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Review: The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

We hadn’t been back to The Wave for a couple of years, so we knew it was time to head back for dinner!

The Wave is a unique table-service spot at Disney, because their menu focuses on local and sustainable ingredients. Because of the ever-changing and seasonal local offerings, they are one of the few moderate table service restaurants I’ve encountered that changes up the menu four times per year. (Usually that’s only allowed for signature restaurants!)

Available for breakfast (which also features a buffet), lunch, and dinner, you won’t necessarily find the same dish here that you had six months ago. That can be good and bad, but it’s always an adventure to stop in and see what’s new!

Atmosphere

Located in the back left corner of the Contemporary Resort’s lobby (just past the concierge desks), you might miss The Wave altogether — except that they’ve dreamed up this groovy light tunnel for the entrance.

This gives you the feeling of heading below the waves for a culinary adventure. (Or it could also remind you of the dearly departed rainbow tunnel from the original Journey Into Your Imagination. Either way, it’s still cool.)

Wave Entry

The atmosphere is modern and contemporary, and the check-in and bar areas look a little “night-clubby,” actually! But never fear — this restaurant is very family-friendly.

Wave Check-In

You make your way around the beautiful and expansive bar as you walk to the dining area. Here, you’ll see more waves in the decor, like the backs of the comfortable bar chairs.

The bar features screw-top wines (more about that later) and fun organic local beers.

Wave Bar

As you enter the sleek dining room, the color palette changes from blue to harvest gold. Waves (amber waves of grain, perhaps?) continue to surround you, even from above.

Wave Dining Room

Although the look is decidedly modern, it maintains a comfortable feel, with padded seats and booths throughout. The finish also cleverly disguises the fact that you are actually dining in a windowless environment, with touches like the multicolored curtains. Suddenly, the “undersea” feeling makes more sense.

Wave Tables

My favorite places to sit when dining at The Wave, hands down, are these high-backed booths. Perfect for quiet conversation and very comfortable, they are my preference over the tables in the middle of the area, which can sometimes get rather loud during more crowded times.

Table at The Wave

Eats

As I mentioned above, The Wave menu focuses on American flavors, and strives to incorporate seasonal, sustainable, and local ingredients whenever possible.

It’s pretty fun, since you get to hear more about what the local farms are producing! (I always like feeling as though I “live” in Disney World, so knowing the local food production schedule is kind of fun. I know. I’m weird.)

Wave Menu - Click to Enlarge

While I didn’t sample any of the wines on this visit, a fun piece of trivia is that The Wave features a fantastic (and almost exclusive) selection of wines with screw caps. (You can read all about it in my review here!!)

As this type of closure continues to gain popularity around the world everyday, it’s fun to see such an array of quality wineries that use it gathered in one place.

Wave Drink Menu - Click to Enlarge

We were visiting for dinner, so my friend opted to start with the Organic Beer Flight. This featured three samplings of Orlando Brewing Certified Organic Ales — a blonde, pale, and brown ale. He pronounced all of them very good.

I also love the presentation here, with the etched, stemless glasses. Nice detail.

Organic Beer Flight

The complimentary bread service is anything but ordinary. It features the Wave’s signature — and delicious — multi-grain bread accompanied by butter, sprinkled with pink sea salt.

Bread and Salted Butter

When it came time to order, we decided to take a somewhat light approach for our appetizers. My dinner companion opted for The Wave Spring Salad.

The dressed-up dinner salad included locally-grown greens, mango, fennel, and shelled soybeans, and featured wonton strips and a sesame-ginger vinaigrette. It was very good, but the color was the real wow factor.

The Wave Spring Salad

As soon as I saw a soup featuring corn on the menu, I knew what I’d be having for a starter. ;-) (I think I need to do a “Corn Soup” round-up here one of these days…I love that stuff!) The Zellwood, Florida Corn Soup with Applewood-smoked Bacon was outstanding! Savory-sweet with that punch from the bacon — awesome!

Zellwood, Florida Corn Soup with Applewood-smoked Bacon

This is not your standard corn chowder, with its less-yellow-more-orange hue. But the flavors were a perfect balance of creamy, smoky, and rich, without being heavy. I also LOVED the zippy jalapeño cornbread that accompanied the soup. And as you know, anytime I can have corn soup and cornbread, I will be in heaven!

