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More airing of grievances: Table service dining in Universal Orlando's theme parks

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Published: December 4, 2012 at 11:37 AM

If last week's, initial grievance was over an embarrassment, this week's first grievance marks more of a missed opportunity.

Lombard's Seafood Grille

Theme Park Insider readers love Universal Orlando's top two table-service in-park restaurants, Lombard's Seafood Grille at Universal Studios Florida and multiple Theme Park Insider Award-winner Mythos at Islands of Adventure. Both offer a nice selection of entrees for reasonable prices (all but one entree under $20), placing them among the best meal values in the theme park business.

But let's be frank. Executive Chef Steve Jayson and his staff can cook much more ambitious cuisine than fried fish, burgers and a daily pasta special. This isn't the pre-Harry Potter era, when Universal needed to beat Disney on price in order to remain competitive in the Orlando market. Potter's shown that Universal can compete with - and beat - Disney on quality, commanding premium prices at the same time.

I love that Universal is stepping up its game, bringing Transformers to Orlando, approving a top-quality expansion of The Simpsons, and expanding the Wizarding World to the Studios theme park. Please, Universal, turn Chef Jayson loose and let him upgrade the menus - and yes, the prices - to make Mythos and Lombard's not just the best value in Orlando theme park restaurants, but the most ambitious and highest-quality dining rooms in the market, as well.

Let's see what Universal can do with a plus-$20 theme park table-service dinner entree. What do you think?

Readers' Opinions

From 173.213.212.234 on December 4, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Finnegan's Bar and Grill at Universal Studios is also a great table service eatery. Good food and great atmosphere.
From Bryce McGibeny on December 4, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Since I'm vegetarian, I was impressed with the offerings these restaurants had for me. The pad thai at Mythos was amazing, as was the ravioli at Lombard's. I was very impressed with the options at the Universal Orlando parks.
From David Brown on December 4, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I'm not sure where you're coming from on this one Robert. My wife and I ate at both of these places a few weeks back during our vacation and we were really impressed with both. Admittedly they aren't exactly Narcoosees or Jikos, but they were by way ahead of the average theme park eatery and we ate stunningly well in both of them. I thought they were frankly the best things about both of their respective parks....
From robert morris on December 4, 2012 at 2:21 PM
Along with Finnegans there is Confiscos in IOA

And with exception to Epcot

I count
DHS 3
DAK 1.5 for Rainforest Cafe
MK 2 Since be our guest is 1/2 day full service and Crystal Palace as a buffet leaving only Tony's
Is truly full service all day

Seaworld has 1
USF 2.5 for Hard Rock
IOA 2 since Confiscos is only a buffet for breakfast but full service for dinner and lunch

But as Citywalk adjoins the parks for Universal any comparsion isn't quite apples to apples to Disney World


