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Where to eat: Lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios

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Published: October 12, 2013 at 9:19 PM

Where can you eat in a classic convertible, under a star-lit sky, and see classic clips of some of the cheesiest monster movies in Disney World? The Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios is such a place.

For our last two trips, we have had lunch there during our visits to Disney's Hollywood Studios. This was a first though for our sons. I don't know how many fellow Mysties (Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans) are TPI's, but if you are then you are well acquainted with the selection of monster/sci-fi clips that are prime for riffing and have been by Mike, Joel, and the bots. Seriously, check out old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. I digress. Back to Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater.

Once entering, you are directed by your carhop to your convertible (there are also picnic tables for those who would prefer a different seat). This is by far one of the best themed restaurants, in my opinion, on Disney property. The ceiling is a nighttime sky and every car has a perfect view of the movie screen. Even the old speakers that use to adorn drive-in theaters are right beside your vehicle. Many of the cars have seating for two in the front of the car, seating for two in the middle, and additional seating in the back. There are a few cars that have a table in the middle with seating available for everyone to see each other. Our boys sat in front of us and loved being the "drivers." While we were eating, we picked up a pair of hitchhikers, an additional couple, to our car.

Inside the restaurant

A continuous loop of previews, old food stand/snack commercials, and a couple of cartoons are projected on the movie screen. One drawback to this is, if you are the kind that believes in taking your time while eating at a sit-down restaurant then you will be subject to repeats. Chuck and I have debated on how this could be improved upon. Our sons wanted to actually see some of the movies that were previewed, Chuck and I would love to see MST3K shown in here, and I have begun to think that maybe with Star Wars belonging to the Disney family, how about showing one of those films? Timing it would be difficult with folks coming in at different times. I understand that the whole point is to get the customer back out to the park, but it would be a lot of fun to see a movie.

Previews

We had lunch reservations for 11am (opening time for the restaurant). We were seated right away. We had the deluxe dining plan this vacation, and as part of it we were able to order appetizers. Chuck went with the spinach artichoke dip while I tried the fried dill pickles. Our picky eaters, or children, decided to skip the appetizers. Chuck thought his dip was on the bland side. It was good, just not enough heat for him. The fried dill pickles came with a spicy ranch dip. They were crisp, tart, and were wonderful with the dipping sauce.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($8.49)

Fried Dill Pickles
Fried Dill Pickles ($8.49)

For our entrees, the boys ordered cheeseburgers and fries, Chuck chose the flame-broiled New York Strip Steak and I finally decided on the Build-Your-Own Angus Chuck Burger. The boys enjoyed their burgers and fries.

New York Strip Steak
Flame-broiled New York Strip Steak ($29.99)

Chuck's steak came with two fried onion rings and veggies. He ordered his steak medium rare and it was cooked as requested. He felt it was lacking in flavor. We have had steaks from different places in Disney World, and he believed that this did not match up to some of the others in taste. It was alright, just not as great as previous ones.

Build-Your-Own Angus Chuck Burger
Build-Your-Own Angus Chuck Burger, with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Swiss cheese ($15.99)

My burger was ordered well done with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Swiss cheese. It came as requested and was a great burger. Many times, I find when ordering a burger with bacon, that the bacon is too chewy almost rubbery. This bacon had a little more crispness so that when I bit into the burger, I did not pull all the bacon out in one bite. I went with the fries for my side item (not the healthiest choices, I know, but sometimes you just need a burger, fries, and fried pickles). While eating, our car hop was great with teasing our boys about their driving. She alerted us when we had obtained our hitchhikers and made sure all food allergies (mine) were taken care of.

For dessert, the boys ordered milkshakes. Sam ordered vanilla and loved it. Luke ordered chocolate. He didn't like his. This isn't really an accurate review for the chocolate shake, since we all tried it and it tasted like a chocolate shake should. Luke is our pickiest eater. If food looks the least different, then he has already decided before eating it that it is no good.

Hot Fudge Sundae
Hot Fudge Sundae ($7.99)

Chuck ordered the hot fudge sundae and I ordered the apple crumble. Chuck enjoyed the sundae more than his meal. My apple crumble came out piping hot with vanilla ice cream and little cinnamon pearls. It was soft in the middle with a crunchy crust surrounding it. It was delicious!

Apple Crumble
Apple Crumble ($7.99)

I have had the turtle cheesecake and the house-made Sci-Fi candy bar on previous visits which are both yummy, but I believe that the apple crumble knocks the other two out of the running. Definitely puts one in an autumn state of mind. After lunch we received our bill, or "speeding ticket." Our boys drove a little too crazy for the theater and we as their parents were forced to pay the price.

Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater is a unique dining experience. The ambience alone is good for a visit. It is just a fun place. The food is good, though not on the signature scale of other restaurants. It is easy to make reservations and/or walk-in.