Soon, it was time to turn our attention to our entrees. I was in the mood for steak, so I chose the Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Shallot Butter, Potatoes, and Spring Ratatouille. Something to note here: the portion wasn’t as HUGE as I am accustom to getting in Disney, but I found it to be just perfect.

Everything on the plate was well-prepared, thoughtful, and delicious. My steak was cooked to perfection, and that shallot butter was fantastic!

The ratatouille was surprisingly flavorful, and the mashed potatoes were a nice textural addition. One of my favorite weird food habits: mixing the ratatouille with the mashed potatoes. I do this at the Cheesecake Factory, too, with the corn succotash and mashed taters. Again…weird.

Grilled Beef Tenderloin

By the way, it looks like the steak may be served with a potato gateau now based on the menu. You can probably swap out mash if you’d prefer.

My friend chose the Locally-sourced Thompson Farms Pork Tenderloin, a selection he made based upon our wonderful server’s suggestion. She just loves the bread salad, and she was sure we would love it as well. The dish also featured Bourbon-grilled Florida peaches. (Sounds yum, right?)

While cooking pork well isn’t always an easy thing to do, the kitchen staff at The Wave did a great job. It might be a testament to the superiority of the meat, but it was perfectly prepared and not in the least bit dry.

The bread salad was an unusual and delicious side dish…and I totally could have eaten a million more of those grilled peaches. More grilled peaches, please, WAVE! (Yes…I stole them from my friend’s plate.)

Locally-sourced Thompson Farms Pork Tenderloin

After our delicious entrees, we had a peek at the dessert menu. They do something really fun here at The Wave: although there are only four dessert offerings, they all feature trios, so you get to try multiple flavors with every selection.

I also love the fact that they offer pots of loose leaf tea, generous enough for two to share. There are also organic coffee selections. Both are really lovely touches that, once again, set this spot apart.

Wave Dessert Menu - Click to Enlarge

I chose the American Flavors trio, which featured, from right to left, a Coconut Raspberry Bar with Roasted Pineapples; S’mores with a Housemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallow; and the Key Lime Cube with Citrus Cream. They were all incredibly good. The key lime was my favorite (you’re not surprised). With a pucker worthy of its name, it was delightfully sour.

The s’more was fantastic as well. It may look a little burnt, but it was exactly right, and the vanilla bean flavor definitely came through…these were not grocery-store marshmallows to be sure!

Of the three, I liked the coconut-raspberry bar the least, but even so, the sticky coconut was very good. It just paled in comparison with the other two.

American Flavors Trio

Our other choice was the Creamy Indulgence, a trio which featured Vanilla Cheesecake with Florida Strawberries (although they were substituting raspberries during our visit); White Chocolate Crème Brûlée; and Olive Oil-Infused Chocolate Truffle Mousse with Salted Caramel Sauce. Wow!

There are so many things to mention here that are just delightful. For starters, this is one of the few places at Disney World that you will find the hotter-than-hot trend of macarons, which garnish the tasty crème brûlée (chefs tell us the humidity makes a mess of them in Florida, but these were great).

Also, the chocolate mousse is a favorite that has been around for a while, and is certainly unique with the addition of olive oil. It’s a great example of where The Wave has been ahead of the trend: salted caramel is popping up all over the place these days, but this was one of the first places that we sampled the delightful sweet-salty combo a year or two ago.

Creamy Indulgence Trio

Overall

The Wave is a solid contender for a mid-priced Disney World restaurant. While it’s not themed to the hilt and doesn’t offer characters, it does provide a consistently good meal and decent service for any time of day. And when my mantra is “The only consistent thing about Disney Restaurants is that they’re inconsistent,” an always-quality spot like this is golden.

Another great part of the Wave: the staff here knows their stuff. Chefs and servers are incredibly knowledgeable about the menu and the local produce, so you can usually rely on their recommendations.

While it remains a terrific choice for a fall back meal — it’s normally pretty easy to get a last-minute ADR here — I think The Wave should be moved up to a first-choice option for many folks. I always enjoy myself when dining at The Wave. This time was no exception.

Have you had the chance to dine at The Wave? Is this a spot that you would like to try on your next visit? Share with us your thoughts below!

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28 Comments

  1. Chrissy says:

    I absolutely LOVE The Wave. I never ate there for dinner, but for breakfast and lunch. Their buffet for breakfast is great and the buffalo burgers at lunchtime? Absolutely YUM!

