Located between the Shark Encounter & Feeding attraction and the entrance to Mako®, Panini Shore Cafe has been around for a while. I didn't really dislike the place seven years ago, it just didn't seem to get very good scores when I really thought about rating everything on a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being the best). Have things improved in seven years and why the big lead-in to the review?
Well, it's a sandwich, from a sandwich stand — and I'm trying to get my word count up.
I stopped by at around 3:30pm on a Wednesday (for context), and there was a little line of maybe four guests, I was number five. For Panini Shore this seems to be a "crowd" because getting through the line felt like it took longer than I was expecting.
There were two cast members in the stand, one running the register and one preparing orders. Both seemed to have a light case of zombie-cast — no expressions or extra effort beyond the minimum. For example, when I ordered the sandwich that I wanted, a "Chicken Pesto Panini" — the only response I got was, "we're out of the chicken". No "sorry", no other suggestions, just a blank stare off into space waiting for me to make the next move. A good sales tactic, but not great customer service.
Getting back to the missing Chicken Pesto Panini… when the name on the shop is "Panini Shore Cafe", and you only have four things on the menu — there probably shouldn't be a point in the late afternoon where you're already running out of stuff. I was actually really looking forward to trying that Chicken Pesto Panini.
Instead, I selected a quick runner-up, the Caprese Panini — only because I reviewed the Turkey Panini seven years ago, and I just had a little pulled pork mojo at a previous stop. A year ago, that Pork Mojo Panini was actually a "Steak and Cheese Panini"… but it's no longer on the menu.
My sandwich came in a hot bag, and I was off to find a seat in what might be the best part about Panini Shore Cafe. If you're looking directly at the front of the shop, turn your head right, and you'll see a little path that goes behind a gift shop. Walk down that path, and (on most days) there's a great outdoor area with both covered and full-sun seating options — with actual tables and chairs. I say on "most days", because I have seen this location blocked off for private parties on weekend evenings.
Even when festivals are going on (like the Seven Seas Food Festival) and there's a food booth located down in this area, you can usually still find a seat somewhere.
The Caprese Panini is noted on the menu as being a "meatless option" but not vegetarian. It's probably the mozzarella. I won't get into the gory details — but real mozzarella is actually made with an enzyme that comes from the lining of unweaned young animals — thereby "meatless" but not vegetarian. Plant-based mozzarellas are still pretty hard to find.
The good news is, this is the way mozzarella has been made since — well, since whenever people started making mozzarella — and the mozzarella in this sandwich was actually quite good.
While there was no onion (that I could find) on the Caprese Panini, it was still a pretty good sandwich. I do wish there had been just a little flake salt sprinkled on top or in the pesto somewhere to brighten up the mozzarella and the tomatoes.
There were onions mentioned and pictured on the menu board description — those were not on the sandwich (which is too bad, they would have added a great flavor and texture layer), but there were some "fresh herbs" smeared on top of the mozzarella.
The "fresh herbs" came across more like an herb pesto — and honestly, it's a great idea and flavor profile for the sandwich. There just wasn't enough of that pesto on top to match the amount of mozzarella, bread or tomato that was in the sandwich.
The bread itself was actually pretty good, better to eat this one warm, than when it starts to cool down. These sandwiches are made, and then kept in their little bags under some kind of heating system, so you only have about five minutes before that bread starts cooling down and getting a little harder to bite into. If the tomato slices had been a little thicker and there had been a little more pesto, the bread-to-stuff ratio would have been about right. The sandwich I got did end up being a little bread-heavy.
The "pesto" that was spread on top of the mozzarella is not actually listed on the menu board... but it is a really good idea! I like the pesto on this sandwich a lot, and wished there was a little more of it on there.
Why do I keep calling it a sandwich and not a panini? There were no classic "pressed panini" grill marks on this one at all. That's not a bad thing, I think the warm bread that was used was the correct type for the sandwich, and calling the place "Warm Bread Shores Cafe" just doesn't seem right.
The Caprese Panini was around $10… which seems a little pricey for the actual sandwich I received, but that is one of the less expensive, filling things you can get at SeaWorld. So relatively speaking, it's a good value, if you're eating in SeaWorld. I got the sandwich as part of the All-Day Dining Deal, so mine came with a bag of chips and a soda.
You'd have to dine here at Panini Shore Cafe around five times to break-even on the All-Day Dining Deal though, so while this is a good location to get something to eat when paying "out of pocket", it's probably not the best use of an All-Day Dining Deal entitlement. You could get a Smoked Brisket Meat platter over at Voyagers Smokehouse (which retails for around $15) for the same All-Day Dining Deal entitlement.
All in all, a better review than seven years ago. The Panini Shore Cafe seems to be holding it's own as being one of the least expensive dining options in the park, with a decent meatless Caprese sandwich. And honestly, I'd still like to try that Chicken Pesto Panini. Hopefully, it will still be on the menu seven years from now.