Vote of the week: What should theme parks do about their food?
How much do you care about the food when you visit a theme park?
For me, eating is one of the five senses that parks should be engaging with their themed environments. A theme park that ignores food does as poorly in my book as one that ignores its visual composition, sound palette, or physical thrills. I love to see parks go the extra mile and develop treats such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Butterbeer, or a delightful French patisserie in Epcot's France.
Having eaten at a few Route 66 diners in my day, I welcomed the classic diner food at the new Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. Rather than go with the simplistic '50s-inspired hamburger drive-in that I suspect many guests might have anticipated, Disney's chefs created a menu that features homestyle "comfort food," including roast turkey and beef and dinners. These are the "blue plate specials" one might see served in mon-'n-pop diners along the mother road.
The citrus-marinated roast turkey breast, sliced thinly and served with turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and a roll. The two sides selected were mashed potatoes and a roasted corn medley. $11.49 at Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure
But not every theme park visitor wants themed food. Some would prefer simpler, familiar fare, perhaps out of concern for picky eaters in the family. Just give them the burgers, chicken strips, and fries they're used to ordering when away from home. Other visitors don't want to spend a moment doing anything other than riding rides. For them, food is a superfluous part of their day, especially at iron parks where there's no pretense of themed environment anyway.
Finally, some theme park visitors simply can't - or won't - pay for what they consider over-priced, mediocre fare.
I'd love to hear what you think about theme park food, and which direction you'd like to see theme parks go in planning future menus. I've got three choices for you - please pick the one you feel best expresses your opinion. (Even if none of them get it exactly right).
Please tell us your all-time best - or worst - theme park food experience, in the comments. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider!
I hate it when theme parks have crappy food and they think they can serve bad food because you are trapped there. It is for sure part of the overall experience and enhances it a lot when the food and snacks are above average.
OUCH!! NOT higher prices!!! Just had lunch at Island of Adventure, 2 people, no alcohol, $33.00!!! Burger and an Asian dish, 2 drinks and onion rings! Flavor was OK but not at that price.
People often say the main problem visitors to Orlando face is eating healthy, and I have to agree.
There needs to be a balance of all of the above - themed options as well as standard theme park fare. I live where the Orlando parks are a day trip, so I typically only eat lunch at the park - and while I would like to have the experience, I also don't like to eat a big lunch. But you can also get creative with burgers/hotdogs/fries without going crazy.
I usually don't sit down and eat in the parks unless I'm THAT hungry, so I chose I'm here to ride, not eat. But when I do want a meal, I would defiantly want to sit down with great food and great atmosphere.
Disneyland is doing it mostly because with a million passholders, they aren't trapped. They have made their food items better to give passholders (and everyone else) a reason to buy their food.
Its a hard job to convince theme parks of the need to improve them I think.
Eating at Disney World is almost always a frustrating and stressful experience. Long lines, high prices, and poor attitudes are what you have to put up with for mediocre choices. I try to eat off peak dining hours to at least avoid the lines, but even then there's usually only one lane open at those times.
The food at Route 66 is diner food, which should be cheap, yet you make serving them at DCA seem highbrow and deserving of high prices even if the theming fits. It is quite ridiculous that matching theming deserves high prices.
Maybe even more impressive than the great themed attractions Disney and Universal have been plunking down for millions of visitors to enjoy, is their current trend to provide unique, excellent food offerings in highly detailed settings. I hope this trend continues and more theme park companies follow these industry leaders.
Our last vacation to UO basically turned into a ping-pong food match during the week between The Three Broomsticks and Mythos... I wouldn't have it any other way. Bring on the higher-quality food and bring on the themed eating environments.
Disney stands alone in southern California for offering excellent food choices among theme Parks. I'm always impressed with their food choices and always wish I wasn't so full so I could eat something else. Its the only south CA park where I've been impressed with the food.
I definitely agree that themed, decent, full-service food is the way to go. When I was a kid, the Liberty Tree Tavern was always a must-stop at WDW.
Part of the issue is that theme parks are synonymous with vacations. Vacationers want to relax. Adventurously trying new foods isn't relaxing to many people who'd prefer to eat the comforts. Pizza, hamburgers, fries and beer represent comfort food to the majority of carnivorous Americans. Add in some alternative options for vegetarians and the common food allergies and the standard theme park menu emerges. Why change what already sells in droves and is immensely appreciated?
For the most part, the nicer sit-down restaurants are pretty good (Brown Derby, Finnegans, Confisco Grille, the countries at Epcot) but everything else, especially the junk food, is horrible. At least when Disney had McDonald's fries (what ever happened to them?) there was something tasty.
While I do enjoy going to iron parks, I prefer the complete escapism of a good theme park. The more immersive the more I like it. This naturally carries over into the foods presented by the parks. Why in heaven's name would I want to eat the same exact thing I can get literally anywhere else, and for far less money? A park that puts no effort into their food service is a park that really doesn't want my tourism dollar. I want to be appealed to, and burgers and fries don't cut it. Not only do I want more thematic food, but I want to eat in a more thematic environment. Our last trip to Walt Disney World saw us dining in places like Boma, the Coral Seas Restaurant, and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. These places have character and class. Even if the S-F D-I does carry only the normal stuff, at least it makes sense in its environment.
