Eating Around The World

My Walt Disney World Dining Project

Dining With the Fishes: Coral Reef (Lunch) August 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — scarlettashley1 @ 7:56 pm

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So, my mom and I had already done one day at Epcot, but were doing a second day so that we could finish up World Showcase and see Illuminations.  That first day we were there, my mom spent a lot of time reminiscing about her only other trips there in 1985 and 1986 (when I was 1 and 2).  She had a lot of fun telling me about what had changed, and what was new.  At one point, she mentioned a restaurant they had eaten in that was really cool…a restaurant that looked into a giant aquarium.  When I told her that restaurant, Coral Reef, was still there, she said she would LOVE to eat there again.

Okay, now there are lots of restaurants with reputations at Disney World.  Within the Disney community, you hear a lot of opinions repeated so much, that you just accept them as fact.  Well, there are few restaurants with worse reputations than Coral Reef.  Every now and then, you may hear someone say it was okay…but mostly, you hear people say they will never eat there again, and that the food, service, and value were all horrible.  However, it is also very difficult to get an ADR there!  When you search ADR’s in Epcot, it’s very often unavailable.

So, the day before we were going back to Epcot, we were working on getting reservations, and I told my mom I would check and see if Coral Reef was available.  I just KNEW it wouldn’t be, so I really wasn’t worried about it (note: even though I knew I would have to eat there at some point for the blog, I didn’t want my mom to be subjected to a bad experience on her vacation).  With my mom sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder at my computer screen, I searched for lunch at Coral Reef.  *Sigh* Of course (in case you didn’t know from the title of this post), it was available.  This was the first time I had ever seen openings there!  The time was for 11:20am…perfect for our schedule.  My mom was so excited!  Since, as I said earlier, I knew I would have to eat there eventually anyway, I made the ADR.

At this point, I made a very cowardly decision.  I decided not to tell my mom about what everyone says about Coral Reef.  She was so excited to go there and try it, and I didn’t want to burst her bubble.  Although, I also didn’t want to tell her that it was going to be bad…that would ruin it for her.  Plus, if/when it was terrible, I wanted to be able to claim to be surprised.  Like, “Oh mom, I’m so sorry the food was awful, I had no idea!”  I know, I know…I said it was cowardly!  But, I thought maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad and it wouldn’t matter.

Since we had already done all we wanted to do in Future World, and World Showcase doesn’t open til 11 anyway, we decided to sleep in that morning (well, as much as Malcolm would let us), and plan on getting to Epcot at 11 for lunch and starting our day then.  Once again, our plan worked out well…I was quickly discovering that EVERYTHING is easier and less stressful with a toddler when you have another adult there to help you…go figure!  Anyway, we got there at about 11:15 and checked in.

One thing I had heard about Coral Reef was that if you eat there, you should request a table near the aquarium windows, since the atmosphere is the only good thing about the restaurant.  I’d heard several people say that they were far away and couldn’t see the fish and were unhappy.  I thought about it, but in the end I decided not to request an aquarium-side table.  I made this decision based on several factors: 1) Malcolm was hungry, and hungry toddlers get very cranky, 2) I was hungry, and hungry pregnant women get very cranky, and 3) It didn’t really matter to us if we were super close to the fishes, we aren’t too picky.  Even without making a special request, this was one of the longest waits I’ve had for a table after checking in.  Granted, it was only about 10 or 15 minutes, but, still, one of the longer waits.

We entered the dining room and were sat on the front part of the third level…almost as far away from the tank as you can possibly get.  However, I thought that our view was still pretty good.  No, the fish weren’t right up in our faces…but it also meant that there weren’t people coming right up to our table to take pictures of the tanks (like I totally did to some poor people at one of the front and center tables).  While I know Malcolm would have liked to be closer, and it probably would have made the meal easier for me because he would have been distracted, I don’t necessarily think it’s worth the extra wait to sit at one of the first tier tables.  That being said, I’ll probably change my mind when Malcolm is older and tells me he wants to sit right next to the fish.

I had looked at the menu online before we went (thanks to!!), and honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with the options.  It’s actually a pretty limited menu, and it’s also very expensive.  I decided that I would ask our server for his opinion.  He recommended we get either the Grilled Mahi Mahi, or the Seared Chicken Breast.  My mom and I both couldn’t decide between the two, so we got one of each and shared.  We didn’t order anything for Malcolm, because he was going to eat off of our plates (seriously, my kid LOVES Mahi Mahi and rice…he’s weird like that).

Our drinks and bread came out first.  In Malcolm’s apple juice, they had stuck in some weird plastic dolphin thing for decoration.  I thought it was pretty dumb at first…but then Malcolm spent most of the meal playing with it, and even began to use it as a fork at one point.  I’m all about pointless crap if it keeps him entertained, so that was a bonus.  Also, the bread was super yummy.  We even had to ask for more.  I was really happy about that because I figured if the food was terrible, at least we would have bread, so we wouldn’t starve.

