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Robert Niles
Editor

Where to eat? Lunch at the Columbia Harbour House at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Published: May 29, 2013 at 11:32 AM

The Columbia Harbour House at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom rejects the theme park standard menu of burgers and pizza in favor of amplifying the New England theme of its Liberty Square setting.

Disney's take on an old-fashioned New England seafood house, the Columbia Harbour House does offer more than its share of fried food -- including fish, shrimp and -- a nod to the landlubber theme park fans -- chicken. But it also serves some fresh-seafood options rarely found in the theme parks.

Menu

The Harbour House was my family's favorite place to eat in the Magic Kingdom when I was a child. Back then, the Harbour House served Monte Cristo sandwiches, which reminded us of the Blue Bayou back at Disneyland that we enjoyed so much when we lived in Southern California.

These days, the Monte Cristos are long gone. And I think that the last time I ate at the Harbour House, I was working in the Magic Kingdom and Disney was using the upstairs of the restaurant as a cast cafeteria while the regular employee dining area was being refurbished.

So I decided to make a long-overdue return to the Columbia Harbour House during the 24-hour Monstrous Summer party in the Magic Kingdom last Friday and try a seafood lunch.

Lobster roll and clam chowder
Lobster roll ($9.99) and clam chowder ($4.69).

Disney's lobster roll impresses with its size -- a thick, split New England-style roll stuffed with aggressively dressed lobster meat. It's more than you can wrap your mouth around. I ended up using a fork to pick off some of the lobster from the top until I could handle the rest of the sandwich.

The best lobster rolls I've ever enjoyed have been minimally dressed, with just enough mayonnaise to hold the meat together, and maybe a touch of celery salt to balance the mayo's richness. The Disney lobster roll practically swims in mayonnaise, though, with celery and lettuce added to the mix. Given the price ($9.99) and the size, I suppose you can't expect the roll to deliver that high a percentage of expensive lobster meat. Frankly, I was surprised to find as much lobster as I did in the roll.

But what bothered me was the bun. Disney's lobster roll bun is the right style -- a hot-dog-like bun split on both sides, but it's far too large and fluffy, and worse, not grilled or toasted.

Part of the appeal of the lobster roll is the contrast between the cold lobster meat and the warm buttery roll that encases it. But this is just a mass of untoasted white bread. The texture contrast and buttery accent are absent. At this point, we're talking more lobster salad sandwich than lobster roll.

Granted, I'll take that any day over a standard theme park burger, so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much.

The tastier choice on my lunch plate? The clam chowder ($4.69). Delivering a nice balance of mild clam flavor with a touch of a peppery kick, the chowder would have made a nice lunch on its own, if I hadn't been looking try as many choices as I could cram in my stomach for this review. The clam chowder didn't deliver the transcendent taste of the sea that the scallop chowder at Tokyo Disneyland did for me a year ago, but that was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten in a theme park. Credit Disney for offering soups in many of its parks -- and tasty ones, at that.

I wish I'd had room left to try the grilled salmon, too, but I will leave it to our readers to offer opinions on that dish, in the comments.

Replies (17)

Mark Hollamon

Published: May 29, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Robert you hit it right on the head with this post! I too, thought the roll was kind of a deal buster with the sandwich. I would have liked to have it toasted as well, but it was just a cold (seemed like a couple days old, but considering their volume it probably wasn't) bun with overly dressed lobster in it.

I did think it was a fair portion of lobster considering the price. Although it was not a terrible sandwich, it is one I will not order again.

Scott Marlow

Published: May 29, 2013 at 11:46 AM

Great article Robert, now I will have to get back down there as I'm craving it now! My favorite meal is the anchors aweigh (tuna salad) sandwich with the delicious Clam Chowder soup. Never had a bad meal the many times I've eaten there
Rob Pastor

Published: May 29, 2013 at 11:47 AM

The clam chowder is very good. This is our favorite over the counter restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. We've always had good meals there.. The portions are decent for the price, also. It's great to sit upstairs where it's relatively quiet & less crowded. Columbia Harbour House may be counter service but it has the ambiance of a sit down restaurant. It's actually a very attractive restaurant inside & out.
170.200.168.2

Published: May 29, 2013 at 11:51 AM

I love the tuna sandwich at Columbia Harbour House. Surprisingly tasty, a little heavy on the mayo but it's the right zip and tang. Especially if you grab a seat in the bridge across over the walkway.
Mark Fairleigh

Published: May 29, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Another aigh-aigh for the clam chowder. Had it as a late afternoon snack once and quite enjoyed it. Certainly held me over till dinner later that night. Since we're not big on table-service dining, CHH is a top choice for us every year.
Robert Niles
Editor

