Disney Dining: Outside the Parks Part One

Disney Dining:  Outside the Parks Part One Part 1

I know, it sounds crazy, visiting Walt Disney World and not setting foot into a theme park.  Many people might even think why in the world would you want to visit Disney without theme parks?  Hear me out on this one.  How many times have you visited Walt Disney World and wished that you had more time to enjoy the amenities at your resort?  I bet it is quite often, especially if you are staying at one of the deluxe properties.  With all of the theming and details that Disney puts into everything they do it is easy to have a fantastic vacation without ever scanning a ticket.

On our most recent visit to Orlando my family did just this: a resort-only vacation.  We had a great time enjoying the pool, visiting other resorts, and just relaxing.  One of the best parts of a Park-Free vacation is the dining!  Although you can’t add the Disney Dining Plan to a room only reservation, you can still take advantage of many dining opportunities throughout the resorts and Downtown Disney.  In this two part article I will let you in on some of the ways to enjoy Disney Dining: No Parks Allowed!

Character Dining:

The only way I can think of to see the characters outside a theme park is to dine with them at one of the resorts.  Some of the most highly coveted, along with some of the best kept secrets, of character dining are housed in the resorts.  Chef Mickey’s is the quintessential location to dine with Mickey and the Fab 5, and it takes place in the Contemporary Resort where you can eat breakfast or dinner with the only mouse who is ever welcome in a dining room.  One of our favorite character meals is the breakfast at Cape May Café right off the lobby in the Beach Club.  A little less well known, this meal features a fresh buffet, an atmosphere that is a little quieter, and attention from Goofy, Donald, and Minnie.  For breakfast ‘Ohana at the Polynesian Resort features Lilo and Stitch, Pluto and Mickey with an all you can eat family style breakfast, so it is served at your table.  If Princesses are more your style 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian hosts Cinderella and all of her family (Prince Charming, the evil Stepmother and the hilarious Stepsisters) at dinner.  Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare features an eclectic mix of characters with the common bond of British “ancestry:” Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Alice and the Mad Hatter, and Mary Poppins.

Fan Favorites & All You Care to Eat

Some of the most popular restaurants with all-you-care-to-eat menus are located within Disney’s resort hotels.  Everyone clamors for a table at ‘Ohana for a feast of meats served family style with Asian inspired appetizers and pineapple coconut bread.  At the Wilderness Lodge Whispering Canyon treats diners to hijinks like overloaded tables of ketchup, oversize drinks, and stick pony rides through the restaurant.  All three meals are served Whispering Canyon; breakfast has an all-you-care-to-eat platter option, and dinner features an all-you-care-to –eat skillet with a variety of options to build your own favorite mix.  Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge offers a buffet with an African flair serving breakfast and dinner.  At the Beach Club, the Cape May Café serves up a New England style seafood (and more) dinner buffet complete with Oreo Bon Bons for dessert.  The Beach Club also boasts the tiny but popular Beaches and Cream Ice Cream Parlor and Grill. While this is not an all-you-care-to-eat menu (unless you order the kitchen sink which is probably more than anyone cares to eat), this is a fan favorite.  Beware:  they do not accept reservations and the wait can be quite long.  This is a fun stop for a juicy burger followed by a delicious ice cream treat.  While we’re talking about “Fan” favorites don’t forget the ESPN Club over at BoardWalk—if you are a sports fan it is a great place to catch a game.

Moderates and Values and Food Courts Oh My!

Since you have extra time on a no-park vacation, you can spend some of it visiting the resorts.  The table service restaurants at the Deluxe Resorts are not the only ones with a lot going for them; their food courts and quick service locations have some great offerings.  At Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian you could grab a Dole Whip and enjoy the beach by day, or Wishes by night.  The BoardWalk Pizza Window serves up a tasty pie to take in the sights, sounds and entertainment of the BoardWalk.  Animal Kingdom’s Mara quick service has some delicious options.  You could visit the Lodge and watch the animals, then grab a quick bite there.  At the moderate resorts several food courts serve signature items.  The Riverside Mill at Port Orleans has the Apple Blossom, the Muffuletta Sandwich, and a Carved Meat platter.  Over at its sister resort, Port Orleans French Quarter you can enjoy beignets all day long, and sample some of their Cajun specialties.  Boatwrights at Riverside serves up full service meals.  Caribbean Beach resort has the flavor of the islands, along with a table service establishment, Shutters.  And Coronado Springs has the fantastic Pepper Market with a taste of the Southwest and Mexico, and Maya Grill for table service.  At the Value Resorts the Art of Animation’s food court, “Landscape of Flavors” shines for its variety and healthy options.  From Indian cuisine to make your own Italian dishes to the standby burger and fries you can find it all here and enjoy it in a beautifully imagineered setting.  Across the bridge at Pop Century you can find some signature dessert items like the tie dye cheesecake and the Elvis cupcake.  Those might be worth a trip by themselves.

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Don’t Forget Downtown Disney

No park-free trip would be complete without a stop to Downtown Disney.  It can provide hours of entertainment from the shopping alone.  Dining options are plentiful here.  Two great counter service locations are the Earl of Sandwich and Wolfgang Puck Express.  Earl of Sandwich offers a variety of sandwiches (and now the Holiday Sandwich year round) at a very reasonable price.   With the pizzas, pastas and rotisserie chicken at Wolfgang Puck’s it is easy to have a delicious meal without much fuss or expense.  Two of Downtown Disney’s landmark eateries, Rainforest Café and T-Rex provide their own brand of entertainment (albeit chaotic at times), along with feeding the hungry animals in your crowd.  Other popular food destinations in Downtown Disney include Raglan Road (for Irish entertainment, eats and brews), the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop (for an indulgent treat), Goofy’s Candy Company (for custom crisped rice treats and more sweets), and Babycakes NYC (for vegan and allergen free bakery goods).  If you’re looking for an afternoon or evening of entertainment and eating you can try the AMC 24 Dinner and a Movie option, or visit the newly opened Splitsville for a game or two of bowling with a full meal.

This is just the beginning, stay tuned for part two for more ideas on how to enjoy Disney Dining, no parks included.

You can find part two here

About Sarah Chapman

I am a long time Disney fan since I was hooked on Walt Disney World with my first trip in 1987. Since that time I’ve tried experiencing everything I can in the parks, with a total of 30 visits and counting (I’m always planning my next trip) to Walt Disney World—not to mention Disney Cruise Line and even (shhh!) Universal Orlando and Sea World. I’ve turned my Disney obsession into a profession helping others plan their magical vacations as a Dream Vacation Maker at LBAC Travel. I am a work at home mom to three wonderful boys, and each one has been properly indoctrinated with all things Disney. Walt Disney World is definitely our “Laughing Place.” Look for me on Facebook at Facebook.com/SarahLBAC for updates, discount announcements, tips, tricks and planning advice for your next vacation. You can also find me on Instagram (sarahdreamvacationmaker) and Pinterest (sarahlbactravel).