While international travel is still limited, we love to dream of a time when we will travel again. Universal Orlando Resort reopened after the lockdown, with limited hours and many safety protocols in place. Those of you who like to know where your next meal is coming from can get inspired by this guide. Masks are mandatory, but dining tables have been spaced appropriately. The number of guests has been limited, so hopefully, lines won’t be a problem, but reservations are always highly recommended. Watch for floor markings and maintain a safe social distance and you’ll be able to navigate to delicious dining from morning till fireworks. Remember to wash your hands before you cook up a plan.
The Breakfast Club
February was cold and wet, so a trip to Universal Orlando in sunny Florida with my gal pal Parm of Planet Blue Adventure was a welcome escape. We stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a mid-century-mod themed hotel that was built in 2014 but looks like it’s been there since 1960, right down to the cool classic cruisers in the circular driveway.
If you want to hit the parks asap in the a.m., head to the Bayliner Diner in Cabana Bay. Their breakfast buffet opens at 7 a.m. and serves everything from simple wraps and fresh fruit to a full breakfast. During the rest of the day, the menu changes to burgers, pizza, sandwiches, salads and desserts. The dining hall is enormous, with cushy turquoise vinyl banquettes and IKEA style self-service. Be entertained while you fuel up with 50’s cartoons and Mad Men era ads running on huge overhead screens.
For an upgrade to everything that the Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure parks have to offer, including breakfast, take a one or two-day guided VIP Tour Experience to one or both of them. Granted, it costs a bit more, but it’s an amazing bargain for the time saved and the extra fun. You’ll have your own knowledgeable guide, (ours was Kelly K), and she took us right to the front of the line on the most popular rides, gave us behind the scenes tips and insights, introduced Parm to her favourite Transformers character (Optimus Prime, who knew?) and generally made our day. A top-tier breakfast and lunch are included.
The Café La Bamba at Hotel Hollywood is reserved for VIP pass holders. The restaurant décor when we were there was a colourful mashup of Morocco meets Mardi Gras. The breakfast buffet was extensive, with made to order golden omelettes, fresh fruit juice, flaky croissants and Danishes, pillowy biscuits and gravy. It was much more than a continental breakfast, and it set us up nicely for exploring the parks.
Eat or Be Eaten
By the time we’d escaped the jaws of a T-Rex on the Jurassic Park River Adventure, met the Transformers, and been tossed around by King Kong on Skull Island, we were ready for lunch. Kelly guided us over to Mythos Restaurant, winner of the 2019 Theme Park Insiders Award for Best Table Service Restaurant, and Best Theme Park Restaurant in the World, six times in a row. This amazing place is a feast for the eyes, as well as the taste buds. The décor is inspired by nature with organic shapes woven out of ribbons of sculptured plaster reaching up and over the ceiling. The menu is international, with grilled salmon, pad thai, and souvlaki couscous bowls among the entrees. We loved the house-made hummus, baba ganoush and olive mezze platter, and the Fork, Knife and Spoon, a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich, served in a Tuscan tomato soup and garnished with crisp pork belly bits.
After lunch and a train ride via the chuffing Hogwart’s Express steam locomotive, we popped into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s hard to resist a cool, sweet tankard of Butter Beer on a hot afternoon, so we gave it a try. It tasted a bit like a root beer float. This is the place to get your fill of magical candy too, from Chocolate Frogs to Exploding Bon Bons.
For serious desserts, head to the steampunk-inspired Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen on Universal’s Citywalk. You’ll find a glass case of macarons as long as a limousine. Fanciful mile-high milkshakes in flavours like chocolate brownie bark and bacon brittle arrive topped with cupcakes or chocolate chip cookies, whipped cream and sprinkles. The bakery counter has a never-ending variety of truffles, tarts and tasty delights. There are also surprisingly healthy choices on the menu. We liked the Waldorf Salad in a light dressing with crispy apples, and the baked brie en croute with chocolate bread. Chances are good that Penelope, the “creator” of the chocolate factory, and her robot Jacques, will drop by your table for a visit.
A Trip to Italy
No trip to a theme park is complete without a boat ride, so we hopped aboard at the dock just outside the Universal Studios entrance. We felt like we’d puttered all the way to Italy when we arrived at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and strolled into Mama Della’s Ristorante. The lobster ravioli was delizioso, tender packets of lobster and ricotta bathed in a lobster cream sauce. The house special lasagna lived up to its title. We were still singing the praises of the layers of braised beef, Italian pork sausage, bechamel and marinara sauce days later. And speaking of singing, Cheryl Lugo has been serenading diners at Mama Della’s with Italian ballads for 11 years. Her version of “On An Evening in Roma”, sung tableside, will make you fall in love with all things Italian all over again.
Other Places We’d Recommend:
Lombard’s Seafood Grill at Universal Studios for great table service, turn of the century ambience and the best fish and chips outside of merry old England. It’s perched right beside the lagoon, with huge glass fish tanks, an indoor waterfall and a sunny outdoor patio.
The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar for a delightfully different twist on traditional sushi. Whether you like your beef rare and rolled, or piled high on a bun in a Burgushi, you can find it here along with every conceivable mash-up of Japanese and classic American fare. It sounds loony, but it works. So does the premium sake selection.
Bigfire is ready to fire up the open grill and put a tasty char on veggies and juicy steaks. In a nod to the great outdoors, canoes and paddles decorate this soaring two story West Coast style timber and glass establishment. The beer glazed scallops with bacon made for delicate bites while the filet mignon had been properly introduced to the applewood flames. For a fiery finish, try the baked Alaska flambe.
The writer was a guest of Universal Orlando Resort. As always, her opinions are her own. For more photos of Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, follow her on Instagram @Where.To.Lady