Best Restaurants Vary Among Children
There’s a popular saying in the Autism community, “If you know one person with autism, then you know one person with autism”. While this simply means that no two people with ASD are alike. The full disclaimer is what works for our child may not work for yours. Some children seek sensory input, others avoid it. For example, the Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex Cafe provide a lot of sensory stimulation. This can be too much for some children, or perfect for others.
A few children can cope with strangers being close by. Our child does not like strangers in close proximity unless they have interacted with him prior to coming in his space. Many children despise being the center of attention and will want to avoid teasing from their servers. Restaurants like the 50s Prime Time Cafe and Whispering Canyon Cafe provide lots of antics.
Children differ in ability to sit still for a longer meal. Would a quick service meal suit your family best? Your family and your child will know if your child will sit for a long meal or show. Our son is gluten-free for behavior reasons related to autism. He is also a very specific eater due to his sensory issues and gluten intolerance.
Without further ado, we will jump into the best Disney World restaurants for Autism.
Top 5 Best Disney World Restaurants Autism
5. Garden Grill
This is a family style restaurant where each family sits separately in an isolated booth from the other tables. It is relatively quiet and ideal for keeping children occupied during meals. The restaurant slowly turns 360 degrees and looks over a lower level of scenes from the ride “Living with the Land”. Therefore, my best advice is to take them on the ride first to help prepare them for the meal.
Also, children may opt to meet Chip and Dale, and occasionally their “harvest friends” Mickey and Pluto. Furthermore, meeting characters is hit or miss with my son, and we let our server know this. One particular evening, he became scared of the characters and the staff were very empathetic and kept the characters on the far side of the table.
If you can go during off-peak hours and days, the noise level is appreciably lower. Also, we found that they were incredibly accommodating and understanding. They have an extensive, delectable gluten-free menu. Our only warning is that they don’t have a lot to offer for picky eaters.
4. Olivia’s Cafe
While we need dining reservations nearly everywhere else in Disney world, this is often available for walk-ins. This is a low-key restaurant at Disney’s Old Key West Resort. (Did you see what I did there?) Hence, this resort is on “island time”, with a gorgeous nautical theme.
Seemingly miles away from the bustling theme parks, it is a simple boat ride away from Disney Springs. The resort is massive and peaceful with plenty of foliage filled paths to traverse. While the food isn’t as ideal for picky eaters in our family, there is always gluten-free French fries, yogurt and apple slices. For us, that’s enough.
3. Coral Reef
Coral Reef has a large fish tank that really captures the eye of every patron. Even if you aren’t tank side, you will still be able to see the fish swimming back and forth. The subdued lighting enhances the relaxed ambiance. This is a nice break in our day.For picky and gluten-free eaters, they offer steak, grilled fish, grilled chicken tenders, grapes and french fries.
2. Sci-Fi Dine-in
The theme of this restaurant is sitting in cars and watching silly sci-fi clips on the large movie screen in the front of the restaurant. Each car lends itself to the possible “hitch hiking” with strangers. Consequently, I always put my son in the front row, so he isn’t affected.
This is a great restaurant for my son to decompress. Most of all, it’s sensory deprivation after an over-stimulating day. Because he lights are dim, and the noise level is louder than a movie theater, but quieter than most other diners. The car is a hard plastic, and our son benefits from the sensation of the surface. It’s similar to his hard, straight back chair for circle time.
Also, the food is perfect for picky eaters and the gluten-free menu is extensive. For example, gluten-free Kids Meal options include popcorn chicken, burgers, macaroni cheese, plain grilled chicken, and french fries.
1. Cape May Cafe
If your child hates characters, this isn’t for you. However, it’s the only character meal that my son loves.
The breakfast has gluten-free mickey waffles, fruit and breakfast meat. There is something for each of my picky eaters. The characters are amazing, when we told the cast members that our son has autism and is a little put off by characters. Our server arranged it so they would let him come up to them, and not vice versa. It’s not very busy and it’s easy to snag within a day or two of the reservation.
We were very nervous to come to the character meal, since our son has struggled with them in the past. He verbalized that he wanted to see Donald. When we explained that he loved looking at pictures of himself and of Disney characters, but became nervous at the thought of meeting them, they devised a plan. They wanted him to have the photographs with the characters without the stress. They silently snuck up behind him to let us take pictures!!
A Dance with Donald
As each character came to our table, we let him choose if he wanted to interact or not. He has a nervous habit where he pushes his shoes off his feet. In socks with no shoes, he flew out from under the table to meet his idol. He said that he is like Donald because for a long time, he had no voice. He excitedly began to shake his tail feather. Our shy son was dancing with Donald Duck!!!
I have so many more photos that I can share. This has been our happy place. Your mileage may vary. However, we’ve made some really beautiful memories here.
Need a timeout and a quiet place in Magic Kingdom?
What restaurants are your family’s favorite?