Dining Out and About: Olivia's Cafe

by Jack Spence, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 11, 2006, Issue #355 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Of all the restaurants at Walt Disney World, I have eaten at Olivia's Cafe more than any other. I attribute this to several factors. First, the food and service have been consistently good. Second, the atmosphere is casual and welcoming. And third, it's probably the easiest restaurant on WDW property to get to, if you have a car. Located across from the lobby of the Old Key West Resort, Olivia's shares a building with the Conch Flats General Store and the Gurgling Suitcase bar.

When the Old Key West Resort first opened, it was called the Disney Vacation Club Resort. But as time went by and the company opened its second membership resort, Disney realized that they would have to give their first membership resort a distinctive name. Since the property was designed with a Florida Keys theme, it wasn't a tremendous leap to come up with the Old Key West name. It fits nicely.

When you enter the restaurant lobby, either from the outside breezeway or from the Conch Flats General Store, you will be greeted by several hundred framed pictures of Vacation Club members. Every inch of wall space is covered with smiling faces. This was a tradition started many years ago. Vacation Club members would bring in family snapshots taken while visiting Walt Disney World and the resort Cast Members would hang them on the walls. When I first started eating at Olivia's seven years ago, not only the lobby, but both dining rooms were covered with these photos. However, a couple of years ago the walls needed a fresh coat of paint and the pictures in the main dining room were removed and never replaced. The enclosed patio still features them. The debate continues to rage (especially with Vacation Club members) as to whether the pictures should be re-hung, but personally, I prefer the less cluttered look. Now the walls are painted a pale yellow and display pictures of Key West, seafaring bric-a-brac, and stuffed fish.

The atmosphere here is relaxed and comfortable. A row of booths lines one wall and painted wrought-iron tables and chairs make up the rest of the seating. Besides the two indoor dining rooms, there is also an outside patio that is delightful when the weather is nice. Soft calypso music plays in the background. The only negative thing I can say about the atmosphere is that the noise level can get a bit loud when the restaurant fills up. The floors are tile and there is no fabric to absorb the sound.

I like Olivia's very much. I eat here so often that most of the Cast Members know me by name and treat me like family. However, I've watched these same people interact with other guests and I realize that I'm not being treated any differently than anyone else -- everyone is made to feel at home here.

John is my regular waiter and works the breakfast and lunch shift. You couldn't ask for a nicer person to wait on you. When I first started visiting Olivia's, John was assigned to my table on a random basis, but I found him to be so charming that I started requesting him on subsequent visits. If you have a birthday or special occasion to celebrate, be sure to ask for John. He will make sure that the guest of honor is given the royal treatment -- and he has a wonderful singing voice. On John's days off, I request Jerry or Karen. These two people are also extremely nice and seem to go out of their way to make my visit special. Even when John is waiting on me, Jerry and Karen will stop by my table just to say hello and chat. When I eat dinner at Olivia's, I request Scott. He's another fine example of Olivia's outstanding staff.

OK, enough gushing about the good people who work here. On to the food.

I was going to write this review several months ago, but one of Olivia's servers persuaded me not to. He told me that an all-new menu was debuting on May 7 and I should hold off until I'd had a chance to sample some of the new offerings. Overall, I'm not terribly impressed with their new menu. It appears to me that management has simplified the offerings for some reason. I don't know if this is to save money or to make things easier on the kitchen staff -- or both. It's not that there's anything wrong with what's presented, it just seems uninspired. Olivia's has become more of a "coffee shop," than a unique Disney experience. When I look at the new lunch and dinner menus, well, it isn't that I can't find something to my liking, it's more of a "who cares?"

Since the new menu was implemented on May 7 (this review was written on June 5), I have tried several of the new items. Here's what I can tell you so far.

On my first visit with the new menu, I selected the Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Sandwich and my dining companion tried the Herb-Roasted Half Chicken. Both were good and I would have no problem recommending them. Note: The Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Sandwich is extremely similar to the one served at The Earl of Sandwich at Downtown Disney.

I have also tried the Tuna Sandwich and Turkey Club Sandwich. Both were fine -- but then, these are sandwiches. Not too challenging for the kitchen. The Turkey Club is served with homemade potato chips. I'm not usually a fan of homemade potato chips, but I'd have to say, these are better than most. You can substitute fries or a fruit cup for the potato chips. However, Olivia's has started serving a rather boring fry instead of the meaty steak house fry that was available on the old menu. Is this another cost-cutting decision?

A holdover from their previous dinner menu is the Prime Rib, which has always been delicious in the past. Real, not creamed, horseradish is available upon request.

The soup of the day at Olivia's is usually outstanding. And if you like Manhattan-style clam chowder (the red stuff), then be sure to try their Conch Chowder. It's very good and available every day.

One of my favorite items on Olivia's previous menu was a Chicken Caesar Salad. I thought it was by far the best Caesar found anywhere at Disney World. The new menu still offers an appetizer-sized salad so I asked my server if the kitchen could make me an entree-sized salad and add a chicken breast that is available with the Penne Pasta. I was told no -- no special orders. This hard-line attitude didn't set well with me, so I went home and wrote Disney a letter of complaint.

I am happy to report that one month later, the management of Olivia's has rethought their "no special order" stance and will now offer an entree-sized Chicken Caesar salad upon request. However, the new salad is missing the croutons that they use to serve. I would now have to give my vote for "best Chicken Caesar Salad at Disney World" to the Sand Trap Bar and Grill (which serves their salad with croutons and a soft breadstick).

I also miss the Conch Fritters, Monte Cristo Sandwich, and the Cold Plate that were offered on the previous menu. Sigh.

Despite my feeling that the new menu has been overly simplified and the food has become a little too pedestrian, I'm sure if you try this restaurant, the staff will do their best to make you happy and you'll come away pleased. You'd be hard pressed to find a friendlier crew. This is a nice place to eat and relax.

Atmosphere: B+ (can be a little noisy)
Staff: A (top-notch)
Food: C- (uninspired)

Olivia's is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463). I've only eaten here a couple of times for breakfast so I can't speak to the need for reservations at this meal. I have never needed reservations at lunch. However, on weekdays many Disney office workers eat here and it can get busy.

I usually eat dinner between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. and I have never needed a reservation when I arrive this early. However, I have stopped in just for dessert later in the evening and the restaurant does tend to be crowded. On holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is absolutely necessary to have a reservation. I have also heard that with the implementation of the new Disney Dining Plan, reservations at all of Disney's table-service restaurants are becoming more difficult to obtain. Plan accordingly.

In closing, I'd like to say that over the past 10 or so years, I've seen Disney turn humdrum restaurants into quality establishments worthy of their surroundings. However, when I see what has happened to Olivia's menu, I fear the company is taking a step backwards and will return to a "coffee shop" mentality rather than maintain their above-average establishments.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Deb Wills also visited Olivia's after the menu change. While the staff was as friendly as ever, her group was very disappointed that the coconut shrimp and conch fritters were no longer on the dinner menu. She did speak to the manager, who said the decision came from "above" and suggested that Deb write a letter.

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Related Links:

Olivia's Breakfast Menu: http://www.allears.net/menu/menu_okb.htm
Olivia's Lunch Menu: http://www.allears.net/menu/menu_okl.htm
Olivia's Dinner Menu: http://www.allears.net/menu/menu_okw.htm
Olivia's Children's Menu: http://www.allears.net/menu/menu_okk.htm

Other reviews by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm

A photo of Olivia's can be found in our Restaurant Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/din/gall_res2.htm

Post your own dining reviews, or read others' ratings, in our Rate and Review section: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/index.php


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.