Top places to eat at Disney and Universal without a reservation

August 6, 2018, 1:00 PM · Whoops! Your Orlando theme park vacation is coming up and you forgot to make dining reservations for Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando theme parks. Or you tried to make dining reservations and couldn't get the tables and times you wanted. What can you do, without having to resort to walk-up burger counters for your vacation?

Not everyone plays the advance reservation game when planning a trip to Central Florida. Fortunately, Disney and Universal have so many dining options in their parks that anyone can enjoy well-themed, tasty food without having to call months in advance for an ADR or reservation. In fact, many of my favorite places to eat in the parks are either quick-service walk-up restaurants, or sit-down locations that rarely fill up, so they often have a table available with little or no wait.

A Twitter follower today asked for recommendations on places to eat at Disney and Universal where you could get the full park experience, but on a short-notice visit. Almost all of the high-demand restaurants, such as Be Our Guest, Cinderella's Royal Table, and Le Cellier Steakhouse, are long since booked by this point. But no worries. Based upon my personal preferences and our Theme Park Insider reader ratings, here are our picks for the top 10 themed restaurants in the Orlando theme parks where you don't need a reservation. (Restaurants with an asterisk* are table-service restaurants.)

Universal Studios Florida

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Epcot

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Which are your top, go-to, no-reservation-needed places to eat at your favorite theme parks?

Replies (9)

August 6, 2018 at 2:23 PM

When I think about "no-reservation" places, I would split them into two different categories - Counter Service restaurants (which never need a reservation anyway) and Table Service restaurants (that either are extremely efficient at turning over tables or are too expensive or not popular enough to be booked months in advance).

Counter Service

EPCOT - La Cantaina De San Angel - This is on the lagoon side across from the Mexico pavilion and serves authentic Mexican street tacos. They're a little on the pricey side and the lines can get a little long, but this counter service restaurant is probably my favorite in all of EPCOT, and it has a nice seating area.

DHS - Nowhere - While I haven't eaten at Woody's Lunchbox yet, I've read horror stories about the crowds and mediocre food coming out of the kitchen on busy days. It sounds like not much has changed at DHS for guests wanting a quick bite to eat at DHS, which has been a food wasteland for decades. The Baseline Taphouse is decent if you'd like a drink and a pub-style appetizer, but it's nothing special. Bring in your lunch and plan on having dinner elsewhere.

MK - Pecos Bill's used to be our go-to place, but since they've reduced and limited the toppings bar, it's not worth it, especially since it's at the dead end between Adventureland and Frontierland. Columbia Harbor House would probably take my #1 spot now unless you can get lucky enough to be on a slow enough day to find a walk-up spot at Be Our Guest.

DAK - Flame Tree used to be our #1 because of the value and overall quality. Plus the seating area is very nice (prior to Pandora, all DAK counter service seating was outside, but Flame Tree has nice nooks and crannies that felt less stifling than Yak and Yeti and others). However, after trying Satu'li Canteen on our last visit, that has easily vaulted into the #1 spot. Not only is the food very good with big enough portions to share, creating a good value, but the seating is inside with custom label beer, something that Disney is obviously discovering from Universal's model.

Disney Springs - If you don't mind taking some time out of your day, there are actually some great counter service options in Disney Springs as well. I really like the counter service at Raglan Road as well as Wolfgang Puck's Express. What's even better is those 2 restaurants give you the biggest bang for your buck on the DDP.

Universal - For us, the Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron are interchangeable in terms of counter service value and quality. The counter service options in the Springfield food court are decent, but the Bubblebeeman's Taco Truck outside is probably the best (paired with a Duff from Duff Gardens next door). The rest of the counter service options at Universal are meh, but we tried the Hot Dog Hall of Fame at CityWalk on our last visit, and were pleasantly surprised by the quality and value there if you don't mind walking out of the parks for a counter service meal.

Table Service

WDW - So many WDW table service restaurants require securing ADRs months in advance, even if you want to eat at off-peak times. However, I've found that you can get a table at Akershus outside of peak meal times on short notice (day prior or even day-of). Akershus is a character meal featuring the Disney princesses (not Anna or Elsa though) with a hybrid buffet/pre-fixe menu that offers probably the best value for any character meal. It's Cinderella's Royal Table for guests that didn't realize you had to reserve your meal in the castle 190 days in advance with better food and character interaction.

I'd probably second the Restaurant Marrakesh suggestion in that meals are also accompanied by entertainment. I've also heard (but not personally tried) that Spice Road Table can be walk-up on slower days with a more accessible Mediterranean Menu for pickier palates.

Both MK and DHS don't have restaurants that you can walk up to and have a decent table service meal. The MK restaurants that don't require ADRs are available for a reason, and the only DHS restaurant you can walk up to without an ADR (Brown Derby) is obscenely expensive. I would agree with Robert regarding Tiffins, but I'm not sure how easy it is to walk up without a reservation. Our last visit saw a line of more than 30 guests in the lobby and bar waiting for tables when we walked in for our 4:30 reservation (outside of prime dinner time, but necessary due to our ROL package). There were even more guests lined up when we left @6 PM.

