My wife and I were Annual Pass holders for several years, making multiple trips to Walt Disney World each year. In all that time, we never ate at any of what Disney calls its "Quick Service" eateries - essentially fast food restaurants. We used to stay in the Animal Kingdom Lodge resort, and typically had a large breakfast at Boma, skipped lunch, and had an early dinner at various nice "Table Service" restaurants in Epcot such as Le Cellier or Alfredo's. That plan made sense for two adults, but we didn't think it would work for two parents with a toddler, so we changed our strategy and embraced Quick Service Dining during this trip. In this post I will quickly review each of the Quick Service restaurants we tried.
Flame Tree Barbecue
The nicest thing I can say about Flame Tree Barbecue is that the Fruit Plate we ordered was surprisingly large. While it didn't include the "Honey Yogurt" mentioned on the menu for some reason, there was half of a huge orange, a large bunch of grapes, some pineapple, and some other melon. Given how expensive everything is at Disney, this was the only item I ordered at a Quick Service place that struck me as being worth the money. We also ordered the Pork Sandwich and the Onion Ring Basket. The fruit was good, and if I had it to do over again, I'd probably just order 2 or 3 plates of it for the three of us. The pork sandwich was mediocre, as were the onion rings.
The ordering experience at Flame Tree would be repeated at each of the Quick Service restaurants to varying degrees. I stood in a really long line to order food for which I paid too much money. I waited in line again for a really long time to have the food handed to me. Kinda like eating at an In-N-Out during the lunch rush, with much lower quality food.
The "dining experience" at Flame Tree was fairly pleasant because my wife had found us a table under one of the many pavilions that was located right next to a small body of water. Our son was out for his nap, so we shared the sandwich and onion rings and sampled the fruit while waiting for him to wake up. He liked the fruit and especially liked watching one of the white crane-like bird that wandered around the pavilion, begging for scraps.
The Lunching Pad
I'll be up-front - I was pre-disposed to not like the Lunching Pad because we ate dinner there on the night we attended Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, and by the time we ordered dinner we'd endured a solid three hours of rain.
We ordered a Kid's Hot Dog for our son and 2 Coney Island Dogs for ourselves. The line wasn't nearly as long this time as most of the day's crowd was gone and many party attenders were doing the smart thing and staying indoors wherever possible. One thing I did like about the kids meals at the Quick Service restaurants is that each one came with both carrots and grapes in an attempt to be somewhat well-rounded. Our son would eat nothing but grapes every day if we let him, so he was happy. I wasn't impressed with our chili dogs, seeing as how they were about the same quality as the ones you could get from Sonic for 1/3 the price, but they weren't terrible.
What was terrible was a Pumpkin Spice Bubble Tea that I ordered purely to be able to post a picture of it to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for one of my buddy's to see. It was extremely sweet, but the worst part was these strange gummy blobs in the bottle - the bubbles, I guess. Would definitely skip it if I had it to do over again.
Still, while the food was borderline and the tea terrible, the roof over our heads was nice to have, and the relatively calm break it gave us while waiting and hoping for the rain to subside was very much appreciated.
As you can see from this picture, neither my wife nor son let the rain dampen their spirits.
The best part about the Lunching Pad was that, after deciding to pack up and brave the rain again, the downpour began to lessen, and within just a short while, we were able to give our son one of the most memorable experiences of the trip for him - meeting Buzz Lightyear.
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe
We had lunch at Pecos Bill's Cafe after, you guessed it, waiting in a really long line. In fact, we waited in a long line to get into the building, then when I saw how long the line was to order food, I sent my wife and son off to secure a table for us. Probably a minor jerk move, but I wanted a shot at eating inside with some air conditioning if possible.
I was so hungry by the time I sat down with our food that I forgot to snap a picture of the entire order, but I did get a picture of the receipt, so I can report not only what we ordered, but what the total price was. We ordered a Kid's Turkey Sandwich with milk for our son, and both my wife and I ordered Angus Cheeseburgers - hers with fries and mine with corn on the cob. We also ordered an extra side of Corn on the Cob for our son, and I splurged and got one of our Diet Cokes in the Souvenir Boot Mug with a Mickey Straw. You can shake your head at how much that cost - I know I did.
It should come as no surprise that the food was mediocre. The cheeseburgers were what you might expect from the Shoney's buffet and the corn on the cob was about a third of an ear. I didn't try the fries. At least the drinks were cold. I will say the kid's turkey sandwich seemed OK, and our son was intrigued by the fish-shaped bread.
