Food, glorious food! In this segment of our Disneyland 101 series, we cover some of the many dining options around the Disneyland Resort. There are a wide variety of dining choices, and that’s a good thing because almost everyone has a different way of approaching food and dining at the parks. But I don’t want to cover specific restaurant reviews, or go over the menus of each location. Instead, I want to cover information not only for the annual passport veterans (who know every restaurant and snack kiosk), but also to those travelers who have never been to Disneyland or don’t go that often and especially to those who frequent Walt Disney World where dining almost requires a whole plan in itself.
You can also listen to the full “Disneyland 101 – Dining Strategies” segment on our recent episode of the DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition.
There are a few basic strategies for planning your dining at the Disneyland Resort. You can:
- Plan every detail throughout the day.
- Plan only one thing a day and “wing it” the rest of the time.
- Not plan anything at all and take dining as it comes up.
It really depends on how you tour the parks and how involved you wish to be in dining planning. Believe it or not, all those basic strategies will work.
The friendly staff at the River Belle Terrace.
There are about 82 separate food establishments between Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the Disneyland Resort Hotels (not counting carts and walk-around vendors). That’s a lot of choices! So don’t worry about finding somewhere to dine, you just have to decide which ones!
Dining reservations at the Disneyland Resort are made by contacting Disney Dining. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. You can make Disneyland Dining reservations by:
- Going online to the Disneyland web site (http://disneyland.disney.go.com/dining/)
- Call 714-781-DINE (3463)
- Send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include:
o Name of restaurant
o Reservation date
o Time or meal period (breakfast, lunch or dinner)
o Total number of Guests in your party
o Your name and contact phone number
o Please do not provide any additional information, such as payment information
PLEASE NOTE: Most folks agree that you really don’t have to make dining reservations at all at the Disneyland Resort except for a few key locations (Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, Goofy’s Kitchen, Steakhouse 55). Disneyland isn’t like Disney World and at most dining locations you can just walk up and be seated fairly quickly. You will have a bit of a wait at Cafe Orleans and Big Thunder Ranch BBQ (depending on the time of day and day of the week), but in general most folks get along quite well without ever making an actual reservation.
Disneyland does offer the Disney Dining Plan for packages booked at the Disneyland Resort Hotels. Instead of paying for meals, you get vouchers for dining. There are even Character Dining options. Go online or check with your travel agent for the Disney Dining Plan.
Dining locations are categorized by how you order and the seating arrangements.
“Table Service” dining is traditional restaurant style sit down service. Examples are:
- Disneyland – Carnation Cafe, Cafe Orleans, Blue Bayou, Big Thunder Ranch BBQ
- Disney California Adventure – Ariel’s Grotto, Carthay Circle, Wine Country Trattoria
- Downtown Disney – Catal, House of Blues, Naples Ristorante, Rainforest, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, Tortilla Jo’s, ESPN
- Disneyland Resort Hotels – Goofy’s Kitchen, Steakhouse 55, Napa Rose, Trader Sam’s, Storytellers, PCH Grill
“Counter Service” dining is casual dining where you order your meal at a register, pick up your order at the window, and then select your own table. Examples are:
- Disneyland – Plaza Inn, River Belle Terrace, French Market, Hungry Bear, Rancho Del Zocalo, Village House, Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port
- Disney California Adventure – Fiddler Fifer and Practical Cafe, Taste Pilot’s Grill, Paradise Garden Grill, Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta, Flo’s V8 Cafe, Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, Lucky Fortune Cookery, Pacific Warf Cafe
- Downtown Disney – Earl of Sandwich, La Brea Bakery, walk-up at Tortilla Jo’s Taqueria and Napollini
- Disneyland Resort Hotels – Tangaroa Terrace, White Water Snacks
“Quick Service” dining is similar to fast food service. You place your order, pay and pick up your items at the same counter, and then select your own table. Examples are:
- Disneyland – Bengal BBQ, Golden Horseshoe, Harbor Galley, Coke Refreshment Corner, Stage Door Cafe, Troubadour Tavern, Little Red Wagon, Tomorrowland Terrace
- Disney California Adventure – Award Wieners, Cozy Cone Motel, Corn Dog Castle
- Downtown Disney – Jamba Juice, Wetzel’s Pretzels, Hagen Daz
- Disneyland Resort Hotels – Coffee House, Tangaroa Terrace (grab and go), White Water snacks (grab and go)
“Character Dining” is available at the following table service locations:
- Disneyland – Plaza Inn
- Disney California Adventure – Ariel’s Grotto
- Disneyland Resort Hotels – Goofy’s Kitchen, Storytellers, PCH Grill
As with most regular dining locations, the time of day is a consideration for crowd size. Traditional lunch and dinner times will be much more crowded at all the dining locations, resulting in longer lines and less available tables. If you have the option, consider having your meals at slightly off hours. For example, if you have a late lunch (2pm – 4pm), service is much faster with more available seating. The dining “rush hours” for breakfast are before 10am, lunch between 11am and 2pm, and dinner from 5pm to 7pm.
