Competition keeps theme parks healthy, and this is certainly true in the area of dining. It is often assumed that Walt Disney World holds the crown for Orlando-area theme park dining—after all, many adults would argue that the food is their favorite part of a Disney vacation. In most cases, this is true, even if you narrow down the contest to The Most Magical Place on Earth and their primary rival, Universal Studios Orlando.
There is, however, one significant exception where Universal holds the edge in this rivalry.
Mythos at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is a restaurant so well-themed to its surroundings that some might pass it by assuming it to be a ride. Others may see the luxuriant interior and dismiss it as an ultra-fine dining experience well out of the average family’s price range. Both of these misconceptions are incorrect, and there are good reasons why Mythos has been consistently ranked as one of the top theme park restaurants in Orlando. Indeed, our experience there was so surprisingly pleasant that it made us wonder if Disney could learn a few things from this standout restaurant.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of areas where Universal Studios has a lot to learn from Disney, especially in areas like crowd control, cast member attentiveness, and—why this is an issue, I can’t guess—air conditioning. However, Mythos truly stands out among Orlando’s theme park fare, even in competition with Disney. We actually noticed five significant areas where, perhaps, Disney absolutely could learn a few things from Islands of Adventure’s flagship table service restaurant…
1. You can tell a story without intellectual properties
The Lost Continent—the otherworldly section of Islands of Adventure where Mythos is located—remains one of the most incredible theme park lands in Orlando. Its backstory as a spiritual successor to the unrealized “Beastly Kingdom” expansion at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a fascinating read. The fact that The Lost Continent survived the cataclysm which was the arrival of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also remarkable—indeed, it lost half of its mass to Hogsmeade. It currently only hosts one attraction of any substance, Poseidon’s Fury, an immersive walking tour in serious need of an update, as well as a uniquely sassy fountain. Despite all this, The Lost Continent remains a favorite land for many Islands of Adventure fans due to its incredible scale and immersive feel.
Most significantly, The Lost Continent does not reference a single well-known intellectual property.
Intellectual properties are recognizable characters and stories that studios like Universal and Disney are well-known for. At Disney, these are usually characters from Disney’s films and cartoons. Universal casts a somewhat wider net, with rides and lands surrounding intellectual properties ranging from Jurassic Park to Dr. Seuss. In its current state, every land at Universal Islands of Adventure holds ties to intellectual properties except the Lost Continent (who lost its only IP tie-in when The Eight Voyage of Sinbad closed).
Mythos takes up a good chunk of space in The Lost Continent, and the serene walking paths that surround it are one of the most peaceful places you will find in Islands of Adventure. The larger-than-life mythological themes displayed outside the restaurant carry into the interior, where guests are led into a peacefully lit grotto carved by seas and artisans from another age. The effect is captivating, and not once are you ever left wondering where the familiar characters are. You’re free to just experience the atmosphere without needing to mentally tie anything to known films or characters.
Disney has made a sharp shift in the last ten years towards favoring attractions and dining experiences that surround intellectual properties—in some cases, even to the detriment of pre-existing mainstays. A perfect example of this was the recent transformation of Artist’s Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge into a Snow White character dining experience. While the addition might make sense from a family standpoint, it doesn’t when you consider that Artist’s Point was recognized by several national publications as one of the only world-class culinary standouts on Walt Disney World property (besides Victoria and Alberts). This pattern has repeated throughout Disney’s recent history, with park elements that surrounded original stories repeatedly being refurbished to tie into intellectual properties.
Mythos proves that IP tie-ins are not necessary to make a successful theme park dining experience. The immersive atmosphere of the restaurant might bring to mind films like Aquaman or the Sinbad series, but there’s no smothering sense of marketing. It makes for an extremely relieving dining experience.