Readers' Opinions

From Annette Forrest on October 12, 2013 at 11:56 PM
I just love and appreciate Amanda's columns. They are so charming. I hope she is compiling them into an eBook because I'd love to have them with me via Kindle in the parks. I love her photos and I love the way she describes the food and ambience.

This is another restaurant I'm going to have to try. The thing is, though, that the Disney dining plan intimidates me and I end up being too stressed out to make reservations 180 days in advance. I have some anxiety disorders and I am just not good at competitions like this, so I've never been to the SciFi Diner or the 50s Cafe because I had heard that you have to fight for reservations. The Dining Plan is so complicated to me that I prefer just paying cash or credit card in the parks and not having to worry about understanding the plan.

So, in DHS I've eaten in Brown Derby (since it was easy to get a same day reservation when I was in the park that time) and then the counter service places. Next time I am going to have to try SciFi since Amanda made it sound so great.

I would LOVE it if Amanda did a column on how to use the Dining Plan and make reservations without being stressed out and if she could explain how the Dining Plan works. Disney does a bad job at making this stuff understandable to people who are not very knowledgeable about the parks. I'm not the only one in my group of friends who is intimidated and scared off by all the rules and procedures for dining in the parks at Disney.

I wish someone like Amanda Jenkins would explain it in her careful, charming, plainspoken style. That's what's needed for my family, for sure.

From Mark Hollamon on October 13, 2013 at 4:11 AM
Nice report Amanda!

Based on our past couple experiences at Sci-Fi my review differs a little:

First, I think it is way overpriced even for Disney standards. The last time we ate there we ordered onion rings and received 5 rings in our order for something like $8-$9. We let our server know about it and he did get us another order on the house, but I let him know for the price being paid, that second order should be included with the first one to begin with. I wasn't a particularly good start to our visit.

We both find the burgers to be on the "meh" side. I have never been so bold as to order a $30 steak there and probably never will.

The desserts are unique. They rotate them on a fairly regular basis and we feel that and the ambience were the two best parts of the experience.

My wife and I as you did, felt the loop needs to be longer or possibly some new content. I like your idea of seeing more of the movies they preview, or possibly sharing more old movies of the early days of MK. Whatever the addition, it should be at least a 90-120 min loop so people can relax and not see reruns during dinner!

From James Koehl on October 13, 2013 at 4:26 AM
I see Sci-Fi as more of an entertainment experience than a place for really good food (although I have always been satisfied with what we got there). The atmosphere is tremendous fun, and I have never had a bad server there. I also agree that the loop needs to be longer- much longer, but perhaps that is to keep people from staying too long enjoying the experience. I feel the same way about the shows at 50's Prime Time. But I also agree- the prices are more than they should be for the food, but I guess you have to pay for the show also.
My gosh, Amanda, you write really well! I love your work!
From Eric Malone on October 13, 2013 at 5:23 AM
As someone who's been going to the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater since he was a kid, I fell in love with it pretty quickly. It's always a fun experience when I go, and the atmosphere is just amazing. I never went to a ton of drive-ins when I was a kid, but it reminds me of the times my parents took me when they did.

Having said that, you should've tried the cookies and cream/Oreo shakes they have there. They're just amazing. Always order at least one while I'm there, but then again, I always order the hamburger and fries, too.

From edwin roman on October 13, 2013 at 5:28 AM
We have eaten several times at the sci fi...Its not about the food at all as its just average to me. We love the cheesy movies and the feel of an old drive in. However, in the hot summer, those shakes are real, real good. At least when I ask for a burger, I get it medium rare. I think its a fun place to go and have a meal that is not pre prepared like other fast food places in the park. Go to that place for fun, not great food.
From Annette Forrest on October 13, 2013 at 10:08 AM
@Mark Holloman -- I think it's interesting to see different people's reactions to the prices of food in theme parks. I live in Illinois, about 40 minutes from Chicago. Prices here for a night out in any restaurant that's not a chain like Olive Garden or Friday's are pretty much the same as prices in theme park restaurants. In fact, $8-$9 for a basket of onion rings is pretty much what it would be even at Chili's or Friday's or whatever here. I don't know how much food is where you live but I wish you'd tell us. I'm curious to know.

Here, steaks are in the $25-$30 range, easily. A hamburger in most restaurants is $10 and above. My family doesn't eat out much because it's just not in our budget but last week I was in a little Greek diner with friends and I had a chicken shishkebob plate that was $16. If I made the same dish at home, it would have fed four people for that.

I took my kids to the Brookfield Zoo by us and the food prices there actually are higher than things I've seen in Magic Kingdom. And the quality of the zoo food is terrible. They have a barbeque place at the zoo that is like $15 for chicken and a few ribs and $4 for a basket of very tiny sweet potato fries. A refillable drink mug at the zoo costs $15.