Also, after 9pm, dining options become limited especially inside the parks. Most table service locations will close and many counter service locations also close early. If you are planning to watch the Disneyland fireworks, Fantasmic, or World of Color, be sure to plan when you will have your dinner as after these shows you may only find snacks and some quick service. Downtown Disney and the Resort Hotels will have some restaurants open later.
Besides regular meals, there is a plethora of snacks and faster foods available at various locations all around the parks. Here is a partial list of some of the snacks you can find:
- Bakery items (pastries and muffins, cookies, brownies, caramel apples, fudge, candies, chocolate covered pretzels/cookies/nut clusters, fruit tarts, cake slices)
- Ice cream – parlor served (Gibson Girl, Ghirardelli) and snack carts (Mickey Bar, Toll House cookie)
- Popcorn, churros, cotton candy
- Hot Dogs / Corn Dogs (Little Red Wagon, Pluto’s House, Refreshment Corner, Corn Dog Castle)
- Skewers (Bengal BBQ)
- Pizza (Redd Rocket’s, Daisy’s Diner)
- Cozy Cone Motel (many cone-concoctions and treats)
- Turkey leg, chimichanga, corn on the cob
- Healthy: Fairfax Market, Filmore’s, Tropical Imports (Adventureland), Fruit stand (Main Street, Critter Country)
- Mickey beignets (Mint Julep Bar)
- Smoothies (DCA- Schmoozies)
- Funnel cakes (Stage Door Cafe)
- Mad T Party “adult snacks” – Croque-tini, Mad Hat-ito, Jabberwocky Juice, Cheshire Twist
- Dole Whip (Tiki Juice Bar)
Another consideration in determining where you’d like to dine is your touring plan and how dining fits into that. Are you after the “experience” of dining at a special location (almost like an attraction itself), or do you prefer to “grab and go” meals on the run between other activities? Both are fun and have their own advantages.
Meals can also be planned based on your entry time to the Resort. The early entry folks may prefer to have breakfast in the park, while late arrivers may grab breakfast outside the park and save a major meal for later in the day. Of course if you’re a “commando” (stay from opening until closing and hit as much as possible), you may find a mix of dining options to get you through the day.
So which dining strategy is best for you? Well, here are a few recommendations that you may find helpful.
“Typical theme park day”
- Quick breakfast (muffin, fruit at cart, “bring your own”), or
- Nice breakfast – River Belle (Mickey pancakes), La Brea Bakery, Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe
- Lunch – counter service. Rest your feet, don’t spend too much time (but get good food).
- Dinner on the go – quick service.
“Who has time for food?”
- Everything quick, meals are an afterthought.
- Snack carts, fruit stands, fast, fast food.
- Eat in car on the way in or before you leave your hotel, and after you leave the parks.
“Dining as the day”
- Every meal is an experience.
- Character dining, table service, afternoon cocktails at Downtown Disney or the Disneyland Resort Hotels.
- No emphasis on attractions. Good for night time fun (“Disney after dark”).
- Romantic day. No stress. Walk and spend time with each other. Talk and people watch.
- Easy entry (10am – 11am). Light breakfast (muffin or similar).
- Big lunch – table service, or sit down counter (Cafe Orleans, Big Thunder, Flo’s).
- Light dinner or snack (Little Red Wagon).
Well, as we have seen, there are dozens of dining choices around the Disneyland Resort and just as many ways to experience all those wonderful places. And whether you are a “rush and go” or a “sit and relax” diner, I promise that you will have a great experience and will never go hungry. That’ll do it for this Disneyland 101 segment, and now if you’ll pardon me, I think it’s time for a Dole Whip!