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Review: Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure

Disneyland’s Princess meal takes place in Disney California Adventure at Ariel’s Grotto, a lovely little restaurant full of windows and under-the-sea themeing perfectly fitting for the princess from The Little Mermaid.

Ariel’s Grotto lunch at Disney’s California Adventure in Disneyland Resort begins with an impressive-looking first course followed by your choice of entrees. Go ahead and skip ahead to the dessert platter. It’s worth a quick peek now, but be sure to return here to finish our full review!

Restaurant Entrance

Atmosphere

The princess vibe hits you before you even walk into the restaurant. Well, at least it did for us! We were required to walk past a merchandise kiosk selling princess dresses in order to get to the front door. Can you imagine walking by all of those dresses with your little girl on your way to a princess character meal? You’ll have to keep your wits about you, because I’m guessing she won’t! ;-)

Princess Dress Kiosk

Passing the princess dresses, we walked under a sign welcoming us (and the Merfolk), and headed into the reception area for Ariel’s.

Ariel's Entrance

Here, we checked in at the podium and checked out a display of celebration cakes. These were prominent throughout Disneyland during our last visit. They’re available for order when you arrive at the restaurant, and offer a fun dessert for birthdays and celebrations. They are a little kid-centric, though, so if you’re celebration is a bit more grown-up, these might not work for you.

Order a birthday cake when you arrive

Once our name was called, we headed down a gorgeous spiral suitcase with this view:

View from entryway

And this chandelier:

Chandelier in entryway

Amazing, isn’t it? I knew right away that this restaurant would be beautifully themed to the hilt.

Ground floor restaurant entrance

At the bottom of the stairs was the star of the show — Ariel — holding court with her many admirers.

Ariel meets guests at entrance

While characters mingle during breakfast and lunch, Ariel’s Grotto is character-free (unless you count anyone wearing Mickey Ears at nearby tables) during dinner. Ariel’s is a great option for the World of Color dinner package, which includes a prix fixe meal and a reserved viewing area for the show. Update: Ariel’s Grotto will begin a character dinner on June 15, 2012. After June 14, 2012, the World of Color Dining Package will no longer be available at this location.

Seating at the restaurant is both indoors and outdoors. I imagine that the outdoor seating is sought after during the warmer months, but our April visit included a few chilly days so we opted to sit inside.

outdoor seating

Seating and view to outside seating

The restaurant is basically a giant room with a relatively low ceiling, but the fun themeing has definitely spruced the place up!

Wall mosaic mural

One of the restaurant chandeliers

Ceiling Decor

And there are no wands or swords here like you’ll find at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Disney World, but you can get a button proving that you went to a character breakfast. (Use it for bragging rights at the office, or give it to your favorite Disney princess back home!)

Button

Shortly after we were seated, the announcements began. If you’ve been to a princess meal at a Disney park, you probably know what I mean: a cast member dressed in royal gear (footman? town crier?) precedes the entry of each princess with her mini-bio. My guess is that this is to remind forgetful parents which princess is which, so that they don’t seem like a dolt to their kids who obviously know each princess by name. The process is fun and exciting, actually — it makes the character arrival more of an event!

Announcing the Princesses

Soon, the princesses were gliding around the room, greeting families, discussing the latest ups and downs in their lives, asking about the princes and princesses you know, and doing their thing. I often wonder if I’m the only one who feels kind of chubby and slobbish sitting there eating a bunch of food while the stunning, twenty-something princesses wander around in full make-up and gowns. ;-)

Note, of course, that Ariel stays in the foyer the whole time. Since it’s her party, she has to stay there and greet the guests. So if you didn’t get a chance to have your photo taken with her when you first came down, ask your server if he or she can set up a quick photo shoot on your way out.

Belle

Cinderella

Sleeping Beauty

Snow White

Eats

While we chatted with the princesses, we perused the menu to see what was what.

click image for larger version

Menu - click image for larger version

Menu - click image for larger version

Kids Menu - click image for larger version

Every table gets this fun bread assortment, with one piece baked into the shape of sea grass! Very cool! Also included with the bread is butter, and ranch and pesto dips for the upcoming antipasti tower.

Bread and Dips

The Antipasti Tower comes almost as quickly as the bread, so nobody’s going to go hungry here! The Tower includes one plate with salami, marinated mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, gherkins, olives, red pepper bracelets, and chilled vegetables. The next plate offers a mixed greens salad served with house vinaigrette. And the third plate holds string cheese “Jewels of the Sea” fruit gelatin, and watermelon triangles.

The salad and antipasti plates were decent. Food quality was standard of mass-produced food (think “fundraising event”). I did like the variety, though. With a big group, everyone will find something they enjoy.

Antipasti Tower

Meats Cheeses and Veggies on Antipasti Tower

Mixed Greens Salad

The “Jewels of the Sea” gelatin gave us a few moments of pause, however, when we could not figure out what fruit was inside the yellow gelatin!

Watermelon and Jewels of the Sea Gelatin

Gelatin from Antipasti Tower

I’ll save you the time and just tell you — apples!

On to the entrees. While the bread and tower come unbidden, you get to chose your entree here at Ariel’s. We chose the Santa Maria-syle Tri-tip and the Herb-crusted Chicken Breast, both served with cheddar herb mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

After the meal, I really regretted our choices. While the food was fine, it was, once again, mass-produced “event” style food. I’m wondering if the Mafalde pasta with italian sausage or the seafood might have been significantly better.

Chicken

Tri Tip

As it stands, we weren’t all that impressed with the food here at all, though I’ve heard some folks say they love it. I think we’ll order differently next time.

