Help! A Walt Disney World Vet’s First Time at Disneyland – Part 3

| March 24, 2013 | 8 Replies

We’re almost to the 60-day mark on our countdown to our first Disneyland trip and Disney vets will know what that means – time to make dining reservations!  Since we know nothing about where and what to eat at the Disneyland resort, I turned to my panel of local experts and asked their opinions on one of everyone’s favorite topics:  FOOD!  Keep reading to find out what I learned this time!

Image: Plaza Inn, Disneyland Park

First, a quick recap.  I’m the Senior Editor on the DIS ( and am planning my family’s (my husband David and I, plus Jacob – 7, Jonah – 5, and Lydia – almost 2) first trip to Disneyland! We’re Walt Disney World experts, but are relying on the podcast team of the DIS Unplugged Disneyland edition to help us plan this trip.   Read my first two blogs here:  Planning the Southern California portion of our vacation and general questions about the Disneyland Resort.

One major difference between dining at Walt Disney World and dining at Disneyland is that you don’t have to do as much planning at Disneyland.  Disney World vets know that to secure reservations at certain popular restaurants, you have to be on the phone first thing in the morning, exactly 180 days before your trip, or you won’t even have a chance to dine at those locations.  My husband has a spreadsheet that he uses to keep track of dining reservations, so we know what the park hours are for each day of our trip and which park we should eat in based on those hours.  He has reminders set up in his email so he will know on which days he needs to call to book those reservations.  Now, I’m aware that some will think this is overboard, but for us, this is a fun part of our trip planning.


Image: Example of one of our spreadsheets

Because of our experience with Disney World, it’s really throwing us that not only can you not book Disneyland dining more than 60 days out, but that you rarely need to.  Any time a Disneyland regular hears about guests booking very far in advance, you can kind of see them start to chuckle.  The team said that for special dining, like character meals or a World of Color package, we should probably book a few weeks ahead, but other than that, it’s not really necessary.  Unless our family wants to break out in nervous hives, we’ll probably go ahead and book our meals as soon as we can.

The first topic we covered in this segment was character dining.  Our family almost always makes a trip to Chef Mickey’s while we’re at Disney World.  Not only has it become a bit of a tradition, but it’s also a great way to see the “Fab 5” characters all in one location.  I asked if there was a meal like this at Disneyland, but there really isn’t.  The closest you can come to dining with all those characters is “Breakfast with Minnie and Friends” at the Plaza Inn, which normally includes Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger.  Because of this, the restaurant’s location and the food quality, this was the breakfast of choice by the team.  However, they did say that we shouldn’t have a hard time meeting the characters out around the park if we choose not to do a character meal.  Everyone’s second choice for character meals was “Surf’s Up Breakfast with Mickey and Friends” at the PCH Grill.  My first instinct would be to do “Minnie and Friends,“ just because of the location.  This will have to be something David and I discuss, because our kids do love the character meal experience.  Making an early reservation is also a great way to get into the park before it becomes crowded and you can get some great photographs without all the people.

Image: “Surf’s Up Breakfast with Mickey and Friends”

Next, we discussed the Blue Bayou restaurant.  In DIS circles, this restaurant is generally looked down upon.  I’ve heard that it has a neat atmosphere, because it overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but that the food is not worth the price.  We’ve recently had some friends insist to us that we needed to eat there, so I asked the opinion of the podcast team, which turned out to be mostly negative as I expected.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Wayne has only had good experiences at the Blue Bayou, so I enjoyed getting to hear his “review” of the place.  He did point out that he would not recommend it for our family, as it tends to be dimly lit and a slowly-paced meal, probably not something our three kids would enjoy.  As such, I think we will pass on it this trip, but if my husband and I find ourselves at Disneyland by ourselves, we may give it a try so we can form our own opinions.

Image: Blue Bayou Restaurant

The discussion next turned to World of Color and the dining packages that will guarantee you a premium viewing location.  These are available at Wine Country Trattoria and Carthay Circle, or you can do a picnic lunch option for a slightly less “premium” location.  I had been leaning towards doing one of these packages, but after hearing everyone’s opinions, now I’m not sure.  Opinion seemed to be that the dining packages for lunch would be a better deal, but because of the timing of our trip, it may not be necessary to pay the extra money for a package.  We will already have the opportunity to get a Fastpass for the show, which would give us a better viewing location already.  Also, the restaurants offering the package are fancier and we may not want to attempt this with three small children.  We’ll have to do a little more research on the cost and decide if this is worth it for our family.

