If you follow along on my culinary journey, then you may remember back in February I posted a review of California Grill's Brunch the Top (and if you didn't, you can still read it here). It was such a delightful experience I booked my next reservation while I was still finishing my last bites. Brunch wasn't an option for us during our stay, but I was able to nab dinner for two right at firework time during our summer trip. I was genuinely excited to see what California Grill had in store for dinner. And I was not disappointed!
Location and Atmosphere
As talked about in my previous review, the location and the atmosphere of California Grill set the stage for an amazing experience. Located on the VERY TOP of the Contemporary Resort, California Grill can be accessed by either the monorail or a quick 10-15 min walk from the main entrance to the Magic Kingdom. The location makes the views spectacular and just a bit jaw-dropping. And actually the location and views are a large part of the fantastic ambiance.
The decor is very Californian with a blend of modern and mid-century styles. The end result is crisp and bright, but the view still takes center stage. Depending on your seating area, the panoramic views span from Space Mountain and Cinderella's Castle to the Seven Seas Lagoon and the other nearby resorts. Whether it is at brunch or dinner, the view is flat out amazing. As the sky darkens you are still privy to the Castle and Space Mountain lit up.
This is really the perfect spot for a romantic dinner for two. The view, the atmosphere, the wine and food selections, make this perhaps my favorite date spot in all of Disney World!
On to Dinner...
After the amazing experience I had at their brunch, my expectations were set pretty high for dinner. When you are first seated, they serve warm bread and tomato and olive oil dipping sauce. For our appetizers, we choose the charcuterie plate. The plate itself was really delicious. The meats included italian sausages, asian pork sausage, salami, and a pork and bacon terrine. The star for me was the duck pastrami. But then again I love DUCK! Overall the plate was very satisfying, I do wish there had been an option to add a cheese to the plate. I think that would have put it over the top for me. Thats really a minor suggestion. It was great just on its own!
For entrees we were quite torn, but eventually decided upon the Black Grouper and the Oak-fired Filet of Beef. The Filet was perfectly executed with tomatoes, green beans and potatoes. It was juicy and well seasoned. A solid choice.
I am the one who ventured toward the Grouper. Thats not normally a fish I would choose, but I was well rewarded for my risk! The Grouper was served with rice, bok hoy, baby shiitake mushrooms, and a lime-coconut nage (like a curry). This is not something I would normally order, but for some reason I dove in. The first bite was an explosion of delicate and clean flavors. I immediately knew I had ordered the best dish. The fish was delicious on its own, but I found myself cutting it into small bites to eat with the mushrooms and the sauce. I couldn't get enough. This was an A+++++ dish. If you are eating here in the near future, ORDER THIS! You will not regret it.
For dessert we choose the warm chocolate cake with cashews and whipped panna cotta. The cake was warm and moist with all the components doing their job. And overall this was good. It didn't blow my mind the way the grouper had and Ive had better desserts at other Disney Restaurants, but it was a great way to end the meal.
And now on to the Fireworks!
Beyond the food and views, the other huge draw for California Grill is that they have two observation decks outside of the restaurant. On one side you venture out towards the Magic Kingdom and on the other deck you can see both the Illuminations show at Epcot and the Happily Ever After fireworks at Magic Kingdom. California Grill pipes the music up to the decks so you don't miss out on the music. We choose the ones towards Epcot.
While this viewing of either fireworks show was not the "best" way to see the fireworks (that is hands down at the dessert parties inside the parks!), this was a great way to see them without paying any extra or using a park ticket to get inside the park.
Once again California Grill blew my expectations away (and they were really high!) I will say that if not for the Grouper dish, this would have been just a very good meal. But the Grouper sealed it as one of my absolutely favorites at Disney World. And again, I've already made my next reservations for January...this time with kids...wish me luck...
There are just some days on your trip when you don't want to go inside a Disney park whether that is because you saved the $$ that day and didn't get a ticket or you just need a bit more relaxes pace for the day. Or maybe you have an evening flight and just want something fun and easy for a morning activity. No matter what lands you in the situation, looking for character meals OUTSIDE of the parks is a great way to experience that Disney magic without ever actually entering the parks. And there are some really great options out there!
