The 11 Theme Park Foods You Must Try
Millions of people visit theme parks every year for thrilling attractions and wondrous worlds that offer a brief respite from reality. The discerning guest knows that beyond the sea of easy-to-grasp hot dogs and burgers, a gastronomic underworld awaits.
I’ve spent three decades visiting theme parks, not just for the coasters (which I love), but also to experience some of the most interesting culinary creations, those that embody the immersive nature of the whimsical locations that they live (oh, and are delicious too). From a traditional English breakfast to the world of Harry Potter has a The ant Man-themed sandwich with a price tag of $100, these dishes will instantly change your preconceptions of what you thought theme park food was and should be. There are no Michelin stars or caviar canapes here, but you can easily eat much better and more inspired options on your next visit.
Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios Orlando brings the whimsical world of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss to life through colorful attractions, playscapes and, of course, food. There are a few worthy creations worth the calories, but my favorite is the elaborately themed Green Eggs and Ham Café. The walk-in spot takes the average little tater and kicks it up a notch in a variety of ways, but my favorite is the local’s namesake. Fresh and crunchy tater tots are filled with chunks of cured ham, succulent cheese sauce and pesto eggs. Oh, the places you will go! (And it should be here.)
LEGOLAND resorts, found across the United States in California, Florida and New York, are child-focused parks based on everyone’s favorite childhood toy. “Everything is Awesome” for guests of all ages with their unique creation known as Apple Fries. Found at Granny’s Apple Fries, green apples are cut into French fries-like pieces before being lightly breaded and fried. They are then coated in cinnamon sugar and served hot. Delicious and satisfying on their own, my favorite way to enjoy them is a la mode with vanilla soft serve ice cream. Cold ice cream meets hot apple fries is the perfect match.
Walt Disney’s original park, Disneyland Park, is home to some of the best snacks in the theme park universe, from the toffee churro to the beloved Matterhorn-themed macaron. One of my favorite snacks can be found at Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. The counter service point is backed by an outdoor grill where they roast fresh meats and vegetables all day. The fresh vegetable skewers and crispy pork belly shine, but it’s the banyan beef skewer that keeps me coming back. This hot and spicy beef skewer is loaded with tender, perfectly cooked meat and a sauce so good you could eat it off the spoon.
Every self-respecting Potterhead dreams of heading to the magical world of Harry Potter for a sip of the iconic drink. The drink, rich in butterscotch flavor, is perfect for the castle photo shoot, but it’s awfully sweet. Luckily, the drink comes in a variety of forms, including pot cream, fudge, and my favorite soft serve ice cream. Only available in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor offers wildly creative ice cream flavors – like a spicy chocolate chili – that will put the average theme park cone to shame. Their take on butterbeer ice cream brings just the right amount of sweetness to the vanilla ice cream base with swirls of butterscotch and caramel.
Disneyland’s Avengers Campus opened to much fanfare, and it wasn’t just the country’s attractions that got people talking. Their flagship restaurant, Pym Test Kitchen, is themed The ant Man and serves generously proportioned dishes, like massive pretzels and meatballs. The most talked about item (and my favorite) is an Italian sandwich. Sounds simple enough, right?
The Pym-ini is available as a family portion for a crispy $100 and includes salami, pistachio rosa salame, rosemary ham, provolone and sun-dried tomato spread on grilled focaccia with marinara dipping sauce. Potato bites (aka tater tots) and arugula salad with a tangy lemony parmesan dressing round out what could very well be one of the most expensive dishes at the theme park. Surprisingly, it’s absolutely delicious and fun to order with a group of people. But be careful, you will have eyes.
With Dolly Parton as their “chief dreamer”, the sky is only the limit for the Dollywood team – and this is especially true with their culinary department. The food embraces its location in the Smoky Mountains with a dollop of Southern hospitality on the side. There’s a wealth of delicacies to be found here, from award-winning barbecue to family favorites, but it’s the cinnamon roll that has everyone talking. The park’s staple dish is prepared right before your eyes at the park’s Grist Mill. The loaves of bread are dipped in a mixture of melted margarine and cinnamon sugar and then baked in a state-of-the-art oven that produces nearly 2,000 loaves a day. The result is a shareable, detachable treat that’s utterly decadent and one of the most delicious treats you’ll eat at any park.
Dollywood’s sister park is in the Ozark Mountains of Branson, Missouri. The true unsung hero of theme parks, Silver Dollar City, is an absolute gem and an absolute anomaly. The 1880s-themed park is home to industry-pioneering roller coasters that can only be eclipsed by some of the best theme park restaurants in the country. The aforementioned cinnamon roll here is seriously upgraded and turned into a bread pudding. Found at the park’s Rivertown Smokehouse, this dessert is bursting with flavors of sweet frosting and cinnamon goodness.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with various versions found at both Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood, remains one of the most incredible feats of theme park immersion. This energy extends far beyond sights and sounds and into food. The Three Broomsticks come to life here, and this rustic tavern will have you believing that any moment Potter and his crew are about to enter. The pinnacle of the food offering is their version of a full English breakfast. The traditional English breakfast is extremely well executed here with tasty sautéed mushrooms, baked beans and salty English back bacon. There is even black pudding, which further completes this British culinary offer.
A park celebrating over 100 years, Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California may have one of the most fantastical origin stories of them all. Beginning as a literal berry farm, today’s amusement park is the epitome of then and now, with industry-leading attractions that meet today’s thrill levels under the shape of a serious roller coaster. Never forgetting its origins, the boysenberry – a hybrid fruit that landed the park on the map – can be found on park menus in various forms. From a tangy boysenberry barbecue sauce to a subtly sweet latte, my favorite boysenberry dish is the park’s soft serve boysenberry. The texture is creamy, almost creamy, and the flavor has hints of berries without being overpowering. To hell with classic vanilla cones.
At the sweetest place in the world, Hersheypark, you might be inclined to have chocolate, but it’s a unique snack here that catches my eye. Hersheypark is nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania, not far from where the Dutch first settled and invented the whoopie pie. This centuries-old tradition is available at the park in one of the theme park’s most unique dining experiences. Makin’ Whoopie Pies is both a snack stand and an experience where customers are the Willy Wonky of their own made-to-order whoopie pies. Incredibly cool shells come in a variety of flavors including strawberry, red velvet, vanilla, and confetti with fillings ranging from the typical, like chocolate or creme original, to chocolate chip mint and salted caramel. The result is extremely messy but absolutely delicious.
Admittedly, I’m not the greatest star wars fan, but I appreciate the great detail that Imagineering has poured into Star Wars: At the Edge of the Galaxy– themed lands at Disney World and Disneyland. I often travel to a galaxy far, far away for what may be my favorite Disney Parks food of all time: the Ronto Wrap. Found at Ronto Roasters, this pocket meal includes grilled sausages, sliced roast pork, pickled coleslaw and peppercorn sauce served on fresh pita bread. The meats are incredibly flavorful and the coleslaw and gravy toppings only enhance the taste. The breakfast version also deserves a mention and uses the same pepper sauce and pork sausage, but includes eggs and grated cheese. To order or not to order. There is no try.