Nothing has changed with the restaurants themselves, but the all-new menus have quickly proved very popular and they have combined to make the season Hallow-eat rather than Halloween!
First on the agenda is a culinary makeover for one of the longest-running counter-service offerings in the park, Pecos Bill Tall Tales Inn And Café. This cowboy-style diner near Splash Mountain has been part of the park since its early days. It was closed for a few days earlier this month and re-opened with a completely different bill of fare.
Gone are the standard burgers and chicken sandwiches, and in come a whole new range of fajitas, burritos, rice bowls, salads, soups and snacks, including one of Simon’s favourites – churros!
The Tex-Mex style is much more suited to the Frontierland territory and, while the food may not immediately be obvious to British visitors, it is well worth trying. The headline item is the fajitas platter, a generous plateful of shredded beef or chicken (for a dollar’s difference - $14.49 or $13.49), served with coriander rice, black beans, and sautéed green peppers and onions, with four flour tortillas. With the amount of food here, plus the fixins bar, you could actually make this a meal for two, in our opinion, which would be quite a budget-minded choice.
If fajitas are not your thing, there is also the one-off Burrito, again with shredded beef or chicken and also served with rice and beans. Or you could try one of the over-large Rice Bowls, which come with a choice of beef or chicken, or, for a fully vegetarian meal, with roasted vegetables.
Then there is Southwest Salad, Chicken Enchilada Soup and three dessert options, including the ‘Mexican doughnuts’ or churros, and Sopaipillas, beautifully light, bite-sized pastries that go great with a cup of coffee.
The Kids Meal choices include scaled-down versions of the Rice Bowls as well as Quesadillas, served with grapes and carrot sticks.
One of the old highlights of Pecos Bill’s was the fixins bar, which, for those who are looking at the word ‘fixins’ and wondering what on earth we are talking about, is just the American way of saying all the condiments and additions you could possibly want. Previously, the extensive fixins bar provided all you needed to dress up your burger or sandwich, but now it is much more imaginative with a great range of salsas, dips, cheese, guacamole and sour cream.
You can help yourself to as much as you want to go with your meal once you have it in hand, and we can definitely recommend the queso dip, Pico de Gallo and green salsa. If nothing else, this is the place to pop into for a rest, a drink – and some sopaipillas!
The styling and décor of the restaurant remains true to the original, with the big painting of the cartoon Pecos Bill himself over the fireplace (on the left as you walk in the main doors). Pecos Bill is actually a mythical cowboy dating back to a series of “tall tales” in 1917 and was immortalised in a Disney animated film in 1948.
The other notable feature about the restaurant is the transition, from front to back, of the theming. At the entrance, and in the two main dining rooms on the right, it is fully cowboy territory, but as you move deeper towards the rear entrance and Adventureland, the styling is more Caribbean and Mexican, as befits the adventure theme.
As you exit and turn left into Adventureland, you also come to the Tortuga Tavern, which is the other restaurant to have undergone a menu change. Here, instead of tacos and empanadas, there is now a more satisfying choice of sandwiches and salads with a heavy barbecue theme, which should go down well for UK visitors.
The three main sandwich options are all served on Texas Toast – thick-sliced and oven toasted bread with a delicious crunch – and consist of barbecued chicken, pulled pork and beef brisket, all beautifully smoky and succulent, served with side dishes of coleslaw and (American-style) baked beans, which tend to be a bit sweeter than the British version.
There is then a health-conscious Roasted Corn and Vegetable Salad, to which meat-eaters can also add either chicken or beef brisket. There is also a choice of desserts, with a triple Chocolate Cake or Cookies and Ice Cream. For a nice alternative to the usual soft drinks, there is a tasty Strawberry Lemonade Slushy on offer at both Tortuga Tavern and Pecos Bill’s.
The one drawback here is that the Tavern tends to be seasonal in its operations, which means it can often be closed during quieter times of the year. It is well worth seeking out, though, both for the food and the clever theming, which includes the logbook of the pirate ship Black Pearl, and other piratical paraphernalia as you would expect from an establishment operated by Blackbeard’s daughter, Angelica!
Finally, having mentioned the Halloween season, we couldn’t help but admire the number of visitors arriving for the night’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, the separate ticketed event that takes place in the evening (after regular park closing).
Guests are positively encouraged to get into the spirit of the event by dressing up in full costume for the Party and many do, with a variety of outfits from full Disney characters to other well-known ideas (we spotted a family of Waldos, as well as many Peter Pans and Tinker Bells, a couple of Mad Hatters, various pirates, a lot of Incredibles and any number of princesses of all ages!).
The Party officially starts at 7pm and includes a special Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade, multiple trick-or-treat stations, the fabulous Hallo-Wishes fireworks and, new for this year, the special Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular show on the Castle Forecourt stage.
It runs until midnight on select nights throughout the month and the good thing is that, with your Party ticket, you can gain access to the park from 4pm, meaning you can get a full eight hours of Magic Kingdom enjoyment with all the Halloween fun. It adds a wonderful extra dimension to the park’s atmosphere and is well worth trying if you’ve already been and are looking for that ‘something different’ factor.
Got questions on this story or anything to do with Orlando or Florida? Be sure to join Susan and Simon on the fabulous ATD discussion forum here.