Dining Around the Walt Disney World in 1984

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Features, Imaginerding, Walt Disney World

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Published on August 19, 2013 at 12:01 am with 6 Comments

I frequently bemoan the fact that early Walt Disney World is not very well documented. Unlike her older sister, Disneyland, the cultural phenomenon of Walt Disney World seemed to be born old hat and always attracted a larger group of tourists that received more of an assembly-line vacation. It’s more to the point that Walt Disney World has always been a ritual more than an experience for most. Over the past 20 years, Walt Disney World has morphed into a rite of passage for most families with young children, and hence, the idea of a Walt Disney World vacation has changed.


I’ve discussed this with other Disney historians and we’ve come up with a few theories about the lack of documentation. For one thing, the camera equipment and film stock of the 1970s weren’t as high quality as previous generations (thanks, Polaroid). So a lot of the photographs haven’t stood the test of time. Also, a different clientele was attracted to Walt Disney World. Disneyland had a huge metropolitan base to pull from that was made up of every different social milieu—people that had the time and money to document their trips. A lot more ephemeral material exists for Disneyland and it was much more heavily documented by visitors and Disney itself.


So, this brings me to a lot of the posts that I do at ImagiNERDing about the history of Walt Disney World. A lot of my research is from primary sources, like employee newsletters, brochures, magazines and public relations material. This leads me to charge the readers with looking through their personal collections to share photos, travel documents and anything else related to their Walt Disney World vacations.

Let’s take a look at another section from a 1983 Walt Disney World Vacation Guide. This time it’s how Disney presented dining around the world, which included 16 percent of the guide.


Master chefs make culinary magic.

Dining adventures are as diverse as the Vacation Kingdom itself. In every area of Walt Disney World – from the hotels, Fort Wilderness and Walt Disney World Village to Epcot Center and the Magic Kingdom – you’ll find restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and menus that include everything from cheeseburgers to bouillabaisse and Steak Diane Flambé.


If you’d like a healthy portion of entertainment along with your entree, then you’re sure to savor any number of dinner shows. Every evening, the Polynesian Village Resort serves up an island-style luau, along with performances of the colorful “Polynesian Revue.” Meanwhile, at Fort Wilderness Resort, the high-kickin’, hand-clappin‘ “Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue” raises the rafters of Pioneer Hall as hungry families chow down on home-cooked vittles like fried chicken and barbecued ribs. Or, if you’d prefer evening of fine dining, dancing and the sensational sounds of Broadway, the Top of the World supper club at the Contemporary Resort Hotel presents “Broadway at the Top,” a rousing salute to the American musical theatre.


“Hoop-De-Doo” Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness.

Walt Disney World Village poses many delectable dining decisions as well. A prime choice of afternoon and evening shoppers is the Village Restaurant. While lunchtime diners are tempted by such unusual entrees as Crab and Artichoke Omelettes, evening guests are drawn to the sumptuous fragrance of New Orleans Bouillabaisse and the sizzle of steaks cooked on an open hearth. No evening at the Village would be complete without taking in one of the nationally-known jazz acts in the adjacent Village Lounge.


The Village Restaurant at the Walt Disney World Village. Read a little about the history of this restaurant, here.

The Empress Lilly riverboat offers the most elegant dining in the Village. An authentic recreation of an 1880′s Mississippi stern-wheeler, the Empress Lilly house two family restaurants, small Victorian lounges and the Empress Room, where you can dine amidst Louis XV splendor. After dinner, enjoy the lilting sounds of a harp or classical guitar in the exquisite Empress Lounge or the rhythmic good time tunes of the entertainment in the Baton Rouge Lounge.


The Empress Room aboard the Empress Lilly Riverboat. Check out my post on the secrets of the Empress Lilly Riverboat, here.

Not far from the Empress Lilly and Walt Disney World Village is a gourmet adventure set within a splendid country club. It’s the Lake Buena Vista Club, where you’re already a member.


The Lake Buena Vista Club.

Here, dinner means fine wines, French-Continental entrees like Carnard a l’Orange or Chateaubriand Bouquetiere, and, of course, an intimate candlelit atmosphere.


It’s the Gulf Coast Room at the Contemporary Resort!

With the opening of Epcot Center comes a veritable United Nations of dining experiences. Dine at Les Chefs de France in World Showcase and savor such gastronomic masterpieces as Filet de “Snapper” Champs Elysees or Boeuf au vin de Bourgogne by superstar chefs Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge and Gaston Lenotre. Or dine as the Romans do – at L’Orignale Alfredo Di Roma, where singing waiters serve such epicurean delights as the Maestro’s own Fettucine All’Alfredo


An oft-used image of the Rose & Crown Dining Room. It was obviously important to promote the fact that you could enjoy beer at EPCOT Center.

In Mexico you’ll enjoy the famed cuisine of Mexico City’s incomparable San Angel Inn, including such intriguing “Especialidades” as a festive chicken dish simmered with more than 20 Mexican spices (amid a hint of chocolate). In Japan’s Mitsukoshi Restaurant, you’ll watch Japanese master chefs prepare shrimp, steak or chicken entrees in the traditional teppan style. And at the rotating Good Turn restaurant in the Future World Land pavilion, you’ll feast on such regional American dishes as New England scallops, Alaska salmon or Mid-western prime rib. These are just five of the more than a dozen outstanding restaurants that Epcot Center adds to your Walt Disney World vacation.


