Ah, Orlando! Land of theme parks and strip malls and lizards. Land of heatstroke and photo ops and tourism. It will surprise very few readers to hear that tourism is Orlando’s bread and butter. When I lived there, there were three different helicopter tour companies located within walking distance of my apartment. In Orlando, everything is expected to be an event, including dining out. That’s why Orlando, Florida is home to some of the craziest theme restaurants in the world.
Everyone has the luck of the Irish at Raglan Road, a lively theme restaurant in Disney Springs. Designed like an improbably large and cavernous Irish pub, Raglan Road invites you and your family to tuck in to some amazing Celtic cuisine. While you dine on shepherd’s pie, soda bread and Guinness-and-onion bangers, you can see some amazing entertainment. Every night, Irish musicians and Irish step dancers put on an amazing show for the diners. They weave around the chairs, dance on top of tables and even bring some of the wee ones up on stage. The craic is contagious.
This sweet spot, very loosely inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, located at Universal CityWalk. Toothsome is designed like a steampunk chocolate factory, with copper gears, “smoke stacks” and costumed characters to boot. You can eat a good dinner or lunch at the restaurant, but the best thing about Toothsome is its milkshakes. The milkshakes at Toothsome are piled high with sweets like ice cream, cupcakes and chocolate. There are almost 30 different kinds to choose from, each one more delicious than the last.
50’s Prime Time Café
(requires park admission)
Situated inside the gates of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the 50’s Prime Time Café, a table service restaurant with a fifties theme. This is one of my favorite restaurants out of all the Disney parks because of its intense commitment to theming. 50’s Prime Time is decorated like a house straight out of a fifties-era sitcom, with vintage knick-knacks hanging from the walls and a black-and-white television at every table. The waiters and waitresses are all your aunts, uncles and cousins, who will admonish you for bad table manners and gently tease you as they serve up comfort food. If your table isn’t ready yet, you can grab a drink in Dad’s den, also known as the Tune-In Lounge.
Hoop Dee Doo is expensive. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s expensive and it’s difficult to book and it’s hard to find even with Disney transportation. And yet, even with all that, it’s one of the best theme restaurants in Walt Disney World, and it’s been running since the seventies. Hoop Dee Doo is dinner theatre for the whole family with a frontier theme. The food is incredible (and it often comes in buckets to your table) and the drinks are free-flowing (although they do not come in buckets to your table). You and your family will have an amazing night laughing, singing, twirling your napkins overhead and strumming on washboards.
If you’re coming down with a case of the Mondays, it might be time to head over to Margaritaville, a restaurant based on the oeuvre of none other than island boy Jimmy Buffett himself. The restaurant features a Grumman Albatross plane that Buffett once piloted himself, and was the inspiration for one of his songs. It also features a “volcano” that goes off every hour, and a giant blender that’s always mixing up a waterfall of fruity cocktails. As for the food, you can’t go wrong ordering a Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Visit a little slice of the Mediterranean right on International Drive at Taverna Opa, a lively Greek theme restaurant. The interior of Taverna Opa is full of old-world charm, brightly-painted walls and even a tree. As you sit down, you’ll notice that the surface of your table is scuffed. At seven o’clock every night, the reason for that becomes obvious as the restaurant fills with belly dancers and Zorba dancers who invite you to get up with them and dance on top of the tables. Napkins and plates start flying, and before you know it, you and everyone else in the restaurant are dancing the Kalamatianós.
Both ‘Ohana and Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar are two theme restaurants located in Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort. Together, dinner at ‘Ohana and drinks at Trader Sam’s are a perfect night out. ‘Ohana is a restaurant serving up Polynesian menu items and entertainment for the whole family. You’ll be greeted to your dinner by the sound of a conch shell and even invited to race coconuts across the floor. If you’re headed to ‘Ohana for brunch, you can even meet Lilo and Stitch there. Trader Sam’s is a Disney fan favorite with tropical tiki decor, fruity cocktails and colorful effects that are triggered by what you order.
What are some of your favorite theme restaurants in Orlando? Share them with us in the comments below!