I get a lot of satisfaction out of finding something in Walt Disney World that's a good value and that I enjoy. There's lots of great activities in and out of the parks as well as fine dining establishments and both can vary quite a bit in price and quality. I'm happy to say one of the best values in Walt Disney World can be found at Hollywood & Vine at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's been years since I ate at Hollywood & Vine for dinner. To give a brief history of this restaurant, it opened as a character buffet when the Studios opened and featured the Fab Five Disney characters there. Following 9/11, Disney cut back across property to save money and Hollywood & Vine lost its characters from its meal. In 2006, Disney brought characters back, first wanting to bring a Toy Story theme and went as far as to hold auditions for characters in the meal but legal issues with then-independent Pixar, led to that idea being canceled and instead characters from Playhouse Disney came to the restaurant. For breakfast and lunch now, you can dine with the Playhouse Disney characters while dinner is characterless. The good news is for all three meals, the value associated with this restaurant is supreme.
Around 2004 I had dinner for the first time here and generally enjoyed it quite a bit but I found myself going to other restaurants in the Studios like 50's Primetime Cafe or Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano because I also discovered them and liked them quite a bit. So when a colleague was coming to Orlando and wanted to dine somewhere, I thought about where to eat and I hadn't had a good buffet meal in a while so I opted to eat at Hollywood & Vine. To be honest, I wasn't that excited. I remembered I liked Hollywood & Vine but didn't remember it being amazing but I went into it with an open a mind as I could have because I wanted to have a good opinion of the place.
As I looked over the menu, the first thing I noticed was the price. Dinner was $24.99 for an adult and with my Disney Dining Experience card, that means 20% off that and it really makes it a really great price for dinner, relative to the cost of dinner elsewhere on Disney property. Price isn't everything when it comes to a good meal but certainly everything tastes just a little better when you know in the back of your mind this wont be one of those purchases that you'll regret when you get the bill after your trip is over with.
Quintessentially the most important part of any meal is the food, regardless of price or entertainment value or anything else. The reason I go to any restaurant is for a good meal. I can justify spending a lot of money at a restaurant if the food is worth it. The buffet at Hollywood & Vine really amazed me for how good everything was and for the nice selection you can find here. There were two meats available at the carving station (turkey and prime rib) and about a half dozen entree selections, another few sides, a salad bar and everyone's favorite fallback at any buffet....the kids station. I tried a little of everything that appealed to me and really enjoyed what I brought back to my table. By far, the pineapple chicken dish was the best and one of the best chicken dishes I've had in recent years. I don't even like pineapple, but the flavor of the chicken was top notch and I couldn't resist getting another cutlet of it each time I went back to the buffet. To show you how much I enjoyed this dish, I asked the waitress for a copy of the recipe for the pineapple chicken (she took my information to have the chef mail me a copy of it). In a close second place was the turkey at the carving station, which both me and my colleague commented on being the best slab of turkey we've had in a while; not dry at all and lots of flavor.
Nearly all the food was great, although there were some duds thrown in. I found the prime rib to be average at best, albeit it was getting near the end of the roast so perhaps that played into why it wasn't that good. There was also a Mediterranean chicken that tasted awful to me and I couldn't even finish it (I just had a few bites of the turkey and pineapple chicken to quickly forget about it). The other dishes available were all very good and I especially enjoyed the mashed potatoes and some sort of a side dish that looked like a cross between couscous and cornbread (it tastes a lot better than that description may lead you to believe). The dessert menu didn't blow me away, but it was average, offering soft-serve ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and twist) along with optional hot fudge and sprinkles, as well as some other desserts such as mini-cheesecakes and various pies. I can't say I'd go to Hollywood & Vine for the dessert by any means, but again, I recommend any restaurant first and foremost on the food (read: main course) it serves. There was also lacking a soup which would have complimented the salads offered quite nicely.
Without a doubt, I would recommend Hollywood & Vine to anyone dining at the Studios. The Playhouse Disney characters are only out for breakfast and lunch so if those characters don't do much for you, then stick with dinner. The food available here is great and it's certainly one of the better buffets I've dined at around Walt Disney World and finding a good buffet for meals other than breakfast is hard to come by in my experience. Besides the great food, the value here is one of the best I've run into and Hollywood & Vine doesn't typically fill up as fast as 50's Primetime Cafe or (the personally despised) Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. I think I'll go ahead and make some more reservations for Hollywood & Vine for some upcoming trips so I can get my pineapple chicken fix.