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Review: “Dine with an Imagineer” Opportunity at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Finally! One of my Disney dining bucket list items has been crossed off of the list! Along with some wonderful friends, I got the chance to attend a “Dine With an Imagineer” lunch at Disney Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood Brown Derby earlier this month.

Details About Dine With an Imagineer

In case you haven’t heard of it, Dine With an Imagineer is a spectacular opportunity offered for lunch at the Hollywood Brown Derby, and for dinner (on select nights) at the Flying Fish Cafe.

Up to 10 guests get the chance to dine with a real live Walt Disney Imagineer. Your Imagineer will tell you about the work that he or she does, then answer any questions you might have about that work…or anything else that has to do with Disney Imagineering!

Place Setting and Personalized Menu

Cost per person is $60 (taxes and gratuity are added at the table), and the experience has been designed for guests aged 10 and older. You can book this event 180 days in advance, and it’s suggested that you do. It sells out quickly.

We had a gaggle of about 9 Disney fans who attended the lunch, including one VERY smart 11-year-old who had some great questions for the Imagineer. Don’t worry if your group can’t fill the room; Disney will keep taking reservations until the event is at capacity. That means you might have the chance to meet a few new Disney fans!

Now, the first question everyone asks about Dine With an Imagineer is…DO WE GET TO HAVE LUNCH WITH JOE ROHDE?!?

Well…no. You don’t get to have lunch with Joe Rohde.

In fact, chances are very good that you’ll never have heard of the Imagineer you dine with. Walt Disney Imagineering includes many different types of jobs, from accountants to lawyers to ride designers, so your chances of getting to have lunch with the guy who’s in charge of designing the next big Disney thrill ride is pretty small. That said, Walt Disney Imagineers are pretty unique people, and I rarely hear negative feedback about this opportunity. Also, your Imagineer could be one of many — you never know who’s going to show up until you get there!

Brown Derby Lobby in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Atmosphere

Dine With an Imagineer takes place in the secluded, private Bamboo Room at the Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When you arrive at the podium, just let the cast member know that you’re there for Dine With an Imagineer. Once everyone arrives, you’ll receive your special nametag and be led into the Bamboo Room.

Personalized Pin

The Bamboo Room is a pretty literal name; everything in here is either made of, or represents, bamboo! From the wallpaper to the light fixtures to the ceilings, you’ll feel like you’re in a mid-century tropical getaway.

Bamboo Room Ceiling

Bamboo Room Lighting

Bamboo Room Wallpaper

Bamboo Room accents

Everyone is seated around one long table. I’m not sure about yours, but our Imagineer sat at a chair in the middle of the table so that he could see and speak with everyone.

Our Dine with an Imagineer Table -- Our Imagineer is sitting at the middle right

Our Imagineer!

And speaking of our Imagineer, we got to have lunch with Josh Eisenberg, a Librarian Associate for Walt Disney Imagineering!

But don’t be fooled by his title. Josh doesn’t spend his days with his nose in a book — well, not all the time! He basically transformed (read: created) the WDI East Coast Library, which means he’s in charge of cataloging the history of Disney’s East Coast parks and resorts.

Just one of his many responsibilities includes providing reference material for Imagineers designing and renovating Disney attractions. When old rides need updating, Josh is responsible for making sure there are photos of textiles and fabrics, and details about the ride from when it was first created so that Imagineers can be authentic with renovations. When new rides need to design their look and feel based on a particular idea, Josh is the one who’s responsible for researching designs to help ensure they fit with the overall concept and strategy for the ride.

For example, Josh has recently been doing a lot of research for the Imagineers designing Avatar Land so that their concepts and designs will be authentic and realistic when it comes to inventing a physical version of the film.

Josh Eisenberg's Bio

At the lunch, we were told that we could decide what direction the discussion took. We spoke about a variety of topics from Walt Disney himself, to how Josh followed his dream to work at Walt Disney Imagineering and basically created his own job there (a truly inspirational story of “If you can dream it, you can do it!”), to some of his favorite projects for WDI.

Unfortunately, our Imagineer didn’t leak any secrets to us about Avatar Land, Fantasyland, or any of the other fun new additions that are coming to Disney theme parks soon; but we pretty much knew he wasn’t allowed to tell us any of that anyway. ;-)

Eats

Once everyone was seated and we’d introduced ourselves, we all got to take a look at our personalized menus while our server explained the prix fixe offerings.

Personalized Menu

Menu

We started out with some of Hollywood Brown Derby’s bread rolls and salted butter…yum!

Bread

Salted Butter

The soup course included a Lobster Bisque with Brentwood Sweet Corn-Lobster Relish, but we also were offered the option of chicken noodle soup if we preferred. I had the chicken noodle, which was wonderful! Curly-cue noodles and big chunks of chicken! The broth was pleasantly salty, which I love. Can’t stand a boring broth!

