Last week, Matt asked whether theme or food is more important in a Disney dining experience. And it got me thinking . . . what are my favorite Disney dining memories, and how important was the food or the theme? What other factors played in as well?
So, with that backdrop, here are my happiest Disney dining experiences on earth, in no particular order, from many corners of the Disney globe, with food, theme, and "other" scored on a scale of 1-5 (5 best). I'll stick with the restaurants in the parks themselves, as the resort offerings are often in a different class (both in terms of food quality and price), and I judge them by slightly diferent standards. Plus, if I figured the resorts into the mix, I couldn't possibly narrow it down to just five!
Walt's American Restaurant, Disneyland Paris. The food was pretty good, especially given that we'd chosen to eat "American food" in Paris. We'd scored a table by the window, at the right time for the evening parade. Sadly, the parade was rained out, so all we could watch was the parade of tourists in hastily-purchased ponchos, heading for the front gates. But what made it special? Knowing that this was the only place on the entire planet that a Guest can sit in a restaurant on the second floor of Main Street, overlooking the crowds. No forced perspective here -- it's a full-fledged Main Street second floor.
The view from Walt's:
Pan-Galactic Pizza Port, Tokyo Disneyland. The food was lousy: Reheated industrial pizza is reheated industrial pizza, no matter how much pixie dust you sprinke on. The service was impeccable: When my then-5-year-old son dropped a cup of juice, a smiling Cast Member was upon us before I'd even managed to start cleaning up the spill; he brought us a replacement souvenir cup at our table, still grinning from ear-to-ear. The real attraction, though, was the audio-animatronic show, which kept my son happy, and required a repeat visit that evening. I do wish I'd tried at least one other restaurant during my visit to Tokyo Disneyland, but the memory of sitting quietly and watching the accessible-yet-bizzarre animatronic and video show won't ever leave me.
Not familiar with the Pizza Port? Check out this YouTube. I promise, it's weird.
French Market, Disneyland. Huh? It wasn't the food: Sure, the chicken fingers were fine, but whatver. It wasn't even the atmosphere: The fake French Quarter thing leaves me a little queasy sometimes, given my fondness for the *real* French Quarter. So why was this such a great meal? Because that morning I'd arrived at LAX for an early flight back to Boston, only to find that it was cancelled. They'd booked me for the next direct flight, a red-eye that wouldn't leave for another 12-hours. The voucher they gave me to compensate for the inconvenience was just enough for a round-trip shuttle to Disneyland and a one-day park ticket. The joy of sitting in the fake French Quarter, basking in the joy of a fake trip to Disneyland, was beyond compare. (I've got another similar memory, of a meal alone at the Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom, which was wonderful for almost exactly the same reasons.)
Le Cellier, Epcot. Hmm, which of the meals there can I pick? There have been so many great ones, how can I pick just one? So I've gotta mention two favorites: Dining with my BFF Lisa and my dear son during our Star Wars Weekends trip in 2008, and the "everything tastes better when Len's buying" meal during WDW Today Reunion 2009 (which also got me a whole new Canadian wardrobe). The food is excellent, on a par with one would expect from a steak house in this price range outside the parks. The atmosphere and theme are also great; the Canadian themeing is certainly subtle, but it's a relaxing respite from a busy park-touring day.
50's Prime Time Cafe, Disney's Hollywood Studios. My BFF was newly engaged and fighting off a horrible respiratory infection. We were both exhausted at the end of an amazing time at the WDW Today Reunion 2009. But we managed to drag ourselves out to the parks for one last meal before heading home, and grabbed lunch together at the Prime Time. The themeing at the Prime Time is spectacular, at a level with the Sci Fi Dine In, and Mom's Christmas tree in the living room just enhanced the already-excellent atmosphere. I had the pot roast, at my friend Danielle's recommendation, and it was in fact delicious and tender. And those s'mores? Perfectly toasted, easily shareable. Between the food, the atmosphere, and the company, the thing that could've made this any better would be if we hadn't been alternately falling asleep and coughing up a lung.
Runners-up: Crystal Palace, Magic Kingdom; Blue Bayou, Disneyland; Tangerine Cafe, Epcot; and yes, the Sci Fi Dine In that began this whole discussion. All these places have good food, great themeing, and special places in my heart from time spent there with family and friends.
So what do I notice about myself, looking back on these favorites and their ratings? Looks like theme is more important to me than food. I've been blessed to visit a number of top-notch restaurants outside of the Disney properties, so I always know there are plenty of places to get a good meal. But nobody does themeing like Disney does themeing. And in the final analysis, it's the people I dine with (or the precious time to myself) that really make the difference between a good meal, and a magical experience.