Review: California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Time to check in on one of Walt Disney World’s most popular signature dining spots — California Grill.

Located atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Grill has become nearly as well known for its stellar views as its market-inspired food. And those two factors can make this a tough table to book.

My last visit here, however, when the restaurant had just reopened after an in-depth refurbishment, was somewhat disappointing. At the time, I chalked it up to the kitchen having an off night; after all, I had enjoyed incredible dining here many times before.

I decided it was time to check in again. So we booked an early Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) on a recent visit, and up we went.

Atmosphere

If you’ve never visited California Grill, then there’s one thing you should know: you don’t just head to the 15th floor. Your journey actually starts on the 2nd floor of the Contemporary where you check in. Even if you’re just heading to the first-come, first-served Lounge, this is your first stop.

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

You’ll then be escorted via a private elevator to the 15th floor. In this way, staff act as gatekeepers for the popular spot. If left unattended, it would get pretty busy up there, especially around Wishes-at-Magic-Kingdom time.

Once you make your way upstairs, a bank of Wine Fridges greets you straight ahead.

Entrance and Wine Fridges

Entrance and Wine Fridges

You walk through the Lounge and Bar to get to the restaurant’s main seating area. That sounds as though these are different spaces; they aren’t. Basically, with the exception of a few private dining rooms, the restaurant features an open floor plan, accentuating the sweeping views and retro-meets-modern vibe.

California Grill Bar

California Grill Bar

If you find yourself without an ADR, there’s still hope. You can sit in the Grill’s Lounge and order from the menu, or just enjoy Drinks, Sushi, and Appetizers. Be forewarned, though: it’s not uncommon for this area to reach capacity as the night goes on. Here at 5PM, though, it was pretty bare.

California Grill Lounge

California Grill Lounge

Wrap around to the main seating area, and you see that nearly every table commands an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, including Magic Kingdom and the Resorts situated around Seven Seas Lagoon.

Seating varies here and includes both tables and chairs and booths.

Seating

Seating

There are also a selection of tables that mix banquette and chair seating. Note that white tablecloths and cloth napkins are the norm here, lending to the upscale air of sophistication.

Table for Two

Table for Two

Booths are somewhat unique in that they are located in the middle of the floor. That means that you can enter from either side, and there will be traffic on both sides of your table, similar to what you find at Jiko. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it does mean that your booth won’t be as secluded as you might like.

But the view outside of the windows isn’t the only thing you have to look at.

California Grill Kitchen

California Grill Kitchen

The well-orchestrated, professional hustle and bustle that’s happening behind the counter in the on-stage kitchen can be fascinating as well.

Prepping for Dinner Service

Prepping for Dinner Service

Although we will focus today on the food here, the sweeping, panoramic vistas certainly bear mentioning. You can see for miles!

The View

The View

And that’s one of the biggest draws of California Grill — this view, especially when it comes to [Read more…]

Dining in Disneyland: The New Smokejumpers Grill at Disney California Adventure

While the Disneyland Resort continues to prepare for the much anticipated Diamond Anniversary later this month, some of the refurbishments are already starting to open.  Formerly known as Taste Pilots’ GrillSmokejumpers Grill at Disney California Adventure has its doors open and is ready to serve hungry adventurers.

Smokejumpers Grill

Smokejumpers Grill

Atmosphere

Located right next door to Soarin’, this counter service restaurant specializes in burgers and chicken sandwiches.  Enormous in size, Smokejumpers has plenty of seating both indoors and out.

Outside Seating

Outdoor  Seating ( I predict a 2nd side to the left of the restaurant once the wall for Soarin’ comes down)

This indoor seating area is located at the entrance of Smokejumpers Grill.

Just Half of the Indoor Seating at Smokejumpers

Just a Small Portion of the Indoor Seating at Smokejumpers

There is also indoor seating both to the left and right of the ordering kiosk/kitchen.  Below shows the seating to the left. It is basically identical with some different decor on the right side.

More Indoor Seating

More Indoor Seating

My absolute favorite thing about the new Smokejumpers Grill (besides the french fries) is the [Read more…]

Review and Preview: The Causeway at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

It’s almost time! The Fifth Annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic is just around the corner!

2014 Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic Thumbnail Logo

This event, which takes place concurrently with the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, is a fantastic evening for food and wine lovers.