The real table service values at WDW are at the resort hotels. Most of the table service meals will require you to cobble out 2+ hours out of your theme park day because of travel (and perhaps more if you feel the need to shower and change), but there are a number of great places that you can walk up to and be seated immediately without an ADR: Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge, Citrico's at the Grand Floridian, Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Flying Fish at the Boardwalk are some of the best restaurants in all of WDW, but guests can usually walk up or secure a preferred time ADR day of.

Universal - Mythos, need I say more. I would say that it's nice to make a reservation when you walk past in the morning (or through Open Table early in the day) so you don't have to wait in line behind other guests that have the same idea as you, but there's rarely more than a 30 minute wait even on the busiest of days, and the food is some of the best at any in-park table service restaurants. There's no reason to explore any other table service restaurants, because Mythos is the BEST. I would say that if you're going to HHN, Finnegan's is a good place to have a meal between your regular park day and the start of HHN (it also puts you in a great spot strategically to get a jump on the houses), but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for any other reason. The table service restaurants at CityWalk are fine, but nothing that would trump Mythos.

August 6, 2018 at 7:18 PM

I "third" the recommendation for Mythos at Universal, though I would recommend showing up right when it opens, or eating at an off hour (after 2:00 p.m.) if you don't want to wait a little or bother making reservations in the morning.

I would also recommend any of the table service restaurants at Universal -- Confiscos in IOA and Finnegan's and Lombard's in USF. They may not be knock-your-socks-off good, but they're dependable, relaxing and don't require 6 months of pre-planning to eat at them. Though, again, showing up early or at odd hours helps to guarantee no wait.

I enjoy Finnegan's at anytime, but Russell is definitely right about its special appeal during HHN. It's a great place to relax and recharge before hitting more houses.

August 7, 2018 at 7:12 AM

Satu'li is definitely a great option - it's so good to have a place where healthy food is the highlight, rather than just a concession thrown in below the burgers. My favourite place to eat in AK however is still Nomad. It often gets overlooked as it's more of a bar than anything else, but the food is great - the ribs in particular are divine - for a light meal. And the veranda view is gorgeous, particularly at sunset.

DHS lack of options isn't much of a problem while it's still only a half day park. But if Galaxy's Edge doesn't offer at least a Satu'li Canteen standard place, that's gonna be depressing.

I agree with Russell about the demise of the toppings bar at Pecos Bill's. The chicken waffles at Sleepy Hollow have become my new favourite quick and spontaneous meal at MK.

When I visited Spice Road on a slow day last September, there were free tables up until about 20 mins before Illuminations. I imagine sitting inside - with huge windows looking over the lagoon - would be a great way to escape the midday heat. The food is a bit pricey, but very good.

I'll echo the chorus of praise for Mythos - but for something quicker, the quick service gyros joint opposite is surprisingly good.

As for HHN holding blocks, my personal favourite is grabbing a Lard Lad donut and chilling in the Duff bar. But the atmosphere (and buzz of the anticipation) is on point anywhere except the Hello Kitty pen, so you can't really go wrong there.

August 7, 2018 at 8:10 AM

"The chicken waffles at Sleepy Hollow have become my new favourite quick and spontaneous meal at MK."

I was going to mention that, and then thought back and realized that it's really not a great option unless you're lucky enough to stumble upon it with no line. Our experience has been that Sleepy Hollow is one of the slowest moving counter service location in ANY theme park (Six Flags included). The food is great, but you really need to bring your patience. A line that looks to be just 4 or 5 people long can take up to 20 minutes to place and receive even the simplest orders. At least the area where the line forms is typically shady in the afternoon, but it can be a bit of a mess since there's not actually enough room for a line more than a handful of people long to form without blocking paths.

August 7, 2018 at 9:20 AM

I would also recommend CowFish in CitiWalk- just outside the park but still pretty close. Odd combination in sushi and burgers but the place is bigger than it looks. Even just after the park closes at Universal- you can usually get a seat at the upper level bar for a really good meal.

August 7, 2018 at 10:57 AM

On the Universal Side: Mythos (one more on that one), Broomstick/Cauldron (love the atmosphere but not a lot of choices) and I also like Confiscos for quick service but not quite the same atmosphere as they used to have.

I would also suggest CowFish at CitiWalk. Just outside of Universal but great sushi/burgers. I know it is an odd combination but stay with it as it is worth it. The building is bigger than it looks with multiple bars/entrances so even right after the park closes you can usually find a spot open in one of the bars upstairs and get meal service from there. Fun environment and a different/tasty food style.

August 7, 2018 at 11:13 AM

All of these are outdoor dining, with adult beverages.
In no particular order.
Woodys Lunchbox - DHStudios
Brown Derby Lounge - DHStudios
Trader Sam's Tiki Terrace - Polynesian
La Cantina de San Angel - Epcot
- fred

August 7, 2018 at 11:32 AM

Good to see Columbia House mentioned, enjoyed it a lot last time I was there.

For the Studios, Pizza Planet was always a go-to eating spot, haven't been there since the makeover but just fun to enjoy.

Just interesting as when on my own, prefer a fast place but my family and I know it's fun to have a larger sit-down place to handle.

August 7, 2018 at 2:12 PM

I remember that on our last visit to Disneyland Paris we stumbled across this supposed "Mexican" restaurant. We were surprised (and not in a good way) that they didn´t have corn tortillas.

Flour? Come on. Is it a French revenge because of Cinco de Mayo or somethin´?

Most unauthentic Mexican restaurant we´ve ever been to.

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