REVIEW: Walt Disney World’s updated Planet Hollywood Observatory commands star power, but demands stomachs of steel

in Disney, Disney Springs, Food, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

For more than a year we watched the outside structure slowly transform from garish globe to urbane observatory, but Planet Hollywood‘s metamorphosis is now complete. Located in the West Side section of Disney Springs, the eye-catching eatery is not easily missed. This is mostly due to the fact that the building now resembles an observatory–Disney’s clever way of keeping the “star” emphasis of Planet Hollywood while bringing the establishment in line with the legend of Disney Springs as a Florida town that evolved into a shopping and dining district.

Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood’s big pull has always been its collection of movie memorabilia; however, it’s conversion to “observatory” brought along an additional gimmick–the celebrity chef. Guy Fieri, famous restauranteur of The Food Network, was brought in during the re-imagineering of Planet Hollywood to shape its menu and bring his brand of “Flavor Town” to Orlando.

Planet Hollywood

When the doors to Planet Hollywood Observatory finally opened a couple weeks ago, I was excited about the chance to dine there. More than any other restaurant in Disney Springs, this restaurant had piqued my interest. I was completely on board with the new design I had seen in concept art–a seamless merging of glitz and sophistication–and I was curious to see how it would translate to actual brick and mortar. I was not disappointed, and yet I was not blown away either.

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THE GOOD

Walking into Planet Hollywood Observatory for the first time triggers a sense of excitement. You don’t anticipate a meal, you anticipate an experience, especially at night. The place glows with soft lighting but also maintains a high level of energy with the tunes of movie soundtracks driving a sense of fun. Of course, the collection of movie memorabilia remains throughout the restaurant (and that also tends to fascinate).

Planet Hollywood

I am a fan of the new streamlined look. If the goal is to blend in with the class and “culture” of Disney Springs’ new image, Planet Hollywood has succeeded. I would describe the place as having a “sophisticated slant” rather than full-blown environmental elegance, but this is actually what I appreciate about it. Being able to enjoy a good meal in an chic spot without having to be self-conscious about my lively kids or my beat-up Converse means that I have found a winning place.

Planet Hollywood

Another unique characteristic of the new Planet Hollywood Observatory is that you can have an entirely different dining experience depending on where you are seated. Indoors are three levels of tables. An entry level at the base of a large telescopic structure has a few tables that are actually televisions, playing the music videos of movie soundtracks underneath your plates. Upper floors bring you eye level with the same videos being screened across the interior of the globe. Meanwhile, patio/balcony seating provides you with beautiful vistas of the “springs” for which the area is now known. And on ground level, the Stargazer Bar provides a more intimate and “adult” setting with its hightop tables and close quarters.

Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood has always been rich with visual goodies. Movie props and costumes are a staple of the brand. This continues to be the case with display cases lining walls and set pieces occupying shelves throughout the dining sphere. But the third level is where some of the coolest items are kept. Used for private events and overflow, this top floor has tables that work as huge “shadows boxes” for movie memorabilia. The one that has probably garnered the most attention is a “Ghostbusters” table that holds one of the newspapers from the film as well as the license plate of the Ecto-1.

Planet Hollywood

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In addition to the vibe of the place, the service is on point. I have dined at Planet Hollywood Observatory twice now, and both times I was met with friendliness from beginning to end. The greeters, the seaters, the servers, and the management–all were attentive, accommodating and made me feel like my satisfaction was their top priority. My hat is tipped to the staff trainers because they have done their job, and they have done it well.

Staffing and ambiance aside, often a successful dining experience comes down to the food, so let’s discuss. The portions are massive. If they are trying to serve up vittles that reflect Hollywood’s “larger than life” mentality, here is another area where they have scored. It doesn’t matter if it is the cocktails, the entrees, or the desserts, it all looks like they thought you were dining with Godzilla. In fact, if you leave Planet Hollywood Observatory still hungry, you have done something wrong–very, very wrong.

