Your Guide to Finding a Great Meal in Disney World

Because you can't subsist on Mickey-shaped ice cream pops the entire trip

Disney World has a come a long way since the Magic Kingdom first opened its gates on October 1, 1971. The 2017 attendance at Magic Kingdom was an estimated 20,450,000 guests, with more than triple that amount visiting the Walt Disney World property as a whole.

But Disney isn't catering to just families. Orlando's Orange County Convention Center (the second-largest convention center in the United States) reported 21 percent of its million-plus attendees during the year visited amusement parks. And at some point, all of those joy-seeking travelers needed to find somewhere to eat: a task that is sure to overwhelm with both so many dining options and volatile children in one place.

To ease the burden of finding the just-right Disney World dining experience no matter the reason, here's a guide that outlines where to eat and why.

For a meal that can close the deal: Restaurants at Disney World Resorts are less chaotic than those at the parks, and the Flying Fish café at Disney's BoardWalk Inn is the best option for business travelers. It offers sustainable seafood, oak-grilled prime steaks and a comprehensive wine and cocktail list in an artistic, upscale dining room. Skip dessert and head to the Ample Hills Creamery outpost after dinner just a few storefronts down, or grab drinks (and free popcorn!) at dueling piano bar Jellyrolls.

For a fancy tasting menu: Victoria & Albert's features a chef's table menu of up to 13 courses by James Beard nominee Scott Hunnel. The restaurant has a formal dress code and a massive wine selection, guaranteeing you're more likely to sit near Mickey out of costume than a screaming child.

For fans of celebrity chefs who aren't named Mickey: Disney World is embracing James Beard Award-winning chefs more than ever before. Rick Bayless recently opened Frontera Cocina in Disney's outdoor entertainment and shopping mecca, Disney Springs, with Morimoto Asia, Chef Art Smith's Homecomin', Tony Mantuano's Terralina Crafted Italian and José Andrés's Jaleo soon to come. Combined, they'll make the marketplace Disney's one-stop shop for celebrity chef dining. 

For a romantic and (mostly) child-free dinner: Jiko – The Cooking Place offers African cuisine in a formal setting that's worth making a reservation 180 days in advance. Standout dishes include the Taste of Africa selection of dips, Durham Ranch elk loin and Mrouzia-style Moroccan lamb tagine. The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios is also a fun (and lower-key) place for couples.

For an all-you-can-eat family feast that's actually worth waiting in line for: The Biergarten Restaurant is undoubtedly one of the best all-around family experiences. The dance floor and traditional oompah band performances by Sonnenschein Express make it the perfect place to let kids be kids while adults kick back with steins of German beers—or join them on the dance floor. The buffet is a smorgasbord of German specialties, focused around an impressive carving station. If you can make it to dessert, you'll be rewarded with sweets such as apple strudel and chocolate mousse cake.

For serious cocktail aficionados: The tiki bar at Disney's Polynesian Resort, Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, serves exceptional rum-based cocktails and small plates. There's one notable catch: Cocktails, such as the Zombie, are delivered by servers acting in full character, every single time. Even the room itself gets into the act, with sounds of thunder rumbling and pictures changing color based on the drink you've ordered. For the same drinks but without the theater, grab a cocktail around the corner at Trader Sam's Tiki Terrace.

For the serious sweets admirer: No trip to Disney World is complete without a Dole Whip, which can be found at Aloha Isle in Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, Polynesian Resort's Capt. Cook's and Animal Kingdom's Tamu Tamu Refreshments. Always opt for pineapple over vanilla and swirled.

Billy Lyons is a contributing writer to Tasting Table and has been to Disney World 10 times. He has an Instagram account, and it's called @billyondollarman.