Some of my favorite memories from my Disney College Program actually happened while going out to eat with friends around the Walt Disney World Resort. I know some people tend to discourage going out to eat during the Disney College Program because you are obviously going to be on quite the budget, but if you are able to occasionally splurge on a Disney restaurant there are some experiences I would not pass up (and a few I would…but more on those later!)
A lot of College Program participants (CPs) work late nights and as a result spend a lot of time at off-property restaurants like IHOP and Steak & Shake after they get off shifts when the parks close. (During my program you could have added Wendy’s to that list, but that’s because I lived at Vista Way and we could walk there! I doubt today’s CPs are trekking over to Wendy’s from Flamingo Crossings.)
While the Wendy’s next to Vista doesn’t quite make this list, here are my recommendations for restaurants that are worth the time and money to add to your Disney College Program bucket list:
Beaches & Cream
Beaches & Cream makes this list for a couple of reasons, but first and foremost, the Kitchen Sink! According to Disney’s website, the Kitchen Sink serves four but even that can be a challenge. If you have up to five or six friends I think you’ll be set to finish it. It’s the restaurant’s largest sundae that includes scoops of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies ‘n cream, and mint chocolate chip ice cream topped off with hot fudge, peanut butter, Snickers pieces, brownie bites, and the rest of the available toppings plus a WHOLE CAN of whipped cream.
You can also order Chocolate Lovers or Neapolitan version of the Kitchen Sink (I would recommend the Chocolate Lovers, personally!) Even if you aren’t quite up for the Kitchen Sink, Beaches & Cream is one of my favorite ice cream shops at Walt Disney World and it really shouldn’t be missed. It’s also great for CPs because the menu is incredibly reasonably priced (at least by Disney standards) with all of the entrees under $18 and sundaes (excluding the Kitchen Sink) under $13. You can also basically order smaller (and often cheaper) versions of any sundae on the menu by asking for just one or two scoops and the appropriate toppings.
Beaches & Cream is a really fun experience where even if you do not order the Kitchen Sink, chances are someone in the restaurant will and you’ll be able to see the spectacle of it. And it’s easy on the CP budget, and who could complain about chili cheese tots, burgers, and ice cream?!
Whispering Canyon Cafe
My favorite memory at Whispering Canyon Cafe during my Disney College Program was eating there with my coworkers from New Zealand who worked with me in DinoLand U.S.A. Their program was ending sooner than mine was, and they wanted to try all things “American” before they went back home. Whispering Canyon certainly fit the bill, and we all had a great time during our lunch there after checking out the Christmas decorations in Animal Kingdom!
Whispering Canyon Cafe is a must-do for CPs for a number of reasons. If you are doing the Disney College Program, you probably have at least some interest in the history and design of the Walt Disney World Resort, and if that’s the case you need to see Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, where the restaurant is located, sometime anyway. It is one of the most underrated Disney resorts in terms of theming and decor and it is definitely worth seeing (especially when it’s decorated for the holidays.)
Then there’s the food and the antics. You need to order a skillet. There are other things on the menu, and if your budget is tight sharing some apps or an entree will certainly do, but the all-you-can eat skillets loaded with ribs, smoked sausage, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken, and more (or a surf/turf or vegan option if you prefer) are the way to go. The Cast Members here are also very in character with lots of entertainment added to the restaurant thanks to them, and I think that’s something fun to experience anyway but even more so if you are a Cast Member yourself!
Biergarten was never one of my family’s go-to restaurants when I visited Disney as a kid, so I was excited to try it during my Disney College Program! I didn’t grow up with a lot of German food (if any at all, actually) so trying different things at a buffet like this was a great way to experience it for the first time.
The real reason to come to Biergarten though is for the live music! The restaurant is themed to a traditional Oktoberfest celebration, and it’s really the closest you’ll get to the real deal without traveling to Germany. If you are 21, you can order liters of beer and really get into the entertainment that way, or try the Riesling flight if you are more into wine.