Top of the World at the Contemporary Resort. Read all about the Top of the World, here.

Looking at the article from the magazine gives us a better idea about how Disney marketed a Walt Disney World vacation in 1984. Almost 20 years after Disneyland’s opening and a year after Epcot Center opened, with a large number of restaurants, we see Disney trying to polish the image of Walt Disney World and present a more grown-up look at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Do you have any images or ephemera from the early years of Walt Disney World? Any great stories? Do you know anything about the Gulf Coast or Pueblo Rooms at the Contemporary Resort?

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ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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  1. This was a really fun read George. My first trip to WDW was in 1986 as an adult so I was able to enjoy many of the restaurants you described. I know it was a simpler time and many of these pictures make it look very dated by today’s standards, but it was a lot of fun and pretty high-end in its time. Although we did both the Top of the World and the Empress Lilly, we found the Empress to be a much classier dining room at that point (one of the only places you could get seafood on property at that time). Though oddly, The Top of the World was the only dining room on property that required a Jacket and tie at the time (strictly enforced). The Broadway show was a lot of fun (I think the Kids of the Kingdom were the actual performers of this show). The meal was also very nice for its time (It was a set menu with I think 5 courses). There was no Dining Plan then so you paid for the meals you wanted (it wasn’t free I recall – but you could almost always get in).
    The Luau and Hoop-Dee-Doo created very strong memories for us and we continue to see them both every visit since. I think we only were able to enjoy a couple of the Epcot restaurants because of the cost and our smaller incomes at the time (the Coral Reef Dining Room was a must do and it was delightful).
    I have a lot of strong memories of fine dining at WDW in these earlier years and nearly all of them were very positive and encouraged repeat visits. Most of that is still true today when it comes to fine dining WDW restaurants. My only real complaint is that they used to serve actual quality beef and steak cuts and now it seems to be mostly flank and cheap beef cuts but still charging premium beef prices. It is a definite declining by degrees scenario.

    The Theme Park experiences are completely different now and I can’t say that they went in an entirely positive direction. I love new attractions and updates but Disney World parks just don’t feel the same anymore. I don’t think I’m the first person on this site to say that though.

    Thanks for the great reporting!

  2. I continue to be shocked at how the turned the Empress Lily’s three magnificent locations into one mediocre one.

  3. Much like Country Bear, I began visiting WDW as an adult in 1977. Before I get to the dining, I would just like to comment on the aspect of photography. Although I feel the quality was more or less as good as today, the equipment was much more cumbersome. A heavy Nikon or Pentax was not fun to carry all day, plus lenses and boxes with film. It was also expensive to have the film developed (resulting in me taking mostly slides to keep the cost down – try to find a slide projector these days!). That is why I have no pictures from my Disneyland trips in 1972, ’75 and ’86 and few from my early WDW trips.
    Dining was always an important part of my trips, much more so once EPCOT opened. I recall the early morning runs to EPCOT just to make the dining reservations for the day at the video screens – not a lot of fun since ‘rope drop’ was never part of our vacations.
    I managed to eat a most places except Top of the World as I refused to travel with a jacket and tie (until I was married). In 1987 I purchased a Key to the Kingdom (I think it was called that) card, that was a prepaid vacation that included everything – dining, recreation, parks and was seemingly without limitations. During that 8 day trip we made sure to get to a different place for 3 meals everyday.
    Maybe just my recollection, but dining seemed much less kid oriented except at the very few character meals (Empress Lilly breakfast and I don’t recall others). The Disney Village was an important part of dining early on and things such as the rotating restaurant in the Land pavilion, the Luau, and Mexico creating environments that generally did not exist in my home town, helped create memorable experiences.
    And the place I miss the most – the small lounge at the top of the Contemporary. It was our place to hang out at the end of the day and we would often stay until closing, overlooking the MK and basically having the place to ourselves.

  4. I know these are publicity photos, but it wasn’t that long ago when people dressed with class at restaurants, even when on vacation at WDW. I miss those days. On my last trip to WDW, we made it a point to go back to our hotel and change before dinner with Jiko, which does have a posted dress code. Apparently it doesn’t mean much as most people were in t-shirts and flip flops.

  5. I notice a distinct lack of toddlers and strollers in this advertising piece. In the current Disneyland website advertising I notice a distinct surfeit of small children and a distinct lack of photos of folks enjoying attractions. All the Chihuahua noticed was the food.

  6. This article brought back memories of dining at Walt Disney World during our 1985 visit. I was eight and my brother was four. We spent most of our time at EPCOT Center and ate at many of the restaurants there. It was probably our first real gourmet food dining experience and it certainly opened my palate to new and different things. (Even if I ended up not liking them.)
    Your mention of the Good Turn restaurant reminded me of our experience there. We were vacationing with another family and we decided to go to the Good Turn for breakfast. It was a very crowded day and it seemed like our food was taking forever. One of the adults in our party, when finding out how long it took the restaurant to completely rotate, asked if it could go by the kitchen so we could get our food! Ahh memories.
    My Mom asked to keep copies of the menus from each of the restaurants as a souvenir. She did get quite a few, but I have no idea where they are hiding in our house.
    As for character dining, that was still fairly non-existent back in 1985. We didn’t do a character meal in 1985. There wasn’t one where we were staying nor can I recall one at EPCOT at the time.