Informal polls show most people either hate or love a traditional theme park food: turkey legs. But why settle for those giant legs when you can have a Big Mac and large fries?
If you go to one McDonald’s for your usual meal, there’s also waffles and brick oven pizzas on the menu.
But does anyone really go there for anything but a fast and hopefully cheap meal?
The real attraction here is the video games. At what has sometimes been called the world’s largest McDonald’s.
It’s the world’s largest entertainment McDonald’s. Recently re-opened near the theme parks.
Speaking of which…when you buy your Universal Studios Orlando tickets or Disney World tickets or any other theme park tickets, the food options these days are not what they used to be.
Disney tickets not what they used to be
In fact, it’s almost like going to McDonald’s…because while you go for the rides, and the entertainment (call it atmosphere), there’s also the food.
No longer an afterthought.
So today, let’s take a look at some different food choices for you when you’re either at the theme parks or within a short drive…or a short walk if you could really get there by foot.
By that, we mean what has happened to food at the theme parks. And where you can go for something not always so easily found.
If in the old days when carnival offered food highlights, that meant hot dogs and maybe cotton candy.
But whether it’s to your taste or not, food has become a part of the overall experience of going to the parks.
And actually, if you have given it any thought, the often unusual food offerings add to your enjoyment of the parks.
But we’re looking here at your own growing choices about what to eat…when you don’t want something routine.
Examples of creative food offerings are everywhere.
To cite just one example:
Last year Universal Orlando joined the trend of events built around eating, with a dinner featuring Halloween Horror Nights’ actors.
Food is far from scary
The most famous theme park food today is probably Disney turkey legs.
There's still plenty of basic food such as burgers and pizza to be found. But most would agree with one blogger.
“I love the parks but would hate to miss the food.”
In a way, this is as revolutionary as Donald Trump possibly being President of the United States.
This has had its own implications.
Many of us try to get more for our money by using theme parks' meal plans, the costs of which have regularly increased.
SeaWorld, which recently announced under pressure from animal activists that it was phasing out its killer whale shows, has turned to another attraction for visitors: its food.
It is reportedly placing emphasis on its festivals, many of which feature something to eat.
SeaWorld Orlando has started cooking barbecue in-house, which presumably will make it tastier.
It has also expanded the menu to include down-home delicacies such as a maple-bacon cupcakes and corn-chip chili pie.
"It's really taken it to a whole new level," said Cathy Valeriano, SeaWorld's vice president of culinary operations.
SeaWorld also introduced a New Year's Eve four-course dinner with champagne and dessert reception.
Universal also gets serious about food
At Universal Orlando, the opening of the first Harry Potter land in 2010 unleashed some serious food options.
News reports are that while planning Universal's Wizarding Worlds, senior vice president Ric Florell and his team referred to Potter books with notes on food and drink.
That research produced a clear winner: Butterbeer.
But perhaps you knew or suspected, the books did not really specify the flavor of Butterbeer.
So in typical theme park practice, imagination took over.
It took two years of trials, according to reports.
But they came up with a foamy concoction that tastes like cream soda and butterscotch.
Butterbeer now comes in several forms – even a fudge.
Universal's two Potter lands also feature British pub fare, oddly flavored ice creams, and Wizarding World beverages including Fishy Green Ale, a minty beverage with blueberry-style bubbles.
Grabbing an unusual bite to eat in these lands "completes the experience," Florell said. "It's the exclamation mark on the rest of your day."
When you get your ticket for Walt Disney World Resort, you find a choice of 475 restaurants, kiosks and other food outlets.
Walt Disney World Resort in particular has become known for satisfying your hunger.
Its food-and-wine festival at Epcot has grown to 62 days.
Hours of many Disney eateries have expanded too, with more serving breakfast.
Many events have dessert parties attached.
At or near theme parks, you can find food for anything from bowling to checking out oil paintings.
Which brings us to McDonald’s and why the one closest to Disney is different
Why this McDonald’s is different
There is a huge play area.
Also an open kitchen, where you can watch the cooks…if you want.
It’s open 24 hours a day.
You order by touch-screen kiosks.
If the food here is to your tastes, the video brightly lit video arcade games are even more popular.
There’s Flappy Birds, Candy Crush Sage and others. All inspired by modern smartphone apps.
Many are as new as you can find anywhere.
Did we mention prizes?
Tickets can be redeemed for trinkets.
If you have kids or want to act like them, arcade users can wander over to the multi-play area.
Slides, tunnels, stairs. All for all ages.
But not far away is a bowling alley. Actually, 30 of them.
But not exactly an old-fashioned version.
This is Splitsville at Disney.
You can get cheeseburgers and wings, but there’s also dishes not normally found in bowling alleys such as Fried Calamari, grilled avocado and ahi tuna, Asian shrimp bowls and Mahi Mahi with Voodoo Shrimp.
Even the pizza offerings are more than cheese and sausage.
But you also find some similarities: Bowling balls are nearby, and a server takes drink and food orders.
But this is again not like the old days.
Clock-watchers: pay attention.
Splitsville, unlike old-school bowling alleys, sells blocks of time on the lanes. You don't pay per game.
At night, there is a different atmosphere.
