This past November we took our first “official” family trip to Walt Disney World. The Godfather and I have been blessed to travel there quite a bit previously as my parents are long time DVC members and we grew up just a few hours away. Our wedding was even held around the World Showcase in Epcot! November was a very special trip for us though as it was our first with Princess A. She love the parks, the rides, and this chickpea salad. She really really loved this chickpea salad from the Harambe Market in Animal Kingdom.
In case you’re planning a trip, I’d love to share a few tips and a brief dining review. There will likely be family photos. If you just want the recipe, click here to skip to the chickpea salad recipe. 🙂
Our trip started the same weekend of the WDW Wine & Dine Half Marathon. The Godfather and I ran our first half marathon in 2012 after he returned from deployment and I was hooked! I’m not a fast runner at all, but I do enjoy running for distance because, like swimming, it gives me time to zone out a bit and think. I’ve also wanted to run another since Princess A was born, and the Disney race was themed around food, it seemed fitting. And I wanted to dress up as the Fairy Godmother. Get it? Goodie Godmother/Fairy Godmother?
My parents met us for the weekend and we stayed with them using their DVC points, then added on a few additional nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge with the help of Travel with Nikki, a fellow Disney bride I met years and years ago when we were all planning our weddings. She helped me find some great deals and a hidden gem character meal that had everyone raving! This was the first time working with a Disney Vacation Planner, and I LOVED not having to worry about tracking which day the window opens for us to make dining or FastPass+ reservations. Given how crazy things were before this trip, using a planner was a fabulous decision and I recommend Nikki as a wonderful resource.
I won’t bore you with all the details, there are plenty of websites out there to plan a Walt Disney World Vacation. I will share one tip about park visiting that I learned from my parents though. They took three kids to WDW multiple times and anyone knows that when you have 5 people at a theme park, they all have different ideas regarding what they’d like to do. Each morning, my father pulled out a map and had us each pick one ride or attraction we really really really wanted to see as our “must do” item. Then we’d plan the day so the “must do” items got done, and we always had time for extra stops and rides along the way. We never ever tried to do every single ride or be at the park from open to close, and it prevented a lot of meltdowns because everyone felt that they were able to enjoy a lot of attractions. That was genius on the part of my parents. Travelling with a toddler for the first time, L and I did the same and it was PERFECT, especially when little miss expressed a serious fondness for the teacup ride at the Magic Kingdom and wanted to ride it 4 times in a row.
Dining at Disney Springs – There are so many changes going on at Disney Springs/Downtown Disney, it’s a little challenging to keep up! It’s amazing to see how many new places are opening. We spent only a little time at Disney Springs, but we did eat at a few different spots. I tried Portobello for the first time for my mother’s birthday. It was good, the pasta isn’t handmade or anything, but my mother’s chicken cacciatore was excellent as was a honey lemonade with fresh herbs that we tried.
The last day my parents were with us, we returned to Disney Springs for lunch and dessert. My father far prefers sitting indoors to out, but without advance reservations during prime lunch hours on half marathon weekend, the wait at any restaurant was rather long for table service. We decided to go to Cookes of Dublin as the line was shortest and we managed to snag a table inside (a bit of a feat as the restaurant is very small). They serve a simple menu of what I imagine is Irish street food. Fish and chips, an assortment of pies, and something my husband tried called Hog in a Box. It reminded him of the Doner boxes he gets at a local German place, only with an Irish twist. My dad likes their pies and usually just gets whatever happens to be the special.
Then of course we had to stop by Ghirardhelli’s for ice cream. We shared this sundae between the 5 of us and still didn’t finish it!
Dining at Animal Kingdom Lodge – We booked a dinner reservation at Jiko – one of our favorite restaurants on property – and even though they have a new chef since the last time we were there the food is still incredible! To get the best variety on the menu for restaurants like this, we often order a few appetizers, share a main dish, and then enjoy dessert. If you read menus closely at fine dining restaurants, you’ll often find some of the most unique dishes in the appetizer or small plates section. We shared the Inguday Tibs in Brik, vegetarian phyllo rolls, the Peri-Peri Chicken Flatbread (large enough to be an entree for one) as our starters. When it comes to the main course, I’d recommend skipping the filet mignon everyone writes about and ordering the Botswana-Style Seswaa Beef Short Rib, which is so tender they serve it with a spoon! Even our daughter was reaching for more. For dessert, we shared the Milk Tart, which at the time was flavored with passion fruit and cardamom, and that also received a two thumbs up from everyone at the table. It’s easy to get a reservation, and I feel this is one of WDW’s not-so-hidden dining gems.
