RESTAURANT REVIEW - Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater @ Disney/MGM Studios

What do you do if you want your mealtimes to be just as themed as your day in the parks? The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater MAY solve your problems.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: August 29, 2004 at 3:15 AM

From the official WDW site: Motor into this indoor "dine-in" for good times. Park yourself under a starry sky in a vintage convertible and catch old sci-fi flicks on the big screen. Enjoy sandwiches, salads, shakes and specialty drinks in a cool '50s car as you shriek at your favorite movie creatures. One of the most original dining experiences this side of Mars — it's out of this world!

TPI visitors who have been reading my reviews know I'm not too fond of the website blurbs the theme parks use. But I honestly can't find any fault with this one. This is the way blurbs should be, intriguing yet it doesn't set you up for unattainable heights.

If anything, this blurb kind of underdoes it. I don't think visitors to the WDW site understand what a great themed atmosphere they have here. Yes, it's both a drive-in with cars and a snack bar and, yes, it's also indoors. It would be kind of hard to get a drive-in feel if you were parked out in Orlando's blazing sun (or torrential rains). Besides, isn't everybody outside enough? The air-conditioning more than makes up for the fact that those "stars" are painted onto a ceiling.

The "convertibles" are mostly six-seaters, but with three rows of two, instead of the two rows of three you might expect. It sounds weird but it doesn't ruin the effect. Before each seat is a table, so don't fret that you'll have to eat off a tray placed on your car door. While this seating is great for couples or a family of four (it's much easier to watch kids sitting right in front of you), parties with an odd number of guests may have to decide who will have a row to him- or herself. I seem to recall some convertibles having just four seats and some umbrella-covered tables back by the "snack bar" but don't rely on me for that (call 407-WDW-DINE for information and for Priority Seating reservations up to 90 days in advance) since I was busy looking at other stuff.

True to the name out front, the sit-down restaurant fulfills its sci-fi theme by projecting old-fashioned creature feature trailers on the drive-in screen. These are a hoot, but for some unfathomable reason the loop lasts about an hour, if that. Some of the trailers are fun, but not so fun that you need to see them twice. On our visit, service was so slow, we saw most of them THREE times. Sigh.

Okay, so the theme is fantastic. What about the food? In a word: Meh! And that's if you can find something worthwhile to order. I'm usually an appetizer fiend, but I passed because I couldn't find anything interesting on the menu. Marinated Tomatoes sounds like the Sci-Fi chefs have been forced to dig through the Brown Derby's dumpster for menu items. The Popcorn Chowder, a corn chowder, sounded inviting except for the fact that it was topped with cheddar popcorn. Say what? Has anybody in this restaurant ever tried wet popcorn? Unpleasant in taste AND texture. The Sci-Fi House Salad was also tempting, with bleu cheese crumbles, but then it was topped off with a white balsamic vinaigrette and spicy walnuts. Spicy Walnuts?!?! What the...?!?!?

One appetizer that didn't have some bizarre addition was the Crispy Onion Rings, a dish my companion slobbers over. But even with her onion ring obsession, she couldn't finish her plate, proclaiming them too greasy. I notice there is a Spinach and Artichoke Dip on the menu now, which I would have tried had it been offered on my visit. (It might have been on there but was unavailable. Not sure.)

The weird additives didn't venture much onto the entree menu, though the Shrimp Penne Pasta had way more than necessary. I mean, I can understand plum tomatoes, if cut up, but baby spinach? The main ingredient here is shrimp, people, so why try to focus the flavor elsewhere?

I had the Sauteed Pork Medallions, or as the dish should be labeled in the menu, Sauteed Pork MEHdallions. I was leery ordering this in the first place, as pork is difficult to do well. Unsurprisingly, mine were overcooked and therefore dry. My companion kept insisting I send it back, but, as I mentioned earlier, service was slow and I wasn't going to wait another half-hour for my food.

