Theme Parks Find Recipe for Success in Growing Food Options; Disney flavor lab gives chefs a creative space to design new culinary delights

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The Disney flavor lab is a new space that gives Disney chefs a creative space to collaborate and design new culinary delights for the increasingly food savvy guests.

The Disney flavor lab is a new space that gives Disney chefs a creative space to collaborate and design new culinary delights for the increasingly food savvy guests.

In theme parks’ early days, food was often an afterthought — served and consumed quickly, so visitors could get back to riding Space Mountain or watching the Shamu show.

These days, visitors want more from their meals, and theme parks are offering them a smorgasbord of options. The breadth of menu items and restaurants is growing. Food festivals are flourishing. Chefs are creating dishes meant to give guests a fuller experience of the Jungle Cruise ride or Diagon Alley.

Guests expectations’ have changed … over the years. Certainly with things like The Chew and the Food Network and social media, people are becoming much more savvy about their dining experiences.Sandra Pedicini on theme-park dining

Orlando Sentinel reporter Sandra Pedicini discusses changes in theme-park dining options. (Video from Fox 35)

With 475 restaurants, kiosks and other food outlets, Walt Disney World in particular has become known for pleasing the palate. Its food-and-wine festival at Epcot has grown to 62 days. Hours of many Disney eateries have expanded too, with more serving breakfast. Many events have dessert parties attached. Heeding more than 700,000 special dietary requests Disney says it receives annually, the parks have introduced allergy-friendly “Snacks with Character.” last year published an in-depth online guide to Disney World, with guides to everything from ice cream to cocktails. Not everything got a great review, but editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt wrote that “pleasures can very much be found — not only pleasures but ingenuity, quirky surprises and pure joy …”

The Disney’s director of food and beverage product development, said his company’s portfolio of restaurants has become more diverse over the years. “We … really expanded the different dining options for our guests based on the experiences they were looking for.”

The opening of the new 7,000-square-foot Flavor Lab at Walt Disney World creates an unprecedented work space for food and beverage research and development.

Disney says its commitment to quality cuisine was demonstrated with the recent opening of its Flavor Lab near Port Orleans resort – a 7,000-square-foot building devoted to research and development across all Disney parks. About 20 employees work there full-time on an increasing number of new projects such as recipes for the Tiffins restaurant opening in Animal Kingdom this spring. Other new places executives point to include Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs, featuring signature cocktails such as the bright green Reggie’s Revenge made of vodka and melon liqueur.

Then there’s the Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, an ode to the regions traveled in the Jungle Cruise ride. Dishes from Asia, South America and Africa include sustainable fish collar with yuzu-soy sauce. If you plan on traveling and need to rent a car visit When that restaurant opened in December, “reading the social media and the press, the way it was described, it’s not your typical theme-park food, said Disney’s director of food & beverage concept development. “They were talking about the flavor, the spices, the presentation.”

There’s still plenty of basic grub such as burgers and pizza to be found among the gourmet goodies. But a local food blogger said he’s been impressed by Disney’s increasing sophistication. He would like to see other theme parks introduce more high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients.

A lot of folks sometimes plan their trips around food. To miss that demographic is, maybe, shortsighted for businesses looking to cater to the next generation who cares more about their food.

Many try to get as much for their money by the using theme parks’ meal plans, the costs of which have regularly increased. Disney’s prices went up this week after two years of staying steady.

SeaWorld is placing emphasis on its festivals, many of which feature something to eat. Its sister park in San Antonio last year debuted a Seven Seas Food Festival. For its Bands, Brew & BBQ, SeaWorld Orlando has started cooking the barbecue in-house and expanded the menu to include down-home delicacies such as a maple-bacon cupcakes and corn-chip chili pie. It’s really taken it to a whole new level,” said SeaWorld’s vice president of culinary operations in Orlando. SeaWorld also introduced New Year’s Eve four-course dinner with champagne and dessert reception.

Last year Universal Orlando joined the trend of events built around eating, with a dinner featuring Halloween Horror Nights‘ scare actors.

At Universal Orlando, the opening of the first Harry Potter land in 2010 unleashed some serious culinary creativity. While planning Universal’s Wizarding Worlds, senior vice president Ric Florell and his team referred to now dog-eared copies of the Potter books filled with notes on meals, treats and drinks that they could bring to life.

Universal found its signature beverage in Butterbeer. The books didn’t specify its flavor, so Universal’s team had to use its imagination. After more than two years tinkering with the recipe, Universal delivered a foamy concoction that tastes of cream soda and butterscotch. Butterbeer now comes in several forms – even a fudge.

Universal’s two Potter lands also feature British pub fare, oddly flavored ice creams, and Wizarding World beverages including Fishy Green Ale, a minty beverage with blueberry boba-style bubbles.

The heavy theming can also be found in Universal’s Simpsons area, which when it opened in 2013 included Krusty Burger and Duff Brewery.

Grabbing an unusual bite to eat in these lands completes the experience. It’s the exclamation mark on the rest of your day.

Source:, 3-15-2016

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