Active kids are a part of parenthood, especially when out dining. If one child is calm and happy to sit at the table, another is likely chomping at the bit to leap out of their seats, run around looking for adventure, and maybe even cause a scene or two, if you’re lucky. Parents, we’ve all been there, right?
At the same time, there are few dining experiences as anticipated as a Disney dining experience. You plan your advanced dinner reservations months in advance. You read review after review of table service restaurants, quick service locations, and even small food stands across Disney property that you feel like you’ve eaten that Tonga Toast from ‘Ohana or steak from Le Cellier.
Now throw your active kid into the mix, and you have a whole new ballgame to try and anticipate. What will my child eat? Will they stay at the table? Are there characters around to greet them? There are so many variables to consider it can be hard to choose the best dining experience for your family if your children are ready to move. With this in mind, here is a list of one restaurant recommendation, and a backup, for each Walt Disney Park and a resort-based restaurant perfect for families with active children.
Magic Kingdom: Pinocchio Village Haus
Pinocchio Village Haus isn’t exactly known for its exquisite and refined menu, nor for its outstanding and immersive atmosphere. What it lacks in these areas it makes up for having a kid-friendly menu, space to explore and run around, and the understanding that there are about a hundred other kids doing the same as your active little one.
This Fantasyland counter-service spot offers staples like pepperoni flatbreads and chicken fingers, and it’s big, loud, and active all on its own. There’s an upstairs with added seating, the option to watch people loading onto the It’s a small world right directly next to the restaurant, and the wish book you can fill out with your child to add a little magic to the meal. It’s not an exquisite dining experience, but there certainly are things to do.
Backup: The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace is a Magic Kingdom mainstay that is also pure anarchy. It’s big, and Winnie the Pooh characters are milling about meeting you at your table. The food is nothing to write home about, but you’re not really paying for the meal. You’re there to meet Winnie the Pooh and the gang and watch your child light up, jump from the table and hug their favorite characters.
The Biergarten in the German Pavilion at Epcot is a wonderful location to bring an active child for a number of reasons. With a live German band on stage playing throughout the restaurant and an open dance floor, there is room for your child to run around and dance off the energy they may have pent up from waiting in line around Epcot.
The music, dancing, and buffet-style serving makes for a loud environment ideal for those little ones wanting to blow off some steam without parents feeling like their children are the only crazy ones. And, for parents, there’s air conditioning and beer, of course! It’s perfect for a midday or end-of-day reprieve from the heat and congestion of the largest park at Disney. The only downside is the grouping of tables where your family of 3 or 4 may be saddled right next to another family or couple, but remember, there’s beer!
Backup: Coral Reef Restaurant
I would typically recommend families head to Garden Grill at Epcot as it is a very solid character meal experience, but the restaurant is naturally designed to enjoy while sitting. Coral Reef Restaurant in World Nature allows your children to watch the more than 4,000 sea species on display in the tanks right in front of you and gives your active child a chance to walk around and see even more.
Hollywood Studios: Backlot Express
Hollywood Studios has gone through an evolution that added Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. These two areas have contributed more dining offerings to guests, but the Backlot Express is still a solid option for active kids. With indoor and outdoor seating, you have options to let your active one get up and walk around without disturbing everyone around you. You also have a nice view of the Jedi Training stage, mere feet from some of the outdoor seating.
As a quick-service dining option, Backlot Express also gives you a little more freedom to up and leave when your child is ready to head out.
Backup: Woody’s Lunch Box
Before standing in line for Slinky Dog Dash, grab a bite, or watch the Green Army Corps march by from Woody’s Lunch Box in Toy Story Land. There’s not a lot of shade for really sunny days, but your active youngster will want to march along with the Green Army Corps or run off to another part of Hollywood Studios. Plus, the menu is pretty solid, with several sandwich options for those forced to be on the move.
Animal Kingdom: Harambe Market
Harambe Market is a place to explore a little and take in your surroundings while you search for a meal. It also offers your busy little one a lot to experience and food that may be a little different than they are used to eating.
There isn’t a tremendous amount of seating throughout the market, but there is space for kids to move about and explore the market on their own and not be out of eye contact with their parents. The atmosphere isn’t what you’d call “kid-focused”- head on over to the Rainforest Cafe for that, but Harambe Market is unique and perfect for curious kids.
If there’s a dinosaur fan in your home, Restaurantosaurus is where you might want to stop off for a quick bite. This themed restaurant brings you into the world of paleontology. You don’t come here for the food; however, you come here for a bit of air conditioning and the proximity to The Boneyard in DinoLand U.S.A., where your child can run around and explore the outdoor playground in between bites of their chicken nuggets.
Resort: Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge
Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a popular spot for kids because you have the chance to be mere feet from animals milling about the resort grounds while you wait for your table and even in between courses. Popping out to the Sunset Savanna overlook in just one minute makes this ideal for kids who might need to get up from the table and have something to do.
Not every kid can sit there and color for an hour, so why not take them out to see some zebras, giraffes, or impalas? The African and Indian cuisine is perfect for adventurous eaters, with butter chicken and shrimp saute on the menu. Still, it does offer many standard kids’ menu options like pizza and cheeseburgers. Plus, did I mention live animals?
Backup: Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary
Character meals are always great for taking active kids to enjoy, as mentioned before with the Crystal Palace, given the loud atmosphere and chance to meet a beloved character, but Mickey and Minnie table-side: does it really get better than that? The buffet menu is decent, and with the location steps from the Magic Kingdom, Chef Mickey’s is a great option to start off your day with breakfast before hitting the park.
There are honestly more options for active kids, such as the Skipper Canteen, but every child is different. Children run around and have a lot of energy to expel, especially when they know you want them to sit down and eat something. Disney is made for exploring; let them and try out one of these restaurants along the way. You never know; they may love them!
David Tubbs is a writer and communications professional from Canada who happens to love all things Disney. From first stepping onto the monorail at the age of 3 to traveling with his wife and two small boys, David continues to love talking and planning about his next trip to Walt Disney World.