Nestled in the very back corner of Animal Kingdom with a small, completely missable sign and no fancy building to speak of, it was really easy to pass right by it. In fact, I remember the first time I went there in September of 2011, it was the only character dining experience I could find on short notice (except for something with Agent Oso at Hollywood Studios… nd that wasn’t happening).
I booked my reservation begrudgingly, expecting nothing, and not really looking forward to eating there. The African themed breakfast was a turn off, Animal Kingdom isn’t my favorite park, and if it wasn’t for my compulsive need for character dining during a Disney trip, I’d have skipped it all together. I kept telling myself “at least it has Mickey Waffles.”
I expected nothing but utter disappointment in this little restaurant I’d never heard of, that nobody wanted to eat at (why else would I be able to get a reservation two weeks before my trip?), in a park I didn’t typically spend a whole day in…
Then I ate there… And Tusker House instantly went from place I was going to eat at because it had food and characters to a favorite dining experience that was not to be missed. The weird location in the tucked-away corner of what is arguably Disney’s least-favored park and poor signage made this an often overlooked hidden gem, not just at Animal Kingdom, but among all of the character dining experiences. Featuring Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Pluto in their safari-finest, this is a very fun, family-focused character meal that I’ve been to time and time again, both on adults-only trips and family trips with small children.
The check-in process for Tusker can be very lengthy and somewhat confusing, so be sure to arrive there at least 15 minutes before your reservation opens. Remember, it is in the back of the park and it does take quite the walk to get there from the front gate of Animal Kingdom…
Once you’ve arrived, check in with the hostess outside and you will (eventually) be escorted behind the building to take your souvenir picture (remember, PhotoPass Photographers sometimes use your camera too! If you don’t have PhotoPass+ which entitles you to this picture at no charge, hand the photographer your camera too… They may decline, but they may not!) and then into the buffet hall off of which are two dining rooms.
The dining rooms are fairly large, have lots of tables in them (almost bordering on overcrowded), and can be very loud especially as it starts to fill up or during the occasional character/kid parade (the characters lead kids with loud musical instruments in a parade through the dining room… Cute, but again quite loud and obtrusive… Who’s bright idea was it for the kids to use maracas and tambourines anyway?).
The decor is fantastic… It reminds me of a train station, only instead of waiting for the train, you’re waiting for the safari. Lots of African-styled props, pictures, and other decor adorn almost every flat surface and wall. My favorite feature has to be the carpet-draped ceiling which both reminds me of Africa and the beginning to “Aladdin.”
As Donald is the host of the breakfast, it goes without saying that he is there to meet and interact with. He used to be located outside-only as the character you take your souvenir photo with, however the last two times I ate there he had been “promoted” to the dining room and now comes to your table like the rest of the characters. Along with him is Mickey, Daisy, and Goofy, though occasionally Goofy rotates out in favor of Pluto while Daisy is very rarely replaced with Minnie.
The characters rotate around the separate dining rooms and visit each table for what are actually pretty lengthy interactions. They will pose for pictures, sign autographs, and engage in that fun horseplay that you’d expect from Donald and the gang. In fact, one year Goofy walked off with my plate and Mickey pushed my husband out of his chair and sat with me for breakfast. Things can get pretty wild!
Because they cycle through two dining rooms and have a Cast Member escort who’ll give you a heads up when a character is approaching your table, there is still plenty of time to visit the buffet and grab copious amounts of food. Want a family picture with your favorite character? See if the Cast Member escort will take a picture for you… They are usually very happy to do so!
Aside from the coffee, tea, soda, water offerings one would expect, Tusker House serves a specialty juice called “Jungle Juice.” A combination of orange, guava, and passion fruit juice, this stuff is almost worth the price of dinner by itself. I love, love, love, love this juice and it’s my favorite non-alcoholic drink on property.
My brother, who’s been to exotic locations like Fiji and Dominica says it reminds him of the drinks they had there with meals. Your experience at Tusker House isn’t complete unless you at least try it.
But really, let’s get to the nitty gritty… The food. The food selection and quality here is, I think, one of the best of its kind in the parks. Despite the African theme, everything you could ever imagine is available and even the pickiest eater is sure to find something there.
Safer options include the basics: bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, quite a bakery spread which include donuts, danishes, banana bread, muffins, as well as a wide assortment of whole and cut fruit, and of course, Mickey waffles. Warm offerings include sausage gravy and biscuits, oven roasted gold potatoes (both my favorites), various frittatas, and carved rotisserie ham.
Among all of those safe, dare I say universally liked options, there are some signature dishes that are nothing short of delicious on their own. Mealie pap is one of the most talked-about and certainly one of the most popular. A mix between porridge and corn casserole, sweet but still salty, and judging by the fact almost everybody had at least a spoonful on their plate, a safe option for picky eaters who want to safely wander out of their comfort zone.
Admittedly it’s not my favorite, but considering it’s one of my most requested and viewed recipes, I’m clearly in the minority. I personally fell in love with the banana bread bread pudding with vanilla sauce. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much of it I have to have eaten in my life.
Decadently sweet, moist, with bits of toasty crunch… Its pretty much the perfect breakfast food and something I still dream about. The beef bobotie quiche is another very popular signature dish… But I’ve yet to try it. Every time I’ve gone up, they’ve been between batches. I guess that speaks to both how popular, and how good, it really is.
Really, I can’t talk about the food at Tusker without having my tummy do a happy-dance. It’s just so ridiculously good. Having eaten there in September 2011, January 2012, October 2012, January 2013, and February 2014, I can safely say it’s my favorite breakfast and they have maintained the fantastic experience I’ve come to expect over the years.
The only change I’ve noticed is that while it once was a hidden gem that was very easy to walk into a reservation for, it has now become increasingly difficult to get reservations and it often fills up during peak season at the 180 day reservation mark. My last trip, it was the first non-princess character experience to be completely booked months beforehand.
For people who like advantageous dining reservations which help maximize park time and minimize waits, Tusker House is one of the best choices out there for getting a jump on the day. Located a stone’s throw from Kilimanjaro Safaris, one could eat there at 8 and still be out in time to catch one of the first safari jeeps for the day when the park officially opens, saving a time and a Fastpass+ reservation.
We regularly took the first reservation of the day at Tusker, popped out shortly after the park opened to do the safari, then walked onto Everest and Kali River Rapids multiple times… Though I suggest that for people who have only the strongest of stomachs (yes, a lesson I learned the hard way).
I love Tusker House… It is the highlight of the character dining experiences at Walt Disney World and a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the richness that is Animal Kingdom. No, that richness doesn’t include my son’s Ninja underwear peaking out while riding my husband’s shoulders. Lucky for everybody, I think.