(Originally posted December 2020, UPDATED JANUARY 2024)
Is Garden Grill at Disney World’s EPCOT too scary or overstimulating for sensory sensitive or anxious kids?
Figuring out dining at Disney is another huge piece of the planning puzzle. So if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a ton of time reading reviews and watching videos of different restaurants.
We know that dining out of the home can be a challenge with kids in general. But there is an added layer if you have highly sensitive, sensory sensitive, or anxious kids. It’s important to consider things like the environment, visual stimulation, proximity to others, and the menu, as you make decisions about where to dine with your family.
If you’re wondering about the level of sensory overload and whether it would be a good place to dine with your highly sensitive kids, you’re in the right place. Let me break it down for you in this review and rating of Garden Grill Restaurant.
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Before we jump into all the details, let’s talk about some of the basics.
Garden Grill Location
You can find Garden Grill inside the Land pavilion at EPCOT, in the World Nature section of the park. The Land pavilion houses not only Garden Grill, but Soarin’ Around the World, the Living with the Land boat ride, the Awesome Planet film, and the Sunshine Seasons quick service dining area.
Because this restaurant is located INSIDE a theme park, you will need valid park tickets to be able to dine here.
Type of Restaurant
It is a table service restaurant. This means it’s more of your traditional sit-down dining experience, where you have servers waiting on your table. And this often requires advanced dining reservations (ADRs), though it can be possible to get walk-up time slots or last minute openings. This is different from quick service dining, which does not require reservations and it is more of a “fast food” style of dining where you are not served your food at your table.
Quick History of Garden Grill
There have been various iterations of the Garden Grill restaurant, with it having different names in the past (The Good Turn Restaurant & The Land Grille Room). However, it started operating as “Garden Grill” starting in 1993. However, the constant unique feature has been that this is the only rotating restaurant at Walt Disney World. As it rotates (very slowly), you can see scenes from the Living with the Land ride down below..
Which Meals are Available at Garden Grill?
The Garden Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which are all brought out family style to your table. You can find the breakfast menu and prices here, and the lunch & dinner menu and prices here. The meal is called Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest feast. As the name indicates, this is one of Disney World’s many character dining options! When we last dined here, we met not only Chip and Dale, but Mickey Mouse (in his farmer outfit!) and Pluto too.
Usually, character meals are loud and chaotic, and it could result in sensory overload for highly sensitive kids. I think Garden Grill is a little different though! Let me break it down for you.
Restaurant Rating & Review: Garden Grill for Highly Sensitive Kids
Noise Level 3/5
No, this is not your quiet date night kind of place. You’ll definitely hear other groups around you excited to see characters. But it is not insanely loud, especially given it is a character meal! An open kitchen and open floor plan seating usually means a high noise level. But, the way Garden Grill is set up helps to lessen the sound.
Garden Grill has two “tiers” of seating–the outer ring on the lower tier, which are booths, and then the inner ring on the upper tier, which are tables. We sat in the booths, and it really felt like our own little private dining area. You can’t see the people sitting in the booths next to you (unless you have a little toddler who likes to stand up and peek over at fellow diners), or even on the upper tier, since there is a half wall that divides those two levels.
Garden Grill is a brightly lit restaurant with plenty of pot lights, as well as charming lamps attached to the half wall between the upper and lower tiered seating.
It does feel a little “darker” when you pass through some of the scenes of Living with the Land, particularly the desert one. But it really isn’t so bad. Give your kids a heads up–remember, these kiddos often hate surprises! And let them know that their surroundings may look a little different or a little darker at some points. We rode Living with the Land right before dinner, so I think the familiarity helped with the kids not being fearful during the meal.
Proximity to Others 1/5
Compared to other character dining options, Garden Grill is a smaller restaurant. So it doesn’t get that crowded feeling like you might at Crystal Palace or Chef Mickey’s.
The seating layout, as explained above, also helps to feel like you have your own dining space. If you are sitting in the booths, you really can’t see any other diners so there is much less visual stimulation in that regard.
I highly recommend asking for a booth if you prefer a little tucked away space to eat your meal! And because the meal is served family-style at your table instead of getting up to a buffet, it really lowers the “chaotic” vibe compared to many other restaurants where you see diners, servers, characters constantly coming and going to the tables.
“Scare” Factor at Garden Grill 1/5
So the one of the possibly “scary” things at Garden Grill might be: the characters. If your kids freak out about non-face characters, this would not be the place for you! But honestly, Mickey, Chip n Dale, and Pluto are so much fun! Because the restaurant is so small, they came around multiple times. They knew exactly how to interact with my slow-to-warm-up and anxious kiddos.
The “dark” scenes from Living with the Land could also feel a little scary for highly sensitive children. But these “dark” scenes are really not so bad at all. It is still fairly well-lit in the restaurant itself so you are not ever totally immersed in darkness. And you’ll eventually move on to another scene. The scare factor is super low here.
Food Familiarity 1/5
We know unfamiliar food smells and textures can throw highly sensitive kids off. My kids are generally not very picky, but it always helps to have those kid-friendly staples that you KNOW they are going to eat no matter what.
A huge plate of mac n cheese and fries was part of the family style meal at dinner time, which is always a huge hit for my kids. Other food items that the kids enjoyed were: mashed potatoes, stuffing, and turkey. All very “safe” and familiar choices for our family.
Disney is also great at accommodating different families’ needs, so don’t be shy and ask your server what they can do for you!
TOTAL – 7/25
How do we understand the rating? A lower score means less sensory overload, while a higher score means a greater likelihood of being overwhelmed and overstimulated. Based on my experience, I would HIGHLY recommend The Garden Grill Restaurant at Epcot for highly sensitive kids. It is one of the best choices for a more low-key character meal.
Have you been to The Garden Grill Restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park? What was your experience?
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