Dining in the Theme Parks

Theme park food is no longer the obvious, burger-and-hot-dog laden fare it used to be, and you can find some imaginative offerings even in counter-service restaurants nowadays. But, if you’re looking for something with that extra bit of style, here are some of the better choices.

Walt Disney World

Be Our Guest

Be our Guest Restaurant at Walt Disney World

Quick-service at lunch, full-service at dinner, this is a grand recreation of the Beast’s Castle from the Beauty and the Beast story. Dine in the West Wing for a slightly spooky (but still child-friendly) atmosphere; the Ballroom for the changing seasons outside a special ‘balcony window’; or the Rose Gallery, where elements from the story play out in pretty murals along the ceiling and an Enchanted Rose music box acts as a central focal point.

  • Where: In the Fantasyland section of Disney’s Magic Kingdom park.
  • Type of Food: French-inspired, but still approachable. Offerings here are some of the most upscale of any of the Disney parks, elegantly presented in luxurious surroundings. Lunch service is ‘fast food’ style and ordered via touch-screen kiosks; dinner is full service – and the only place in the Magic Kingdom serving alcohol.
  • Who goes there? Families who are partial to the beloved fairytale; couples looking for a romantically elegant option or a beautifully themed atmosphere for the most special of ‘proposals’.
  • Signature Dish: Thyme-scented Pork Chop and The Grey Stuff (dessert; try it, it’s delicious!).
  • Open: Hours vary; roughly 10am-2pm and 4pm-closing.

Columbia Harbor House

A good counter-service selection, it offers healthier choices as well as being one of the less-frenzied dining options in the park.

  • Where: In the Liberty Square section of Disney’s Magic Kingdom park.
  • Type of Food: Vaguely Colonial-themed soups, salads, sandwiches, lobster roll, chicken nuggets, fried shrimp and fish, including several vegetarian selections.
  • Who goes there? Families needing a break from the theme park frenzy, notably in the quiet upstairs dining area.
  • Signature Dish: New England Clam Chowder and the Anchors Aweigh Sandwich (tuna, lettuce and tomato).
  • Open: Hours vary; usually 11am-closing.

Via Napoli

This full-service restaurant is an authentic recreation of a modern Neapolitan open-kitchen style café.

  • Where: In the Italy pavilion at Disney’s Epcot park.
  • Type of Food: Authentic Italian with an emphasis on fresh ingredients, many imported directly from the Mother Country.
  • Who goes there? Families visiting the theme park who appreciate a selection of less familiar Italian dishes along with tried-and-true favourites.
  • Signature Dish: Oven baked pizza, fresh from their own ovens themed to the volcano gods Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. Do also try their fresh Aqua Frescas.
  • Open: 11am-park closing.

Tangierine Cafe

Tangierine Cafe at Walt Disney World

Another counter-service selection that features healthier options and authentic tastes of the Mediterranean.

  • Where: In the Morocco pavilion at Disney’s Epcot park.
  • Type of Food: Moroccan specialities and other fresh dishes from the Med, including wraps, kebabs, salad, hummus, tabouleh and marinated olives. Several of the Platters are big enough for 2.
  • Who goes there? Those in need of a break from the usual counter-service fare, vegetarians and fans of North African food.
  • Signature Dish: Shawarma Chicken & Lamb Platter, with hummus, tabouleh and couscous salad, plus fresh Moroccan bread. Try it with some surprisingly tasty Moroccan wine.
  • Open: 11am to 9pm.

Studio Catering Co

A counter-service offering that goes beyond burgers and fries, with a degree of ‘healthy eating’ in mind.

  • Where: In the Streets of America section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • Type of Food: Sandwiches, wraps and salads, including a yummy grilled vegetable sandwich. Beer and wine are also available.
  • Who goes there? Families visiting the park and those who want a quick lunch between attractions.
  • Signature Dish: There is no signature dish to speak of, but it’s worth noting this location serves healthier-option Mickey Check Meals, which substitute ‘better for you’ foods such as apple slices and carrot sticks for chips and crisps.
  • Open: 11.30am-4.30pm.