  2. Sandy says:

    Aj – thanks for the great review! I actually just went and changed my ADR from LTT to the Wave so that my fiancé and I can have a little more romantic getaway from the MK for dinner, and get a little more bang for our buck. I never considered it before as I didnt realize it was a TS credit! Still dying to try LTT but I figure that’s a meal we can pay OOP for :) thanks again, I’m so excited to eat here!

  3. Lynn says:

    Shhh… Stop telling people how fabulous this place is. It is hands-down my favorite WDW restaurant. Consistent, quality food. And the subtle theming is great when you are dining with friends/family who are not-so-Disneyfied.

    I could eat a whole loaf of that bread with the salted butter – ah-mazing. The Grand Smash on the drinks menu is delish as well.

  4. Jessica says:

    I love the Wave and it’s definitely one of our must haves when we make our ADRs. I also love the key lime pie cube. Last time I was there I got the scallop appetizer that had corn and bacon with it. Next time we got that will be the first place we eat when we start our vacation :)

  5. Karen says:

    we ate at The Wave last year and loved it. Family of 5, with 3 kids under 15…so even the teenagers enjoyed it. Will definately make it a ‘must’ for our dining list on our next visit.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Great review, AJ! We love this place! Usually we just sit at the bar and try the local beers…But this past trip earlier in the month, they surprised us w/one of the dessert trios for our anniversary, i am not a huge fan of chocolate mousse, but that was, bar far the best chocolate mousse I’d ever had, and wouldn’t hesitate to get it again.
    And the bartenders there are knowledgeable & friendly.

  7. Sherri Erwin says:

    I’m glad to see some raves for The Wave. I have been reluctant to try it because I’ve seen so many up and down reviews. But it looks good! I’m adding it to my list. Thanks for the review.

  8. Tom S says:

    I’ve heard some uneven things about it, so I’m glad to see this review. I have an ADR there for a 75th Birthday dinner with mom there. I’ve also heard you can get access to the 4th floor observation deck for the Fireworks. Is that true?

  9. Alan says:

    I thought the decor at the WDW restaurants was fabulous twenty-five years ago. But each new restaurant and make over is more fantastic than the last. The wow factor keeps increasing every time and that is what keeps us coming back time after time after time. And then of course there’s the food…

  10. Shayne says:

    We had dinner at The Wave in December. It was one of the meals we were most looking forward to, as we were excited to try something new and we had heard lots of positive things about it.

    Unfortunately, this was one of the truly disappointing meals of our entire trip. The service was slow, and the food was so unimpressive that I can’t even remember what I ate. I’m pretty sure it was fish, but that’s about all I remember. This happened to be a meal where I decided not to bring the camera so I could just enjoy the food, so I didn’t even take a picture that would refresh my memory!

    We had some issues using our TiW card at the end of the night, which just added more frustration to a meal where I was already frustrated with our server for several reasons. As with all Disney restaurants, I’m willing to give it another try eventually, but I don’t think this one will be high on the priority list.

  11. Andrea says:

    We switched around a few ADRs for our trip in two weeks, and this ended up being one we added. I’m glad to hear such a great review! Thanks!

  12. Gaylin says:

    I love The Wave. I agree with Jessica, the scallop appetizer with corn & bacon, wonderful.

    I have food allergies and this is a terrific place to get a safe and delicious meal. I had the gelato trio for dessert last October, they had caramel popcorn gelato – I wanted to sneak in the kitchen and eat large quantities of it!

    If you get Jamal for your chef, you are in for a treat, awesome guy that can really cook!

  13. Erin says:

    We ate at the Wave on our trip in August 2011, this was our second visit to the Wave and it definitely did NOT live up to the first visit. The only redeeming item to our meal on this trip was the melon salad. This was not only delicious but a work of art. It was beautifully presented on the plate. After such a great start to our meal, everything went downhill after that. My mom order the crispy chicken, which came with rice and a potato waffle. First off, everything on her plate was a brown colour, there was nothing to draw you into it. Our waitress had said that it was one of her favourite dishes and that the chicken was marinated in yogurt for 24 hours as this is supposed to help make the chicken really tender before it was deep fried. Well, the chicken was soggy, not crispy as she could scrape the batter right off the chicken and the potato waffle was not only burnt on the edges it was cold! She could barely eat it and she didn’t. As for me, I ordered a pork dish that came with a strawberry and spinach salad and a bread pudding. First of all, the pork was burnt on the outside so badly I could barely hack through it with my knife (they never supplied me with a steak knife) and when I did cut into it, it was not cooked as requested. I had asked for it well done to ensure it was cooked through, it was NOT. It was still pink inside. And I was never informed that there would be cheese inside the bread pudding – YUCK. What if I had a dairy allergy? The only good thing in this entree was the spinach salad. We never saw our waitress after she took the order until she suddenly showed up with a new glass of lemonade for me, which I never requested. When she saw that we had barely eaten, she asked if there was something wrong with the meal and we sat there and told her everything that was wrong. She couldn’t believe it, especially when we asked for the manager as we were refusing to pay for the meal and we didn’t want anything in place of our entrees. The manager came and spoke with us and tried to convince us we could have any other entree on the menu free of charge but we just wanted to go. We paid for our salads and the manager comped us our entrees. It was a generally overall disappointing visit to a restaurant that truly impressed us on our first visit. It’s going to take a lot to change our opinion on the Wave and to get us back through the doors.