Lobster Bisque

Chicken Noodle Soup

Our friend Kathie F. was eating vegetarian at the table and received a vegetarian Miso soup.

Vegetarian Miso Soup

The salad course provided the table with the Hollywood Brown Derby’s famous Cobb Salad! This salad was developed at the original Hollywood Brown Derby and has been a palate-pleaser ever since!

Cobb Salad

Vegetarian Cobb Salad

For entrees, guests had the choice of Filet of Beef with Cotswold Butter over Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus, Ugly Ripe tomatoes, and a broken Cabernet-Shallot Vinaigrette; a Noodle Bowl with a Grilled Breast of Chicken, Soy Beans, Sugar Snap Peas, Bok Choy, and Shiitake Mushrooms in a Red Curry Broth; or Coriander-dusted Grouper, Cauliflower Risotto, fresh English Peas, crunchy Sunchokes, and a Yellow Tomato Coulis.

I had the Filet of Beef and it was out of this world!!! I’ve always enjoyed my visits to Hollywood Brown Derby, and once again I was licking my plate (not really, but I would have been if I’d been alone) after this dish.

The Cotswold butter — a massive heap of it on top of the filet — was a gorgeous addition. But everything on the plate was delicious. I’m pretty sure I was the first one done with my lunch…embarrassing, but true.

Filet of Beef With Butter of Wonderfulness

I heard some great reviews of the Noodle Bowl, and Kathie got a vegetarian version with tofu instead of chicken!

Vegetarian Noodle Bowl

For dessert, we had a choice of double vanilla bean creme brulee with dark chocolate-dipped biscotti; or the Hollywood Brown Derby’s famous Grapefruit Cake — another delicious invention of the original Hollywood restaurant. (See the whole story behind the cake — and the recipe! — here!)

I had the Grapefruit Cake, of course (Cream Cheese Icing?! When have you known me to NOT order that?!), and it was delicious. It was a bit more bitter this time than it was the last time, but the icing was piled high, so I didn’t complain! ;-)

Grapefruit Cake

When we’d all finished our meals, we received another little personalized package with our Imagineer’s bio and a photo of our group at the table! This was a great memento.

Part of our Parting Gift

We also received a glass plate depicting Sorcerer Mickey (the original Sorcerer Mickey, Josh said) with Josh’s autograph.

Gift Plate Signed by our Imagineer

Overall

Personally, I think this is one of the best special events Disney offers if you’re a big fan of Disney’s Parks and Resorts.

First of all, the meal is delicious. You’d easily spend $60 dining at Hollywood Brown Derby anyway, so the special secluded room and the ability to ask all kinds of questions about Disney is just an added bonus.

But, honestly, I found it fascinating to hear about what Josh does for a living — it gave another tiny glimpse into the backstory of how Disney runs its business, and how every single person working for Walt Disney Imagineering is an important component in bringing the “whole” to guests and Disney fans. Disney is a company made of talented and passionate individuals — it’s good to hear from the people behind the scenes who are making the parks what they are today.

Just writing about me makes me want to go back again! Hmm…I’ll have to start planning!

Have you tried this dining experience or do you think it’s one you’d like to try? Let us know your questions and comments by writing us a note below!

You can book Dine with an Imagineer here!

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22 Comments

  1. Allen says:

    Well, that is just too cool. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kelly M says:

    This is definitely on my Disney to-do list! DHS is my favourite park but I’ve never eaten at the Brown Derby, to do so with an Imagineer would be amazing!
    Sounds like you had a great time AJ, I love all the extra Disney magic touches like the plate.

  3. Michele says:

    I loved our Imagineer when I did this last year. It was Wyatt, but we didn’t receive a resume-type tihng from him.

    I agree the experience was amazing, the room quite cool, the attention very nice, the food great but I still didn’t like the dessert. I know its a Brown Derby speciality but…no.

    Our lunch went for 3 hours! I live my plate momento and pictures with our imagineer. I would do this again, but after a few trips. :)

  4. Little John says:

    Very nice write up of the experience. My wife and I have done this a couple of times. I enjoyed the Brown Derby meal and atmosphere. The dinner at Flying Fish is nice, but we weren’t in a secluded room so the noise from other diners can distract from the experience. I would love to see the dinner experience moved back to Artist Point. That was a great meal and the space allowed for a lot of conversation.

  5. Paul says:

    Thanks for the great review, AJ. I did the Lunch with an Imagineer back in 2006. Our imagineer was an architect who worked on several different projects, including the renovation of the Emporium on Main St. It was a fascinating experience, and definitely a highlight of our trip. Your review makes me want to book it again!

  6. Great review AJ, I’m very jealous!

  7. John B says:

    Thanks for this AJ. I’ve always wanted to do this, but it never falls on a good day for me. And for $60, it’s a steal! HBD is expensive, so for a 3 course meal, plus the Imagineer and plate, this seems like a great value.