Biergarten is on the pricier end ($46 at the time of this post) so it is one of the splurge-worthy options on this list, but if you can make it happen it’s another fun restaurant to head to with friends during your CP. I especially enjoyed my visit to Biergarten during the holidays. We booked the Candlelight Processional dinner package at Biergarten (which also costs extra but is worth it if you want to make sure you have a seat for Candlelight Processional), so we got some extra Christmas magic by hearing the band perform traditional Christmas music and seeing the restaurant decorated for the season.
I went to ‘Ohana once during my Disney College Program, and it happened to be with my second set of roommates who I didn’t totally get along with. ‘Ohana was planned for a dinner for one of my roommate’s birthdays, and while there was some drama surrounding the rest of the day, everyone was in a much better mood during dinner and the food had to be at least partially to blame. (Maybe the alcohol was to blame, too.)
Lots of CPs eat at ‘Ohana for breakfast. While breakfast is a fun experience as it’s a character meal (in normal times, it’s currently on hiatus) I would recommend doing dinner instead if you are only going to make it there once. It is always a good time seeing the characters (which in the past have included the likes of Mickey and Stitch!) but the food at dinner is superior in my opinion. Breakfast is delicious, too, but it’s your standard Disney breakfast, served family style/all-you-care-to-enjoy with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, Mickey waffles…
Dinner includes salad, chicken wings potstickers, veggies, noodles, steak, chicken, and shrimp, plus ‘Ohana’s special bread pudding for dessert that alone is worth the visit. It is also all-you-care-to-enjoy, so you need to come hungry. If you time your dinner right, you may even be lucky enough to take in views of the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from the restaurant. And if your budget isn’t quite there for ‘Ohana, head to Tambu Lounge the bar next to the restaurant where you can order some of the appetizers and bread pudding from ‘Ohana without paying for the all-you-can-eat experience.
Be Our Guest
Oh Be Our Guest, I have a bone to pick with you…During my College Program, way back in the day, Be Our Guest was a regular, non-signature, table service restaurant. Now it has a pre-fixe menu. During my CP, I would have called dinner at Be Our Guest a good value because the quality of food felt like you were really out for a nice dinner like how a signature restaurant would feel at a slightly lower price tag, with no dress code, right in the Magic Kingdom. I do still think dinner at Be Our Guest is worth the price, but with the pre-fixe menu I have to admit it’s the first one I’d lose off this list if you’re going to miss one of these, and I would note that if you are vegetarian the pre-fixe cost is probably not worth it.
All of that being said, Be Our Guest is one of the most unique and immersive dining experiences at Walt Disney World. If the quick service breakfast and lunch options come back, I would still recommend dinner as those are way too pricey for quick service and dinner is worth the splurge. Be Our Guest really does transport you to scenes from Beauty and the Beast, and if the meet and greet experience with the Beast comes back that’s even more reason to go. (Currently the Beast makes an appearance but does not greet Guests individually.) Don’t forget to try the grey stuff- It’s delicious!
Grand Floridian Cafe
Grand Floridian Cafe is one of my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World. You can also go for lunch or dinner, but breakfast (read: brunch) is where it’s at. It feels fancy (I mean, obviously, it’s in the Grand Floridian) but it’s very reasonably priced for a Disney restaurant. The Cast Members are always super friendly, the breakfast drinks are *chef’s kiss* (I would recommend the Key West, it’s frozen blend of strawberries, orange juice and rum!)
Everything on the menu is delicious, but my favorite is the vanilla scented French Toast. You really can’t go wrong with anything at the Grand Floridian Cafe, though, and it’s the perfect place to start your day. I love having breakfast at the Grand Floridian Cafe before heading to the Magic Kingdom for the day, or rope dropping the park and hopping on the monorail for a late brunch.