  14. Joanne says:

    I made ADR for my in-laws, mom and our kids (5&7) while we dine at the California Grill for a date night in September. I think that they will enjoy it very much and wish that we had the chance to eat there as well. Thanks for the review!

  15. canada68 says:

    I’ve only been to the Wave for breakfast but after reading this review I’ll definitely be back for dinner (or maybe just dessert!) :)
    Breakfast off the menu is better than the buffet in my opinion…had a great spinach omelette and absolutely beautifully presented fruit platter that was as delicious as it looked—with blackberries and mango as well as the usual melon, strawberries, etc.
    I found the servers to be excellent. I’ve never made an ADR – just walked up to the podium and have been seated within a few minutes (that was only for breakfast, though- perhaps lunch and dinner are busier).

  16. AJ says:

    Chrissy — Ooh, I must try the Buffalo burgers now!

    Sandy — Sounds great! You know we love LTT, but The Wave is a great choice for a little escape!

    Lynn — Thanks for the Grand Smash suggestion! I’ll try that next time!

    Jessica — I could eat a BIG ol’ Key Lime Cube, I think! Scallops with bacon and corn? Sounds divine?

    Karen — Thanks for the review from the teens. It’s always hard to find a good restaurant the whole family will enjoy.

    Jennifer — Great point. I love the bartenders here. They are indeed knowledgeable and friendly!

    Sherri Erwin — Wonderful! I think I’d choose breakfast over dinner, but all the meals there are wonderful!

    Tom S — Yes; all Contemporary guests can watch the fireworks from the 4th floor observation deck, I believe. :-)

    Alan — Ha ha! Yes! Then there’s the food! :-) I do think atmosphere is a big component of whether or not I like a restaurant. But if the food is amazing? The atmosphere takes a back seat!

    Shayne — Thanks for the review. Yep — ugly inconsistency rears its head again. :-( I’m sorry you had a bad experience, my friend.

    Andrea — Great! Let us know how it turns out!

    Gaylin — I remember that popcorn gelato!! Yum!

    Erin — Thanks for sharing your review. I’m so sorry you had a bad experience there. I appreciate the info, though — Disney does have consistency issues in many of its restaurants. I’m sorry to hear that the Wave is one of them.

    Joanne — Great idea!!

    Canada68 — I love breakfast at the wave. I’ve had the buffet and a la carte, and both were great. Thanks for your review!

  17. Chrissy says:

    @ AJ – They’re simply amazing!

    As a general comment: If there’s a server that’s your favorite, feel free to ask to be seated in their section (if they’re working). I discovered that there’s a waitress that’s from Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, aka where I’m from), and she always took good care of us when we ate there.

  18. I’d booked a dinner ADR for this place based mainly on the decor, I’m pleased to see so many positive comments about the food too!

  19. Rose says:

    Last time we were at the Wave the beef tenderloin was so tiny my 6-2 200 lb hubby and son could have eaten 2 (or more). They put the plates in front of us and we just started laughing it was so small. The people next to us joined in laughing commenting on the mini food. Also I asked to sub mash potato and I was told they didn’t have any but I could have white bean mash that tastes just like mash potato… I don’t think so!

  20. Nicole B says:

    I’m going to have to go back for a do-over. I had dinner at The Wave about a month ago and found the service barely adequate and the food quality on par with Chili’s (at best). All of these rave reviews though makes me hope that it was an off night. The wine was nice though.