As I’ve talked about with attractions at the parks, I want to make sure that we try some of the snacks that are classically Disneyland and shouldn’t be missed.  One of these is the corn dogs, which are available at The Little Red Wagon in Disneyland Park and the Corn Dog Castle in Disney California Adventure.  I heard the fried chicken at The Plaza Inn mentioned several times, so that one may make the list as well.  If you have any other tips for classic Disneyland treats, please be sure to leave a comment!

Image: Little Red Wagon, Disneyland Park

Tom mentioned that at Disneyland, each restaurant tends to have a unique menu and we won’t find just the typical burger and fries everywhere we go.  One neat tip I learned is that there are a couple of areas where there is a centralized seating location and a few restaurants nearby, so we can look at it as a sort of food court where we’re able to find something different for everyone if needed.  Depending on the mood of everyone that day, this could be a great option.

We ended by talking about everyone’s favorite restaurant and what they would recommend at each park.  It’s always neat to hear from other people and why they like certain locations.  I know we’re definitely looking forward to trying the food at the Cozy Cones, Flo’s V8 Café and Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue.  If you have a favorite restaurant you think we should try, let me know, we’d love to hear your opinion!

Image: Flo’s V8 Cafe, Disney California Adventure

I’ll check back in after the next segment where we will discuss park touring and tips for Disney California Adventure.  You can listen to this dining planning segment on The DIS Unplugged: Disneyland Edition.

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Category: Dining, Disney World, Disney World Dining, Disneyland, Disneyland Dining

  • Nicole Puracchio

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one with a spreadsheet for meals and pop-up reminders on my calendar to book them 180 days out!!!

  • Kathryn Makl

    We enjoyed the food at Cafe Orleans – the Monte Crisco sandwich, pomme frites and Mickey beignets.

  • Jennifer Robey Martin

    Having just been to Disneyland last month, the food is fresh in my mind. Here are a few thoughts… We loved the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ – delicious food, good service and entertainment. Perfect with kids. Ours are 4 and 7. For lunch, we liked Cafe Orleans. Portions are huge there, FYI. Blue Bayou – the food is good, though a bit overpriced. Love the atmosphere, and the kids do well there with provided coloring activities. Jolly Holiday Cafe has good breakfasts, esp. their quiche. Stage Door Cafe has good corn dogs.

    At California Adventure, Flo’s has good breakfasts. The Paradise Garden Grill has lovely skewer meals over in the food court area you mentioned, and there is often live music. We really enjoy eating there. Pacific Wharf Cafe has good soup and the bread is delish! Wine Country Trattoria is good – a little overpriced on food, but an oasis of calm, which helps make up for the pricing. We love Carthay Circle – the food and service are amazing, the kids do well there, and we feel the World of Color package is worth it while eating there anyway (does not cost extra). Ariel’s Grotto is a fun place to go – breakfast is the best meal, we think. The food is better than lunch, and it feels like less of a time hit to the day.

    Iconic snacks – churros, esp. earlier in the day when they are fresher, and the smoked turkey legs!

    We put a lot of thought into our meal planning at DL as well as WDW, and it pays off, we feel. Have a great time – the DL parks are so much fun!

  • transmutejun3

    You MUST go to Pooh Corner (at the exit to the Winnie the Pooh Ride) and get a Tigger Tail. These treats are unique to this one location at Disneyland, and not available anywhere else in the world! They are to die for! Well, unless you don’t like the idea of marshmallows covered in caramel and then covered in chocolate. 😉

    Oh, and if you like the corn dogs, get a cheese version (no meat, just cheese inside) as well.

    Another vote for Cafe Orleans. We always have lunch there and love it!

    You didn’t mention Goofy’s Kitchen when talking about character meals. In my mind, this is the experience that is similar to Chef Mickey’s at WDW, and it’s right in your hotel (the DLH).

    I know you have 2 boys, but the Princess meal at Ariel’s is a wonderful character experience as well, if your DD is interested during a future (long time away) trip.

  • Jodi Pontius Strock

    I am definitely goint to make our restaurant resi’s 60 days in advance so that will be one less thing that I need to stress about or be disappointed over – it is the best part of planning!

  • Scott Sentinella

    Try the Monte Cristo at the Blue Bayou. It’s huge and very good; it is also extremely expensive, as is everything at the restaurant. That sandwich at that restaurant, with the Pirate boats going right through the building, is one of my cherished childhood memories of the park.

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