She was one to talk, though, as she ordered the Flat Iron Steak and was unhappy with its temperature. She is a weird eater though, and tends to eat the side dishes first, in this case roasted veggies and a loaded baked potato. I suggested that its coldness may be due to her letting it sit for so long, but I did have to wonder if the reason it took so long to get our food was because it was sitting under a heat lamp far longer than necessary. She didn't finish her steak, but that isn't unusual for her.

Without an appetizer, I had room for dessert, but we were done sitting here. Besides, we had both had their fabulous shakes, mine was Strawberry, hers Cookies and Cream, so we felt we had our fix for a while. It's too bad, because I have heard from many people that their desserts are what they do right. The Big Bang sundae is only a little off from the sundae they offer at the Prime Time, so I'm sure we would have liked that. There is also a Warm Apple & Pecan Crisp, a Chocolate Kahlua Torte, the requisite Cheesecake (with berries) and even Strawberry Shortcake.

Many frequent WDW visitors will head to the Sci-Fi solely for dessert and atmosphere, which I think is a spectacular idea. I think the dinner menu is way too ambitious. Why such a young theme and such old food? I know they have been trying to improve quality here, but they really should focus on food more appropriate to the theme, like specialty hamburgers and hot dogs, and snackier stuff like nachos and fries. Prime Time's fries with dipping sauces would be PERFECT here.

As for prices, this is one of the few WDW restaurants that doesn't jack up prices on the dinner menu. The dishes that appear on both menus are priced the same. The lunch menu does offer sandwiches, including a plain ol' hamburger, while the dinner menu offers more seafood dishes. Prices for the sandwiches is in the low teens, and entrees range from the mid- to high teens. Surprisingly reasonable for theme park food, but I think this is due to the Sci-Fi's poor-food reputation. The atmosphere is so entertaining that they could easily price some of these dishes at $20, if they were any good.

The Sci-Fi is a hard restaurant to rate. The atmosphere is top-notch, the food anything but. Except for dessert. As a regular restaurant, I have a hard time even giving it a 7 - Good on the TPI Scale, simply because the food isn't up to snuff. But it is something everyone should do once, just for the experience. Of course, they always say to do what the regulars do, which would be to just go for dessert. Then your experience should rate a 9 - Outstanding.

Readers' Opinions

From Jason Lester on August 29, 2004 at 8:07 PM
Thanks! I'm going to Disney MGM Studios in December so I'll try to go here for desert. That is if we can find enough to keep us at the park to desert time!
From Chuck Campbell on August 29, 2004 at 8:22 PM
Even though I had a perfectly acceptable NY Strip Steak there last year, I agree--go for the atmosphere, not for the food. Making it a dessert venue would be perfect (the shakes are excellent)--or maybe just concentrating on "gourmet" versions of snack bar food (like all sorts of fancy burgers). Has anybody come up with a "haute cuisine" corn dog? (How about a "Mexican corn bread dog" with three different types of salsa?)
From Robert Niles on August 29, 2004 at 11:06 PM
At the ArcLight Theater (movies) in Hollywood, they feature a "sausage baguette."
From Kevin Baxter on August 29, 2004 at 11:41 PM
I like the corn dog idea, Chuck. Does everyone know of Hot Dog on a Stick? I absolutely love their cheese on a stick, so why can't someone come up with a corn dog that has cheese AND a hot dog? I know they have ones with stuff in the dog itself, but that ain't enough. I want the hot dog surrounded by it! Surrounded, I tell you!
From David Franzen on August 30, 2004 at 7:04 AM
We clocked the trailer loop at 45 minutes last time we ate there. I agree with Kevin that the loop is too short for the average customer visit.

While I found my grilled Salmon completely satisfying, my wife wanted a hamburger, which was not listed on the menu. When she made a casual comment to the server he, offered up to get her one. Just another fine example of the great customer service coming out of the parks. I ended up my dinner with the apple dessert which was plenty tasty.

IMHO, Sci-Fi Diner should be on the must-do list of all newbie visitors to MGM.

