Thanksgiving at Disney World: Tips and Reviews

Since 2013, Andrew, Nancy and I have had the tradition of spending Thanksgiving at Disney World. The three of us (and usually a friend) have gone to four different restaurants for the holiday and had excellent experiences. Thanksgiving is a fun time to be at Disney World because it is not as crowded as Christmas (still crowded, but not as bad), and all the decorations are up. I think it’s a great way to start off the holiday season!

Thanksgiving at Disney World

Before I share our past experiences, I want to break down everything to know about Thanksgiving at Disney World. There are hundreds of restaurants to choose at Disney World and you will have varying holiday experiences depending on where you go. Here are my tips for where to eat and how to get a reservation.

  • Book your reservation for Thanksgiving Day 180 days in advance at 6 AM! They really do go that fast so you want to be on there right away. Here is a handy calculator to find out when 180 days ahead will be. If you aren’t sure where to go, make two reservations and cancel one when it gets closer
  • Disney will release a list of restaurants that will have a special Thanksgiving menu. In 2018 the list included:
    • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall – Lunch and dinner
    • Biergarten Restaurant – Lunch and dinner
    • Coral Reef Restaurant – Lunch and dinner
    • Le Cellier Steakhouse – Lunch and dinner
    • Cape May Cafe – Dinner
    • Whispering Canyon Cafe – Lunch and dinner
    • California Grill – Dinner
    • Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room – Lunch and dinner
    • Sanaa – Lunch and dinner
    • Trail’s End Restaurant – Brunch and Dinner
    • Ale & Compass Restaurant – Brunch and dinner
    • Olivia’s — Brunch and Dinner
    • The Wave…Of American Flavors — Lunch and Dinner
  • However I have seen restaurants not listed in the past (like Boma) serve a thanksgiving option. Most Disney Springs restaurants will also have a Thanksgiving option as well.
  • If you are in the parks, expect crowds and the parks to be open late. For 2018, Magic Kingdom is open until 11 PM, with the other three closing at 9 PM
  • The most popular Thanksgiving restaurant is obviously Liberty Tree Tavern as it serves a Thanksgiving menu all year. Definitely book this one at 6 AM 180 days before if you have your heart set on going here.
  • The best in park option is Garden Grill. They have adorable farmer Mickey and friends characters there and a family style dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, pot roast, mac and cheese, veggies and a salad.
Thanksgiving at Disney World
  • The best in park buffets for a traditional Thanksgiving would be Crystal Palace and Hollywood and Vine
  • The best in park buffets for a nontraditional Thanksgiving would be the Tusker House and Biergarten
  • For a traditional buffet outside the parks, I recommend 1900 Park Fare and the Garden Grove Cafe
  • If instead you want a nontraditional buffet outside the parks, I recommend Boma and Cape May Cafe
  • For a traditional restaurant (non-buffet or family style), I recommend Raglan Road or Olivia’s Cafe.
  • For a fancy Thanksgiving dinner I recommend the Yachtsman Steakhouse or Citricos
  • Most restaurant discounts are not accepted on holidays including Thanksgiving. Tables in Wonderland is blocked out for the day and some restaurants won’t accept annual pass holders discounts.
  • If you rather have a counter service meal for Thanksgiving, here are the ones I would reccomend for a traditional meal per park
    • Magic Kingdom: Columbia Harbor House
    • Epcot: Sunshine Seasons
    • Hollywood Studios: ABC Commissary
    • Animal Kingdom: Flame Tree Barbeque
    • Disney Springs: Earl of Sandwich (They have a holiday turkey sandwich that tastes almost as good as leftovers!)

5 years of Thanksgiving at Disney World

We started this tradition shortly after moving to Florida for college. While we would have loved to go home for Thanksgiving, the flights were so expensive and we usually had only two more weeks of classes left before we would be back for the month of Holiday Break. I ended up flying home for Columbus Day weekend most years instead, since the weather is better anyways in New Hampshire and I could get a cheaper flight.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

Once we were out of the dorms and had a kitchen, Andrew and I cooked a big feast for Nancy and a friend. It was a fun day but after all the shopping, cooking and cleaning, we realized it wasn’t exactly worth the effort for just four people. I love side dishes, so we made a bunch of those, which all take lots of work and added up. We spent at least $100 prepping this meal for four people and that’s when we decided we would just go out to eat instead.

Since then, we have eaten at Disney World for Thanksgiving five times! That tradition is finally coming to an end this year as my parents have now moved down and our whole family will be together. Andrew has gotten increasingly more into cooking, so he is excited to help my Dad in the kitchen. I am very excited to have the whole family under one roof as well. I did love our Disney tradition so I wanted to share our past experiences in case you decided to do Thanksgiving at Disney World.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

The first thing I want to clarify is that we always stayed outside the parks on Thanksgiving. The crowds are manageable during Thanksgiving, but the three of us never seemed to all have an annual pass at the same time. We preferred it this way though, as we usually dressed up a little and this can be an annoying when touring the parks. We made it a relaxing day and with a goal to see some of the resort Christmas decorations to start off the holidays. There are giant Christmas trees and decorations at every deluxe resort starting about a week before Thanksgiving. I highly recommend checking them out at some point during the holiday season to see all the stunning details.