    But I still have one question: where are YOU on that picture??? :)

  8. Jason N says:

    Great review, it makes me want to do this now even more than I already did!

  9. John Mann says:

    Thanks for the great review – this is now on my to-do list!

  10. AFoodie says:

    What an awesome experience! I hope to try this sooner rather than later. Thanks for sharing, A.J.!

  11. AJ says:

    Allen — You’re welcome! It was an awesome lunch!

    Kelly M — It was so cool! This is a must-do if you love DHS.

    Michele — Yes; I was amazed that the lunch went on for a full 3 hours! We had a great time, but if you had a non-talkative group, that might be difficult!

    Little John — Thank you so much for the review on the Flying Fish Imagineer dinner. Great point that you’re out in the open and don’t have the secluded room for discussion. I think that really “made” the event.

    Paul — Ooh! What a cool experience to be able to speak with one of the architects!

    Matt — Let’s plan a Dine with an Imagineer lunch!

    John B — Agreed; that is an awesome deal! I didn’t realize it until I actually had the meal how expensive that would be if I were just dining at HBD. In the pic I’m seated next to the Imagineer on his left-hand side.

    AFoodie — Yeah! I highly recommend it!

  12. Excellent post AJ :) I would love this experience but I’m worried that I’d be too nervous to speak :(

  13. Julie says:

    I am definitely adding this as a goal for our next trip. Just returned late last night from the World — loved every minute of it. The lobster roll at the Craft Beer booth was terrific!

  14. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Did you talk about meta-tagging? Sorry, I’m a librarian by trade. this would have been a dream for me.

  15. I’m only very jealous! Sounds like so much fun. Am going to try to reserve for a Disney trip in 2012.

  16. Cory says:

    My fiance and I had the chance to Dine with an Imagineer last month. It was a wonderful experience and we both agreed we’d do it again.

    I had booked the meal because my fiance is very into how things are made and engineering. I thought we’d learn a lot about how the rides work. However, our Imagineer ended up being the head of Corporate Alliance. I was disappointed because I thought that sounded terribly boring.

    In fact, it turned out to be fascinating. She had a lot of experience at all the Disney parks around the world, so we learned a lot about the non-U.S. parks. She talked a lot about how they incorporate sponsors into each attraction, shop, or restaurant. It was amazing to me how much work goes into telling a sponsor’s story without beating you over the head with product placement, which would distract from the experience. After we left, my fiance turned to me and said, “you know, that sounded like the perfect job for you.”

    We also quite liked that we were eating with strangers. At our meal, we had a young lady from Australia on her first trip to the U.S. and a high school student who wants to become an Imagineer. Another woman had a grandson who wasn’t old enough to come, so he sent her with a list of questions. It was a fantastic icebreaker and got us all in the mood of asking questions.

    Anyway, we loved it and will most certainly be doing this again.

  17. Heather says:

    I’ve always wanted to do this! The Brown Derby is one of my favs, too. So win, win. ;)

  18. Gaylin says:

    I did this a few years ago and loved it. Our Imagineer was Jason Grandt, a designer, who it turns out had a hand in designing my favourite ‘ride’, the Crush ‘N Gusher. There were only 4 guests for this lunch so 2 cast members were invited so there were 6 plus Jason. We enjoyed the meal, the company and the wonderful information that Jason imparted.

    I would certainly do this again. It was a wonderful break from the often noisy theme park day and the food was terrific.

  19. Adam Schroeder says:

    I did Dining with an Imagineer in October of 2010 and we had the great luck to get to dine with Josh Eisenberg on his first time doing DwaI. Prior to doing the experience I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. I was concerned it would be a little awkward, a little forced, with an Imagineer who didn’t necessarily want to be there talking with us. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Josh was the nicest, most genuine person I could have hoped to meet.

    And when he said he was a librarian my then-fiancee, now-wife deflated a little, sad that we were getting someone so boring. Josh proved her wrong on that count! Being a Disney librarian is _awesome_!

    My only issue with the entire experience was that we were dining with someone who had done DwaI something like thirty times previous, and this person tried to dominate conversation a lot, despite the fact that Josh wanted to talk to everyone.

    On a side note, this was the first time I’d ever eaten at the Brown Derby. While I’m not sure how eager I am to go back, our waiter, whose name I desperately wish I could remember, was such a genial host, filled with incredible facts about both the original Brown Derby and the Disney recreation, that it by itself is almost enough to make me want to go back.

  20. Suzy says:

    Hey AJ–great review! It is because of your feedback that we are doing this next month–so excited!!! One question though–do you have to give the names of the people in your party ahead of time (for name tag and personalized menu), or do they make those once you check in? Thanks!

  21. Sarah says:

    Hi,

    I’m not AJ, but I emailed her earlier with the same question about the personalized items. Today I got an email from a DHS Food & Beverage person requesting the names of the people attending the lunch to make the experience “more magical” for us. Our lunch is in June.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    I just made a reservation for this in July…so excited!

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