Image: Disney greenhouse
Courtesy of Disney
At Disney greenhouses, trees and vines growing Mickey-shaped melons, lemons, watermelons, cucumbers and pumpkins.
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updated 8/11/2011 8:35:41 AM ET 2011-08-11T12:35:41

Disney World (and Land) vets know about the character breakfast at Cinderella’s Palace, the Alice in Wonderland–themed tea party and the abundance of Mickey-shaped pancakes and pepperoni pies found across the Magic Kingdom. They hear rumors of stale buffets but still purchase uninspiring meal plans.

Visitors may think that, in their child’s happiest place on Earth, good food takes a backseat to Donald Duck sightings, Space Mountain shrieks and mouse-ear ice cream bars (which are actually quite delicious).

Slideshow: Disney World's best kept food secrets

But the Disney parks have undergone culinary transformations in the past few years, becoming destinations that can be equally beloved by families who need quick, value-friendly meals and adults who want extended dinners.

Disney now recalls Las Vegas in its celebrity-chef-backed establishments, with restaurants by Todd English, Cat Cora, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. At Orlando’s Boardwalk resort, the Flying Fish’s chef tasting includes six courses of mostly seafood, like lobster ravioli, paired with Austrian and German wines; and Victoria & Albert’s at the nearby Grand Floridian Resort offers white truffle supplements and has earned critical praise. Epcot’s pavilions serve food from around the globe — there’s a new Neapolitan pizzeria, a Japanese teahouse and a French pâtisserie.

“Disneyland and Walt Disney World have definitely expanded their range of culinary options, and now the different cuisines to choose from are global and varied,” says Cat Cora, whose restaurant Kouzzina opened at Disney’s Boardwalk in 2009. It is indeed possible to eat well at the Disney resorts, and super-insiders can track down a week’s worth of special experiences, small and large, on park property.

In one the world’s most touristed travel destinations, there is exclusive pineapple soft-serve and small-batch tequila to be discovered among the long lines and frozen French fries. Scouring the grounds of Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., reveals little known and newly opened eateries that will improve a trip. Just imagine putting the kids down for a nap and taking a break from the rides for a cappuccino — made with beans roasted an hour away.

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