Our preferred Thanksgiving restaurants were buffet dinners. Disney World actually has some excellent buffets which are perfect for an indulgent Thanksgiving with outs of options. My two favorites are Boma and Cape May Cafe. Boma is an African restaurant and Cape May is clam bake style. You might be wondering why anyone would go to a restaurant like this for a holiday that normally consists of turkey and mashed potatoes as the staple. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of typical Thanksgiving food, so I liked the variety here. But do not worry, most Disney World restaurants have a special Thanksgiving menu for the day with a turkey option. Here is what we saw offered through the years.

Thanksgiving at Boma

Our first year we dined at Boma, which is in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I loved this hotel when my family visited in the past and was excited to take Andrew. The lodge has some exquisite decorations for the holidays, but does not get as much attention as the other hotels since it’s less accessible. It is so relaxing to spend time here around Christmas and just sitting by the fire in the lobby.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

That year we got a 7 PM reservation which we have since learned is way too late! We like to have an earlier dinner and then walk around the resorts or Disney Springs and relax afterwards. This I much better than having to drive home extremely full. If you go to Boma, you will definitely be full as this is one of the best restaurants at Disney World. They serve some authentic dishes of different meats and fish, a carving station, and selection of soups, salads, breads and cheese.

My favorite feature here is the soup & stew station which includes four rotating options. Every soup I have had has been delicious from the coconut chicken curry soup to the spicy peanut soup. They also have some unique African specialties like Pap and Chakalaka (like grits with spiced veggies), banana leaf wrapped sea bass, spice crusted beef and an apple jicama salad. Don’t be worried though, most of these dishes are mild and would be great for picky eaters.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

They do have chicken nuggets, mac and cheese and more for the extra picky kids. There is also an excellent bread and hummus spot as well as a lavish desert table with my favorite treat, zebra domes! For Thanksgiving, they added a special section with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. There was so much food to choose from and we of course tried it all!

If you want to go to Boma on Thanksgiving, be sure book a reservation six months in advance. They open two hours early (at 3 instead of 5 PM) and will most likely have a few Thanksgiving options. The current cost is $45 per person before tip or 1 Disney Dining Credit for those on the Dining Plan.

Thanksgiving at Cape May Cafe

The next year we opted for Cape May Cafe, with my goal being to eat as many crab legs as possible. This buffet has a variety of New England seaside staples like clam chowder, fried calamari, clams and more. There is also a carving station here with roast beef and Turkey for thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

Cape May Café is in the Beach Club resort which of course has a very nautical theme. I love checking out the Yacht and Beach Club sides of the resort every year and enjoying their decorations. The Yacht Club is known for its large model train set and the Beach Club has a beachy gingerbread display. We had a later reservation this year as well so spent plenty of time enjoying these decorations beforehand.

I have a full review of Cape May Cafe here but I’ll share a few thoughts about it. If not everyone in your party likes seafood, it may not be worth it. The seafood is the main event at this buffet and you really won’t get your money’s worth if you don’t enjoy the shellfish.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

My favorites here are the crab legs, the mussels and clams, the quinoa salad, the cheese selection and the cornbread. They also have a large desert array that includes delicious key lime tarts, cheesecake and their famous Oreo bonbons. The kids options are pretty similar to other buffets with chicken nuggets, mac and cheese in addition to fried fish.

If you want to go to Cape May Cafe for Thanksgiving dinner, this is another one that needs to be booked early. They open two and a half hours earlier for Thanksgiving at 2:30 instead of 5 PM. This buffet is slightly more expensive than Boma and is $48 per person, making it an even better deal if you use 1 Disney Dining Credit.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

Thanksgiving at Fresh Mediterranean Market

The next year I forgot to book our reservation 180 days in advance so all the most popular restaurants were gone when I tried to get one a week later. If you are going to celebrate Thanksgiving at Disney World, make sure to book your reservations 180 days in advance!! This is especially important for parties over four people because reservations can be hard to come by that day.

One of the few buffets left was Fresh Mediterranean Market at the Dolphin hotel, a restaurant that normally serves breakfast and lunch. I had been on the past and loved their selection of juices and the made to order pancake station. We were excited to see that this would be much cheaper than the previous years! Thanksgiving at Fresh cost $40 for a buffet and an included two glasses of wine!

