When I look at a particular restaurant or attraction or show with the purpose of reviewing, I always try to remain as objective as I can be. Even if the aim of whatever I'm reviewing is not something that generally appeals to me, I try to look at it in the light that the intended audience may enjoy it. There are, however, a few attractions and restaurants that have found their way onto my own personal black list of things to do in the Studios that I have a particular disdain for. In the past few months I've been trying to get back to all of the sit down restaurants at the Studios again to take a poll of how they are doing and see if much, if anything, has changed at these restaurants and last weekend I was able to wrap up the last of the restaurants to be re-reviewed, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.
Before I get into my experience, let me explain why I don't care for the Sci-Fi. If I can sum it up quickly, it's that the Sci-Fi is over priced and serves mediocre food that do not come close to making up for the atmosphere that is nice. Every few years I give the Sci-Fi another chance, with my last visit to the Sci-Fi being back in December of 2006 and so I had an opportunity to eat here on July 4th with a last minute reservation and I opted to try it out again.
Before I even get to the food, there is an element that I think needs to be brought up to anyone looking to eat at the Sci-Fi, especially those in groups with more than 2 people in your group. The tables are actually cars, with multiple rows per car and each row supporting 2 adults (you might be able to squeeze 3 small kids in a row). The reason I bring this up is that because there are 2 adults per row with each row facing the same direction, conversation and intimacy are really difficult with larger groups. If you value a communal experience when you dine where everyone can see each other and talk about what has happened that day and talk about future plans, this will prove to be very difficult at the Studios. When you add in the film that is playing, it makes for a rather noisy restaurant and so if you're looking for stimulating conversation with your whole group, it won't be happening. On the other hand, if you need a break from everyone in your group, this is a fantastic option. I should mention there are "picnic tables" in the rear of the restaurant that you can sit at that seat 4 to allow everyone to see each other, but there are no seat backs for those seats which means no leaning back and after a day in the park, I personally prefer to be able to lean back and take a rest.
Speaking of the film, the highlight of the restaurant is the entertainment, namely the huge film you see with campy B horror movies from the 50's and 60's. The loop is about an hour long and the dialogue, plots and one-liners from many of these films is quite funny to hear these days. Kids and adults likely can be entertained by the film and makes for a very unique experience that can't really be found elsewhere on Disney property. Combine the film with the dark setting and the faux-cars that you sit at and it almost does feel like you're at a drive in. The down side to the ambiance is the fact it is indeed very dark and I found reading the menu to be somewhat challenging since there is only a dim light on the "dashboard" of your car to really use to read.
So far things sound great here, right? Well, let's not forget the reason we are here is to eat and this is where my review turns. There are a number of options here for food, albeit none really stand out. The appetizers are fairly good overall and I recommend the chili which comes with a very tasty pico degallo and chips. The entrees themselves are overall very bland and nothing special. I had the butcher steak which had no real flavor to it and just tasted like just another forgettable steak. Even the burger (which seems to be a popular choice among many who dine here), is bland and average at best. When you factor in how much these entrees cost ($15-$20), you really aren't paying for the food but the entertainment (at least it better be the entertainment because it's certainly not the food). To top my meal off, I had a milkshake here as it was mentioned by many that their milkshakes are good and to be honest it didn't really taste much more than soft serve ice cream in a cup. Certainly the milk shakes at 50's Prime Time Cafe or Beaches 'n Cream offer much better shakes and the average milk shake you can get at Whispering Canyon restaurant has unlimited refills.
Here's the bottom line for me when it comes to the Sci-Fi. The fun entertainment does not outweigh the over priced and mediocre food served here. Even the most ardent fans of the Sci-Fi will admit the food is nothing to write home about and at the end of the day, I feel that the food you eat is the most important part of the meal. Entertainment can factor into the decision certainly, but it can't make up for the whole experience in my estimation. Don't forget that groups larger than 2 are in essence split up and how noisy it can get. Your money is better spent at any of the other restaurants at the Studios for a meal. If you wanted to experience the ambiance of the Sci-Fi without dropping a large amount of money on a bad meal, you could simply have dessert here in mid-afternoon for a nice break or perhaps grab an appetizer as a snack to share.
I walked away from the Sci-Fi with the same opinion of the place as I had when I walked in, despite my best intentions to try to cleanse my mental palate of pre-conceived notions of what to expect and was not surprised really when the same results I found in December of 2006 repeated themselves on this past visit. Without a doubt it will be another few years before I dine at the Sci-Fi again unless we hear of some major changes here. It is disappointing that a restaurant with such a wonderful theme has to be written off because of the food but it really feels like the entertainment is what the restaurant was built around and the food a mere after thought.