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Hidden Gems: Disney Dining

For a memorable Disney Dining experience the crowds might not know about, check out these eight “hidden” restaurant recommendations from a local.

It’s not hard to find a good meal at any of the Disney properties, but for something more memorable, you won’t want to miss these “hidden” Disney dining experiences.


Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village
Serving Indian-inspired East African cuisine with dishes both spicy and mild, this colorful dining room comes with an added bonus: diners near windows watch exotic animals roam a savanna. The bread service is a must — you choose three different types of bread and three different dipping sauces. A stylized décor recalls an African marketplace; lights that resemble ripe fruit hang from abstract acacia trees.

1900 Park Fare

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
These joyous character meals are the best at Walt Disney World. Breakfast stars Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland. At dinner it’s Cinderella, stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella and haughty stepmother Lady Tremaine. Prince Charming’s on hand, too, gallantly kissing the hands of any females who offer them. Varied buffet choices are delicious and the elegant dining room has a vintage amusement park feel.

Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

Lobby of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
This lively, extremely “Disneyfied” little rum bar is owned by the “head salesman” seen on Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise ride. Its décor includes a giant clam named Shelly; Uh-Oa, the Audio-Animatronic “tiki goddess of disaster,” and, of course, shrunken heads. Best of all, these items all come to life when patrons order certain drinks, and with the place nearly always full, that means every few minutes.

Disney Jr. Play ‘n Dine

Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
This character buffet stars Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, Jake from “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” and Sofia from “Sofia the First.” These popular characters not only greet their young fans, they also sing, dance and play with them, with a human host acting as emcee. The experience is not very well known, so kids often get to spend an enormous amount of time with the characters. The food is standard stuff with one exception — Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles.

50’s Prime Time Café

Disney’s Hollywood Studios
This retro experience is a hoot; servers channeling “Mom” hassle diners who don’t keep their elbows off the table or eat their vegetables. Stage-set dinettes may remind baby boomers of grandma’s house. Formica tables, sparkly vinyl chairs and black-and-white table TVs playing clips from 1950s and 1960s sitcoms create a surreal atmosphere. The menu is comfort food — fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast — and it’s good. No reservations? Sit at the counter.

Beaches & Cream

Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Gigantic sundaes are the draw at this old-fashioned soda shop, a tiny spot with just three booths, six small tables and a few bar seats. A classic jukebox offers free plays. Burgers and other sandwiches are good, but the claim to fame is a ridiculous Kitchen Sink sundae served literally in a kitchen sink!

Raglan Road

Disney Springs, The Landing
This is the real thing, a real Irish restaurant run by real Irish people who know Irish food and drink and how to serve it. Its master chef, Kevin Dundon, has cooked for many celebrities in his career, and his experience shows: Raglan Road’s food is a step beyond tradition — pub classics have distinctly gourmet touches. The decadent bread pudding comes with creamers of butterscotch and crème anglaise. The antique décor includes two 130-year-old bars from Ireland with traditional leaded-glass dividers. Ask to sit in the loud main room to see the Irish table dancers and rowdy band.

Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming

Disney Springs, The Landing
Don’t think it’s just about the fried chicken. Quality and authenticity suffuse everything here — the drinks, the appetizers, the entrees, the desserts. You could take a dart and throw it at the menu and not have a bad meal, with nearly everything created from scratch, including the no-label hot sauce that sits on the table. Although Art Smith is a celebrity chef — James Beard Award winner, Top Chef Masters, Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for 10 years — he was born and raised on a family farm in north Florida. Homecoming is a celebration of rural Florida food, from someone who knows and understands it.

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