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AJ Wolfe loves Disney theme parks and she loves food. In 2009, she combined her two passions to create the Disney Food Blog, a deliciously obsessive resource for “in-depth news, reviews, and information about food and restaurants in Disney’s parks, resorts, and cruise ships,” according to the website.

Wolfe, aided by her writing staff, visits Disney properties multiple times a year. She has eaten at every Disney theme park restaurant, save one; it closed before she could get to it (she declines to mention the name). Her mission, she states, is to help her readers choose where to spend their money wisely on food at Disney and offer the best bets for a good dining experience.

With 540 food and beverage locations at Walt Disney World and 155 at Disneyland, a “we’ll find something” attitude will cost you in time, aggravation and likely disappointment at not getting into the most popular restaurants. Here, Wolfe serves up answers to our Disney dining questions.

RELATED: 9 things you didn’t know you could do at Disney World

Disney World. ‘Nuff said. Photo credit: Alexandre Breveglieri/Flickr.

What is one thing people may not know about Disney dining? 

These days you have to make reservations six months ahead, so even if you start planning two months in advance you might have a hard time if you want to eat at a popular restaurant like Be Our Guest at Disney World. But don’t just make tons of reservations willy-nilly and then not show up. Restaurants will charge $10 per person if you don’t honor your reservation. You have to cancel, which you can do through the My Disney Experience app (for Disney World) or the Disneyland app.

What about families who arrive without any reservations and no game plan?

The Disneyland app and the Disney World My Dining Experience app allow visitors to check wait times at table service restaurants. My other suggestion is to eat at off-hours. Maybe do a 10am brunch or a 3pm dinner. I can’t recommend you do a late dinner because there are a lot of international visitors and their cultural preference is to eat later. I would also suggest hitting the resorts. Generally speaking, the resorts are going to be empty during the day (because everyone is at the park).

What about wait listing?

You can always do walk up, but some restaurants will say they have too many people on the waiting list. Check every day early in the morning because people cancel reservations and there may be availability.

What are the best places for families eating on a budget?

We really recommend the Plaza Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Beaches & Cream Soda Shop at Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Trail’s End Restaurant in Fort Wilderness. The 50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not too bad. But a lot of people don’t know you’re allowed to take food into the park—just not glass bottles or alcohol.

ALSO: Fill up on travel perks when you join Orbitz Rewards—it’s free!

epcot-fireworks

Flickr photo by Diana Kelly

What restaurants have the best views of the fireworks displays?

At Epcot, Rose & Crown in the United Kingdom Pavilion, but be sure to request a front patio view. La Hacienda de San Angel is another good place to watch IllumiNations. For Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show, Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort.

What is the best food court?

Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory at Port Orleans French Quarter (at Walt Disney World) is doing really good things with their menu. They have a chef right now who is pushing the envelope. I’ve been impressed with the Mongolian Stir-Fry at Landscape of Flavors at Art of Animation and the “create your own” options at Everything POP at Pop Century. It’s not just burgers, fries, pizza and nuggets.

disney-characters-buffet

Flickr photo by Loren Javier

What is the best character meal?

I always look for non-buffet character meals. With a buffet, someone has to be at the table with the kids while the other person is getting multiple plates for everybody. It’s a hassle, to say the least. And if a child happens to be at the buffet when a character comes to the table, it can take an hour for the character to come back. Ohana has a great breakfast where you can see Mickey. Garden Grill in Epcot serves really great food family-style.

Which restaurants do you recommend for fine dining?

At Disney World, the obvious answer is Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian. It is the only restaurant in Florida that has received the AAA Five Diamond award and the Forbes Travel Guide Five Stars Award. Two fancier restaurants are Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Steakhouse 55 at Disneyland Hotel.

Do you have a guilty pleasure restaurant?

Usually when I visit Disney properties, it’s to eat at a new restaurant or try a new food item. But if I’m ever at Disney World on my birthday, I return to my favorite places. Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom has a great firecracker shrimp. Also in Animal Kingdom is Flame Tree BBQ that has French fries with cheese sauce and barbecue pork on top. Sunshine Seasons in Epcot has cupcakes and desserts I really like.

Which begs the question: is it possible to eat healthy at Disney parks?

Absolutely. Disney has gotten much better about providing high-quality fresh fruit and veggies in the parks, and all restaurants have healthy menu options. Disney tends to do very well accommodating people with special dietary needs. Ask to speak with the chef when you sit down; the chef can create a gluten-free or vegan meal. Disney also provides allergy menus that contain what items are safe to eat. Disney is also coming out with a lot of vegetarian and vegan alternatives to their most popular items. Casey’s Corner, a hot dog joint in the Magic Kingdom, just came out with a vegan sausage and the Rose & Crown Dining Room in Epcot is testing a vegan fish and chips. That’s really cool to see.

What is single most important dining tip for people planning their Disney vacation?

Learn everything you can! Watch our YouTube videos. There are people who save years to go [to Disney theme parks] and the last thing you want to do is waste that money on a trip that is not as good as it could be because you didn’t plan ahead.

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Tagged: Disney, Family time, Florida, Orlando

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Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson

Donald is a Chicago-based writer who covers film, television, comedy and travel topics. His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair.com, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and other outlets.
Donald Liebenson

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