Movie theater prices are even higher. We almost never buy snacks at a theater, but the last time my folks were in town they treated and it came out to like $40 to get snacks for all of us (drinks, some candies, popcorn, and nachos). That was on top of the tickets. My dad easily dropped close to $100 for that outing.

From Amanda Jenkins on October 13, 2013 at 11:41 AM
@Eric, I almost got the Oreo cookies and cream shake. With the guys ordering all the ice cream, I thought I would try something different, especially since they allowed me to taste theirs. I love cookies and cream ice cream and who doesn't love Oreos? I will definitely order one on our next visit. Thanks for the tip!
From Anon Mouse on October 13, 2013 at 2:19 PM
I eaten there more than 10 years ago. It was a fine experience, but expensive in the Disney way. The unfortunate thing is the video clips being played can get old fast and it really doesn't get better. The video loops every 45 minutes, which might seem to be based on table turnover, but not really. You can easily spend up to 90 minutes to be served and finish with your dinner. This is a long meal.

The food is good for what you're getting, but that's not why you're there. I don't recommend it for others. I won't be going back, so maybe that's why you can get reservations easily; however, on busy days, all restaurants are hard to get in so make reservations if you really want to go or be prepared to wait at least one hour.

From Russell Meyer on October 14, 2013 at 11:09 AM
I haven't personally eaten at the Sci-Fi Dine-In, but have not heard terribly good things about it. We did eat at Mama Melrose's next door, and the buffet was equal to our expectations and previous reviews. The prices do seem a bit expensive for a standard sit-down lunch. The prices are approaching "signature" dining levels, but the food and atmosphere are far from a "signature" experience. From my own personal experience, and the concessus reviews from around the industry, dining at Disney's Hollywood Studios is by far the worst of any theme park in Orlando.

BTW, I don't know about Amanda's experience with the DDP, especially since I believe she's a DVC member, which rarely includes any DDP promotions, but I have extensive experience with the DDP, and wrote a story about it a few years ago. The rules have changed a little bit since I wrote the piece (can't seem to find it right now on the archives), but the general rule is that the DDP is not worth it unless you're getting it as part of a promotion, and even then, you have to be meticulous in your planning and making ADRs far in advance to ensure seating at the most sought-after, best-DDP-value restaurants. We have gotten the DDP on four different occasions, but those were all during trips during the EPCOT F&W Festival, when using snack credits on kiosk itmes in EPCOT creates instant value for the DDP over using the credits for fruit, bottled drinks, or popcorn. Disney continues to clamp down on the rules, limiting flexibility and some of the "tricks" you used to be able to do to get more out of the DDP (like getting 2 bottled drinks with a breakfast credit along with using your refillable resort mug, but that was disontinued at least 2 years ago). The rules today are even different than the last time we got the DDP last fall, and they're always tweaking restaurant menus and categories to bring costs in line with what you would pay al a carte.

Disney's explanation of the DDP has gotten better over the years, and is pretty simple now that they've elminated many of the loopholes. The quick-serve DDP (offerred as part of the "free dining" promotion for guests booking in value resort) is pretty worthless these days since you only get 2 CS credits and 1 snack per person per day at a cost of @$35/day. That means you pretty much have to get some of the most expensive counter service meals in the parks just to break even. The standard DDP with 1 CS, 1 TS, and 1 snakc credit is a little better at @$50/day, but you've still got to work just to break even. All of the diing plans require you to stay on property, so you have to consider those costs as well, which is why it's typically only valuable during the times when they offer it free or when there are deep resort discounts.

From 174.239.33.13 on October 14, 2013 at 1:35 PM
This place is all about the atmosphere! If your a picky eater just go for the desert, because this is definitely a must see
From 70.226.131.4 on October 14, 2013 at 5:08 PM
I love Disneey and it's parks, but the food is really not very good and way overpriced. Some or the prices are border line ridicoulous and make what I pay for food at the airport look like a major bargain.
From Tad Daily on October 15, 2013 at 5:47 AM
If it's good enough for Mandy, it's good enough for me! Seriously -- Amanda, i always enjoy your reviews! I am a bit worried that this extremely positive experiance was more of a show for "someone in the media" that clearly was planned for you and not a typical experiance, but it is hard to argue with "new management" and at least the amount of time he spent talking to you on the phone. That is a positive note. For anyone with a previous bad experiance, now seems like the right time to give them a whirl again.

Amanda - keep up your great work and thanks! I look forward to everything you write - dining reviews, hotel, anything you write is worth reading...you don't send free stuff do you??? lol -- just kidding -- thanks for your reviews.

From Amanda Jenkins on October 15, 2013 at 9:20 AM
Thanks Tad :)

@Russell, I agree with you about the DDP. You have to really plan to get the most for your money. With my boys, the regular dining plan was just not enough food for their wants back in December. We ended up spending more money than was intended. That and along with making reservations at many places (especially character), was why we went with the Deluxe Dining Plan.

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