Planet Hollywood

Above all else, the “stars” of this place are on the dessert menu. I will even go as far as saying that if you go to Planet Hollywood Observatory for no other reason, you should go for the sugary concoctions that come out of there.

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One of the things that Planet Hollywood Observatory offers is a selection of Supernova Shakes–milkshakes that send you into a diabetic coma just by looking at them. Seemingly created to compete with the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium’s outlandish milkshake menu, these Supernova Shakes pop with color and candy in such a way that you aren’t quite sure how to approach the task of consumption. Once you’ve devised a strategy, though, it’s on.

Planet Hollywood

The clear winner in the lineup of Supernovas is the Cosmic Cotton Candy shake. It is basically liquid cotton candy topped with actual cotton candy, whipped cream, sprinkles, and a massive lollipop. I have never had anything like this before in my life, and it is difficult to capture in words what happened when I did. This was not a simple after-dinner treat. What I had when that shake was served might be more accurately described as a “relationship”– and possibly a sinful one at that. At some point I will revisit solely to experience that intoxicating sugar high again because I am not about to walk away from my love affair with this beauty–and this is coming from someone who is lukewarm about cotton candy.

THE BAD

I know that I just praised the design of this restaurant, but I would be lying if I said that a part of me didn’t miss the gaudy presentation of Planet Hollywood’s previous incarnation. One of the restaurant’s charms has always been it’s brash displays with Herbie car, Rocketeer and other oddities hanging from the ceiling of the globe, so it is hard to not feel a bit of a loss. Rather than being the main attraction, movie memorabilia now seems to be relegated to a side ring position where its loud act has been muted. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just something different; nevertheless, I can’t help but feel a slight ping in my heart as Planet Hollywood has become less “Rooms to Go” and become more “West Elm”–growing pains, I suppose.

Planet Hollywood

In case you missed the part where we mentioned Guy Fieri shaped this menu, we need to review this point for health reasons. Dining at Planet Hollywood Observatory is not for the “faint of colon.” Depending on what you order, the gastrointestinal experience can be a rough ride for hours beyond your meal. Known for his outrageous culinary concoctions, Guy Fieri specializes in combining every health-challenging food into dishes that confuse the mind and body.

Planet Hollywood

Whereas the atmosphere of Planet Hollywood Observatory has been toned down, the menu has been ramped up. Items like the Bacon Macaroni and Cheeseburger and L.A. Lasagna (deep fried lasagna) need to be approached with caution. If your stomach is sensitive, please heed my warning. If you don’t, heartburn and constipation (or its evil antithesis) may be the company you keep for the rest of the night. If you have intestines of steel, though, you may have found your bliss. Dishes that seem to particularly pop flavor-wise are the World Famous Chicken Crunch, Texas Tostados, and the Six Cheese Chicken Macaroni & Cheese due to dipping sauces, cheese, and a sweet fried batter. [These things really should be served with napkins that have a liability disclaimer in fine print.]

Planet Hollywood

There are healthy options to choose from for those who can’t roll with the colon crapshoot of fried chicken and six cheese macaroni dishes. And the truth is that the salads received rave reviews from the people eating them next to me. In fact, the Spinach Salad with strawberries, walnuts, and roasted chicken looked particularly appetizing, but this is a choice you will have to deliberately make at Planet Hollywood. In general, the fare is over-the-top and seems a bit like a physical challenge.

Planet Hollywood

In addition to the food potentially shocking your system, the check can be a bit shocking as well. Perhaps it is due to the portion size, or maybe it is about the excessive ingredients. Whatever the case may be, expect this bill to hit with a big bang in relation to the cost of burgers and fries at Fuddruckers or Friday’s.

THE TRUTH

In terms of service and fun, Planet Hollywood Observatory is still a great choice for families. The atmosphere is energetic and visually stimulates in spite of its softened makeover. The staff is really personable too and leaves an impression that stays with you. I feel safe in saying that those who like to dine for atmosphere will find this one to be an amusing and pleasant experience.

