I’m sorry, but it has to be done.
I know it’s redundant, expected, and utterly stereotypical (three things I try to avoid), but I have to give props to the California Grill.
The General Overview (e.g. My Opinion)
I have had good meals there, and I have had not-so-good meals there. There’s been good service and bad service. And the tables that aren’t window tables make the dining experience decidedly “less than.” But, all in all, California Grill–sitting high atop the Contemporary Resort in Disney World–is essentially a great, expensive restaurant with good food worth paying for. And while you might expect the atmosphere to be a
little “nose-in-the-air,” the staff, in my experience, have been knowledgeable, down-to-earth folks who just want you to have a great time and enjoy yourself. For this, I love the California Grill.
Booking Early and Watching the Fireworks from California Grill
So why do you need to book early? Well, most of the time, you don’t. But I put it in my “book early” series
because one of the much-touted experiences in Disney World is watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from your table at California Grill. This makes the reservations around the fireworks hour go quickly–you’ll need to book the full 180 days in advance to get a table during the fireworks if you’re headed to Disney World in a busy season, and at least a month ahead to get one during the slower months. That said, fireworks-view
tables aren’t guaranteed–all you can do is request a window table when you check in for your meal.
And if you don’t care whether you’re there for fireworks or not, you should be able to get a table at California Grill realtively easily, as long as you’re willing to eat at unpopular times.
I will say that I actually don’t enjoy watching the fireworks from California Grill. The vantage point of the restaurant is too far to the right of the castle, giving you a rather skewed view of the show (many of the fireworks are actually set off about a half mile behind the castle–being able to see this distance could essentially ruin the show for some people). Nope–I don’t care about the fireworks; but one of my absolute favorite Disney World experiences is watching the sun set from my table at California Grill. It sets behind the Grand Floridian, and the resulting skyline reflecting off of Seven Seas Lagoon is phenomenal. This I can highly recommend!
California Grill food is amazing. Now, I’m not a food critic by any stretch of the imagination; I have a 12-year-old’s palate at best and still LOVE me some chicken fingers and fries. But the fact that California Grill can please the food critics AND me has to be saying something!
On my most recent trip, I fell for the new potato-celery soup. It was so delicious that I asked our server for the recipe and, unable to do so, kindly brought me a list of the ingredients. California Grill’s market inspired menu means that the soup and other highlights change frequently, but I can only hope they’re all as wonderful as this.
My other favorite (as you know if you’ve been following the food blog) is the cheese plate. California Grill has a lovely one, and every time I’ve tried it (it changes occasionally as well, of course), I’ve been pleased. I’ll do a blog in the near future highlighting the plate here.
My companion and I also tried the famous (it’s been on the menu since California Grill opened in 1995) Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, shiitake mushrooms and basil. This was superb. Along with the interesting (and surprisingly light) flatbreads, you could easily make a meal out of the appetizers at California Grill.
But why would you want to?!? From there, I indulged again in the always delicious Oak-fired Filet of Beef with cheesy Yukon gold potato mash, sautéed broccolini, and teriyaki barbecue sauce. Yes, it’s 44 bucks. But if a meal is going to be worth 44 bucks, it’s this.
Desserts are never the highlight at Disney’s “signature” restaurants (and nothing’s going to come close to ‘Ohana’s bread pudding), but California Grill is quite famous for its butterscotch and banana creme brulee.
Of course, with a theme like California, the Grill is known for its wine list (and extremely knowledgeable accompanying staff). And the restaurant also has a selection of sake to accompany its sushi bar.
Just Go. You’ll Be Glad You Did.
My parents recently asked me to suggest a “signature” restaurant where they could celebrate their anniversary in Disney World, and I immediately settled on California Grill. Although I do enjoy most of the
other “high-end” restaurants in Disney World, one of the most celebratory and beautiful–not to mention delicious–in my estimation is easily the California Grill.
Make your reservations up to 90 days out by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Don’t forget that California Grill has a dress code (no ripped jeans, bathing suits, flip flops, etc.), and that the check-in desk is on the 2nd foor of the Contemporary Resort while the restaurant itself is on the 15th.