We primarily enjoyed breakfast at the club level lounge at the hotel, so no reviews for any Animal Kingdom Lodge breakfast options this time. We did pick up dinner at Mara one evening – a vegetable flatbread and chicken pita – very good, and it’s rather easy to find a table. The line can get a little long though, so it’s best to try and avoid going during peak times if possible, but the line moves rather quickly either way.
Dining at the Magic Kingdom – This park is always a challenge for us when it comes to dining as we feel it has the fewest options. Thankfully, that is changing, and there are some great places to grab a bite without leaving the park.
We tried to get there early and pick up a baked good for breakfast at the Main Street Bakery, which I knew had converted to a Starbucks, but I was under the impression that more of the Bakery menu was being served. I’m sad to see that though they’ve kept serving a few Disney items, most of the menu is Starbucks, just like the one you likely stopped at on the drive down. So skip that unless you’re looking for coffee since coffee options are rather limited in the park too. We’d already had coffee, so we continued hunting and found what is one of our new favorite counter service stops at the MK, in large part thanks to a friend of mine also running the half marathon who posted a rather similar picture to the one below earlier in the week. 😉
We were actually at the Magic Kingdom two days, and since we didn’t have lunch reservations anywhere, we had lunch at two separate counter service locations. The first day we at at the Columbia Harbor House. Don’t let the line out the door fool you, the registers are just inside and it moves very quickly. I like that they have healthier options including grilled salmon with couscous right along with chicken fingers, so there’s something for everyone. Go upstairs to find plenty of seating, with many tables next to windows for a view of the park.
The second day we were there, we went back to the Sleepy Hollow waffle stand in Liberty Square. Even at peak lunch time the line was short, and we sat in view of the castle to enjoy our waffle sandwiches. The sweet and spicy chicken is worth the stop alone (and the fruit waffle)!
And if it’s hot, like it was when we were there, a Dole Whip in Adventureland or a stop at the ice cream shop on Main Street for an ice cream sandwich are both totally worthwhile and very classic Disney. You can’t tell, but they were filming the Christmas special for ABC the same day we were at the park.
We didn’t have dinner at the park this trip. Once the Princess is a bit older, we’ll make breakfast reservations at the Crystal Palace (a family tradition of mine) or take her to a Princess lunch at the castle. Keep dining expectations limited for character meals – the food is typically good, but not something to write home about. Unless….
Breakfast With Goofy & Friends at Ravello – This is not at a Disney Resort, this breakfast is at the Four Seasons on Disney property, but it is my new favorite character breakfast, and I am not a character breakfast person. We discovered this one on a recommendation from Nikki because I wanted to book A’s first character breakfast while my parents were with us and this was the only place with availability. I hope it remains a bit of a secret so I can get reservations again! This breakfast does not accept the dining plan or any discount plans, nor is there transportation, so you will have to drive to the resort yourself or take a cab. The Four Seasons is valet only, so please bring cash to tip accordingly.
The breakfast is set up buffet style with an omelette and carving station. The food is constantly being refreshed and there are enough staff around that I was able to set aside my usual reservations about buffet food and enjoy. Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey, all made the rounds to each table several times, and Goofy is accompanied by a professional photographer so each table receives a card with a digital image they can download later and share. The Four Seasons service and quality paired with Disney standards made this experience one of the highlights from our trip. It’s been over a month and everyone who joined us still raves about the great experience. Even Princess A, who was interested in the food and a little frightened by the characters now looks at pictures all excited saying “Minnie Minnie”.
Dining at Epcot – We went during the Food and Wine festival, so we skipped restaurant dining and instead made our way around the World Showcase sampling items from the different pavilions. The lines can get quite long, and it’s not always worth the wait, so here are our “rules” for navigating the Food & Wine festival.
- We cook well at home. If it looks like a dish we have made successfully at home or can make successfully at home with easily sourced ingredients. Skip it.
