In my opinion, no Disney vacation is complete without at least one excellent meal. No matter if you’re spending one day in Magic Kingdom or 7-10 days hitting all the parks and Disney Springs I firmly believe a great meal can transform your vacation. It doesn’t have to be a table service buffet. A counter service location or even simply a special snack can create memories of a lifetime. However, the benefit of the meal isn’t necessarily about the food, but rather the experience that meal creates.
So many people in today’s society are so busy that they don’t always have time to sit down as a family or with friends and just enjoy each others company. You can share a piece of your day, or a concern in your life, but more that anything sitting down together gives you that opportunity to put away the technology and connect with the people you care about the most. To me, that’s one of the prime strengths of any Disney vacation. When you step into that “Disney Property Bubble” you can leave the requirements of the world behind for just a few minutes and simply enjoy the moment.
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To me, it doesn’t matter which of the hundreds of dining locations on property you choose to dine at, and it really doesn’t matter what type of meal it is. When you get that opportunity to sit with family around the table and just enjoy the moment and the excitement of your day, there’s truly nothing quite like it. It’s a simple joy that so often gets overlooked in the thrills of planning your vacation and one of the most exciting surprises that unfolds as you sit down for a meal at your desired location. I know that sounds trivial, but in the grand scheme of things the simple interactions we share with those we care the most about while on vacation are what we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. It’s the little things that you’ll remember after your vacation is completed. I’ve said it before, but no matter how great the attractions or dining locations are or even become in the future the true spirit of Disney is rooted in the memories you share with family.
So, today we’ve come up with a few great buffet style options for your Disney vacation and a few that have created those lasting experiences for us over the years. While not everything on this list will be a strict “buffet” by the true sense of the word, some of our top picks utilize an all you can eat family style meal that rivals the experience of a full fledge buffet with the added benefit of it being brought right to you.
1. Crystal Palace
I start with Crystal Palace for many reasons but one particular reason stands out well beyond the rest. On one of our most recent 7 day trips (see our 7 day itinerary if you’re looking to plan a similar vacation) to the parks, we actually ate here twice. The first time was through a typical reservation, but the second time we happened to score a last minute reservation as we scrolled through the My Disney Experience App (here’s how we go about last minute reservations). The second day was completely luck of the draw in a way, but we wouldn’t have even looked for it if it weren’t for the exemplary experience we had the previous day.
Now, I should preface this with the fact that we’ve been going to Crystal Palace for years and absolutely love it each and every time. The menu works for our tastes and while it rarely changes, I can’t complain because they’re not attempting to fix something that isn’t broken in the first place. With that being said, I have to share the story of chef Ron. On our first trip to the dining location during our stay, we happened to notice that the mini corndogs that used to be a part of the kids buffet (I’m not ashamed to eat something off of the kids buffet lol) were no longer a part of the typical offerings. So, in a joking manner a few of us in the group were talking about it and it caught the attention of a chef who promptly came over to us and asked, with a big grin on his face, if we wanted corndogs. Naturally, we said yes, and Ron disappeared casually for about 10 minutes. As we made our way back to the table and started eating our first plate of the meal, Ron pops up out of nowhere with a gigantic bowl of corndogs for the whole family and sets it down at our table. I was expecting maybe a small plate or something of the sort, but he arrived with a huge smile on his face with the bowl full of probably 40+ mini corndogs gently draped with a white cloth. We were blown away and completely shocked by the presentation.
For us, it wasn’t about the meal item (although the corndogs were hot and wonderful), but rather the fact that the chef went above and beyond to make a difference for our family that we never expected and he never had to go out of his way to create. Fast forward to the next day, for our second meal (at breakfast this time) and Ron happened to be around once again. He came over to us, struck up a brief conversation and managed to make our second experience just as welcoming as the first. That little story and many others just like it are the largest reason we will go back to Crystal Palace time and time again.
Much like Crystal Palace, Whispering Canyon has been apart of our vacations for years on end. The number of excellent interactions with cast members we’ve shared with family there could never be fully expressed in words. The cast honestly makes every necessary attempt to assure you not only enjoy your meal but also leave with a laugh and a smile on your face. The food is excellent, and the Canyon Skillet is a show stopping entree (served family style), but that’s not what sets this apart. Jethro and Sunshine, to simply name two particular cast members have personally made a difference in our vacations over the years along with many others.
I can particularly recall one meal where we weren’t having the best day for a variety of reasons. We were extremely exhausted and it was late in the week, and the mood of the day was quickly headed in the wrong direction until we arrived at Wilderness Lodge.
From the moment the meal started, Sunshine showed up at our table with a big smile and a friendly persona that brought a little bit of extra joy to our day and a needed energy to start the meal off right. As the dining process went on, she took a personal interest in our family’s story and not only where we were from but continued on to ask about what brought us to the parks and so much more. We even found out that we had a mutual friend that had worked with her at some point durning a college program before her time at Wilderness Lodge. Long story made short, it was an experience that created a unique memory and turned a simple situation into the highlight of a vacation. If you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll want to take a look at our Legendary Cast of the Disney Parks – “Sunshine” From Whispering Canyon post.
Jethro on the other hand has a different personality. He’s equally as invested in the guest experience but is one of the most humble individuals you’ll come across with one of the coveted blue name tags signifying the Disney Legacy Award. I see the particular award as one of the highest honors any cast member could ever receive. It not only is awarded by fellow cast and supervisors but also for keeping the Disney dream alive and honoring it. When talking with Jethro he’ll outright tell you “he’s just a cast member” or some similar rendition of the same phrase, but to many he’s an icon of a restaurant experience and one that I hope is still there today and will continue to be there for many years to come.
3. Chef Mickey’s
Moving back to a more traditional buffet, there’s very little that remains more iconic that this dining establishment. Located on the 4th floor, in the heart of the Gran Concourse, at the Contemporary resort, you can sit with family, watch the monorail pass over head or take in picturesque views of the surrounding Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon. The meal is quite pricey, but offers something for nearly any guest preferences. We’ve eaten here with friends with allergies (actually at each of the locations on this list) and never had any issue. Plus, it gives you a prime opportunity to take in the massive Mary Blair mural highlighting the Grand Concourse (don’t forget to look for the 5 legged goat!) The atmosphere is a unique piece of any Disney vacation and a magical destination for guests of all ages, but particularly children who get to interact and enjoy time with Mickey and friends in their chef attire.
I can’t really recall any particular cast member or memory to share from this place in particular, but the number of little memories are hard to gather into one small paragraph. Everything from birthdays to special character interactions have happened here and they are something we’ll never take for granted.
If you noticed a trend in this top buffet selection, it was actually quite intentional. You see, Disney dining for me isn’t about what you spend or how fancy the location may or may not be, but rather about the time shared with the people you care the most about and the interactions these places help create. You could go and dine in NYC at high end dining locations by the dozens, but the heart the cast members put into creating an experience that goes above and beyond is something that only Disney can fully bring to the table. It’s one of the many reasons we love the parks, but also one of the greatest factors in why we return time and time again.
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