Published: May 29, 2013 at 12:11 PM

The exterior of the Harbour House is under refurbishment right now, so I missed the second-floor window view of the park that's normally one of the oft-missed delights at this particular restaurant.
Gabriel Schroll

Published: May 29, 2013 at 12:26 PM

I love Columbia Harbour House! I rarely eat at the Magic Kingdom outside of an orange or a soft pretzel with cheese sauce, but if I do, it's CHH 9 out of 10 times. I always get the Grilled Salmon. I love the side of couscous, and the salmon is usually really good. Sometimes it can be a little on the dried out side, but not always. Plus, the nice portion of broccoli, which if I recall, was always a little on the raw side. But for health reasons, I love the Grilled Salmon with an iced tea. And the prices are good for what you get at a theme park. Heck, the salmon, couscous, and broccoli would surely be $12.95 at Red Lobster at a minimum.

I've had the Lobster Roll as well, and agree that the bun could really use some improving. I don't expect it to be like the EPCOT Food & Wine Lobster Roll at the America pavilion, but they could surely toast and butter the bun. I don't see it causing a price increase or much delay at all in the delivery of the meal.

Russell Meyer
Writer

Published: May 29, 2013 at 12:40 PM

I think the solution to the lobster roll bun problem may be more complicated than some may understand. Chances are there's no actual grill on the back line in the restaurant, and obviously no bun toaster. A bun like the one used for the lobster roll would probably have to be toasted on a grill or in a custom-designed toaster (can't be toasted on a burger grill for allergies/pescetarians), which means a special piece of equipment for one dish---not likely to happen in the world of mass-appeal kitchens. Now, if the kitchen staff wanted to start toasting other buns or fresh-grilling the salmon, then they could warrant the need for a bread/fish grill/griddle on the line. It really comes down to a poor job of the chef designing the kitchen and menu around the equipment available to cook/prepare the dishes.

We ate here last fall, and the fish and chips is a really good value that offers a large enough portion to split between 2 adults.

However, my top CS restaurant in MK would still be Pecos Bills because of the fixin's bar.

24.218.30.249

Published: May 29, 2013 at 4:57 PM

I've had the tuna sandwich, which is pretty good for theme park food. I agree that the roll needs to be buttered and toasted with less mayo, but $9.99 for a lobster is a good deal. We just paid $22 for one last week in NE, but the roll was buttered and toasted.
Mike Gallagher

Published: May 29, 2013 at 5:50 PM

I remember having a terrific plate of fish and chips at what was then the only Florida Disney park, back in the early-mid 1970's. I'm pretty sure this was the place. Can anyone confirm if it was indeed around back then?
Manny Barron

Published: May 29, 2013 at 9:03 PM

The second floor seating in this restaurant is pretty neat and gives the most "relaxed atmosphere" of any Magic Kingdom quick service restaurant. Pecos Bill, Pinocchios Village Haus, and that big restaurant in Tomorrowland are all more hectic and loud.

Anthony Murphy
Writer

Published: May 29, 2013 at 9:48 PM

My favorite place at the Magic Kimgdom. I will also vouch foe the clam chowder. They have something good going on there!
Joshua Bixler

Published: May 30, 2013 at 6:28 AM

I'm in complete agreement with you about the sandwich. While the lobster roll price is better than expected, it definitely is no culinary masterpiece. This same sentiment applies to the clam chowder. All in all, it is still good food. The Columbia Harbour House is one of my favorite restaurants within Magic Kingdom. After spending all day speedily stuffing down burgers, fries, and Mickey Mouse ear ice cream bars, it is a welcome reprieve to sit back, relax, and delight in some better than lackluster seafood.
Brian Bauer

Published: May 30, 2013 at 6:28 AM

We always have a meal at CHH when visit the World. My wife enjoys the vegetarian chili and I love people watching from the 2nd floor windows.

They used to serve Monte Cristos? After having one at Blue Bayou a few years ago, I was disappointed to learn they didn't serve them at WDW. (Please correct me if I'm wrong)

69.130.139.16

Published: May 31, 2013 at 5:22 PM

We ate at Columbia Harbor House for lunch on a packed day last June. The food was good (better than your typical theme park food), but the upstairs dining area was an oasis from the heat and the madness outside (and even downstairs). It was amazing how very few people even knew you could sit upstairs (which was fine with me). We are returning to Disney in July, and we will definitely eat at CHH again on our visit to the Magic Kingdom.
24.57.244.173

Published: June 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Love this QS Restaurant. My son had the grilled salmon and loved it while i had the Fried shrimp platter. There were so many shrimps on my plate i couldnt even finish the meal!! This could easily be shared between 2 people. I highly recommend checking it out if youve never eaten there. We will eat there again.
128.184.184.36

Published: June 3, 2013 at 7:46 AM

The Lighthouse Sandwich is one of my favorite quick service meals on property! Super tasty and a great vegetarian option.

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