If I hadn't been so hot and tired, I might have found the energy to be more annoyed that the souvenir boot didn't even come close to matching the picture on the menu. On the menu it is clear, and while it looks like glass, I expected it to be plastic. As you can see from this picture, it's actually black. I've done some Googling and it looks like Disney actually did provide a clear boot at one point, but we ended up with this boring black one.
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe
We had dinner at Cosmic Ray's one night. One good thing was that, perhaps due to timing, we didn't have to wait in line to get into the building, just to order and wait for our food. Our wait was made a little less dreary by one of the Disney employees noticing my Green Lantern shirt. He commented that he didn't see many of those and I mused that it might be because Disney owns Marvel, not DC, and we both got a kick out of that. When he slid over the first tray of food, he asked if I needed anybody to help carry the second, and his manager noticed my wife and son standing off to the side, both in Green Lantern shirts as well, and laughed, "They've got the whole Green Lantern Core here, I think they'll be fine." The belly laugh I got from that almost made up for the food I was about to eat - almost.
We'd ordered cheeseburgers for lunch, so I thought i'd go for something different for dinner. My wife still ordered a Cheeseburger, but I went for the Deluxe Chili-Cheese Dog, and we ordered Chicken Nuggets for our son. Everything was terrible - all of it. I would have been dissatisfied with the food at Sonic Drive-in prices, much less Disney prices.
To add unintentional insult to injury, a well-meaning Disney employee stopped by our table and asked if he could take our tray away, as it looked like we had all of our food mostly eaten in its own containers on the table. What I didn't notice was that my son's bag of grapes was still on the tray, and since I was watching him and my wife dance down by Sonny Eclipse himself at the front of the restaurant, I told him sure. I felt a jerk when they returned to the table to find his grapes gone, but another Disney employee at the counter was nice enough to replace them when I asked.
Still, even though the food was terrible, it was an interesting experience, and certainly a fun one for our son. He was fascinated with the animatronic Sonny Eclipse playing his "cosmic piano" or whatever it was called. He even swayed and sang along with one of the songs during the meal, and as much as I shudder at the memory of eating the junk they served us there, I would do it again for just that moment.
Earl of Sandwich
Our final Quick Service Dining experience was at Downtown Disney. I'm guessing Earl of Sandwich counts, even though it's not in one of the theme parks. It certainly had the requisite long lines and high prices. I liked the food at Earl of Sandwich better than the rest of the Quick Service Dining places we tried combined.
I ordered the Avocado BLT. It was quite good, I have to admit. Maybe not as good as I would expect from a dedicated sandwich restaurant back home, but head and shoulders better than the crummy burgers and hot dogs at the other places. My wife and I traded pieces of each of our sandwiches, and she agreed mine was very good.
She ordered the Philly Cheesesteak. It was pretty good as well, although not as good as my BLT. We ordered a Kid's Turkey Sandwich for our son and he liked it quite a bit. I ordered a large side of Mac & Cheese for us to split. It was pretty good as well, and more than the three of us could finish after eating our sandwiches.
We were worried we'd have to sit outside at Earl of Sandwich, as it looked completely packed as we walked up. I'd even had my wife grab a table outside as I went inside to order, but as I paid for our food, I spotted a couple just standing up to leave at an inside table. I made a beeline for their table, walking right past a couple of people who looked like they might have wanted to sit there but were too unsure about moving in for the kill before the current occupants were gone. I felt a little bad for snatching the table away from the rookies, but hesitation isn't the way to win when dealing with crowds of this size.
Quick Service Dining - Not for Us
I doubt we'll eat at any of these places, or other Quick Service locations again. With the exception of Earl of Sandwich, the quality of the food was mediocre at best, and mostly not even that good. It's also not much less expensive than some of the Table Service restaurants we tried in the parks, and certainly as expensive as much nicer, better restaurants located off-property.
I don't know how old our son will need to be before we can make a big breakfast, no lunch, and early dinner work for him, but until that works, I think our plan will be to take some snacks of our own to the parks to eat during the day, and just avoid Quick Service Dining entirely.
My biggest problem with Quick Service Dining, in addition to paying way too much for poor quality food, is that it makes being at Disney seem like being at any other amusement park. I grew up going to Opryland and eating crummy hot dogs for lunch. I spent years going to Disney World and experiencing something more special, more (I hate to put it this way) magical. Breakfast at Boma, a day at Animal Kingdom or Epcot, and dinner at Le Cellier was more like a special date than a day at an amusement park. Maybe that was always an illusion, but Quick Service Dining shatters it pretty thoroughly.