The good, and very bad, food at Walt Disney World
By Robert NilesLAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - What's going on with food at the Walt Disney World resort?
Published: August 17, 2010 at 8:51 AM
During my trip to Epcot this weekend, I enjoyed one of the better meals I've had in a theme park - a great corvina en mole verde at the Mexico pavilion's San Angel Inn. Yet at lunch in The Land pavilion's Sunshine Seasons food court, my wife and I were served two disappointing chicken dishes.
My wife ordered a chicken Caesar salad ($8.99),
while I chose the cashew chicken ($9.99).
I was disappointed to find, when I got to my seat, that the cashew chicken was all dark meat, and not the white breast meat that I usually find when I order this dish at Chinese restaurants. Had this been high-quality dark meat, I could have made do, though for ten bucks, this really should have been all-white meat. But this tasted like the cheapest, factory-farmed, chemical-laden chicken that you'd find marked down to bargain price in your grocery freezer case.
My wife and I choose free-range, vegetarian-fed chicken at the store because we like our chicken to taste like, well, chicken. But I expect to find cheap chicken when I eat out in fast-food or counter-service restaurants. Most places cover the bland taste with heavy spices or flavorings, but the weak sauce on the Sunshine Seasons chicken couldn't overcome the plastic flavor of this dark meat. I ended up picking out the cashews, and eating them with the accompanying rice and broccoli. The chicken stayed on the plate, until it went into the trash.
Laurie reported, however, that the white meat on her salad was every worse. With a stale flavor that she described as "chemical" and a "slimy" texture, the chicken remained on her plate, too. Ugh.
But that wasn't the worst experience we had at a Disney restaurant over the weekend. Earlier, at the Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge, my daughter was served a chicken kids' meal with... two long black hairs in it. (My daughter, for the record, has light brown hair that she had tied back in a ponytail.)
Hey, it happens. It shouldn't, but it does. But instead of whisking away the plate immediately, the server seemed confused when we told her of the problem. And the offending plate remained in front of my daughter for over five minutes (I timed it), until a manager appeared to ask what the problem was. He then removed the plate and brought another (four minutes later), but by that time, my daughter was so grossed out that she couldn't take a bite.
Disney didn't remove the kids' meal from the bill, either.
(I understand that the schtick of the Whispering Canyon Cafe is the "bad" service. But at some point, you need to be able to break character and actually take care of your customers.)
In contrast to the more reasonable portions at Universal Orlando, the kids' meals at Disney World's table-service restaurants tended to be huge, more than any child with a reasonable appetite possibly could finish in one sitting. The only kids' meal my children liked (and finished) was, ironically, at the Sunshine Season food court, where they each had a reasonably-sized sub sandwich, along with pre-packaged pudding and carrot sticks.
It's not like Disney can't do a great meal - my wife ordered the chicken salad at Epcot in part because the one she'd had the previous week at the Port Orleans food court was so good, with freshly prepared chicken that tasted like, well, chicken.
And the food we order at the Disneyland Resort in California is, consistently, excellent. Writing this piece reminds me how much I want to get a curried tofu with rice at California Adventure when I get home.
Ordering food shouldn't be a gamble. Disney can deliver high-quality food, and it should, for every guest. But it doesn't.
My first thought is to blame the Disney Dining Program. By locking so many of its guests into a pre-paid meal plan, Disney increases the volume of food that it sells. But it also eliminates the need to "sell" that food to its visitors. They've paid for it, so they're going to order it - whether it's good or not. And, at the same time, since visitors have paid for their food, there's less incentive for Disney to offer something spectacular in an effort to entice visitors to open their wallets and pay for that meal, as opposed to getting by on snacks or eating later off-property.
No matter what the reason, Walt Disney World's food wasn't good enough for us, on a consistent basis, for us to plan many in-park meals on our next visit. Unless we hear of some changes in food management at Disney World, next time we visit the parks, we'll try to stick to those restaurants run by outside vendors (such as many in Epcot's World Showcase), where the odds of getting a great meal remain much better.
If you've visited Walt Disney World recently, what's been your experience with Disney's food? How does it compare with the past at Disney, or with the present at other theme park resorts?
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