Planet Hollywood

My opinion shifts a degree, though, for those that only concern themselves with the food. The menu is a bit “hit or miss” in this regard. Some items seem to be on target. Others seem to be off the mark and cause havoc on the way out, and the price of it all leaves a bitter taste to boot.

Planet Hollywood

When I left Planet Hollywood Observatory, I questioned whether I’d be back. Ultimately, I had to admit that I would. It really is a unique place to dine with friends and family, and it is an experience that I’ll likely want to share with others in the future. While it may not be a bargain in terms of Disney Springs dining, it remains a solid choice if your expectations are in line with what the restaurant actually delivers. Also, Supernova Shakes.

Cosmic Cotton Candy, we will meet again one day. Until then, you will haunt my dreams.

9 Comments

  1. jim

    Just a quick FYI – the LA Lasagna is one of the few “signature” Planet Hollywood items that they kept from the old menu. I really agree with you that the LA Lasagna is gross, but Guy isn’t responsible for that particular monstrosity. But every once in a while i do get a craving for the “Chicken Crunch” with is the best thing on the menu IMO.

    1. JeniLynn Knopp

      Thank you for that heads up, Jim. I won’t fault Fieri for that particular nightmare. 😉

  2. Ken Hutchinson

    As I commented on twitter I gained 2 pounds just looking at that picture of the shake. How do you test these places and all that food and stay so small? I would be big as a house if I had the job of testing these places. And how kid friendly is the place?

    1. JeniLynn Knopp

      Planet Hollywood Observatory is probably one of the more kid-friendly places in Disney Springs. There is nothing about this restaurant that would make children seem out of place.

  3. Ahnsael

    I just don’t get the “Planet Hollywood Observatory” thing. I mean…yes, from the outside, they made it look like an observatory, but there seems to be absolutely nothing inside the building (except for merchandise) that backs up the name.

    This is Planet Hollywood, so I’m glad they still have the movie memorabilia. It wouldn’t be Planet Hollywood without it. But…big domed roof, in a place called an “observatory,” and they aren’t even projecting constellations or even a random field of stars up there on the inside? Seems like lazy design.

    Yes, “Hollywood stars” and all that…but if you’re gonna make the building look like an observatory from the outside, why have nothing backing up that theme from the inside? Maybe I would get it more if I could visit any time soon (and don’t get me wrong — theme mis-match aside, this sounds like a great place to grab a bite; I’ve had VERY sub-par experiences here in the past, but would be willing to give it another shot now), but I just don’t see the “Observatory” thing aside from the outside of the building.

    On another note, I laughed out loud at the author’s description of the restaurant being not for the “faint of colon.” That’s not *much* of a change from before, but with Guy Fieri designing the menu…I absolutely believe this line.

  4. frostysnowman

    Seems like a wasted opportunity. This is the third review I’ve read that knocks the food, which is the main reason to eat at a restaurant, after all. I never at there when it was Planet Hollywood, and it doesn’t seem worth trying now, either.

  5. Linda Raymond

    WOOZA. Great review Jenilyn,thanks.
    I think Frank may have found his Paradise after reading this…he is the one with the iron gut,( guess it was all his over seas deployments —they eat anything lol). I wouldn’t be able to deal with the food, but I am gonna try that Candy Cotton shake ,oh my…………

  6. Duane

    Thanks for the highly entertaining review. You’re descriptions are both valuable and hilarious. I like the new exterior of the building. Who would have thought Disney could find a way to blend the old Planet Hollywood into its new surroundings. After reading your review, perhaps we’ll stop by for a drink and the view.

  7. Bob Rashkin

    Ha lunch there last week. I have to say these photos of the food are great. None of the 4 meals we had looked that good. My grand son had mac and cheese. It was warm, dry, and hard. They brought us more cheese for it but it was still ice cold.
    The burgers in the above photos look good. They even look properly cooked. Ours were all dry and well done. We were told
    It’s hard to cook to order because they are smashed when cooked.
    In the past I told people the best burger on property was at Planet Hollywood. Not anymore. We may give it another try but not anytime soon. The best part was the beer was cold.

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