How much do you eat when you visit a theme park? Obviously, something like the Food & Wine Festival is a special occasion, when the whole point of the event is to eat and drink. But what about on a "normal" theme park visit?
Even on those days, parks try to tempt you to indulge. Whether it's old favorites such as funnel cakes, churros, turkey legs, and hand-dipped corn dogs, or more unique theme park treats such as Dole Whip floats, Mickey bars, school bread, and Butterbeer, theme parks are trying to make eating as much a part of the experience of visiting as going on rides and seeing characters.
If you ever get the chance to walk the show floor at the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando (which we will be doing again this November), you find dozens of vendors offering samples of their new concoctions, trying to persuade buyers to sell these new twists on ice cream, fried potatoes, popcorn, pizzas, and sweets in their parks next season. On the other side of the market, many parks now offer one-price dining plans to consumers, which lock visitors into paying at least a certain amount for food during their visit. (Which, of course, leads those visitors to try to eat even more food, to get their money's worth.)
Not every visitor goes for this. At some regional parks, the selection of food looks no more appetizing than an overpriced mall food court. If you're visiting such a park, you might be tempted to just power through the day with little or nothing to eat, before feasting at an off-site restaurant or back at home. Time waiting for and eating food is time not waiting for or riding rides, after all.
At the world's most popular theme parks however, food becomes part of the theme experience. On a multi-day theme park vacation, eating meals in the park is inevitable, and all the multi-park resorts around the world cater to that, offering mid-range to high-end table-service restaurants that can make a theme park meal an even more unique experience than dining at the finest restaurants back home.
So which is it for you, when you visit a theme park? Do you splurge and chow down on everything you can? Or do you make trade-offs? Perhaps you go light on the meals to load up on the special snacks. Or you resist the in-between-meal temptations to indulge at themed or character meals. Maybe you just power through on less food to enjoy more time riding. Or, finally, you're one of those unshakable souls who keeps to your normal eating habits even when on vacation. If you're not consistent with any of these options, go with the one you end up doing most often on theme park trips.
What's the best thing you've ever eaten in a theme park? And what is the worst thing you've ever had the misfortune of trying to consume in a park? Tell us your answers in the comments!
I was honestly surprised by the price and taste of the food at Flo's V8 Cafe. Don't get me wrong, I love the food at Carthay, Storyteller's, and Napa Rose. But Flo's is relatively inexpensive for a theme park and you can actually get some veggies that aren't just a "garden salad" or some corn.
The worst? Oddly enough, about ten years ago, Blue Bayou at one instance felt like they were rushing my table of 12 even though we were all eating full meals and alcoholic beverages. It made no sense, and wasn't very Disney. I've been back since, and it has definitely returned to form, so maybe it was a one time instance.
Worst: Monte Cristo Sandwich at Disneyland's Cafe Orleans.
Worst: Tie between the cashew chicken at Sunshine Season in Epcot and the pot roast mac & cheese at the Friar's Nook in the Magic Kingdom.
With Disney, their selections are just amazing (as seen in that fun Disney Food blog) and a range for everyone.
Columbia Harbor House, Casey's Corner, Pecos Bill Café, Magic Kingdom
Sunshine Seasons at the Land has great breakfast choices after you do Soarin from cereal to bacon and eggs and more.
Backlot Express, Pizza Planet, Rosie's All-American Café, Studios
Resturantasourus, Animal Kingdom
'50's Prime Time
Land Garden Grill
Le Cellier (BEST steaks in Orlando, I swear)
Rose & Crown Pub
San Angel Inn
Tony's Town Square
All great dining places, great experience and mood, friendly service and enough to help you long as you enjoy your day.
With Universal, mostly the fast places although I like the Irish pub at the Studios and fair enough service there too.
Le Cellier has one of the absolute best steaks I've ever had. Enjoy the Japan pavilion as well and Tony's Town Square had great pizzas. Also have to throw it out to the Mickey bars, always fun to have.
Worst? Well, first time at the Mexico pavilion, had a bite of a taco and had to immediately drink an entire glass of water, they spiced that up big-time. Also, not that crazy about Nine Dragons, a bit too dry and upscale.
Dinner at Flying Fish (ok, that's technically not in a theme park).
So I'll add the time I had the perfect tuna sandwich at Columbia Harbor House, and I sat in the windows overlooking the walkway below. I might have simply been hungry, but it's a great meal memory.
The chocolate cookie sundae from the Farmer's Market in Disney's Hollywood Studios.
I was really looking forward to some ice cream on a hot day. The standard chocolate chip cookie at WDW is awful and ruined it for me. It's a large, tasteless circle--a bland monstrosity that's usually found cello wrapped in vending machines to be eaten late at night by college kids and famished office workers. Disney has great baked goods and knows how to do better. I was incredibly disappointed, and couldn't wait until I was hungry again to eat something good and take the memory away. Next time, I'll wait to get Ghiradelli, or stick to the Edy's ice cream by itself.
WORST (Runner Up):
When they were turning Main Street Bakery into Starbucks at Magic Kingdom, they were serving these really weird egg sandwiches at the Tomorrowland Terrace (or at least that's where I ate it). Between the halves of the giga-croissant was a pink, polka-dotted cheese-like ooze that could have passed for alien food in a sci-fi flick. It tasted vaguely of cheese and egg. Quite the frankenfood.
Disney World's frozen french fries. They aren't inedible or even terrible, they are simply sad and unsatisfying. I'm OK with frozen fries... McDonald's probably built their empire on the fries, not the burgers. But WDW's version looks hand cut, yet have a weird texture, strange mouth feel, and don't taste like much besides salted starch. I usually give up eating them, saving the empty calories that I could use for ice cream or something else instead.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Exactly what I was gonna say. I always get up for an early breakfast before park opening. After that, a thing of popcorn should last me until dinner, where I'll usually opt for the quick service place with a short line. Incidentally, the best theme park food I think I ever had were the duck wings at Disneyland last year. As for the worst, one burger for lunch at Burger Digs at IOA was enough to turn me off food the rest of the day.