    I will try again :)

  21. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I ate here a year ago, sitting alone at the bar and enjoying the quiet, relaxing ambiance after running around with a friend’s family all day. The bar’s atmosphere was laid back and the cool blue really took me out of the heat. I can’t say that I’m wild about the look of the main dining room. Those curtains look straight out of the 70′s. (“We’re remodeling our basement as something called a rumpus room!”)

    The menu has completely changed so I have no idea how it is now. My braised scallops were expertly done. They were firm, tasty, and sweet. A fair, but perfectly complementary, butter and asparagus sauce accompanied it.

    The reason for the inconsistency at this restaurant seems to come from the seasonal nature of the menu. Revamping a menu up to 4 times a year is hard for even the most skilled chefs.

  22. Diane says:

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who mixes veggies with mashed potatoes. If I have corn and mashed potatoes on the same plate, there is no way they aren’t getting mixed into a lovely concoction of starchy goodness.

  23. Tamara says:

    This is one of our favorite spots, too. We will be there in December!

  24. Disney2012 says:

    Does The Wave still offer a breakfast buffet?

  25. Andrea says:

    We’ve always loved The Wave, even though it’s not one of the most talked about (or liked) restaurants at Disney. We loved the bread and butter so much that we bought some Hawaiian salt and do that at home all the time now. After dinner, we go out to the platforms of the Contemporary and watch the fireworks :-)

  26. Matthew says:

    My wife and I hit The Wave for the first time last weekend. I gotta tell you, first and foremost — I miss the old Contemporary game room :( That place was paradise to me as a kid. That said, I found the food to be very good but not exquisite. We both enjoyed it, but I think my wife’s food came out better than mine! She had the crabcake appetizer, which was amazing, while my black bean chili tasted standard and a bit chalky. The multigrain bread and salted butter WAS amazing, as was the beer flight. My salt-crusted tenderloin was OK, but nothing to write home about. On the other hand, her ribeye was perfect.

    The sides WERE amazing. Lobster mash potatoes? Paradise. Risotto cakes? Melt in your mouth good. Zowie!

    Overall I liked but didn’t love it. But I’d go back again and try something else. Definitely worth a second shot to really blow my socks off.

    But MAN I miss that game room…

  27. Bethany says:

    After reading all the great reviews of the Wave, I couldn’t wait to try it and made an ADR for my recent WDW trip.

    The appetizers were delicious: I had the signature crap and shrimp cakes, my dining partner had the soup of the day which was a smoky corn and cheddar chowder. Dessert was yummy, too! I loved the small portions and opportunity to taste a few different items without feeling stuffed. But the entrees? Truly disappointing. We both had the filet mignon which was poorly seasoned and not cooked as ordered. The accompanying tomato, green bean and quinoa “salad” wasn’t hot *or* cold, so I’m thinking it had just been sitting around too long waiting for my overcooked filet.

    And then there was the atmosphere. I do realize that WDW is a family-oriented destination, but the Wave was the only restaurant I dined at where I was surrounded by screaming (literally, screaming) children. After a little research, I found out from a CM that people are often referred to the Wave when other full-serve restaurants are full. So, beware if you want a quiet(ish) dining experience – the Wave isn’t the place to go! As for the service, it was okay, but not fantastic. I’ve had much better! Overall, the Wave isn’t a place I would return to anytime soon.

  28. Colleen says:

    I went to The Wave with my Mom for lunch on Labor Day. We arrived early, and the hostess was very pleasant. However, after the hostess and manager at the stand, that is where the pleasant staff ended. At least for us. We had a server that was less than enthused to be working at that restaurant, and he was inattentive at best. I ordered a reuben, since I hadn’t had one in years and it sounded delicious to me. I ordered it without sauerkraut, as I do not care for it. I also ordered it with the corn salad. My mom ordered the navy bean soup and crab cakes (both appetizers). When our food came out, there was sauerkraut on my sandwich. When I realized that my server wouldn’t come by any time soon, I decided to eat it with the sauerkraut. I took it off for the second half of my sandwich. It was ok, but nothing special. The corn salad was absolutely delicious, and mom loved her food. Our server did not arrive until we were almost finished with our lunch to see how it was. We were done with our lunch before he came by to refill our drinks, which had been empty for half of our meal. We decided to try the sorbet trio for dessert, and the only one we cared for was the peach with candied almonds. The iced tea and blackberry were so tart we couldn’t eat them.

    While the food was good, I don’t know if I would go there again. Possibly for dinner to see if the service is any better.

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