I don't see Universal as beneath Disney options with exception to Epcot

From Tim Chatlos on December 4, 2012 at 1:02 PM
I'm really kind of surprised that Universal hasn't figured out a way to allow guests to dine in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. What fan wouldn't want to eat under the floating candles and the Enchanted Ceiling. Especially at Christmastime I'd imagine many guests would pay just about any price to experience something like that.
From 65.35.141.6 on December 4, 2012 at 1:06 PM
Most folks who visit theme parks are families on a budget. These days, many families are seeing their dollars buy less and less; from food to clothing and school supplies, things cost more. So to encourage the management of Disney and Universal parks to increase the costs of their lunch or dinner plate menus, which you're doing with this column, doesn't make much sense. They already raise their entrance fees each year. So I'm not sure what they really need to do right now is offer lunch or dinner options that exceed $20 a plate. Many people are looking for value -- even when we're on holiday. After paying several hundred dollars to go through the gates of a theme park, I certainly don't want to pay nearly a hundred dollars more for a single lunch or dinner at one.
From Shannon Nelson on December 4, 2012 at 1:30 PM
If my group wants a more upscale meal, city walk is right there. The options in the park should be geared more towards families with a budget, and if I want exspensive seafood, I go to Jimmy Buffets instead of Lombards. Emrils orlando also has seafood options with its new orleans style food. I eat in the park if I want a snack or a quick burger. Breakfast and dinner, citywalk will always have better options.
From Dominick D on December 4, 2012 at 1:51 PM
When Krusty Burger/Kentucky Fried Panda/General Chang's Taco Italiano come, I'd love to see a show accurate menu.
From O T on December 4, 2012 at 1:58 PM
Most folks who visit theme parks are families on a budget?
Realy? Almost 100 bucks to get in!!!!
I think the food is amazing for Universal and I would hate to see this sellection of mid prices quality food go. But better food is always on my list and to the growing group of 4 star hotel guests at Uni that have a great sellection of upscale restaurants at their fingertips to. I'm sure they want something "better" in the parks.
I'm sure the parks will always sell the overprices junkfood to the masses but please give the choise to eat more upscale where the food is awesome and the kids know how to sit down and not run around.
From 63.95.36.13 on December 4, 2012 at 2:19 PM
OT your comments of 65.35.141.6 are very flippant, Im a european visting Disney every year, its my favourite place to visit Florida but find for the dollars you are paying your not getting a meal of any higher calibre then a Denny's sometimes. As 65.35.141.6 its not about raising the cost of food but for the parks to not be so greedy and charge top dollar for mediocre food. And as for food at IOA and USF its pretty low grade bordering on Macdonalds and Burger King fodder. So with keeping with this thread I would love to see Universal and disney raise the bar with its food but not fleech you of your pocket at the same time. We visit all the parks when we holiday for 2 weeks, Seaworld, Disney and Universal and we never eat at universal as we find the food very poor. I think it can be easily done, move away from a quantity to quality ethos, a big portion doesnt reflect value, I would rather have a smaller portion of excellent food then a stacked plate of rubbish.
From N B on December 4, 2012 at 2:33 PM
I think the CityWalk and the ease it which you can leave and come back makes Universal Orlando unique over all the Disney parks when it comes to dining.

The on-site hotels also have steak houses, Italian, Asian, Polynesian and my personal favorite, the Beachclub at Hard Rock.

Universal Studios could benefit from a restaurant on par with Mythos, in my opinion. Maybe they could build something where Fear Factor stands to help MIB not seem so out of place that could tie into the World Expo theme.

The huge round pavillion (from the Stark Expo in Iron Man 2) could be perfect and would fit perfectly with the dual towers / spaceships from MIB. They could put fountains on the outside and have area for people to sit in the grass and relax or have a picnic.

Anything would be better than Fear Factor and people would finally have a reason to stop at that corner of the park.

From Skipper Adam on December 4, 2012 at 3:16 PM
NB, you want a Disney property, something roughly inspired by the same fair that produced the Carousel of Progress, at USO?
From 208.111.29.33 on December 4, 2012 at 4:07 PM
It is very embarrassing how poor quality the restaurants at Universal are (yes this includes the laughable and way over-rated Mythos). I don't like taking family to the parks because unfortunately we can't eat on property, the choices are so bad. Universal can do much better (this coming from a Universal fan-boy that has no real interest in Disney, but can admit when Universal needs improvement). On a side note, the parks make little or no effort to provide food to people with different diets, such as vegetarian or vegan. But that aside, the food is just cheap for the sake of being cheap. Burgers, fried chicken, pizza, and fast food style pasta dishes can be had at any dump outside the park. There is no reason that this is all that is offered.
From Daniel Etcheberry on December 4, 2012 at 4:29 PM
off-topic: is there a winner in the backstory competition?
From N B on December 4, 2012 at 5:11 PM
Skipper,

I would like to see some better theming in that area even if it just a restaurant. Using a structure from the 1964-65 Worlds's Fair in Flushing Meadows next to MIB would be perfect.