Boma, Jiko, or Sanaa
Your pick really, I just need you to get over to Animal Kingdom Lodge. Like Wilderness Lodge, it’s a very underrated Disney hotel and if you’re a Disney nerd like me you’ll need to visit at least once. The restaurants here are also all top-notch, so you can’t wrong with whichever you choose (even the resort’s quick service location, The Mara, is delicious! And they have zebra domes…)
Boma is the resort’s buffet restaurant. Breakfast is the best bang for your buck, and it offers a nice mix of traditional American breakfast and African fare. Some dinner staples, like the carving station with various mustards and sauces, and zebra domes (boozy chocolate truffles) are also available at breakfast, so if you are on the fence or want to save some money, breakfast at Boma is a solid choice. Dinner is equally delicious with a larger variety of African cuisine, including a variety of soups and salads.
Jiko is a signature restaurant, so it will come at a higher price point but they have arguably the best filet mignon on property. The restaurant is beautifully designed with a colored wall that changes based on the sun setting, and some truly excellent service that you’d expect from a Disney signature restaurant. If you are celebrating something special, or looking to splurge on a date night, Jiko is the way to go.
Lastly, Sanaa is known for their bread service of naan bread served with a full set of dips and sauces. They are open for lunch and dinner and the restaurant offers views of the savanna, so it is a unique experience to have on your CP for sure!
Kona Cafe or Captain Cook’s
I LOVE dinner at Kona Cafe (so much so that I named one of my cats “Kona” after this restaurant…) but if you only make it here once during your Disney College Program, you need to come for breakfast and order the Tonga Toast. It’s located right on the second floor of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort near ‘Ohana, and it’s a more casual restaurant offering everything from traditional breakfast items to sushi, with specialty cocktails (I love the Backscratcher!) and Kona Coffee served in a French Press. Tonga Toast is cinnamon sugar covered French Toast stuffed with bananas and served with a sweet strawberry sauce. It is really more of a dessert than a breakfast, but it’s a staple at the Polynesian and something you need to try at least once.
Captain Cook’s is the resort’s quick service restaurant. It’s on this list because you can actually order Tonga Toast there, too. This restaurant is downstairs in a hallway off of the lobby and offers a mix of Polynesian menu items with your standard Disney quick service entrees, and if you come for breakfast you’ll be able to get Tonga Toast for less than what it costs upstairs.
It doesn’t get anymore classic than Chef Mickey’s! Even if you’ve never been to this restaurant, it’s sure to offer a healthy dose of nostalgia as you dine on breakfast, lunch or dinner with the Fab Five. It’s an upbeat character dining experience right in the center of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, so you’ll be able to see the monorails go by and take in Mary Blair’s breathtaking Pueblo Village mural while you eat.
Chef Mickey’s has typically been a buffet, offering the usual breakfast items plus an extensive assortment of pastries. Dinner has often been known as one of the restaurants at Walt Disney World where you are really paying for the experience and not the food, however– I dined at Chef Mickey’s recently while it was modified to a family-style restaurant, and the food was actually some of our favorites of the trip!
As a character meal, Chef Mickey’s can be rough on your wallet, so you may want to save this for a special occasion (I always think it makes a nice celebratory meal at the beginning or end of your program) or assuming Cast Member holiday discounts come back, save this one for when you can get some extra savings if it’s eligible.
Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater
I ate at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater A LOT during my Disney College Program. First, it’s “cheap” (again by Disney standards). A cheeseburger from Sci-Fi is really only a couple of dollars more than its quick service counterparts. Second, you can almost always get a table here, so if you’re stressed because you haven’t made any reservations but are looking for a sit-down meal, this is a solid choice.
But most importantly, the atmosphere here is so cool! The restaurant transports you to a vintage drive-in showing trailers for classic sci-fi movies. You even get to sit in classic cars while you eat! There are tons of Easter Eggs to pick apart in this restaurant, so if you’re a Disney nerd be sure to keep an eye out for them. (I also love their onion rings and milkshakes!)
Did I miss anything on this list? I’m going to make another list soon for quick service restaurants (because how could we exclude Cosmic Ray’s with my favorite alien, Sonny Eclipse!?) Let me know which restaurants are on your CP bucket list or which ones you remember loving during your program in the comments!