Character Dining in Disney World is amazing and an absolute must-do dining experience in my opinion, especially if you have kids. However, character dining is often expensive and it also isn't usually the most relaxed meal you are ever going to enjoy with your family. The rush to the buffet station and back to your table because you have seen Minnie Mouse approaching; your little ones unable to concentrate on their breakfast because Pluto is behind them; you, trying to capture the best photo of your little one with Mickey Mouse, all the while he just wants to squeeze his nose — we have all been there. It's fun. It's brilliant. It's an experience not to be missed. But it's not relaxing. So even though you may want to plan lots of character dining during your vacation, you will probably want to have a few non-character restaurants planned in also. However, you are still at Disney World, so just because there won't be characters doesn't mean your dining experience can't be fun and enjoyable for the whole family. So, here are my top five restaurants that are ideal substitutes when you just want to eat your meal in peace and enjoy some family meal time.
1. T REX - Located in Disney Springs. This restaurant is themed around the prehistoric era of the dinosaurs with both visual animatronics and sounds to match that time period. The restaurant has different sections all made to represent the landscape of this Jurassic Park era with even the lighting changing colour. The animals include mammoths, pterosaurs, an octopus, and of course the dinosaurs, including a very large T Rex. At timely intervals the restaurant comes to life with a meteor shower effect! It really does have a Jurassic Park feel to it and would be ideal for children who enjoy dinosaurs and this time period. One word of caution - the restaurant may be slightly noisy at times, simply due to the background noises of the animals and all of the special effects. However, this could also be to your advantage, as you won't need to be too conscious of your children being overly noisy. Beside the restaurant there is the Dino-store and a Build a Dino by the Build a Bear workshop, a great pre-dinner or after dinner stop. Outside there is a dig play area called Paleo Zone. Your children can dig for fossils and learn more about the dinosaurs, again an ideal activity whilst waiting for your table. This restaurant serves normal American-style cuisine and is one table service credit (current as of July 2016) if using the Disney Dining Plan.
2. Coral Reef - Located within Future World in Epcot. This restaurant is themed around underwater sea life, specifically those found in coral reefs in the ocean and it looks over the gigantic The Living Seas fish tank that can be seen when exiting the Finding Nemo ride in the Living With The Seas pavillion. The fish tank literally runs the entire length of the restaurant and no matter where you sit you should get a pretty good view of the fish. Whilst dining you should see many tropical fish that you could hope to find in a natural living coral reef, which will also include sharks, sea turtles and rays. There are even special scuba diving tours that take place within the tank, so you may even see them too whilst dining! The theming in this restaurant is suited more for children that already have an interest in fish or sea life, however, I am sure the majority will still find it a really fun experience. The food is obviously heavily fish-themed, although there were also non-fish options available too. It is one table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.
3. Ohana - Located at the Polynesian - A Disney World Resort Hotel located in the Magic Kingdom resort area. Ohana, like the rest of the Polynesian, is Hawaiian-themed both in restaurant décor and entertainment. The restaurant at dinner time operates a family style "all you can eat" system. This is similar to a buffet, except the food comes to your table. There is ongoing entertainment whilst you dine that includes games that the children can participate in, and many other Hawaiian traditions that the whole family can enjoy. The food has a Hawaiian theme to it, although nothing is overly spicy, and again the children's options are great too. On the Disney Dining Plan this restaurant is one table service credit. Please note that the restaurant does have characters present during breakfast, but not during dinner.
5. Sanaa - located at the Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas - Kidani Village. Sanaa overlooks one of the four African Savannahs located at the Animal Kingdom Resort. This means that if you are successful at getting a table at the window you will hopefully get to see African wildlife whilst you dine. Although they won't guarantee what animals will be seen at any one time, the Savannah is usually home to animals such as giraffes, zebras, gazelles and ostriches, and obviously many more, so you should at least see some of them. This could be a really cool dining experience for your children, especially those that already have an interest in animals. The restaurant itself is decorated and themed around African life and culture, and again is a really interesting and well-themed dining experience that I am sure the whole family will enjoy. The food at Sanaa will be Indian and African-themed and is one table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan. One thing to note, though, is that the children's menu (like most restaurants) will be more American-style food.
So there are my top five non-character dining restaurants that will provide great entertainment for kids of all ages, and will give you a more relaxed and family orientated dining experience. However, there are many more restaurants on property that are ideally suited for families - what are your family favourites? Please comment below...