Chef Mickey is a hugely popular character dining experience. Why? Well kids of all ages and genders love the characters: the "fab five" of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. The parents love the location. The Contemporary is just a short walk away from the Magic Kingdom, so this is convenient to get to for breakfast, lunch or even dinner, and yet its outside the park so not park ticket is needed to dine here. Also while Chef Mickey's is a buffet, the menu items are Disney classics that appeal to everyone. My only issue with this place is that it is loud and a bit chaotic. If thats your scene, you're all good!
Another great character character meal if you want to stick close to the Disney magic, but not actually enter a park is 'Ohana at the Polynesian. Location is great as it is right on the monorail and has a super fun tropical theming. The characters featured are Mickey, Pluto, Lilo & Stitch. This has a been real hit with the boys in my family who LOVE Stitch, but also can't resist the Mickey & Pluto duo. The characters come around while you are eating like the typical character meals, but they also periodically will have the kids dance around or parade through the restaurant. Food wise 'Ohana was not our favorite. It is "all you care to eat" like most other meals, but the food is delivered to your table in a family-style. The plates have scrambled eggs, pork sausage, Mickey Waffles, and hash browns. Nothing bad, but nothing exciting either. The one additional item that is pretty delicious is their Pineapple-Coconut Breakfast Bread. Overall 'Ohana is great if you want to stick near Magic Kingdom, see classic characters, and save that park ticket for another day.
Bon Voyage Breakfast
Located on the Boardwalk at Trattoria al Forno, the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast features Rapunzel, Flynn Rider (EUGENE!), Ariel, and Eric. The breakfast runs from 7:30am - 11am and offers a menu of prix fixe options. While the restaurant is definitely Italian in decor, the menu is not. However, it is also not a standard Disney character buffet! The options include several egg dishes, but the most enticing to me is the Royale Breakfast of steak, cheesy-egg torte, roasted potatoes and crispy onions! Oh and did I mention the adorable pasty basket? The Bon Voyage Breakfast is perfect for the princess lovers in your family and is a great substitute for Cinderella's Royal Table or Askerhus. The food is definitely better here, but you miss out a bit on the more royal decor and ambiance of the other princess centered meals.
Mickey's Backyard BBQ
One of the often overlooked character experiences at Disney World is the Mickey's Backyard BBQ. One reason this is so overlooked is that its located at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds and can be a bit trek to get to. BUT its worth the trip. First of all, the characters are classic: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Chip & Dale in their hoe-down outfits. Another reason this is so amazing and fun is that the kids get to not just meet the characters, but dance with them and have a more fun, lively interaction. For the adults this is also a win because the live band is fantastic! They are so fun to just listen to while you are eating and the kids are dancing. The food is ok. I dont love it, but this is one of the few character meals where the pricing includes beer and sangria for the adults. Overall this is one of my all time favorite character experiences and cannot recommend it enough!
1900 Park Fare
While this is not my go to choice, the character meal at 1900 Park Fare is also very popular. Located in the Grand Floridian, it is a short monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom, but not in the park. To me the atmosphere is a little less than magical, but the characters can make up for that. At 1900 the characters vary depending on the meal. For breakfast you may meet the characters from Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, and Winnie the Pooh. Dinner is a bit fancier with the characters from Cinderella making an appearance. Both meals are buffet and are nothing amazing. BUT if you care about characters over all else, this is a good option.
And finally to round out our recommended character meals outside of the parks is Minnie's Beach Bash Breakfast at Cape May Cafe inside the Beach Club Resort. Here, as in the other options the characters are Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy in their "beach" attire. The food is buffet with the typical offerings of eggs, sausage, Mickey Waffles, and other assorted pastries and cereals. Nothing fun and unique but nothing terrible either. The locations of the Beach Bash is a bit tricky. While the Beach Club is within walking distance to the International Gateway in Epcot, if you are not staying within walking distance, this can take some real time to get to. I would consider just Ubering to this one to save time.
However one major plus for this is how quiet and low-key this character meal is. If there is one thing I do not like about Chef Mickey's its that the overall crowd noise and chaos can be overwhelming. If you feel the same way, this is a great option for you.
If you are looking for a fun Disney-magic filled way to eat a meal and NOT actually go inside a park, these are an absolute great idea. Just remember those autograph books!
Tara is a Disney-obsessed Mom of two active boys!