Category Rank: 6
Park: "Rest of the World"
Park Rank: 9
Next up on our list of greatest, most Disneyish, most mouse-tacular, most magical, most nostalgic items in all the land... a food court!
The Riverside Mill Food Court is located at Port Orleans Riverside (POR) resort, which with full disclosure, has an unfair jump on other resorts and their restaurants. Riverside was the very first resort we stayed at when going to WDW, and the first trip is always the most nostalgic. While POR has that going for it, there are many other qualities about it that make it special.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. This entry is solely about the food court; specifically the food and the atmosphere of the restaurant area itself. I'm separating out the rest of the resort, which includes the scenic view of the river and the giant water wheel silently turning on the side of the restaurant, since those attributes go to whether the resort is ranked on this list or not (spoiler, it is). So, while I mention some of the surrounding features of the restaurant here, that's only for the sake of someone who hasn't been to the food court. Indeed, if those features counted, this restaurant would be in the top 20.
Seriously, how could a food court produce this much passion for someone, when a food court is such a mundane thing? Does one get nostalgic about Guest Services or a bathroom at a park? Maybe I should have listed my favorite drinking fountain or street light. (Nuts... now that I think about it, there is a really cool walking garbage can in Tomorrowland that maybe should have made the list).
And furthermore, there are dozens of food courts in the World. Some, like the Sunshine Seasons Food Court, offer original food choices from items grown organically on the Living with the Land ride. What makes this one so special, other than it was our first food court?
Much like art, "nostalgia" is tough to explain at times, but there are many reasons why we like the court, and many reasons why we can justify it on this list. Let's start with this: The Riverside Mill Food Court is often considered the best food court in the World by reviewers. AllEars viewers have it rated higher than many (most!) sit-down restaurants, let alone other food courts. Check out this review from the Disney Food Blog; it actually does a great job illustrating the charm this restaurant brings (I was seriously thinking about doing some high level cut and paste from Emma Stewart's review).
People tend to like this food court because it has a great mixture of food options for everyone, including both basic and artisan pizzas, Southern homestyle cooking, gourmet soups, the basic burgers and fries, and nice panini sandwiches. Best of all is the desert bar, where you can get a Butterscotch bar for desert (the thing is downright huge), or many other popular options. Yes, this food isn't like dining at Victoria & Albert's or something like that, but if you could take this food court and transplant it to your local mall, you would do so in a heartbeat and then eat weekly at your mall, just because it is good food that will please everyone. Can't say that about Victoria & Albert's.
The atmosphere, though, makes this food court stand out. We have eaten at our hotel's food courts in many different locations. We've also stopped in food courts in some of the resorts we are visiting (like Animal Kingdom Lodge or Wilderness Lodge). And, they tend to be either unbelievably busy or unbelievably desolated. A lot are hidden in the lower levels of their resorts without a view. And, in many cases, the hustle and bustle of the courts makes you feel like you are at the parks, fighting to reserve a table, while someone makes a fountain drink run.
Not so with Riverside Mill. There has always been enough room there, and yet, there has been enough people there to make it feel like we weren't in some closet. The Mill has the perfect amount of traffic at it. When you eat there, it makes you feel relaxed (there is that key word again).
I mentioned the Mill is an extension of the whole POR resort, and the themes of relaxation and Southern Charm are perfected at POR. The Mill combines the view from the river with the relaxed atmosphere and the Southern style food (if you want it) and the Southern style music to create a great ambience. No matter how long a day we have had at the parks, we always feel rejuvenated eating there and resting our weary feet.
So, why a food court at all on this list? Restaurants make up a large part of the WDW experience. Think of it this way, those that don't typically eat at WDW restaurants (day patrons as opposed to those staying on site) leave Disney World without the same sense of magic and wonder. They have to have a presence on this list. And, the Mill truly makes for one of our most magical stops. We eat there on every trip, even though we don't stay at the resort. How often would you go to a different resort to eat at the food court?
As we stated before, there will be about a third of the items on this list that are uniquely special to our family, and yes, this one is primarily special because it is our place. It was the restaurant of our first visit to the park, and will continue to be so. You will have your own, and while that may not be the Mill, your list should include your favorite food court as well.
We are going to stay at Riverside for our next entry and talk about another item we find magical, as we revisit our transportation category for #36.