Dessert was up next, and it was phenomenal! Truly the best part of the meal. Dessert at Ariel’s comes automatically to your table in the form of a dessert platter including Sea Horse Lava Cake, Chocolate-Chip Strips, Cheescake Tarts with Raspberries, S’more Chocolate Bites, and a White Chocolate Conch Shell of Fresh Berries.

The platters come in different sizes depending on the number of people in your group, so here are pics of two different sizes:

Dessert

Dessert Platter

Each one of these desserts was delicious. The chocolate lava cake was truly stunning, offering more of a mousse/ganache inside rather than a runny “lava.”

Inside of lava cake from dessert platter

And I loved the conch shell! If you don’t want to eat it right away, break it up into little pieces and ask for a bag to take it with you — you can snack on it all day!

White chocolate conch shell from dessert platter

We also loved those S’mores bites — basically brownies, they were rich, moist, and delicious.

Overall

Ariel’s Grotto is a mixed bag. The entrees aren’t out-of-this-world, but the view from the restaurant, the opportunity to see the princesses, and that dessert platter really do make up for the lack of food awesomeness.

This is a must-do if you have kids or love princesses, and since it’s one of the few table-service restaurants in Disney California Adventure, it might be worth it to head over here mid-day to take a bit of a rest.

This is also the only all-princess character meal in Disneyland Resort, so getting all of the autographs here is a great way to avoid lines for characters over in Disneyland.

Reservations for Ariel’s Grotto can be made 60 days in advance.

Have you been to Ariel’s Grotto? Would you recommend it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Thanks to Chris Mushrush for contributing some photos from his visit to Ariel’s Grotto!

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13 Comments

  1. Mush says:

    I’m famous now…I got a couple of pics in a DFB post!!!!

    I think you’re pretty spot-on with the review. The antipasti tower food was pretty good, while the entrees were eeeehhh. My wife and I both got the tri-tip and were underwhelmed. As you mentioned, the dessert platter was the major highlight of the food. The small cheesecake tarts were so-so (cheesecake wasn’t firm), but the lava cake was great, and conch shell was so good that we fought over the last few bites of it (yes, I admit that I used my fork as a weapon). I didn’t try one of the s’mores bites, but our boys really liked them.

    We went to Storytellers to have dinner with friends that evening, which really showed the difference in food quality. Still, Ariel’s Grotto is a good place to sit down for a fairly decent meal with a great views of Paradise Pier and a chance to meet the Princesses.

    Great write-up as always, A.J.!

  2. Shayne says:

    Since we have 2 boys quickly headed for their tween years, we won’t soon find ourselves at a princess meal. But I had to laugh at your comment about the princesses being “announced.”

    On their first trip to Disney World, when my kids were too young to protest, we went to princess lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table. There were no announcements about who was who and as I saw each princess approach our table, I had to whisper to my husband (while still smiling at the approaching princess), “Who is that?” The kids, of course, recognized them all immediately. Mary Poppins was the only one I was certain about. :D

  3. J says:

    The food here sucks. It hasn’t been good since Wolfgang Puck left. Though they used to have some pretty good Lobster Nachos at the bar outside. The World of Color dinner here, and at the Trattoria, are both mass-produced, banquet-style food. They aren’t individually prepared and are a letdown. For the high price-point, you’d think they’d come up with something better.

    What they should do, however, is just turn this place into a Garden Grill-type all-you-can-eat family style place. That way you don’t have the expectation that the food is going to be great, but you don’t feel jipped because you can have as much of whatever you want, plus you can sample a few different options.

  4. Rachel says:

    i really like the pasta entree — i thought i wouldn’t like the others, and judging by your review, i was right but if anyone would want to give it a try again, the mafalde pasta is pretty great

  5. Lisa says:

    I don’t live in So Ca anymore, but when this opened as a Wolfgang Puck venue we were annual passholders and went. It was pricey and very good. The decor was gorgeous and looks the same as it was then (I think). Sad to know that the food has suffered in such a beautiful setting.

  6. carolyn says:

    I’ll be trying Ariel’s Grotto for the first time as part of the WoC package. I’m not expecting much but I’m sure it will be a fun time. I know what to expect now (I think the description of fund raiser food will sum it up) but I am looking forward to that dessert platter! (I ate here when it was Wolfgang Pucks and thought it was the worst sit down I ever had at any Disneyland Resort establishment)

  7. Ann says:

    What are the process for breakfast and lunch? Are they the same as dinner?

  8. Ann says:

    Sorry, spell check, the question should be “what are the prices?”

  9. Jack says:

    Will Ariel sign autographs?

  10. AJ says:

    Jack — when the princesses are at Ariel’s, she signs autographs and takes photos with guests before they’re seated.

  11. Heather Rodwell says:

    We will be dining here next week! looks awesome from the pics!! They have put us outside. Does anyone have a recommendation as to which is better…inside or outside??? TIA :-)

  12. Rosemary Allen says:

    this was our first time at this restaurant, took our gran-daughter for her 4th birthday wasn’t too impressed for the price our first course was not what i seen on this page, ours was very sparse our main course was good but the dessert plate was also sparse for the price i wouldn’t come back , we are a annual pass family for the last 10 years our grand-daughters are very into princes

  13. Tiffany says:

    I felt like this meal/experience was over priced. There are only 5 princesses and for the price, you would expect to meet more of them and for a longer period of time. Very little time is spent with your child. Our meal was just under $250 and the food and experience did not reflect that price. The children receive a paper crown, half of a page of stickers and 4 crayola crayons. And that is it. An 8X10 portrait of my children with Ariel would have been a nice touch. The hostess station is unorganized. We (and several other guests) were made to feel as if we needed to protect our reservation. Guests were “cutting” the line. There is no clear direction on where or what guests with reservations should do and what or where walk-ins should go. We have gone to this restaurant twice (separated by a few years) and both times the experience was the same.

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