Without further ado, we will jump into the best Disney World restaurants for children with autism.
Top 5 Best Disney World Restaurants for Children with Autism
There is a popular saying in the Autism community, “If you know one person with autism, then you know one person with autism.” This quote means that no two people with ASD are alike, and what works for our child may not work for yours. Some children seek sensory input, while others avoid it. For example, the Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex Cafe provide a lot of sensory stimulation, which can be too much for some children, or perfect for others.
A few children can cope with strangers sitting in close quarters. Our child does not like strangers nearby unless they have interacted with him before coming into 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 but can cause children who prefer to avoid the limelight to experience anxiety. (You can always ask the server to not and they do an excellent job of honoring your requests.)
Children differ in their ability to sit still for a long time.
Would a Walt Disney World quick service meal suit your family’s needs best?
It may. Your family and your child will know if your child will sit for an extended meal or show. If not, quick services are a great option to try new foods or sit in entertaining locations without the time commitment.
Does your family have special dietary requirements?
Our family seeks out gluten-free meals every time we visit Walt Disney World. The best part about Walt Disney World is how helpful they are in accommodating food allergies and intolerances.
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5. Garden Grill
Garden Grill is a family-style restaurant where each family sits separately in an isolated booth from the other tables. With so many Disney dining options putting tables practically on top of one another, this is a welcome change.
Also, children may opt to meet Chip and Dale, and their “harvest friends” Mickey and Pluto. Furthermore, meeting characters is either the hit of the day or the worst thing that my son has ever experienced.
We let our server know whether he runs hot or cold in his Disney character interactions. 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. We often bring tools and supplies to support his autism needs: fidget toys, sensory tools, and even iPads located with autism-friendly apps to any restaurant, just in case.
What are the Benefits of Garden Grill for families with autism?
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. Just give your server a heads up!
The restaurant is dim. Overall, the restaurant is fairly quiet. However, if you sit near the kitchen (up top), it can be louder. Our son with autism finds this absolutely perfect and he (and his siblings) require that we come EVERY TRIP!
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 boat journey first to help prepare them for the meal.
If you are also following a special diet, do not worry. They have an extensive, delectable gluten-free menu. Our only warning is that they don’t have a lot to offer for picky eaters. Our son was able to get a platter of gluten-free french fries in addition to our platter, which made his life complete.
4. Olivia’s Cafe
While we need dining reservations nearly everywhere else in Disney World, this is often available for walk-ins. Olivia’s Cafe 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 Florida Keys theme. Our favorite part is the tropical music playing from the bushes as we stroll around the resort.
If you’re into Key West fare, Olivia’s Cafe serves conch fritters, crab cakes, and Tortuga Seafood Stew. For the less adventurous, they also have pork chops, buttermilk chicken, steak, and prime rib. While the food isn’t as ideal for picky eaters in our family, there are always mashed potatoes, chicken tenders, yogurt, and apple slices. Even our choosy eaters like the key lime tart! For us, that’s enough.
What are the Benefits of Olivia’s Cafe for families with autism?
Seemingly miles away from the bustling theme parks, it is a short and relaxing boat ride away from Disney Springs. The resort is massive and peaceful, with plenty of foliage filled paths to traverse. The restaurant itself is less noisy than other Disney eateries and if you need some space, there is SO much room outside for a quick break.
3. Coral Reef
Most children like Coral Reef- it has a total Finding Nemo vibe before it was even a movie! The restaurant is really popular so make sure you book this one at the 180-day mark.
What are the Benefits of Coral Reef for families with autism?
Coral Reef has dim lights, individual tables where most don’t touch, and a view that can’t be beaten. The large fish tank captures the eye of every patron. We were able to sit right by it, but our biggest complaint was the number of people in our personal space trying to get a peek- not super autism-friendly!
Even if you aren’t on the tank side, you will still be able to see the fish swimming back and forth. The subdued lighting enhances the relaxed ambiance and provides a nice break in our day. For picky and gluten-free eaters, they offer steak, grilled fish, grilled chicken tenders, grapes, and french fries. Our son loved this space and was able to be quiet and patient because of “Nemo”!
2. Sci-Fi Dine-in
The theme of this restaurant is sitting in cars and watching silly sci-fi clips on the giant movie screen in the front of the restaurant. Each vehicle lends itself to the possible “hitchhiking” with strangers. Consequently, I always put my son in the front row, so he isn’t affected.
What are the Benefits of Sci-Fi Dine-in for families with autism?
Maybe it’s the connection to television, but this has always been a place for my son to decompress. Most of all, it’s sensory deprivation after an over-stimulating day. Because the lights are dim, and the noise level is louder than a movie theater but quieter than most other diners. The car is 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.
Of the best Disney World restaurants for children with autism, our number one we visit on each trip!
1. Cape May Cafe
The characters have not returned following the closure of WDW for COVID-19. Check the Walt Disney World Cape May Cafe website for updated information.
If your child hates characters, this isn’t for you. However, it’s the only character meal that my son loves. The tables are spaced apart and the character handlers are more patient than anywhere else that we’ve found! Breakfast at Cape May Cafe features gluten-free Mickey waffles, fruit, and breakfast meat. There is something for each of my picky eaters.
What are the Benefits of Cape May Cafe for families with autism?
All of the fab 5 characters are fantastic for children with special needs. When we told the cast members that our son has autism and is a little put off by large stuffed animals, they gave us special memories. 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 about coming 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 Disney characters, but became nervous at the thought of meeting them, they devised a plan. Cast members wanted him to have the photographs with the characters without the stress. They silently snuck up behind him to let us take pictures!!
What makes Cape May Characters the best Disney World restaurant for children with autism?
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 (which broke this mama’s heart). Our son didn’t speak for a long time. He excitedly began to shake his tail feather. Our shy son was dancing with Donald Duck!!!
The dance with Donald Duck was our best memory to this day. I have so many more photos than I can share, but Disney World has been our happy place. Your mileage may vary. However, we’ve made some beautiful memories here.
What restaurants does your family love?
Those are the best Disney World Restaurants for children with autism in our experience. What restaurants are your family’s favorite?
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