If you tuned in for Part I of Orlando Family Secrets: Planning A Trip to Orlando, you know there is a dizzying array of entertainment options in America's No. 1 family vacation destination. Having already touched on transportation and accommodations, this installation will highlight the fun to be had in Orlando.
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Character dining and dinner shows
When asked which character meals are the best of the bunch for families, our experts heartily recommend Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort. The resident characters are classic Disney -- Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale -- and kids love it! Kathryn Sweeney, a former Walt Disney Food and Beverage recruiter agrees. She takes visitors to Chef Mickey's "for character visits, fresh buffet food and a lower buffet where the children can see and reach the food."
If your child is celebrating a birthday around the time of your visit, be sure to alert the staff -- each birthday child receives a rousing serenade along with a special treat! Character breakfasts at Chef Mickey's, served from 7:30 to 11:30 am daily, cost $16.99 for adults and $8.99 for ages three to 11. Dinner (when Donald Duck chimes in) is $23.99 for adults, $10.99 for ages three to 11. Dinner hours are 5 pm to 9:30 pm. For reservations, call (407) WDW-DINE up to 90 days prior to your preferred reservation date.
If you are going to just one dinner show, Sweeney recommends The Hoop-Dee-Do Musical Review. The dinner, located at Pioneer Hall at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, is a lively wild- west production where audience participation is encouraged. Slapstick humor is served up heartily, along with all-you-can-eat chuck wagon-style grub, such as barbecue ribs, fried chicken and corn-on-the-cob. There are two seatings nightly: at 5 and 7:15 pm. Prices are $47.80 for ages 12 and over and $24.81 for ages three to 11. For reservations, call (407) WDW-DINE up to 90 days prior to your preferred reservation date.
Dining in the Orlando area
This Caribbean-themed chain was conceived by Orlando's own Darden Restaurant Group. It remains a standout with local chefs and tourists, who favor its casual upbeat atmosphere and creatively presented dishes. Our favorite place to sit is on the open-air patio, where steel drum bands frequently provide the nightly entertainment. Be forewarned -- you can order only from the appetizer menu outdoors. You can order kids meals here, though, all of which come with fruit. We adults are perfectly happy to make a meal out of a couple of appetizers (Orlando Magic Small Forward Monty Williams recommends the beef patties), and eat alfresco while swaying to the rhythm of the Caribbean beat.
Chevy's Fresh Mex
With food this fresh, it's hard to believe that this Lake Buena Vista eatery is but one in a chain of locations! The Kids Menu features cheeseburgers and chicken bites, along with Tex-Mex favorites like burritos, tacos and flautas. Be sure to ask for a ball of tortilla dough for the kids to play with while they wait. Check out the authentic tortilla press located near the kitchen -- if you're lucky, you can watch tortillas being made.
Orlando residents recommendations
Serving up southern- style smoked meats and mean greens, this Orlando eatery is Orlando Magic Power Forward Pat Garrity's favorite barbecue joint. The atmosphere in the picnic table-outfitted communal dining room is comfortable and congenial, and the food is fantastic. Try any of the daily specials, offered from 10 am to 2 pm or "until gone." For $4.99, you can sample such delectable home-cooked favorites as chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, and baked turkey and dressing. Specials include two sides and a corn muffin. Kids options include a child's chicken plate, with fries, bread and a soft drink for $2.79, and a Corn dog with fries and a soft drink, for $2.79.
Central Floridians flock here (if they manage to get a reservation!) for seasonal cuisine with a gourmet twist. Although kids are welcome here, this is primarily an adult venue. Sweeney recommends the bonsai roll, a signature pork tenderloin preparation over polenta.
Former Orlando Miracle Head Coach Carolyn Peck claims this is the best deal in Orlando, for the kids buffet price. Local sushi fans and seafood lovers find the price hard to beat as well, both for the quality and selection of this "crazy" buffet. The 20-minute trek from Lake Buena Vista to this upscale Asian buffet is well worth the effort. A Japanese-style Hibachi grill offers cooked-to-order items, and a chef entertains with a food show every 10 to 15 minutes. Weekends feature a virtual seafood feast, with mounds of snow crab legs, half-shell oysters, fresh fish, jumbo cocktail shrimp, crawfish and a wonderful selection of sushi and sashimi. Buffet prices range from $15 to $25 for adults and $5 for kids.
Orlando Magic Point Guard Darryl Armstrong goes to Johnson's Diner for stew beef and other dishes that say home cooking. Located downtown, near the Orlando Science Center.
Sam Snead's Tavern
Located near the gated community of Isleworth, home to many of Orlando's professional athletes, Sam Snead's Tavern is a great spot for celebrity sightings and big juicy cheeseburgers. Orlando Magic Point Guard Darryl Armstrong takes the kids here often, and NCAAl football coach Lou Holtz has been known to stop in.