If you read my post about cruising, you know that I’m often not a fan of popularly-loved experiences and things. You can guess where I’m going with this… I’m not a fan of Disney World (never been to the Land but I’m sure I’d hate it too). Having grown up in Florida and now, living in Central Florida, I’m a minority among my friends for not having an Annual Pass. If we’re being quite honest, I’ve only been to Magic Kingdom twice… once when I was 7, and another time on my 19th birthday when Disney used to run their free-for-your-birthday deal. I’d be perfectly fine never going to the Mouse House again.
I do, however, love and “frequent” the Disney property signature dining restaurants. I say “frequent” because they aren’t exactly at a price point where you can have a date night once a month. But when it comes to celebrating a special family event, my parents usually pick a Disney Property restaurant and I’m rarely disappointed. Here are my thoughts on the three I’ve visited most recently:
Ravello is probably my favorite of the Disney resort restaurants I’ve been to, for two special reasons. First, it’s located within the Four Seasons on property… I arrived early and strolled through the gardens and fountains before dinner at sunset and it was absolutely magical (a grown up, non-mouse kind of magical). The location and grounds set the mood for a trendy dinner. The second reason is because my father is long-time friends (they call themselves “cousins,” which is a very Italian thing to do) with the Executive Chef. We’ve been visiting his restaurants for special occasions since I was in high school, when he led the kitchen at restaurant in Tampa. He is incredible when it comes to authentic, fresh Italian food, and is even formally trained in cooking for a special vegan diet (though the restaurant and his menu are not remotely vegan).
They have burrata cheese on the menu, which is a no-brainer. Like we do at Il Mullino, we also ordered the Squid Ink Tagliatelle to share (I really just love well-made squid-ink pasta, it tastes subtly briny) and I went for the veal (of course). The veal came with gnudi, a “pasta” that is basically just the filling of a ravioli without the dough surrounding it. It’s boiled and then seared off, so they’re the perfect clouds of cheesy goodness.
Il Mullino started off as my favorite Disney restaurant, but it has since been out-shined. Despite that bump in preference, it’s still dang good Italian food. I’ve been both times for big family celebrations, once with (older) children and once just adults. Both times, I ate extremely well. The second time, my veal was dry and overcooked.
Eat all of the eggplant that they give you at the start of the meal, and then ask for more. It’s amazing. You can order Prosecco by the glass, which I started off doing until my mom talked me into sharing a bottle with her. (You can imagine how my family dinners go…) My family stretches meals into marathons, lasting hours, and every single Disney Restaurant we’ve been to has not even hinted at us to hurry things along.
Stick with the pastas they make in-house (I don’t think all of their menu pastas are, but they have some) and it’s always a good idea to split a big antipasti for the table before you order. Since it’s served in the “traditional” Italian style, where it’s expected that you eat both a meat and a pasta, my family tends to order a meat entree and then split a pasta dish or two among the table so that everyone can get a couple of bites of pasta without it being too much food.
A tip for all the Disney Signature restaurants: it’s Disney, so of course all of the restaurants accommodate children. That being said, they are not all kid-centric. The Signature Dining restaurants are noticeably more upscale (although at Ravello I did see a child running around topless and barefoot which was just strange) so if you decide to take the whole family, make sure they all have appropriate clothing. I’ve been to some of the restaurants with children (older children, that tend to like “adult food”) and they liked it just as well. All of the Signature Dining restaurants are pricey, which is something to take into account when deciding if it will be date-night or family night. Every Disney restaurant can accommodate a variety of dietary needs and restrictions, too!
Jiko was incredible, and also happens to be the only non-Italian-influenced restaurant on my favorites list. We visited due to my sister (a long-time vegan) discovering the restaurant had a special vegan menu. While all the Disney restaurants accommodate dietary preferences, there’s a difference between accommodating and designing an entire menu. My family tried as much as possible (and a lot of good African wine) but the all-time favorites were the Grilled Wild Board Tenderloin appetizer, the Seswaa Beef Shortribs, and the crusted grouper.
The spices and flavors were unique but nothing was overwhelming like you might first expect from African food. Nothing was obscenely spicy, either (probably to cater to a wide audience) but the freshness of every ingredient and spice made it stellar. I’ve eaten Ethiopian food in DC (I know it’s not the same thing) and the spices were similar – nothing harsh that made me sweat, with slightly crisp vegetables and well-treated meats. If you want to branch out into high-end ethnic food, Jiko is a good place to do it. The tables are set among floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the tropical gardens at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Go forth and eat great food…