Hollywood Brown Derby

Take a break from usual theme park dining in this elegant recreation of the famous full-service restaurant in 1930s Hollywood.

  • Where: In the Hollywood Boulevard section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • Type of Food: Classic steakhouse fare and other fine-dining options, such as Crispy Spiced Duck, Maple Glazed Salmon and their famous in-house Cobb Salad.
  • Who goes there? Those who don’t mind splashing out on a fancy meal in a theme park, and families in need of a quiet lunch or dinner.
  • Signature Dish: Char-Glazed Filet of Beef, paired with a good Californian cabernet sauvignon. The mini-desserts are pretty good, too!
  • Open: Hours vary; 11.30am-8 or 9pm.

Yak and Yeti

Another full-service delight, this gives a nod to Asian cuisine in a heavily themed setting that is surprisingly relaxing.

  • Where: In the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
  • Type of Food: Asian-inspired dishes (such as Thai Chili Chicken Wings, Crispy Honey Chicken, Lo Mein and Malaysian Seafood Curry) that offer a change of pace while remaining familiar enough for less adventurous eaters. Vegetarian? Substitute tofu for meat in most dishes. Kobe burgers and Baby Back Ribs are also available for the meat-and-potatoes crowd.
  • Who goes there? Families visiting the park, and locals (like us) who pop in for a meal at the bar now and then.
  • Signature Dish: Chicken and Shrimp Lo Mein remain popular choices, and they’re large enough to share.
  • Open: 11am-park closing.

Flame Tree BBQ

Flame Tree BBQ at Walt Disney World Resort

  • Where In the Discovery island area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.
  • Type of Food: Barbecue, barbecue and then more barbecue. All beautifully smoked, take your pick from a turkey leg, smoked chicken, St Louis-style ribs, two types of sandwich (smoked pork and chicken) and a smoked chicken salad.
  • Who goes there? Fans of good barbecue food and families ready to take a break in the tranquil surroundings of the covered garden dining area.
  • Signature Dish: The Ribs & Chicken Combo, served with baked beans and coleslaw. A lip-smacking pleasure!
  • Open: 11am-park closing.

Universal Orlando Resort

The Leaky Cauldron

The Leaky Cauldron Fish and Chips

This counter-service restaurant comes straight from the Harry Potter books and movies, themed as an ancient haunt of wizards and witches. High ceilings and hints of living quarters in the upper level add to the rather mysterious nature of the place.

  • Where: In the Diagon Alley section of Universal Studios.
  • Type of Food: British comfort foods, such as Fish & Chips, Toad in the Hole, Cottage Pie, Bangers and Mash, and a respectable representation of a Full English Breakfast.
  • Who goes there? Families and couples who enjoy a sense of having walked straight into the movies; Potter fans and locals who can’t get enough of the wizarding world.
  • Signature Dish: Bangers and Mash, plus their 2 specially created beers, Dragon Scale Ale and Wizard’s Brew.
  • Open: Hours vary; from park opening until 1 hour prior to park closing.

Finnegan’s Bar & Grill

The most consistent full-service restaurant option in the park, this has a separate dining room and bar area, with the full menu available in both and live music in the bar in best Irish fashion.

  • Where: In the New York area of Universal Studios.
  • Type of Food: An American version of Irish fare, with a few British specialities thrown in for good measure, such as Bangers and Mash, Scotch Eggs and Shepherd’s Pie. There are also burgers, steaks and a fine Guinness and Beef Stew.
  • Who goes there? Families and couples alike, plus those who enjoy a good pint and the chance to kick back away from all the rides for a while.
  • Signature Dish: County Cork Corned Beef & Cabbage, washed down with a pint of Smithwick’s, of course.
  • Open: Hours vary; usually 11.30am-park closing.

Three Broomsticks

Shepherds Pie at the Three Broomsticks

This counter-service option has all the mystery and intrigue of its namesake from the Harry Potter series, complete with eerie shadows moving along the walls and the sounds of house elves cleaning the upper-storey ‘rooms’.