The Simpsons mini-land will be cool, but the Expo theme of that area is certainly lacking. MIB, one of my all time favorites, seems so out of place these days.

From Aaron McMahon on December 4, 2012 at 5:38 PM
I pretty much disagree with the idea of putting 20 plus restaurants in parks especially with Disney and Universal which offer mostly sub-food quart quality (with a few exceptions like Three Broomsticks).

I'd be getting the message as a consumer to be forced to blow money on a fancy dinner (while wearing uncomfortable theme park clothes) or eat our mediocre counter service.

From Eric G on December 5, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Lombard's Seafood Grille serves what most guests who visit Universal expect. Look around at the guests in the park and you'll get a clear idea of what they've been stuffing in their mouth for years. Agreed it's not idea, but missed opportunity I disagree. I'm not sure Universal guests would order what I would consider to be quality food.

Finnegan's is a good bar, but the food is marginal. There is nothing on the menu that I would recommend.

Three Broomsticks? I dined there yesterday thanks to Robert's Thanksgiving post and let's be frank It's terrible! I certainly was not "thankful" for it. The Fish & Chips were some of the worst I've ever had and the portion size of both the fish and the chips was pathetic for the price point. The fries were not fresh.

I've learned my lesson and conclude that the reviewers on this site don't appear to have had the dining experiences that I've had in my life.

From N B on December 5, 2012 at 2:05 AM
We have eaten at the Three Broomsticks on our last two visits. I get the traditional English Breakfast and I don't quite remember what the other family members usually order.

The food is good, but not great. Complaining would be futile in our case because the breakfast is complimentary when we book our vacation on-site. I'm not sure I would pay to eat there, however. That is why we stick with at least one visit to Mythos and go to the CityWalk most of the time.

Pat O'Briens in neatly tucked away on the second level and is completely hidden by the New Orleans style facade. They have a great outdoor patio for sunset dining and the Hurricanes are amazing. Probably one of the best burgers I have had in a long time.

Margaritaville makes for a great time with the beach food and live music. The Mexicali burger is my personal favorite. I haven't had anything on the menu that I didn't like so far.

It has been so long since we visited Disney, I have no memory of the in-park food or how it was. The only memorable dinner was at Ohana. You can't go wrong with unilimited meats on sticks. The Mai Tais were very good from what I remember.

I tend to notice every in-park counter service restaurant reeks of tomato sauce, soda fountain syrup and hot grease. When you couple that with the frigid temperatures, it's almost nauseating. The smell of the Cafe 4 has burned itself in my brain, and I have never even eaten there. We only stop in for water or a drink.

From Kelly Muggleton on December 5, 2012 at 2:31 AM
Having had an awful experience the last time we ate in Finnegans - literally filthy floor, wrong food brought, inattentive wait staff we have completely given up. We mostly eat outside of the park, and outside of Citywalk too usually.
This year we ventured in Monster Cafe (first time in 20 years of going!) and actually really enjoyed that for a casual counter service meal, as we were staying for the evening show.
If Universal had a truly good table service, in the parks (pref the Studios) we would definitely use it. Probably regardless of price if it was exceptional choice and quality. It seems to be a real gap for them....although I can forgive them due to the great progress they are making in attractions.

But - for most guests, if you're there you're going to eat, so you will make the best of whatever options are there and appeal to you. Lombardi's and Mythos seem like pretty good value options in that respect.

