit.

Flying Fish doesn't look like much from the outside but it is an absolute gem. If you haven't been there before, it's one of those restaurants you have to visit and once you've been, you will go back every time you visit Walt Disney World. It is absolutely fantastic. It's an American/seafood fine dining restaurant with an amazing menu. But every time I go I order the same thing because it's so good - their Seafood Pearl Pasta is just gorgeous, one of the best dishes. A signature dishes is potato-wrapped red snapper which I have on good authority is also delicious. But Flying Fish is my favourite restaurant in Walt Disney World - highly recommended!

I hope this has helped you make some decisions about where you might like to eat in Walt Disney World. My next blog talks about themed dining and the best way to make bookings.