BTW, my wife and I just got back last night from a 5-day visit. Among the places we ate this time: Brown Derby, Mama Melrose, Kona Grill, San Angel Inn, San Angel Cantina, and Cosmic Rays. I'll be sure to update those reviews, and/or write up a complete trip report if so requested.

From Jason Moore on August 30, 2004 at 7:50 AM
I have to agree that the loop is closer to the 30-45 minute range. Deffinitely no where near an hour (a full hour might actually be enough for it not to be annoying). In fact I can't even remember how I felt about the food the 2 or 3 times I've been there, just that the loop was way too short. It ruins the experience for me. I love the atmosphere, but once you've sat through the same exact trailers 3 times or more, you're just ready to leave (a feeling i doubt they want their guests having if they expect to increase sales with deserts and such). Only thing I can be happy about though is that I don't work there. I've done enough restaurants & retail to know that the loop of music the guest only hears once gets mighty annoying to the employee who hears it 4 or 5 times (or more) during each shift, so I can only imagine what this tiny loop does to their servers.
From Jason Moore on August 30, 2004 at 7:56 AM
By the way, i've noticed this "short loop" problem to be somewhat of a regular thing with Disney. I mean, how short is the loop over at Great Movie Ride? depending on the crowd,I've stood through that loop so many times that I just started trying to tune it out and listen to conversations around me for amusement.
From Kevin Baxter on August 30, 2004 at 12:52 PM
I did complain about the GMR loop in my last trip report, and that one is MUCH worse than this one. I can understand maybe not wanting a longer loop here so guests won't want to linger too long, making sure they didn't miss anything. But to have such a short loop in the GMR queue is ridiculous.

Do a trip report, David! We're always interested in trip reports from people who actually know how a proper sentence is constructed.

From Chuck Campbell on August 30, 2004 at 5:32 PM
Perhaps showing an entire feature now and then, in addition to the current reel of trailers and shorts, would help. They could tie it into to daily specials--for example, "Attack of the Crab Monsters" cakes, "The Amazing Colossal" corn-cheese dog, or "Creature from the Hanunted Sea" food platter.
From Kevin Baxter on August 30, 2004 at 11:52 PM
A fun idea, but keeping peeps in those cars for 90 minutes doesn't garner much in the way of cash for the restaurant.

How about Twilight Zone episodes? At least ones that aren't too much for kids?

From Mark Hollamon on August 31, 2004 at 1:39 AM
I just looked at my email regarding the Sci-Fi and had to comment. I think the restaurant is one of the nicest in the theme parks! Yes, it could have a longer movie loop. I found the food to be much better than you did Kev. I think one has to keep it in perspective. Pork Medallions? Flat Iron Steak? When was the last time you saw those on a drive in menu? Stick to the sandwiches and you will be fine. Of course it wouldn't cost $50 for a family of four at a drive in, and you wouldn't have to put blinders on the kids to keep them from screaming for glow in the dark ice cubes that cost $6, but that's the way it goes at the Mouse House! I give the place a solid 8 all around!
From Chuck Campbell on August 31, 2004 at 5:03 AM
Twilight Zone episodes could work, but what might be even better would be eposides of "Space Patrol" or "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger"--fun, cheesy 1950s series.
From Chuck Campbell on August 31, 2004 at 4:15 PM
How about this? Disney can hold a "special premiere" a few nights a week at the Sci-Fi Dine In. Resort guests, for a fixed price, get to enjoy a buffet of drive-in related finger foods (with a gourmet twist) while something like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "Attack of the Crab Monsters" plays in the background. CMs can encourage guests to interact with the movie a bit, too, "MST" style.
From Robert Niles on August 31, 2004 at 10:35 PM
Sounds like an excellent part of a Disney-MGM Halloween event, doesn't it?

(Hint, Disney, hint....)

From Kevin Baxter on September 1, 2004 at 12:26 AM
Give it up. They want to focus on Mickey's Pussyass Halloween Party at MK. Heaven forbid there should ever be anything new again at Disney/MGM!

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