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FOOD AND DRINK

5 MIN

12 Reasons Food (and Drink) Lovers Should Visit Walt Disney World  

From lobster tails to cocktails, the culinary experience can be surprisingly sophisticated at Disney's Orlando-area parks and properties

If you think Disney is all about hot dogs on a stick and giant turkey legs (and Mickey Bars and Dole Whips and churros), think again. With more than 500 food and beverage locations, punctuated with James Beard Award winners and other accolades, today’s Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, could impress even the toughest critics. And we’re not just talking kids, here. The Disney foodscape (and boozescape) is primed for gourmands of all ages. We even found one restaurant where kids under 12 aren’t allowed.

Here are 12 things that might surprise you about edibles, potables and The Mouse. 

Disney Springs doubles as James Beardville

Disney Springs , a dining/shopping/entertainment complex (formerly known as “Downtown Disney”), boasts 56 dining options, including four led by James Beard-award winning chefs: Masaharu Morimoto (Morimoto Asia, the Iron Chef’s first pan-Asian restaurant, serves stellar sushi and signature Peking duck); Oprah’s former chef Art Smith (Homecomin’, a farm-to-table spot with down-home Southern specialties such as “church lady devilled eggs” and “Art’s famous fried chicken”); beloved Chicago chef Rick Bayless (Frontera Cocina, with tastes from across Mexico), and the ubiquitous Wolfgang Puck (Wolfgang Puck Grand Café, serving comfort foods like pizza, meatloaf, pasta and salad). 

Courtesy The Walt Disney Company

Morimoto Asia

The gelato in Disney Springs comes from the oldest gelateria in Florence

It also ranks as one of the best gelato spots in Florence – and Orlando. There will likely be a line at Vivoli il Gelato, but it’s worth the wait for a cup of pistachio, stracciatella and salted caramel.

Courtesy The Walt Disney Company

What flavour will you pick at Vivoli il Gelato?

There’s a booming adult beverage business

Wander into the dark cavern that is La Cava del Tequila at the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, and a world of top-shelf tequila awaits. Here, you can learn the difference between “reposado” and “anejo” (hint: it’s about the aging process) or just savour one of the inspired margaritas, flavored with beet, horchata or avocado. Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar at Epcot’s Italy Pavilion has a wine list 200 bottles strong, along with solid cocktails. 

Cocktails are surprisingly prevalent in the lands of Disney. At Kabuki Café in Epcot’s Japan Pavilion, you can slurp a “sake mist” – an icy adult concoction with sake and blood orange. Nomad Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom serves the “tempting tigress,” which incorporatesRussell's Reserve 10-year-old bourbon, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, tamarind syrup and lime juice.

Tamu Tamu Refreshments at Disney’s Animal Kingdom adds coconut rum to the Dole Whip, a pineapple soft serve dessert that’s a cult classic for Disney die-hards. Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort specializes in tiki classics (with souvenir glasses galore!).

Finally, if you find tropical drinks too sugary, STK at Disney Springs serves classics and creative cocktails that aren’t overly sweet.

Courtesy The Walt Disney Company

A manhattan at STK

And then there’s beer

You can sample beers from around the world in the different countries in Epcot World Showcase (La Fin du Monde in the Canada Pavilion, for example, and Kirin Ichiban in Japan). Or you can go for a Florida-born brew. Big River Grille & Brewing Works is a craft brewery on Disney’s BoardWalk in Epcot, churning out beers in a variety of styles. Crooked Can, a brewery in nearby Winter Garden, works on all kinds of tasty collaborations with area businesses, like a limited-edition Cherry Blossom Kolsch made specifically for Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs and Tri Wishes Grand Irish Red Ale, brewed exclusively forRaglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs. The beer recently took gold in the Scottish/Irish ale category at the Florida Best Beer Festival, held by the Florida Brewers Guild.

There’s a ride where you can actually see the fish and veggies you might be eating

In Living with the Land at Epcot, visitors board a boat that passes by greenhouses and farms that grow apples, lemons, pineapple and papaya; the fruit is destined to be dished out at Sunshine Seasons and Garden Grill restaurant. And there’s even an aquaponics garden and fish farm – Aquacell – where catfish, sturgeon and bass help balance out an ecosystem (and then show up as entrees on the menu at Coral Reef Restaurant). 

A new healthy-eating spot is set to open

In late May, Satu’li Canteen will open in Pandora  –  The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It promises to be a fast-casual spot serving wholesome bowls with grains, veggies and protein.

You’ll soon be able to order your food from anywhere

Also in May, a new mobile food-ordering service will launch on the My Disney Experience App. When that happens, families will be able to use their mobile devices to order and pay for food on-the-go, avoiding long lines and cash dealings. That translates to more time for Expedition Everest.  

An Epcot pizzeria is making some of the best pie in town

In the Italy Pavilion at Epcot World Showcase, not far from Doge’s Palace, is Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria, an Italian restaurant with an open kitchen. The wood-fire ovens crank out what some consider the best pizza in Orlando – to the tune of 1,000 bubbling pizzas per day. In all, across Disney World Resorts, there are 500 wines from 17 countries and myriad cocktail and slushy options.   

Courtesy The Walt Disney Company

Pizza at Via Napoli

There’s a kid-free fine-dining restaurant

At Victoria & Alberts at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the truffles come from Italy, the oysters come from the Florida coast and the little kids come from – wait, there aren’t any little kids. At this fine-dining destination, kids under 10 aren’t allowed. So adults can enjoy Champagne, caviar and the creations of Chef Scott Hunnel – a frequent James Beard nominee – in peace.

Disney World sells 51,000 pounds of lobster tails per year

It’s true.The numbers that show how much food is consumed at Walt Disney World Resort in a year are as amusing as the Country Bear Jamboree – and it’s not all corn dog nuggets (although there are 9.3 million of those). Some of it sounds fresher than you’d expect: 1.2 million whole apples and 660,000 pounds of slices; 480,000 pounds (217,000 kilograms) of cantaloupe; 4.85 million eggs; 2 million flatbreads; 2.9 million pounds of lettuce; 730,000 pounds (1.3 million kilos) of strawberries; 660,000 pieces of sushi at one restaurant – California Grill – alone. 

Courtesy Jimmy DeFlippo / The Walt Disney Company

California rolls at California Grill

Global inspiration isn’t limited to the country-themed pavilions in Epcot

A glimpse at the menu for Tiffins at Disney Animal Kingdom reveals a lot about the worldly, sophisticated cuisine you can get if you look beyond your grandfather’s Mickey-shaped pretzel. Inspired by Asia, Latin America and Africa, the menu includes highlights such as “sustainable fish causa” (with peruvian purple potato, aji amarillo vinaigrette, lime mayonnaise, cilantro and quail egg), grilled prawns (with tomatoes, roasted fennel, olives and sea urchin butter sauce) and lobster-popcorn Thai curry soup (with basil emulsion and popped sorghum).

Courtesy Scott Watt / The Walt Disney Company

Mom says we can have a Dole Whip if we finish our sophisticated global cuisine at Tiffins

Four months of foodie paradise at Epcot

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival runs from Aug. 31 to Nov. 13, filling the park with tasting booths spotlighting recipes from around the world, as well as beer and wine seminars, cooking demos, concerts, celeb chef appearance and more.

So you don’t have to maw a turkey leg – if you don’t want to.

Published Friday, March 31st 2017

Header image credit: Courtesy The Walt Disney Company

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