If you live in Florida and you have kids, chances are good that you will find yourself answering the inevitable question: “Can we go to Disney World?” Those of us who are kids at heart will jump at the opportunity and wonder why we didn’t think to ask the question first. Others, who might not have the time or desire to go will be able to make excuses for a while, but at some point the pleas of youth will win out and you will find yourself planning a trip to Disney World.
Planning a trip to Disney World is not difficult. If you like, you can just go to the Disney World website, book a hotel and show up. You’ll never have to leave Disney property and to be honest, you’ll probably have a great time. When my kids were small, this is exactly what we did and we had an experience that we will never forget. Today, however, my kids are older (5 and 8) and it’s easier for us to visit the park over a series of weekends. Our trips vary a bit – we stay at different hotels and eat at different restaurants – but they generally follow the same basic pattern that we’ve tried to perfect over the years.
It all begins at 3:00 pm on Friday. The kids say goodbye to their friends from school and jump into the car. Everyone is excited and talking about their favorite rides and which park we should visit first. We pick up my wife and start our way up the turnpike towards Orlando. Our kids are seasoned travellers, they don’t mind being in the car, and are pretty good about listening to audiobooks or podcasts to pass the time. As we get close to Disney World we get an idea of how everyone feels and decide what we want to eat for dinner. Most of the time everyone is pretty tired so we pick up a pizza before heading over to the hotel to relax.
Our pizza of choice in Orlando is Flippers Pizzeria, a local chain that serves delicious brick-oven pizzas. I recommend their margherita or arugula and prosciutto pizzas, but the kids consistently go for the classic peperoni pizza. In addition to pizza, Flippers offers a fair selection of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. We usually end up adding a salad and order of Caprese di Arugula. For more information on Flippers Pizzeria including their full menu, locations, and delivery options, visit their website at http://flipperspizzeria.com.
If, on the other hand, we arrive and are feeling like getting out and having some fun, we usually head over to Disney Springs. It’s a great place to get out and walk and there are tons of restaurants. On Friday night it can get busy, so unless you have a reservation either plan on being turned away because there is no availability or waiting some time for a table. If you haven’t made a reservation don’t give up though, some of the more popular restaurants have take out windows with a limited version of the restaurant’s full menu. There is usually a small line, but you can usually get your food in just a few minutes. Try the windows at Frontera Cocina (serving Mexican food by James Beard award winner Rick Bayless) or Morimoto Asia (serving Pan-Asian food by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto).
After picking up a pizza or spending time at Disney Springs, we check into the hotel. We prefer to stay in one of the many apartment-style hotels offering separate bedrooms. On this trip we chose the Sheraton Vistana Resort on Vistana Centre Drive. Staying at the Vistana is like staying in a nice condo. When you walk in you feel like you are at home rather than a cramped hotel room. Each unit has a full kitchen, a large dining table, and a comfortable living area. You can relax here. When it’s time for bed the kids settle down in their own room, we close the door, and open a bottle of wine. It makes for a much more enjoyable evening than sitting in a darkened room waiting for the kids to go to bed, which is what we typically have to do when we stay in the efficiency-style rooms typical of most Disney resorts.
Saturday morning the kids are up bright and early. We typically leave the hotel by 8:00 am and drive to one of Orlando’s many great breakfast joints. Our main consideration is finding something that we cannot find in Miami. On this trip we start out at Holler and Dash in Celebration, which bills itself as “Your local biscuit house.” It’s a small chain with seven locations ranging from Nashville in the north to Celebration in the south. You might wonder how anyone could just have biscuits for breakfast, but once your meal arrives, you’ll wonder how you are ever going to finish all of that mouth-watering food.
My favorite is the Andouille Hustle. It starts out with a buttery biscuit, halved and covered with a layer of Andouille sausage, cheddar cheese, and house-made sausage gravy. They top it off with green onions for a nice crisp hint of freshness. If you don’t want something so heavy, try the Chicken Holler – a biscuit topped with fried chicken covered in your choice of hot sauce – or the Jam – a biscuit with Nutella and raspberry jam. Our kids like the Strawberry and Dash – a biscuit smothered in whipped Creole cream cheese, strawberries, and whipped cream. If that sounds like just too much, you can always try their beignets, which are reminiscent of a nice morning in New Orleans.