Thanksgiving at Disney World

You do have to pay for parking at the Swan and Dolphin hotel, so on the day of we parked at the Boardwalk and checked out the decorations there before walking to the resort. The Swan and Dolphin are part of Marriott not Disney, so their decorations don’t have the Disney touch but are still stunning to see.

I won’t spend too much time going over the food, because it seems they don’t offer Thanksgiving at Fresh anymore. However Garden Grove, another restaurant at the hotel, does offer a very similar menu to what we were served. We found Fresh to be a lot more basic than the previous two options. It is also a much smaller space so the buffet line was often crowded.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

Standouts included the butternut squash soup, the charcuterie board and the mini desserts. I had one too many mini pies that year and felt so over stuffed! The line at the buffet kind of turned us off we decided then to do a sit down the next year. The Garden Grove Thanksgiving menu also offers a butternut squash soup, turkey and ham, pumpkin raviolis, charcuterie, bread and salads. The main difference here is that it is a character meal with Pluto and Goofy.

If you want to dine at the Garden Grove for Thanksgiving, you can get a reservation a month in advance, but it starts getting hard to get one after that. It opens at 1 PM instead of 5 on Thanksgiving. It costs $49 per person which is slightly cheaper than other character dinner at Disney and they do not do the Disney Dining Plan. If you have any Marriott branded credit cards, be sure to use them here for extra points!

Thanksgiving at Raglan Road

For 2016, we ended up at Raglan Road. Again I forgot to book the reservation early so there weren’t as many choices. We love Raglan though and it’s usually hard to get into the rest of year so we were happy to go there!

Thanksgiving at Disney World

We started out with a loop on the monorail so we could see the Christmas decorations at The Contemporary, The Grand Floridian and The Polynesian. The Grand Floridian is really a must see at Christmas. There’s a beautiful gigantic tree in the lobby and the Christmas music being played on the piano or by the orchestra. They even have complimentary roasted chestnuts! If you are going to check out any resort during Christmas, make it the Grand Floridian. If you drive there, just tell the guards at the gate you are there to see the decorations and you can park there for free.

After that we had a reservation at Raglan Road for 2 PM. They had a thanksgiving meal with turkey, mashed potatoes, bacon roasted Brussels sprouts, stuffing, gravy and cranberry chutney for $28. The rest of the menu was available as well and we all went with that. I find their braised beef with colcannon mashed potatoes and roasted veggies to be just as comforting and delicious as a Thanksgiving meal!

Thanksgiving at Disney World

Disney Springs also had some holiday offerings so we checked out the Christmas Tree Trail. It’s a cute little path of twenty or so Christmas trees that represent Disney characters. There was also a holiday drone show at Disney Springs that year that we got to see! It was a short but amazing display of hundreds of drones making shapes in the sky. They only did it one year and rumor is it was a test for the soon to come Epcot Illuminations replacement. I really hope it will utilize the drones!

If you are going to Disney Springs this year, you can enjoy the Christmas Tree Trail and meet Santa. There is also a Stitch Holiday Gift Hunt where kids can hunt for stickers at different locations in exchange for a prize! Last year the prize was a really cute button with Stitch on it so I imagine it will be similar this year.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

If you want to go to Raglan Road for Thanksgiving, you can make a reservation anytime leading up to Thanksgiving if you have a small party. If you have a large party, still try and book a month or so in advance. Raglan is open from 11 AM to 1 AM every day with Thanksgiving being no different. Disney Springs is definitely easier to find dining options at, so check out Raglan Road, The Boathouse, or Homecoming if you need a reservation.

Our Final Thanksgiving at Disney World

We had a feeling that 2017 would be the end of this tradition since my Dad had started applying to jobs in Florida. We decided that Cape May Cafe was our favorite and made sure to get a final reservation there. It was offering almost the same food as it did in 2014 and I imagine it will continue to do so.

Thanksgiving at Disney World

This was probably my favorite experience of the five years. After so many times we finally got it down and knew what to expect. We had a relaxing morning shopping at Disney Springs and then had a 2:30 reservation for Cape May Cafe (right when they open). I was very satisfied with the selection of salads, meats and sides here as well as the plethora of crab legs I ate again. Then we had a relaxing afternoon at Abracadbar and enjoyed the Boardwalk resort Christmas decorations. If you want a relaxing Thanksgiving at Disney World, this is definitely the type of plan I would recommend.

I hope you enjoyed my trip down Thanksgiving Memory Lane! I haven’t seen too many changes in the past five years, but I’ll try an update if I hear of any. This year we will be having a traditional Thanksgiving at home, but I will definitely be at Disney World at some point that weekend for my annual decoration viewing. It really puts me in the Christmas spirit!

The ultimate guide for finding out where to eat for Thanksgiving at Disney World. All the information you need for having a fun Disney Thanksgiving, whether you want a traditional or a unique meal #thanksgivingtravel #untraditionalthanksgiving