Our food came pretty quickly, and I have to say, I was impressed with the presentation.  It LOOKED good, and was very pretty.  I know it’s silly, but when I go to a nice restaurant, I like for my food to be kind of pretty.  It’s not a requirement, or a deal-breaker or anything, but just something I look for that makes me happy.

I started with the chicken, which was served with spaetzle with bacon.  I was actually really pleased with the flavor of the chicken.  It was a bit dry, but overall, I thought it was yummy.  The spaetzle was pretty good too.  Not my favorite thing ever, but good, and Malcolm liked it.

The Mahi Mahi with rice, on the other hand, was FANTASTIC!!  I thought it was so good, and it went so well with the rice and everything.  This is most definitely a dish I would return for.  Also, I know this is totally wrong, but there is just something fun about eating fish while looking into an aquarium.  Twisted?  Yes.  But something I think everyone should do at least once in their lives.  Anyway, poor Malcolm didn’t get very much of the fish because my mom and I ate most of it, but honestly, it was too good to waste on a kid who’s happy to eat dog food.  Don’t think Malcolm starved though.  He ate a lot of the spaetzle, rice, bread, and some crackers that our waiter brought him.

For dessert, we decided to order the Butterscotch Creme Brulee with seasonal berries.  I really wanted to get the Chocolate Wave, because I’ve heard so many good things about it.  However, for some reason, when I’m pregnant, I get SUPER sensitive to the flavor of alcohol and can’t eat anything made with liquor…it literally gags me.  So, since my mom and I are both huge creme brulee fans, that’s what we went with.

One thing I thought was interesting about the dessert…it said “with seasonal berries” on the menu, yet it came with a lone strawberry, and not even a whole strawberry!  It was cut in half!  I was a bit disappointed with that, but the actual creme brulee made me forget.  It was perfect!  I loved the butterscotch flavor, and it was cooked perfectly!  It was also served with a biscotti, but we didn’t get to try that, because Malcolm grabbed it as soon as it was set on our table and drolled all over it.  Although, he seemed to really like it, so I guess it was good.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Coral Reef.  However, I’m not sure I could really recommend it.  Yes, it was good.  Yes, I will return there.  But, if you only had one or two days to spend at Epcot, there are so many other places I would tell you to visit first.  I mean, it wasn’t as good as Les Chefs or Le Cellier or Via Napoli.  BUT, if you want American food, or just really love aquariums, someone in your party is just dying to go there, or you have several days at Epcot-check it out.

I’m hoping my good experience wasn’t a fluke after all the bad reports.  I’m hoping that maybe Coral Reef knows how bad it reputation is and is working on improving and THAT is why it was good when we went.

Have you been to Coral Reef?  Let me know about your experience there!  Either leave a comment, tweet me @scarlettashley1 on twitter, friend me on Facebook under Scarlett Ashley, or email me


20 Responses to “Dining With the Fishes: Coral Reef (Lunch)”

  1. Snowpup Says:

    I thought I had told you that I loved the Coral Reef. I even took my parents there to eat.

    The Salmon was also fantastic. (Loved the yummy bread too)

    I completely agree that there is a twisted pleasure in eating fish, whilst watching the fish. Although it can never be as insane as when I had unbelievably super fresh sushi, watching the little fishies swim past.

    I am really glad you (and your Mother) had a good time too.

    For future reference, the Window seats are worth the wait.

    • I didn’t know that you loved it! I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one that enjoyed it though! I’m sure when Malcolm is bigger and can appreciate it more I’ll be willing to wait for the closer seat (and when I’m not so pregnant and impatient!).

  2. Katy Says:

    I love coral reef! Went on both our last two trips this year and food and service was fantastic! I couldn’t eat fish while watching fish though so I ordered the steak lol and it was cooked perfectly. Everyone else in the party raved about their food as well.

  3. Keith C (TheFugitiveGuy) Says:

    Glad to hear you had a good time there. We’re actually going there this weekend on our trip down to WDW when we’re on the free Dining Plan. Like you, I’ve heard all the rumors about Coral Reef, but I figure while on the “free” DP I should experiment a bit and try places I wouldn’t normally pay cash to eat at. Did you have a sense for how long the difference in wait time is for a window seat? I think I will go for that, just to get the fullest experience possible.

    Poor Malcolm and his dog-food-eating ways 🙂 But it’s interesting that he’s learned the trick that if he really wants something to himself, he just has to grab it quickly and then drool all over it!

    • I don’t know how much longer it is for a window seat, however, it’s been so slow at the parks since school has started again, that it probably won’t be too bad. It also depends on what time your ADR is. If you do ask to wait for a front row seat, will you let me know how long you wait?