  • Where: In the Hogsmeade section of the Islands of Adventure park.
  • Type of Food: British-inspired dishes, including Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips, and Cornish Pasties. Chicken, ribs, turkey legs, soup and salad are also on the menu.
  • Who goes there? Families visiting the park, especially fans of the Harry Potter series of books and movies.
  • Signature Dish: The Great Feast, a massive assemblage of salad, smoked chicken, spare ribs, corn on the cob, and roast potatoes. Not only is it big enough to feed a family of four, it’s intended to feed a family of four. Also try the signature non-alcoholic Butterbeer, and the specially-crafted Hogs Head Brew, which is the real deal.
  • Open: 11am-park closing.

Mythos

An award-winning, full-service restaurant with elaborate theming, it is set inside a mythical cavern carved by the gods, with their images inside and out, and features running streams and other neat underground touches.

  • Where: In the Lost Continent area of the Islands of Adventure park.
  • Type of Food: A wide variety of well-priced dishes, bordering on the gourmet, from flatbreads and salads to fine pastas, risottos and fish dishes, plus more standard fare such as burgers, sandwiches, wraps and tacos.
  • Who goes there? Families who like theming with their food as well as the rides.
  • Signature Dish: Risotto of the Day, which can be prepared gluten free.
  • Open: 11am-4pm.

SeaWorld

Sharks Underwater Grill

Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld Orlando

Here, the dim lighting of this elegant full-service restaurant allows guests to fully appreciate the massive Shark Encounter aquarium that acts as a backdrop to the dining experience.

  • Where: In the SeaWorld park.
  • Type of Food: Seafood and steak, as well as lighter fare. Again, the emphasis is on fresh.
  • Who goes there? Families visiting the park, couples looking for a slightly quirky but still rather romantic setting.This is a surprisingly good choice with very young children, as the dim lighting encourages a little nap!
  • Signature Dish: Coquille Saint-Jacques – and the Blue Ocean Colada. Yum!
  • Open: Hours vary; roughly 11.30am-5pm.

Seafire Inn

A respectable counter-service selection, with some lighter options and a transatlantic flair.

  • Where: In the Waterfront area of SeaWorld.
  • Type of Food: American favourites, like a Caesar Salad and Club Sandwich, mixed with Mediterranean offerings (pasta and a veggie wrap) and British fare (Fish & Chips and a turkey sandwich).
  • Who goes there? Park-goers needing an air-conditioned break and families needing a wide choice of options for picky eaters.
  • Signature Dish: Traditional Chicken Caesar, washed down with an ice-cold beer!
  • Open: 11am-park closing.

Busch Gardens

Zambia Smokehouse

One of the most enticing counter-service options in any of the theme parks.

  • Where: In the Stanleyville section of Busch Gardens Tampa.
  • Type of Food: Barbeque, fresh from the nearby smoking pit. Barbequed chicken and ribs and smoked beef brisket are the highlights, but lighter appetites will find salads, sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. Beer on tap is also available.
  • Who goes there? Families visiting the park, including us. The ribs are our happy, guilty pleasure when we visit.
  • Signature Dish: Smoked ribs and chicken. They really are the point of a meal here, so just head straight in their direction.
  • Open: 11am-park closing.

Crown Colony Restaurant

The only full service restaurant in the park but a very relaxed and tranquil setting, overlooking the Serengeti Plain.

  • Where: In the Egypt section of Busch Gardens.
  • Type of Food: A pleasant mix of salads, sandwiches and burgers, plus their Fried Chicken & Fish platters, and with a tempting array of desserts.
  • Who goes there? Families needing a break from the rides and/or heat. There aren’t many indoor attractions at Busch Gardens, hence a proper lunch break is a welcome respite.
  • Signature Dish: Family-style Fired Chicken and Fish platters, served for the whole table in all-you-can-eat fashion. Arrive hungry!
  • Open: Hours vary; usually 11.30am-4pm.

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