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We’re welcoming back guest author Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley with a review of the Coral Reef Restaurant — and she gives it high marks! Take it away, Melissa!
My husband, Rob, and I headed to Coral Reef in early December during our first night in Disney World. After a long day of traveling and touring Hollywood Studios, a dark, undersea meal seemed like just what the doctor would have ordered (if the doctor was a fellow Disney fanatic).
We’d made our Advanced Dining Reservation six months in advance like good Disney diners; and we were there celebrating our “honeymooniversary,” which is a completely made up word we’ve been using to justify going to Disney World each December.
Coral Reef may be a bit hard to find, but once you know where to look, it’s as clear as day. As you walk toward the entrance to ride The Seas with Nemo and Friends (one of my favorites), hang a right on the walkway that seems to lead to nowhere. After a few moments, you’ll see the Coral Reef sign and, if you keep walking, the entrance to this undersea adventure in Disney dining.
Once you enter through the wave-inspired door, using the seahorse pull handle, you’re in a fully-themed underwater atmosphere, complete with sea anemone light fixtures, a human-sized octopus, and ocean waves as far as the eye can see.
And you can see pretty far. The check-in area is a long, wavy blue hallway. The rug looks like ocean waves, and the walls appear to be decorated with mosaic tile.
Upon closer inspection, the walls are actually covered in mosaic tiles made up of sea shells!
We were a bit early for our ADR and there were a lot of other families waiting to be seated, but we were whisked back to the dining room right on schedule. Down the long, slightly curved, almost undulating hallway, we felt like we were being transported deeper and deeper beneath the waves.
Back in the dining room, the lighting is kept low, and the details in the dining room are covered in mosaic blue, gray, and green tile, all in keeping with the undersea theme. Even the effects on the ceiling, wavy and variable, made us feel as if we had been transported 20,000 leagues below the waterline.
The restaurant has three tiers of seating, each with both table and booth seating. Obviously, the lower level has a more up-close view of the aquarium, but I felt like we could see well on the upper-most tier. In fact, I think every table had an excellent view!
And what an aquarium it is! Stretching the entire length of the room, the eight-foot windows allowed us to watch the Living Seas, the largest inland saltwater environment ever built, throughout the evening.
When we were seated, our waitress brought us a handy fish guide with line drawings of many of the fish and other life forms living in the tank as well as some fascinating facts about the Living Seas.
As we perused the fish guide and tried to identify specimen (a surprisingly fun activity), a basket of warm, soft, yeasty rolls came out of the kitchen wrapped in a cloth napkin. Served with simple salted butter, they were a delightful start to the meal.
We were fortunate to be on the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan on this evening, so we were able to sample a wider variety of foods than we would have if we’d been paying out of pocket.
For our appetizers, we opted for Creamy Lobster Soup and Crispy-Fried Shrimp. The soup was very buttery and rich—it easily coated the back of the soup spoon. There wasn’t much lobster in the actual soup itself, and the base tasted strongly of cooking sherry and tarragon. It was a pleasant soup and very filling.
The shrimp, on the other hand, were nothing too special, but they sure were plated beautifully! Served alongside the shrimp was a spicy rémoulade, which I’m pretty sure was just cocktail sauce mixed with tartar sauce, and coleslaw that was light and fresh but heavy on the red onion.
If I could go back and order again, I think I’d go for the Winter Green Salad on offer that night; but when in a seafood restaurant, one should order the seafood, I suppose.
For entrees, we ordered the Pan-seared Sustainable Seasonal Catch and the Lobster Ravioli. When I travel with my husband, we split all of our meals right down the center, so I am able to try twice as much food!
The sustainable fish was a cod served on mushroom risotto with bay scallops. The waitress informed us in advance that the fish was delicate and prone to flaking, so they seared it with the skin on. When it came out, the cod was indeed flaky, but the skin was crunchy, fatty, and absolutely delicious.
The risotto was truly delicious as well. It had a depth of flavor and a full-mouth umami feel, which we attributed to the roasted mushroom and truffle flavors. It was sitting in a pool of broth, almost a mushroom liqueur, with a great garlic flavor—present, but not too strong.
Topping off the dish was a tiny micro-green salad, and for once, they seemed to serve a purpose! Adding crunchy freshness to this otherwise very fulsome dish, the salad was a welcome addition on the plate.
The ravioli was served with shrimp in a lobster cream sauce. My husband and I both agreed that the sauce used the exact same base as the lobster soup appetizer, and again it was thick with sherry and tarragon. It was topped with fresh strips of parmesan cheese, delicious and fresh, which added some nice depth to an otherwise simple and expected dish.
For dessert, we decided to tackle the Baileys and Jack Daniel’s Mousse as well as the Cheesecake Napoleon. I also ordered a cappuccino, my post-meal drink of choice when a late night at the parks looms before me. The coffees at Coral Reef were served with biscotti, which were very doughy, but also almond-y and delicious.
I usually steer clear of the “no-sugar added” desserts, but the cheesecake was really lovely. It was very soft and extremely light, with a thin layer of spongy cake on the bottom. The mild cheese flavor went well with the smooth feel.
Atop the cake were several sheets of phyllo—their nod to the Napoleon, I guess. I found them to be stale and unnecessary, but my husband thought they added a nice texture and nutty flavor to the otherwise mild cake. It was served with a berry compote, which was made with mixed berries and added a sweet, slightly tart edge to the milky cheesecake. Overall, this was a very successful dish.
The Baileys and Jack Daniel’s Mousse came out looking like a Victoria’s Secret model: two layers of rich mousse with a brulee’d crisp of caramel tucked in and several dark chocolate pearls floating on top. We couldn’t wait to tuck in.
The top layer is a white chocolate and Baileys mouse and the dark chocolate Jack layer is on the bottom. We found that the lighter top level was delicious on its own, while the bottom, darker level was too dark and overpowering alone. The best flavor came from mixing the two together.
It looked beautiful in the glass, but wasn’t easy to eat because the mousses were both so thick. It wasn’t easy to get them both on the same spoon at the same time. It was also extremely sweet, almost a palate-buster for me. Rob ended up eating most of this one.
Like most of you, we’d heard all of the scary negative reviews coming out of Coral Reef, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and couldn’t have been happier with the restaurant itself.
The theme and décor are amazing, and if you’re looking for a nice sit-down dinner in Future World in Epcot, you needn’t look further. We had an excellent experience, and we’ll be back!
What’s been your recent experience at the Coral Reef? Let us know!
Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley works in higher education communications in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, Robert, and her cavapoo, George. She’s is the co-editor of Mouse on the Mind.