From 137.191.228.131 on December 5, 2012 at 2:27 AM
This is always an area where I feel that Universal let themselves down. There just isn't the range or quality that Disney offers - sure they've far less venues, but they should be able to have one premier/experimental stall in each park. Of all the parks the biggest disappointment in terms of food is still Discovery Cove - it's my favourite place in Orlando and as an experience is unmatched, but the quality of food is in stark contrast to the rest of the experience.
From Rob Pastor on December 5, 2012 at 6:57 AM
I will echo NB's comments. Citiwalk & the on site hotels' close proximity to the park (easy walking distance for most) makes this a moot argument. Fine dining, and entrees over $20, are available at numerous dining establishments. Universal, for all intents and purposes, is really one closely contained resort with artificial boundaries that only exist to maintain seperate admission rates. And yes, Pat O'Briens intimate courtyard is one of the best kept secrets in Orlando.
From Anon Mouse on December 5, 2012 at 8:28 AM
"Let's see what Universal can do with a plus-$20 theme park table-service dinner entree."

You act as if it is a good thing.

1. Prices will easily exceed $20 for the grub we're seeing right now from regular price increases and the theme park tendency to take advantage of captive audiences.

2. Over $20 entrees at a theme park isn't the same fine dining at an outside establishment. They have to serve large crowds. Thus, the food is no better than hotel quality food. You'll get a mass marketed and tested standardized assembly line food.

From Kelly Muggleton on December 5, 2012 at 9:19 AM
To digress.... Totally agree with Rob about Pat's courtyard! Halfway to St Paddy's party - a few years ago was awesome! (Just because I havent eaten there doesnt mean I have partaken) :-)
From Rob Pastor on December 5, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Kelly; Pat O'Briens...the best piano bar. Just like the one in New Orleans. We had many merry nights there. You need to do the courtyard for dinner. My girlfriend thought it was very romantic in the evening.
From Tony Webb on December 5, 2012 at 11:10 AM
whats different for universal is the fact they have world class dining just outside the parks at city walk
From Eric G on December 5, 2012 at 5:12 PM
World class dining at CityWalk- What are you talking about? I'm going to be laughing about that comment for days.

There is nothing "world-class" about the dining options at CityWalk. Most are average chain restaurants or themed restaurants that are on par with a Chili's or TGI Fridays.

Yes, they're fine for most people and clearly supported by many of the readers of this site, but please don't make the huge mistake of referring to them as world class. That's utter nonsense.

From Anthony Murphy on December 5, 2012 at 5:35 PM
Not a bad idea... However, Universal does make it count in big ways.

I actually like Finnigans myself, but I can see it being so so.

The two parks that seem to really make it count with the food is EPCOT (of course) and actually AJ. I find their counter service the best in WDW.

From 172.222.144.219 on December 5, 2012 at 6:00 PM
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned price. The prices at the table service restaurant are much better than the disney counterparts around the same level. Finnegan's we'll actually go to because it's fairly reasonable, same with Mythos. When you add that into the picture we wind up eating more at Universal than at disney because of it.

I still think Mythos and Finnegans (and to a degree lombard's) are pretty good.

From Tony Webb on December 5, 2012 at 7:54 PM
hey Eric G glad i can make you laugh for days


emerils is world class

From 173.65.144.192 on December 7, 2012 at 11:50 AM
I think if you want superb food and the prices that go with it at Universal Florida, than take a short boat ride to one of the 3 on site hotels. The Palm will be one of the best steaks around, Emril's 2 restaurants, City Walk and Royal Pacific, are great and over at the Portofino Bay, the Italian food is out of this world. In addition there is a fairly new Brazilian Steak house in the Latin Quarter restaurant. So there are choices.
From Eric G on December 7, 2012 at 9:00 PM
The Palm is a good steak house and it's certainly upscale dining. I'm a fan, but it wouldn't rank among my Top 20 Steakhouses. However, for Orlando it's one of the better restaurants in the area.

I've dined at Emeril's Tchoup Chop at Lowe's Royal Pacific, but not his restaurant in CityWalk. I was surprised that the sushi wasn't very good and especially when compared to the Orchid Court Sushi Bar that's upstairs in the lobby of the same hotel. I like the Orchid Court. It certainly isn't high-end sushi, but it's slightly better than average.

Overall, the entire Orlando area really doesn't offer much for people who really enjoy dining out. That's why I generally starve during my trips.

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