      Malcolm seems to eat almost anything…especially if he finds it on the floor! Lol, yeah, that is a good trick…maybe I should try that…

  4. Aubrey (DisneyAubs) Says:

    I’m glad to hear good reviews about this place. I have been really nervous about some clients going in October who insisted upon eating there (I told them there have been “mixed reviews” but it seems to be improving…).

    Now here is something strange–for some reason eating seafood by an aquarium doesn’t bother me as much as eating at a BBQ joint all decked out with happy, smiling pigs. I mean, they are both kinda icky, but the pigs really bug me. Don’t get me wrong though–I’ll still eat with the fishes or the pigs! I just can’t think about it too much…

    • OMG! I totally never realized the thing about the smiling pigs at BBQ places! That is hilarious! It really is pretty creepy now that I think about it. I’ll never be able to look at those restaurants the same way again!

  5. Jenn Says:

    Thanks for the review. I have avoided Coral Reef in the past because I just didn’t want to spend the money and hate the food. However, my kids and I both love aquariums so I have always at least considered it. Now, I think I can feel safe in at least giving it a try. My son won’t care at all about the food anyway…he will have his face plastered to the windows the whole time, I’m sure!

    • We really love aquariums at our house too! It is fairly expensive though, so I might recommend going at lunch (unless you’re on the dining plan). However, if you don’t mind paying for atmosphere, this is definitely a place you should try out!

  6. James Says:

    I’ve eaten at the Coral Reef 3 times in the past 3 years. I’ve also observed that the menu has become more limited, especially in the seafood/fish area. Despite that, I’ve never had a bad meal there.

    The service, however, has been below average every time. I waited tables for many years and I’m very aware of the difficulties that come with that type of job. Below average to me means that the server is struggling with the most basic points of service and/or is outright lazy.

    • Our service wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t great either. I also waited tables, and I totally know what you mean about the basic points of service…I get really frustrated when I get bad service because I’m always thinking, “even on my worst day, I wouldn’t do this to a table.” Luckily, we had a pretty good experience here.

  7. Gray Says:

    I LOVE the Coral Reef! I too had a table further away from the tank, and I thought it was a good thing, because I had a wide angle view of it (and no little kids crowding me at my table). I had the blackened catfish with pepperjack cheese grits, and they were to die for. I practically inhaled them. I am always baffled when I read complaints about this restaurant, because my experience couldn’t have been more different. I would happily go back.

    • I almost ordered the catfish! In the end though, I went with our servers recommendation. However, I WILL go back, and I’ll definitely keep the catfish in mind! I’m also surprised by all the complaints I hear, I loved Coral Reef…so glad I’m not the only one!

  8. Janna Says:

    I had two fantastic meals at Coral Reef in 2009 (January and July). I also have an ADR there for this October!

    My then 2yo (now just over 4) LOVED the chicken and spaetzle. He was eating my 10 yo’s (Disney adult per dining plan but mot my appetite) adult entree while we purchased a kids’ meal for my older son. The server even tried to talk us out of it (he didn’t think that a young child would like the flavors – whatever, lol!).

    My husband and I always get the blackened catfish – it has been consistently yummy.

    Incidentally, we ate at CR on our honeymoon in 1993 – it was not very good then. We refrained from eating there until last year and we are thrilled that we took the chance!

    • My 18 month old has some pretty interesting tastes sometimes too! He’ll eat calimari and fish and lots of “weird” things. I’ve heard so many good things about the catfish, it’s definitely on my list for next time I go there.

      I’m glad you took another chance too!

  9. […] Eating Around the World reviews Coral Reef Restaurant in Epcot. […]

  10. keithhudson Says:

    Ah the “seasonal berries”. We, too, were a bit put off by the plural berries only to receive less than a single berry.

  11. Rosalie Says:

    My family ate here in April ’12, and it was the best meal of our entire trip! We had also eaten at Akershush, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Tusker House, and the Crystal palace that trip, and this hands down was our favorite. My Lobster pasta was so delicious! (not the ravioli, as of right now they don’t serve the ravioli any more and I heard it was gross)! There were chunks of lobster in it the pasta, and it was just so good. My husband had the steak, and he said it was the best he ever had, and he really enjoyed the potatoes. The wave dessert was not as good as I was hoping, but we both loved the jack daniels mousse, so good! – The one negative was the kids pizza. Typical microwave yucky pizza, but fortunately I had packed a pb&j just in case any of the food didn’t appeal to her skinny-butt-appetite, and we were on the dining plan, so it didn’t hurt as much with her not eating it. We go again in April ’13, and this was our first ‘must do’ restaurant to get a reservation, and the one I’m most looking forward too 🙂

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