I love themed restaurants and we have plenty of great dining at the main Orlando attractions with Epcot giving us authentic tastes from around the globe and Mythos bringing high end dining right in the middle of a theme park!
After standing in queues and riding rowdy rides for several hours, the last thing I want is something fried. Give me a nice place to sit down and catch my breath and chow down on some healthy comfort food, and I'm good to go for a few more hours. It's ok to have the counters and stands with the quickie foods, but every "land" should have at least one themed restaurant or sit down counter service restaurant where the food is appropriate to the setting.
It's too bad the parks could't do both - have an area (kinda like a food court) in a central location for the burgers/dogs/chicken/pizza crowd AND theme-type restaurants in/near the atractions. I know that on some vists to the park I'm more go-go-go, so I opt for the quick burger, while other times, I just want to sit & relax & enjoy the environment. Epcot is the park I think comes closest to this - they have the large burger/dogs/chicken place (sorry - the name escapes me!) toward the front of the park, or you can go to one of the countries (Mexico, for example) & sit inside & enjoy the atmosphere. And, you can even grab a quick "to-go" bite in the countries (the patisserie in France, or at one of the carts or booths for example) too.
So far the consensus opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of better food in better, fully immersive, themed environments. I hope industry lurkers are taking note!
Not everything needs to be fried. Not everything needs to be covered in suger (yes I talk to you carrots).
I've been hit harder than many here by the Recession I think, based on general comments I've observed here over the last three years, and I've been surviving on pennies and scraps for most of that time.
What is the atmosphere at the upper-end Epcot restaurants? I've always been apprehensive about eating in a fancy, sit-down restaurant (preferring counter service) with the appropriate theme park attire:poncho, fanny pack, wife beater, ect.
Somehow I haven't eaten at mythos yet. Everytime I'm at ioa I eat in Jurassic park
Aaron: Agreed with you. Busch Gardens Williamsburg themed counter service & entertainment in adjacent areas is as good as most sit down restaurants in Florida theme parks. Good food, good entertainment & less hassle.They do it well...We also believe that Disney Hollywood Studios has by far the worst counter service restaurants of all the Disney & Universal parks. Very little selection and not very good preparation. It's really hard to find anything of interest, besides a zillion types of burgers & pizza, to eat there. All of the other Disney & Universal parks have a good selection of themed counter service restaurants, with Animal Kingdom's Flame BBQ our favorite. But something really needs to be done at Hollywood Studios to get that park up to par. It's a shame, because Hollywood Studios is probably our favorite Disney park, attraction, show & ambiance wise.
Why does it have to be "either/or"? Why can't we have some well-themed eateries for people who prefer those, and simple burger joint places who prefer those? Should every food service outlet in every theme park serve burgers and hot dogs? Absolutely not. But there should definitely be a place for them. I enjoy a nice meal as much as the next person, but I have certain foods that I can't eat (and some that I won't eat) that sometimes exclude me from some of the nicer places. So let's mix it up! I think we'll all be a lot happier that way.
Thing is, it's easy for us to say we want themed food, even if it means higher prices, 'cause we're not eating there right this moment. I about spat out my water when I realized that plate of food in the picture, while delicious looking, was nearly $12. One shouldn't ignore the effectiveness of having cheap, non-themed food in the parks, and hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza are all crowd-pleasers, and when you get down to it, you're trying to please the crowd.
I love the themeing of many sit down diners from the three broomsticks, mythos, and the yak restaurant near everest. Paying a little more is no problem because I'm on vacation. But my one true love of park food is the hand dipped corn dog I get at cedar point. I don't like them when I buy them anywhere else. They'll try and fool ya by giving you already dipped corndogs at various places in the park and I say F that. There's only one place where you can actually see them making the corndog and that is in the back of the park near the train station between the Maverick and Mean Streak in a little Kiosk that I think is red and is a little slice of chlestoral heaven that I must go to at least once on my visit to Cedar Point.
(Makes mental note on corn dog)
I'm with Ted. DLR is stepping up the quality of their food. DCA's new restaurants are actually worth the price you pay, comparatively speaking. I'm mostly speaking about Carthay Circle Restaurant and Paradise Garden Grill... they're both great tasting food and relatively reasonable prices. These places will keep me in the park rather than going off campus.
My vote was for better food and theme, but that also includes better burgers, corndogs, etc. I love the themeing and am very willing to pay extra for it, but sometimes I am in the mood for a good burger and want it to not taste like blackened leather.
We usually try to sit down and have one nice meal each day of our theme park visits. Whether it's Cobb salad at the Brown Derby, Mrs. Knott's chicken dinner (yum!), or one of the many delicious choices at Epcot, it's nice just to sit and relax for a while away from all the crowds, noise, hustle & bustle. (We even commemorate these occasions by taking pictures of our meals -- yeah, we're weird that way.)
I would go for the better food and theming; my family has several favorites at DLR including the mexican place in Frontierland (the name evades me right now) and Taste Pilot in DCA. But I have been VERY Disappointed with the last 2 visits to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Resturant and the last time I really complained aboput the greasy under cooked chicken and cold mashed potatoes to the waiter and did not even get an apology or offer to resubmit the order. I wrote a letter about the experience and never received a reply. The last time I went to Knott's Berry Farm we ate off property at Po'folks and it was very good value priced food.
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