Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Coral Reef Restaurant

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Orange Loop. Today we are sharing some of the most romantic Disney restaurants.

I don't like seafood.

There. I've thrown it out there. Please don't expect me to go down the list to explain (spoken in the stereotypical snooty Maitre d' voice) how delectable the caviar is or how well prepared the shellfish scampi is. The closest I get to eating seafood is Gorton's brand fried fish sticks (slathered in ketchup) or seasoned grilled tilapia out of a box.

Thankfully, the topic of this post is not a restaurant review on the quality of food.

Rather, it is something I'm much more familiar with: romance.

You see, I'm the kind of person that loves romance. I buy my wife flowers. When we were dating, I made her mixtape CDs and wrote her poems. Even though we've been together going-on ten years (in January), I still put on slacks and a tie when we go on a date. I celebrate Valentines Day, Sweetest Day, our wedding anniversary, our starting-to-date anniversary, our engagement anniversary. I put the "hopeless" in hopeless romantic.

Therefore, when we visited Walt Disney World for our first trip as a couple back in 2012 to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, I knew that I needed to treat her to something special on the evening of our anniversary.

There was just one problem: we were poor.

Lucky for me, we were able to utilize a vacation deal offered by Disney to acquire the free Disney Dining Plan. I splurged a little and booked us a room at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (where, coincidentally, on the same day we visited the Coral Reef, my wife almost killed a giraffe), and was able to add the Disney Dining Plan to our vacation package, ultimately giving us one snack, counter service, and casual meal each day of our trip. In planning our trip, my wife and I decided that we would only eat at restaurants new to both of us. Because, at that point, I'd visited Walt Disney World more than ten times in my 23 years, I'd eaten at many of the sit-down restaurants that required an ADR. Our final list of the causal dining experiences we'd partake in on our trip eventually consisted of the Crystal Palace, Tony's Town Square, Wolfgang Puck's Grand Cafe (at the then-Downtown Disney), and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios. But none of these were really "anniversary worthy." Ultimately we came to the decision of making a reservation at the Coral Reef Restaurant for the evening of our anniversary, but that problem of my taste palette crept back up:

I don't like seafood.

However, being the romantic that I was, I decided to suck it up and make the most out of our evening for my wife's sake, who enjoys an occasional dish of Dory and Nemo...erm, I mean, seafood.
"One day when the boss gets hungry guess who gon' be on the plate?" Oops, wrong movie...

Upon arriving at Epcot for our romantic anniversary meal, we headed over to the Seas with Nemo pavilion. However, I was somewhat discouraged that, while an "expert" on Walt Disney World, I was unsure where the Coral Reef Restaurant was located. I knew that it featured Mafia-esque floor-to-ceiling windows into an aquarium, because I had seen it once in an episode of Full House or Boy Meets World sometime back in the 90s. Lucky for me, I didn't have to look stupid in front of my bride. Upon arriving at the entrance courtyard outside the Seas with Nemo and Friends Pavilion, I noticed a discreet peach-colored sign off to the right of the show building in a planter. We wandered down a path located to the northeast of the pavilion, below the monorail beam, until we came to a set of glass double doors that served as the entrance to the establishment. Large seahorses serve as the handles to the glass doors, setting the stage for the elaborate under-the-sea theming of the restaurant inside.

Upon entering the restaurant's main lobby, I noticed how dark it was. It took awhile for my eyes to adjust. In fact, it was almost too dark. I checked us in and they requested that we have a seat on a bench along a wall behind the hostess' stand to wait for our table to be ready. As my eyes finally adjusted to the dim lighting, I began to notice delightful details. The light fixtures on the ceiling resembled sea anemones, while seashell shaped lights emerged from the walls.
Anemo-none. A nemenem-menome-nememen-nenemone...You get the idea.

A large, opaque glass wall blocked our view of the restaurant, colored in various shades of teal, blue, and green to create the illusion of being underwater. Wave patterns on the floor add to the undersea theming of the restaurant. 

Within a few minutes, a cast member arrived to take us to our table. As we passed the end of the large glass wall, the big reveal happened. I paused for a moment in surprise with the scene before me. All pictures I'd seen of the restaurant did not do it justice in person. Before me was a dining room that was tiered along three levels featuring booths and tables. The tiered seating allowed for all in the restaurant, regardless of table location, to be able to see the large windows on the left side of the restaurant looking into the Seas pavilion's aquarium.I was excited to see the cast member leading us to the left, down some steps to the lowest tier, to a table seated parallel to the windows of the aquarium. 