- If something new is offered that you’ve never tried. Try it. This is a great time to expand your palate.
- If the Brazil stand is offering pao de quejo, wait in line. It’s delicious. Your toddler and husband will try to eat all of it without sharing.
- Don’t listen to people complaining about waiting in line. It’s not the staff’s fault, they’re trying their best. Be happy and enjoy!
- Skip the Italy stand. The line is always ridiculous, and you can get just about everything at any Italian restaurant on property. It’s still probably not as good as any place in New Jersey. Your nona is not in the kitchen.
- Prioritize stands and share when you can. Some of the portions are veeeery filling and you won’t make it to all the stops if you don’t have someone to share with or plan to make the day a replacement for lunch and dinner.
- Some of the stands have separate lines for food and beverage. Double check that you’re in the right one. 😉
If you’d rather a quick-service location for a more substantial stop with no line. Head to the Morocco pavilion for counter service. It’s delicious, has a good variety of flavorful options, and is never crowded.
Dining at Hollywood Studios – Here’s where I’m a bit ashamed to say we are creatures of habit. When we go to Hollywood Studios, we almost always try for a lunch reservation at The Brown Derby, and this trip was no different. We shared an order of their Cobb salad (the dressing is a bit sweet for me), a seared tuna special, and the Fareo Island Salmon, as well as a trio of mini desserts. The seafood dishes were very well prepared, and the desserts were lovely. I really like that they’ve switched to mini desserts as it’s a great way to sample a good portion of the menu!
Since it was A’s first trip, we did pick up a turkey leg that evening for dinner, but the artificial smoke flavor was a little strong for us. The Godfather’s serious forays into the world of barbecue have spoiled our family (and hopefully yours if you’ve tried some of the recipes on the blog)!
Dining at Animal Kingdom Park – Finally, we get to the day that inspired this post. Animal Kingdom Park is a lot of fun for walking around, and has some of the most unique counter service options at Walt Disney World. We typically skip the pizza and barbecue restaurants, although both are good, and look for something a little more unique and flavorful. This trip, we stopped at the Harambe Market, which is an outdoor “marketplace” cafe made up of a few smaller stalls selling different items all facing a large common seating area. While we ate, there was a musician providing live entertainment! I picked up an a gyro flatbread while L and A grabbed the Spice-Rubbed Karubi Ribs. The ribs came with a chickpea salad. Princess A was so enamored with this chickpea salad, she took about a bite of everything else offered and opted to just eat the entire container of chickpea salad. You know that means I had to make it at home right?
I wasn’t entirely sure how to go about replicating the recipe, so I turned to Google, and discovered that Disney has already shared the exact recipe right here on their blog. Yay! Almost. I didn’t have a few of the items on hand, and since we’d just finished the week’s shopping, I didn’t want to trek out to purchase the missing items, so I just improvised a bit! More specifically, I was missing the tamarind paste and the chaat masala.
A little research indicated that I could replace the chaat masala with garam masala for just a slightly different flavor. It wasn’t going to make a big difference here since I only needed a little bit for the recipe. The tamarind paste was a little trickier, as there really isn’t an exact replacement for the sweet/sour flavor tamarind provides. BUT… a little brown sugar and extra lime juice, and the salad was still a hit!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp minced garlic (about 3 large cloves)
- 3 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 small jalapeno, seeded, minced
- 1 tsp lime juice + 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cumin
- 1 cup diced sweet onion
- 2 (14.5-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
- Coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 large tomato, seeds removed, diced
- ½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, stems removed, minced + extra for garnish
- In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and cook until the garlic just starts to color and the mixture is fragrant. Remove from the heat and transfer to a small bowl.
- Stir in the sugar, 1 tsp lime juice, garam masala, salt, cumin, and onion. Refrigerate until chilled.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then combine with the chilled spice mixture in a medium mixing bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend. Note: I actually refrigerated this overnight, chopping the tomato, cucumber, and cilantro in advance so it took only a minute or so to mix this up for serving, making this a great make-ahead side for a gathering.
- When you are ready to serve, add the cucumber, tomato, cilantro, and the extra lime juice.
- Garnish with extra cilantro and serve cold or at room temperature.