Dining Planner

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Dining Planner

Where Should We Eat?

With thousands of eateries competing for your attention, it may seem like a daunting question. But fret not—our expert writers and editors have done most of the legwork. The selections here represent the best this city has to offer—from hamburger joints to fine dining. Search "Best Bets" for top recommendations by price, cuisine, and experience. Or find a review quickly in the listings, organized alphabetically within theme park or neighborhood. Dive in and enjoy!

Considerations for Different Types of Travelers

Families with Young Kids

If you're traveling with small children, you really should include a character meal. Walt Disney World offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner with characters at each of its four parks and some of its resorts. Some are buffets; others are family-style or à la carte. Regardless of the format, Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Chip 'n' Dale, Cinderella, and other favorites show up to sign autographs and pose for snapshots.

At Universal, character meals move around. Cafe La Bamba might feature characters from Hop and Despicable Me. At Christmastime, one Islands of Adventure restaurant hosts a Grinchmas character breakfast featuring the Grinch and friends. Universal's hotels also have character dinners, including the Simpsons, on select nights.

When possible, reserve your spot far in advance.

If your young children are theme-park newbies, have your character meal near the end of a visit, so they'll be used to seeing the large and sometimes frightening figures.

Except for one, the ultraformal Victoria & Albert's, all restaurants in and near the theme parks welcome children. Crayons, games, and kiddie menus are standard.

Families with Tweens

Tweens are impressed by highly themed concepts. Consider the 50's Prime Time Café in Disney's Hollywood Studios, a kitschy 1950s-themed space where "Mom," the waitress, may make parents finish their vegetables. At the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater nearby, guests eat in top-down convertible cars that face a big screen airing '50s and '60s sci-fi and monster trailers.

Universal's Islands of Adventure also has themed eateries based on superheroes or other classic characters. The Three Broomsticks replicates a Hogsmeade tavern, a boon for Harry Potter fans.

Families with Teens

CityWalk is filled with high-energy themed eateries that teens love. In fact, local high schoolers tend to congregate in the CityWalk common areas on weekend evenings. The high-energy Hard Rock Cafe is a consistent favorite.

On the Disney boardwalk, the ESPN Club is a great choice for teen sports fans. Even its bathrooms are equipped with video monitors, so you don't have to miss a second of a great game.

Couples

Truly, you'd be hard-pressed to find more romantic restaurants than the ones on Disney property. Jiko, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, pairs superb African-accented cuisine with an exceptional South African wine list and dramatic decor. If you really want to go all out, there's absolutely nothing like Victoria & Albert's, in the Grand Floridian. Treat yourself to a gourmet, seven-course prix-fixe meal to live harp music.

Outside the theme parks, Norman's, at the Ritz-Carlton, has a sophisticated dining room and impressive New World cuisine.

Singles or Groups of Friends

Singles often dine at the bars of upscale-casual favorites, including Seasons 52, Prato, and Bonefish Grill. Groups enjoy the festive antics of International Drive's Taverna Opa, where visitors often find themselves dancing around the dining room.

Large Groups

Restaurants in theme-park hotels, in nearby convention hotels, on Sand Lake Road, and on International Drive have private party rooms for large groups more often than not. For an alternative, consider dinner shows. The food is plentiful and the entertainment keeps younger family members engaged. The luau at Disney and Universal are good for all ages, as is the wonderfully hokey Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.

Many off-park venues also offer themed dining with shows. The concepts range from medieval jousting on horseback to pirates to crime and comedy.

Meal Plans

Disney Magic Your Way Plus Dining Plan allows you one table-service meal, one counter-service meal, and one snack per day of your trip at more than 100 theme-park and resort restaurants, provided you stay in a Disney hotel. For more money, you can upgrade the plan to include more; to save, you can downgrade to a counter-service-only plan. Used wisely, a Disney dining plan is a steal, but be careful to buy only the number of meals you'll want to eat. Moderate eaters can end up turning away appetizers and desserts to which they're entitled. Plan ahead, and use "extra" meals to your advantage by swapping two table-service meals for a Disney dinner show, say, or an evening at a high-end restaurant like California Grill.

Universal Meal Deal is a lunch-through-closing, all-you-can-eat offer at participating walk-up eateries inside Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Daily prices are $26 and $13 (both parks), and $22 and $11 (one park) for ages 10 and over and kids under 10, respectively. All-you-can-drink soft drinks are $11 daily for all.

Reservations

Reservations are strongly recommended throughout the theme parks. Indeed, make reservations for Disney restaurants and character meals at both Universal and Disney at least 90 (and up to 180) days out. And be sure to ask about the cancellation policy—at a handful of Disney restaurants, for instance, you may be charged penalties if you don't give 24 to 48 hours' notice.

For restaurant reservations within Walt Disney World, call 407/939-3463 (WDW-DINE) or book online at www.disneyworld.com/dining. You can also get plenty of information on the website, including the meal periods served, price range, and specialties of all Disney eateries. Menus for all restaurants are posted online and tend to be up to date. For Universal Orlando reservations, call 407/224-9255 (theme parks and CityWalk) or 407/503-3463 (hotels). Learn about the complex's 50-plus restaurants at www.universalorlando.com/dining.

In our reviews, reservations are mentioned only when they're essential or not accepted. Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.

Tipping and Taxes

In most restaurants, tip the waiter 15%-20% of the food and beverage charges before tax. Tip at least $1 per drink at the bar, and $2 for valet parking.

What to Wear

Because tourism is king around Orlando, casual dress is the rule. Flip-flops and cutoffs are acceptable in just about all fast-food and midprice restaurants. Although it's best to dress up for the ritzier restaurants, don't be shocked to find diners beside you in Levi's and polo shirts. Men need jackets only in the most exclusive establishments; however, such establishments are strict about enforcing dress code. If you plan to eat at a nicer place, check on dress codes so you aren't caught unprepared and turned away at the door.

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