The recent family vacation started off wonderful, but unfortunately ended with my wife, kid and myself infected with strep throat. The heat, crowds and growing bacteria in our bodies tried to crush our spirits but we pushed through and had lots of fun. The Disney experience is more micro-managed by The Mouse than ever in my opinion, and that comes with some good and some bad.
One of the good things to come out of this is the Disney Dining plan. Since introducing the format I noticed the food quality has really improved compared to my last visit in the mid 2000’s. Back on that trip, I tried tilapia for the first time after seeing it being raised at Epcot’s Land pavilion. I didn’t like the fish and I still don’t, but I have certainly learned a lot more about how tilapia are being raised since then.
This time around, armed with a dining plan I ate my way through the parks, but not necessarily in search of seafood. Originally I planned to go more in-depth into Disney’s seafood options, but glad I didn’t once feet were on the ground. This is vacation after all and I’m with a 7-year-old so I had my fair share of buffet meals with our favorite Disney characters. As I gorged my way through the Happiest Place on Earth as a true American, I made sure to take note of the seafood options I saw along the way.
Salmon at a buffet? Yeah I know I’m a risk taker but it looked good wherever I saw it. Usually I can smell buffet salmon way before I can see it and that’s not a good thing, but I was pleasantly surprised at what I found at Disney. In the Magic Kingdom I tried a honey-soy glazed salmon and at the Animal Kingdom the whole roasted salmon with piri piri sauce. I liked both but the whole salmon was perfectly cooked, moist and tender. My only problem was the hack job the carver did on the fish and gave me a pile of pin bones on my first serving.
Thanks to a comment on my Instagram I learned that Verlasso, which sea-farms Atlantic salmon off the coast of Chile, is the exclusive supplier. For those that put stock in the various eco-labels, Verlasso is listed as “good alternative” by SeafoodWatch. I don’t think Atlantic salmon should be farmed in the Pacific for the risk of invasive species, but at the end of the day, I must admit this is some really good tasting farmed salmon.
I don’t eat tilapia, but it seemed pretty popular among the other guests at the buffets. I have not discovered who supplies Disney with their tilapia, but some of fish are raised right in Epcot. You can see tilapia, sturgeon and other fish being raised in an aquaponics system if you take the Living With The Land ride. The tilapia raised here are served in the restaurants within the Land Pavilion.
While on vacation I chose to suspend my apprehension for farm-raised shrimp because 1) I like shrimp (vs. tilapia) and 2) I’m on vacation…cut me some slack 😉 The Crystal Palace buffet had piles of chilled shell-on shrimp in their salad selection and they were sweet as candy. From what I could tell, the same type of shrimp were used at the Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House for a very tasty shrimp curry that I wish I paid more attention to.
Finally, a night to ourselves. Well at least a couple of hours. My wife and I headed to Tiffins in the Animal Kingdom for something a little more up-scale. After a few inspired cocktails and a delicious cheese board, we both settled on fish. My wife chose the grilled swordfish, which was dusted with some exotic African spices that reminded me of the flavors you find in Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisine. Unlike chili peppers, this heat is in the belly, not the mouth. Readers will know that we eat a fair share of swordfish in season up North, and this piece was of high quality and just the right thickness to stay juicy after the grill.
Disney’s Yellowtail Snapper
The highlight of my Disney dining was Tiffin’s beautifully presented yellowtail snapper, fried whole with fermented black beans and slaw. I have to admit I was a little nervous about this. It had been years since I ate a whole fish, with the head and fins on, and the duck entrée was really calling for me. I also didn’t see anyone else in the restaurant eating it so I asked my server for his recommendation. He replied with confidence that this is THE thing for fish lovers and is excellent. I’m glad I listened because it did not disappoint: A feast for all the senses, and made for quite the presentation when brought out to the “oohs and ahhs” of our fellow diners. It was a very flaky, white fish with a mild taste that reminded me of striped bass. The crispy skin was delicious and when I mixed the fish with the sauce and slaw it became the best thing I’ve ever eaten at Disney.
Meanwhile back at our hotel, the Disney Beach Club, the in-laws were feasting on king crab claws and lots of other seafood delights in the Cape May Cafe. I had issues with this hotel and probably won’t go back, but the buffets held in their restaurant are very popular for a reason.
I really enjoyed almost every meal I had during our Disney trip, and if you like to eat the Disney Dining Plans are worth looking into. It is also good to know that you can go beyond the burgers, fried chicken and ribs without fear. Hopefully on our next trip we will remain healthy and check out even more Disney dining options…and if anyone at Disney HQ is wants to talk about sampling more seafood, I’m all ears!