A DJ spins music. Five bars are often packed with people, standing room only (the kids are long gone).
Although some bowling balls have Mickey and Minnie etched into them, the decor isn't Mouse-infested. Disney images are interspersed with local landmarks.
Postcard-inspired murals depict Cinderella Castle but also the Lake Eola fountain in downtown Orlando.
Warning: prices are higher than you might normally expect.
Try $25 for some single gourmet food items. Drinks such as Mojitos are also pricy: $10-15 not uncommon.
But there are also regular “early bird” specials such as $10 for all-you-can bowl games for adults or $5 for kids (shoes included).
Characters found elsewhere
Sorry, but there are no costumed characters here.
Inside the Walt Disney World Resort, you can find those types of food with characters.
Chef Mickey’s Dinner. Includes a VIP limo ride.
Mickey and pals are on hand, of course. Goofy, Minnie, Pluto.
Family-friendly food of beef sirloin, roasted chicken and macaroni and cheese.
A Sundae Bar for dessert.
Not exactly McDonald’s prices: about $158 for two adults.
At Universal, new offerings are always underway. And it should be no surprise that they cater to chocolate lovers.
Toothsome Chocolate Factory is due to open later this year at Universal CityWalk.
Steak, seafood and pasta, and gourmet sandwiches.
Nothing unusual about that.
But specially designed for chocolate fans.
A listing of Toothsome Chocolate Factory's milkshakes includes Chocolate x5, Bacon Brittle, Espresso Buzzzz, Red Velvet and Key Lime Pie.
If it’s more characters you want, everyone knows about the popular meals with them.
But Disney’s Club Villain is another newer and more unusual choice.
It was so popular that reservations were recently extended through May. The reservations are for shows on the most popular day of the week, Saturdays at 5:45pm and 9pm during the months of April and May.
Separate admission to Hollywood Studios is required and not included in the price of the Disney Orlando tickets.
The price is a hefty $129 per person.
But the show at Hollywood Studios is hosted by none other than Dr. Facillier with appearances by the Evil Queen, Cruella De Vil, the Queen of Hearts and Maleficent.
New Orleans style food.
For a seriously good no-frills meal
For serious foodies, a survey by theme park experts for USA Today found at Universal, favorites included the Leaky Cauldron, the Cowfish, and Vivo’s Italian.
Disney’s best also included some that are no surprise: Be Our Guest, California Kitchen and Boma Flavors of Africa.
As for local restaurants outside the park, character-loving diners would certainly like Dicks last Resort at 8201 Vineland Road. It’s described as a “riot.”
And not without reason.
You should be in a good mood before getting here.
Because servers are rude.
Deliberately. Sarcastic as well.
The entire restaurant is like a big, noisy party. Or an alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party.
Diners are often given hats and bibs.
Waiters might write your name on the hat. They then make observations about your personality.
These might not always please you.
But always done in fun.
A recommended drink to try: a Beergarita.
A large Margarita with beer.
PS: Guaranteed to put you in the right mood.
But get someone to drive you home.
Locals recommend these
For a somewhat more highbrow food experience, the Café Tu Tu Tango in the area of McDonald’s is a favorite discovered long ago by locals.
Party hats are not the gimmick here. But art.
The place looks like an artist’s Studio.
The atmosphere is funky, which might be the best single description.
Plates of small food are meant for sharing.
The food gets high marks.
When we say the atmosphere is “funky,” we mean that you will find more than a pizza parlor.
Belly dancers and fortune tellers are close by.
Not your usual McDonald’s-style place.
And talk about art and video games…try BART in the North Mills area of Orlando.
Artsy bars are nothing new but add vintage video games or classic as well, combined with art. And a huge selection of beer.
In downtown Orlando, for those looking for entertainment, there’s also Side Show.
Like visiting a circus.
Clowns, fun house mirrors and a DJ in a cage are just a few of its quirky elements.
It’s described on the Website:
“It’s place your mother warned you about, where anything can happen. We offer food, drinks, music and unusual nights seven days a week. Here at Sideshow, we celebrate the oddities and the curiosities but always in a welcoming and lively setting.”
Go when prices are lower
Best time to go: when there are $2 tacos and $2 dollar drinks.
If you want a pleasant trip out of Orlando, De Leon Springs State Park on the way to downtown Daytona Beach offers more than scenery.
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill there It has its own griddle house.
Make your own pancakes.
You add blueberries, bananas or peanut butter with customized flapjacks.
Also to keep in mind when leaving Orlando…Norwood’s Restaurant and wine Shop in New Smyrna Beach next to Daytona is a unique tree top restaurant.
Yes, the restaurant is intertwined in trees with scenic views.
But the seafood has long been discovered by locals. With an outstanding craft beer and wine selection.
As for turkey legs, they came to the front of the food line when Disney officials confirmed what others already knew: they were being removed from the jumbo snacks at Animal Kingdom.
There was at least mild outrage.
You can still get them at the other three parks.
Love them or hate them?
One blogger said:
"After my parents wouldn’t let me have one as a kid, I tried one as an adult. Now I know why they wouldn’t let me get one."
Still, no matter what other foods come up…The legs have legs.
Disney World says it sells 1.8 million pounds of them annually. ###