The dining room was also very dim, lit by the anemone- and shell-shaped fixtures hanging from the ceiling and poking out from the walls. The dimness of the room allowed those partaking in their meal to see out the windows into the undersea environment at the tropical fish and sharks that occasionally passed by the glass. 

We took a few moments to glance at the menu, and, because we were dining at a seafood restaurant, I decided to order...

...a steak of course!

I ended up having the $33 Grilled New York Strip Steak that came with mashed potatoes and vegetables, while my wife ended up ordering the $24 Oven Roasted Chicken Breast with creamy polenta cake (whatever that is) and onions. Lucky for me, we didn't have to pay for this meal because we were using our free upgrade of the Disney Dining Plan (whew!). As part of the dining plan, we got a dessert with every meal. I don't remember what we ordered, but because our reservation stated it was our anniversary, the kitchen prepared a fancy plate for us with the words "Happy Anniversary" scrolled across it in raspberry chocolate sauce. I do remember that our waiter wasn't the most professional (I think he was upset we had the dining plan because his tip wasn't as big as he would like...after we paid he was very cold toward us, but maybe he was just having a bad day). 

 I don't remember much about the food itself, but rather the experience as a whole. The "show" and experience we had while dining, however, was by far the best. The performers in this "dinner show" are the fish. Numerous tropical fish swam past the glass constantly, with the occasional shark slowly creeping past. Near the end of our meal, SCUBA divers participating in the DiveQuest experience descended in a flood of bubbles in front of the windows, swimming past and, at times, waving at those eating their romantic dinner.
Fish are friends, not...oh, well! When at the Coral Reef...

Eating dinner "underwater" while watching SCUBA divers swim by makes me feel like I'm living in the Sea Castle from Horizons!

Overall, the dim lighting, higher-end meal, sharks and romantic fish, and the quiet ambient music of the restaurant creates a lovely, romantic setting. Most guests are so distracted and enamored by the scene in the aquarium that they speak in almost quiet conversations, making the dining setting even more intimate, as though you share the empty restaurant with those sharing your table.

After our meal, we left the restaurant hand-in-hand and wandered out to Epcot's Fountain of Nations, sharing a spectacular Corey-and-Topanga kiss in front of the spray of the timed-to-music water feature with the pinkish-purple sphere of Spaceship Earth in the background. 

Well, not really.

We did enjoy a nice evening stroll around World Showcase, though. But the highlight of our anniversary evening was the romantic meal we shared at the Coral Reef Restaurant.

For more romantic Disney restaurants, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Orange | Romantic Disney Restaurants Loop:


  1. I have to agree. I don't love seafood (at least any of the Crustacean kinds), and vaguely remember the few times we've eaten at Coral Reef having just mediocre food and service. We'll go back now and then though, because you're exactly right - it's an atmosphere like no other!

    Now off to read about your wife's giraffe incident... :)

  2. Great post Andrew! I love seafood -- but I've never eaten at Coral Reef! Thanks for sharing such a nice memory of you and your wife. Here's to many more anniversary dinners!

  3. One of the things I love about Walt Disney World is that it's for everyone. Our meals at Coral Reef have been family experiences, with the kids marveling at the fish swimming by. One time we even got a coveted table right at the glass!

    I can certainly see the dim lighting making it a romantic place to eat as well. And you won't have to worry about people staring at you, because they are too busy looking at all the fish!

    I'm not a big seafood person, but I did try the catfish there and thought it was delicious.

  4. I'm so happy to find another Coral Reef lover! Perhaps because it is one of the first restaurants we ever went to at Epcot, but I always harken back to happy days when I am there. The lighting, that HUGE, packed to the gills with nature (sorry :D),tank, as well as some very good food keep calling us back. I will say that the further away from the tank you get, the less romantic and louder this restaurant becomes. (Especially because larger groups are placed on the other tiers.) I visited just last month, but now I can't wait to go back!!

  5. I've only been to Coral Reef once but we loved the atmosphere. It really is unique! And it's nice that they offer more than just seafood. I think I need to make another reservation. :)