For an entirely different experience altogether, you might try heading over to First Watch on Sand Lake Road. While we are seeing a lot more First Watch locations popping up here in the southeast, it is a great restaurant to try for a fresh, seasonal menu. Try their Avocado Toast or their Matcha Latte Pancakes. *
* A note on the elephant in the room. For better or worse, Orlando is a town whose chain restaurants are integrated into the city’s food culture. It has been used as a test market for chains for decades (the Olive Garden started here) and continues to see new restaurants pop-up all over town. Because of this, I’ve chosen to include a few small local/regional chains in this article. The goal was to showcase something new that may not be accessible to people outside of Orlando.
After breakfast it is off to the park for a few hours. As I said before, there are a million ways to experience Disney World, and you should have fun exploring on your own. Just a small hint from our experience though: be sure to fully utilize the Disney’s Fast Pass. If you schedule your three favorite rides an hour apart starting around 9:00 am, you can maximize your fun and fit in 6 or 7 rides before lunch (the three fast pass rides and one or two others in between).
After a few hours at the park, we are in need of a little break and something to eat. While there are some good restaurants in the parks themselves, most of these cater to someone who is on the run and not very discerning. A great alternative is to head over to Disney Springs, which has a wide range of restaurants to fit just about anyone’s taste. This trip we chose to eat at Morimoto Asia. While most of us can picture Iron Chef Morimoto slicing into a huge monkfish on the TV, we don’t think about the more basic dishes that he has spent a career perfecting.
We like to start with the Kakuni Pork Bao and Shishito Peppers. While the kids head straight to the sushi (with an accompanying boba tea), I prefer the rich flavor of the Tonkotsu Ramen. What you should not miss though, are the Morimoto Spare Ribs, which are available in either an appetizer or entre portion. The ribs are unlike any ribs I have ever eaten, being both sweet and crunchy and having a flavor that makes it nearly impossible to stop eating. If you are in a hurry, stop by the restaurant’s to go window and pick up a portion of ribs to eat outside. There is really no good reason to miss them.
Following lunch we head back to the parks where we make an effort to be more leisurely. We spend a few hours walking and riding the rides before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. On Saturday nights we like to eat at one of the nicer Disney World restaurants. If you haven’t reserved a table in advanced, try checking the My Disney Experience app to see if there are any restaurants with availability, usually one or two will have something pop up. On this trip we decided on Disney’s Flying Fish Café. The restaurant recently underwent a renovation and looks beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to go on a date, but also is accommodating to children. The food is delicious as well, which makes for a wonderful dining experience. We usually start with the cheese plate and a soup. Tonight we chose the scallops and muscles as our entrées and finished with the panna cotta and coffee.
After dinner, we took advantage of the Flying Fish Café’s location and walked over to Epcot. We had a nice stroll around the lagoon before ending our day with Epcot’s IllumiNations fireworks at 9:00 pm.
Sunday is our final day in Orlando, which means checking out of the hotel and heading home. Before we leave though, there is a lot of fun to be had. We start with breakfast outside the park. Today we head to Keke’s Breakfast Café, a small Orlando chain that is quickly gaining popularity and is now expanding beyond of the Orlando market. While the kids love the Florida Waffle – a waffle topped with fresh strawberries, banana, blueberries and powdered sugar – I prefer the Eggs Benedict. Whatever you choose, you will not leave Keke’s hungry – their portion sizes are quite generous.
After breakfast we head to the park for the last time. We usually plan on having a late lunch on Sunday, which gives us more time at the park. Be sure to plan your Fast Passes in advance to limit the time you wait in line.
After a long afternoon, when everyone starts to get hungry, it’s time to leave the park and get some food. We drive over to one of our favorite restaurants in Orlando, Bee Won Korean Cuisine on Dr. Phillips Boulevard. Bee Won is a family owned restaurant and really shows in the both the food and the service.
If you are unfamiliar with Korean barbeque, they are incredibly kind and helpful at explaining the menu and cooking methods. Our kids love to watch the meat cook on the tableside grills. We usually start with the pork dumplings and then move onto the barbequed beef short ribs and Dolsot Bibim Bap – a mixture of rice, beef, vegetables, and egg served in a hot stone pot. While the meal may seem meat heavy, it is complimented by grilled vegetable and a wide array of kim chi and other pickled vegetables.
After filling up on Korean food, there is no better way to say goodbye to Orlando than having a fresh cup of coffee at Le Café de Paris, which is only a few doors down from Been Won.
This small café was opened in 2007 by a transplanted French couple that wanted to bring a touch of France to the United States. Orlando is lucky that they chose to settle here as the café is the perfect place to sit and relax with a wonderful cup of coffee before heading back on the road.