Which theme park chain has the best food these days?

March 22, 2023, 1:18 PM

That's it. That's the question. Thanks in advance for the responses!

Replies (4)

Edited: March 22, 2023, 6:48 PM

Admittedly I haven’t visited a great number of diverse chains over the last few years, namely WDW and Universal. I will give Disney the nudge based on the various festivals that EPCOT rolls out, the sheer number of excellent table service options and the iconic snacks (i.e. Dole Whips, Mickey Ice Cream Bars, popcorn etc.) I recognize that Universal has some stellar options as well, but I’ll yield the floor to everyone else regarding other chains.

March 22, 2023, 11:07 PM

Not to jump on the bandwagon, but yeah, Disney and Universal (but only for locations that debuted in the past 15 years, the rest is pretty forgettable). Knott's has really good food, but the only other Cedar Fair park I've been to is Carowinds and I can't remember eating anything there.

March 23, 2023, 8:42 AM

Ultimately, I think it really depends on what type of food you're looking to eat. Disney is obviously the leader when it comes to table service meals (though Universal is a close second). Whether it be inside a theme park or at a resort, Disney has superior quality, consistency, and just has the edge in shear volume of options for table service dining.

For counter service, I do think there are aspects of all the major chains where they each have an edge. While Disney resort guests can get refillable mugs for fountain sodas/coffee/tea/juice/water at the various resorts, those mugs don't work in the parks, and there's no mechanism to grab a drink within any of the parks without standing in a standard food/beverage line or placing a mobile order (save for grabbing samples at Club Cool in EPCOT). All of the other theme park chains have some sort of refillable cup or program that allows guests to get unlimited beverages while in the parks, and many have even created exclusive refill stations where guests can just walk up and refill their cups with short lines and minimal hassle. Universal has come up with one of the better solutions with their RFID-chip reader Freestyle Machines, but even Cedar Fair has come up with an effective process with staffed refill stations scattered around the parks (though it's annoying that they are moving away from plastic reusable/refillable cups in favor of disposable cups).

When it comes to counter service food, I think even within individual parks/chains, the quality and experiences are all over the place. I do like what Disney and Universal have done with their recent counter service concepts that treat them more like table service restaurants (place an order at a register and then sit down with food brought to the table when it's ready). Also, the quality and diversity of counter service options has increased dramatically in recent years. Even Six Flags has been forced to make upgrades to its food offerings to keep up with the trend of more interesting food options though chicken strips and burgers still dominate their menus.

Finally, there are the seasonal food festivals, which have completely changed the landscape of food and beverage, and as a result have forced counter service restaurants within some parks to up their game. The temporary influx of high quality and diverse food offerings is a delight across the theme park landscape, and has increased the demand from guests for more options and higher quality year-round. Not only have parks responded with more festivals, but they've taken some popular festival items and placed them on counter service menus.

Compared to where we were just 10 year ago, the food and beverage available at theme parks today is light years ahead. Even parks that used to be considered some of the worst when it comes to in-park food and drink have upped their game. I don't think there's one particular chain that necessarily sticks out when it comes to counter service, because they're all doing great work right now.

March 23, 2023, 10:21 PM

Honestly, it depends what you're looking for in theme park food...

Disney is probably still the best for table service dining, and they probably have the widest variety of offerings without leaving the gate (some individual parks more than others, of course). Counter service can be a bit hit or miss, but for the most part it's at least fast food quality at prices less marked up than you'd expect for a theme park of Disney's price point.

Universal has been a bit of a mixed bag in my experience. The full service restaurants in Orlando have consistently been pretty good at very fair prices, but USH doesn't have anything like that. Counter service tends to be either good but pricey, or subpar compared to what can be gotten in City Walk. I've also found Universal's menus to vary less, sticking to theme park staples unless you're at a themed restaurant that demands alternate offerings.

Cedar Fair has dome some really good restaurants in recent years, but a lot of the older food stands are still serving stuff below fast food quality at inflated prices. They do have the benefit of having some decent chain outlets in the parks, though it's hard to consider that true theme park food. Full service restaurants are sparse in the chain, but those I've eaten at have generally been decent.

As surprising as it sounds, I've actually had some pretty good quick service at Six Flags in the past couple years. Variety is lacking and service is still slow, but quality has increased under Bassoul's leadership and prices are not quite as astronomical as they used to be.

SeaWorld is, IMO, the clear loser in this discussion. For the most part, food quality at the parks has gone significantly downhill, menus have been streamlined to only a few staples, and the 5% surcharge makes them among the most expensive out there. I actively try to avoid eating at SeaWorld parks now, which is a shame because not too long ago I would have named them the best chain for quick service offerings.

Overall, at this point in time, I'd probably say Disney > Cedar Fair > Universal > Six Flags > SeaWorld for food offerings, though if restricted to quick service, I'd change it to Cedar Fair > Disney > Six Flags > Universal > SeaWorld. Of course, if Herschend is still in the conversation they'd probably outrank all of these, but I left them out as I haven't been to a Herschend park in a few years.

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