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Theme Park Foodie: New Year’s resolutions for vacation dining

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By Ashley Nichols

Mid-January is that wonderful time of the year when people begin to reevaluate their New Year’s Resolutions and either commit to them, or scrap them all together. I know that you were probably thinking about your personal resolution (losing weight, saving money, quitting smoking, etc.) around New Year’s Day, but now that you’ve forgotten all about it, let’s talk about some New Year’s Resolutions for theme park dining in 2013.

Take a Vacation

This should be your most important resolution this year. You’re reading the Orlando Attractions Magazine blog, so you clearly love the area’s theme parks. Come visit them in 2013. You deserve it.

Try Something New

Central Florida’s theme parks unveiled or opened a number of new or revamped culinary options in 2012 and early 2013, and many of these raise the bar for theme park dining. The days of burger and fries quick-service menus have passed, and theme parks now strive to tie their food options into an immersive experience and provide higher quality options. For that reason, many recent additions will likely become “must dos” and favorites in the future. Make it a priority to try out some of the following new additions in 2013; you won’t regret it.

The opening of Disney World’s New Fantasyland brought two new dining locations, Be Our Guest and Gaston’s Pub, to the Magic Kingdom. Be Our Guest is a beautiful setting for lunch or dinner, and Gaston’s Pub offers pork shanks (destined to become the new turkey leg) and LeFou’s Brew, a specialty frozen drink. In Epcot, Monsieur Paul and Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles, both additions to the French Pavilion, have both opened within the last month.

seafireinnOver at SeaWorld, guests visiting in 2013 can enjoy a newly revamped Dine with Shamu dining experience. Dine with Shamu guests can enjoy a savory sustainable food buffet while enjoying a killer whale training session by SeaWorld’s animal training staff. You can read a full review of the experience here. Visitors to SeaWorld during one of the its special events (including Bands Brew & BBQ, Viva La Música, Summer Nights, Spooktacular and the Christmas Celebration) can also enjoy new dining selections on the park’s Bayside Pathway, where SeaWorld chefs and staff serve event-related entrees, desserts, snacks and drinks.

At Universal Orlando Resort, guests can purchase reservations for Universal’s Superstar Character Breakfast, a 2012 addition that invites you to enjoy breakfast with characters from the Universal Superstar Parade. If you’re more of an evening person, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience includes dinner at Lombard’s Seafood Grille and exclusive viewing for the newest lagoon show, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories.

Enjoy Fine Dining

When I received an early Christmas present of money to spend on a nice dinner at the end of 2012, I didn’t quite know what to do with it. I knew of a number of fine dining restaurants in the Orlando area, but have always felt uncomfortable in those environments; I often have no idea what to wear, which fork is for which dish, and am sometimes taken-aback by unusual menu items. Needless to say, I have a tendency to embarrass myself.

yachtsmansteakhouse_wdwmediarelationsI took the money and a friend to Disney’s Yachtsman Steakhouse, a fine dining restaurant located at the Yacht Club resort. And we had a blast! The atmosphere was light, the server was kind and helpful (especially when explaining to me that yes, people do eat bone marrow) and went above and beyond to be accommodating.

That’s why I love Central Florida’s theme parks. Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal all offer fine dining restaurants within the parks. The difference between these restaurants and other establishments? The atmosphere. Guests may come in after a hot and sweaty day in the parks. They aren’t dressed in their cocktail hour finest attire. The service at these theme park restaurants is friendly, helpful and patient with any questions you might have. Another perk of theme park fine dining is that guests can often split or share plates without paying an additional charge, which is a great way to try more than one entrée or save money for an appetizer or dessert.

In 2013, step out of your comfort zone. Try some fine dining at Central Florida’s finest (theme park) restaurants. Or, if you love fine dining already, give some of the theme park offerings a try; you might find a new favorite restaurant.

Stick to Your Other Resolutions

cypressbakerychocolatechipcakeMany people make the resolution to lose weight or be healthier at the beginning of every year, but it is easy to fall out of good habits when on vacation. Central Florida’s theme parks offer many temptations, and encourage guests to let loose while on their trip; Walt Disney World even uses a fake cookie smell to draw people into its bakery on Main Street. While you can and should enjoy yourself when it comes to food during your vacation, you don’t have to “let yourself go.” It’s very easy to gain weight while on a theme park vacation, but there are plenty of healthy dining options for guests to choose from no matter what their budget.

I won’t list all of the healthy dining options here, but you can find plenty of information about a park’s menu offerings before your trip by visiting its website. You don’t need to plan out every meal you will eat or which restaurants you will visit (sometimes spontaneity is half of the fun), but by looking over a park’s food offerings you can be familiar with which dining locations have healthier options available.

You may find yourself at a dining location that doesn’t have anything that could be considered healthy. If you’re not comfortable splurging, ask a friend if they want to share a meal and grab a healthier snack later in the day. If you don’t want to worry about counting calories on vacation and would rather indulge, go for it! You can get a good workout and burn off extra calories just by walking a few extra laps around the park you are visiting. If you are staying in a resort or an area with a rec room, getting up early to work out before a day at the parks can also be a good way to have some peace of mind while enjoying a “sinful” snack later in the day.

Happy 2013!

Good luck sticking to all of the New Year’s Resolutions you’ve made for 2013; I hope that you’ll add one of the above to your list. As always, if you have any questions about theme park dining or would just like to share your thoughts on theme park foodie, send me a tweet or e-mail me at [email protected]

Ashley Nichols is the editor of Theme Park Foodie, a blog that highlights dining and cuisine opportunities at theme parks throughout the United States with a focus on Central Florida. Her interest in the amusement industry’s food offerings began in 2010 when she served as a seasonal team member at an Orlando-area theme park and was repeatedly asked for referrals to the park’s best restaurants or dining options. Follow her on Twitter @ThemeParkFoodie.

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