This year’s Food and Wine Classic will take place on Friday, October 31 (yep! Halloween!) and Saturday, November 1. The two-day event consists of food and beverage tasting booths set up on the resort’s beautiful causeway each evening. And new for 2014, a Beer Garden experience has been added for even more great food and drink.

Guests can also take part in a number of special food and beverage seminars for an additional fee. Seminars take place at 4:30PM both days, and the Causeway booths are open from 5:30 until 9:00PM on Friday and Saturday.

We’ve enjoyed the event every year since it began, and 2013 was no exception! We thought a look back at last year’s event was the perfect way to get excited about what’s in store for 2014. Let’s head out to the Causeway for a delicious evening.

Dining al fresco on the Causeway at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic!

Dining al fresco on the Causeway at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic!

Atmosphere

Whether you’re staying at the Swan and Dolphin or you’re arriving from another location, head to the Promenade that connects the two resorts — that’s where the evening’s festivities will take place. We stopped by the Will Call Booth to pick up tickets.

As far as admission goes, you have options. Purchase an all-access ticket, and it’s an all-you-can-eat-and-drink pass to the booths. If you prefer, you can choose a la carte tickets instead, which are sold in books of 25.

Will Call Booth

Will Call Booth

The Check In Table provided us with handy plates and plastic wine glasses.

Check-In Table

Check-In Table

These would come in handy as we juggled plates and drinks on the Causeway.

Food and Wine Classic Tray and Glass

Food and Wine Classic Tray and Glass

Booths line the walkway leading from the Swan to the Dolphin as well as the path directly behind the Swan. There’s a lot to take in!

The Promenade

The Promenade

Hi-Top tables are scattered throughout the middle of the Causeway. You’ll also find large tables with chairs off to the side directly behind the Swan.

High Top Table

High Top Table

At the end of the Causeway closest to the Dolphin, a stage is set up for musical performance. While you sip and stroll, you can listen to live tunes!

Stage

Stage

In addition to the food and beverage booths, last year’s Classic featured a large [Read more…]

Happy Hour: Block & Hans Craft Beer Kiosk in Epcot’s America Pavilion

We have some fun news for all of you beer lovers out there!

We spied this new Craft Beer Kiosk in Epcot’s America Pavilion a while back for the first time.

Block & Hans Craft Beer Kiosk

Block & Hans Craft Beer Kiosk

Today, we’re back to tell you all about it, and to give you a closer look!

Block & Hans Craft Beer Kiosk

Block & Hans have apparently been in business since 1612, supplying fine ale to the colonies. :-) And now, you can enjoy a beer from their menu while strolling the World Showcase Promenade at Epcot.

Close Up of the Action

Close Up of the Action

You’ll find beer representing many different parts of the country on the menu here. Angry Orchard is also available for those who prefer a nice alternative to beer — Hard Cider.

Were kind of intrigued that they haven’t included any local Florida craft beers, though — you can find them on many menus around Walt Disney World.

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Menu — Click to Enlarge

Form follows function, as they’ve chosen to “decorate” with empty beer bottles. It’s a great way to see some of the cool label art.

But all I can think of is…who got to participate in the “Let’s empty some bottles so we can decorate with them!” campaign? Because I’d really like to sign up for that team.

Beers Displayed

Beer Bottles Displayed

Fortunately, the bottles that you’ll actually consume are on ice, just as they should be on a sunny Florida day.

Brews on Ice

Brews on Ice

But — to accompany your fine beverage — Pretzels! As far as the eye can see!! And you have the full pretzel panoply here — or just about! You can choose [Read more…]

Dining in Disneyland: Oktoberfest Items at Disney California Adventure

Chicken Dance your way over to DCA! As part of their Limited Time Magic promotion, Disney California Adventure is celebrating Oktoberfest with some special items at Bayside Brews.

Bayside Brews in Disney California Adventure

Available through the month of October, the special Oktoberfest items include a Bratwurst Sandwich, Bavarian Pretzels, Gingerbread Bundt Cake, and two specialty beers on tap: Karl Strauss Oktoberfest & Hofbrau Munchen Beer.

The Bratwurst Sausage is served in a garlic brioche with a side of hickory smoked bacon sauerkraut. The sandwich is $8.49 and comes with a choice of apples or potato chips.

Oktoberfest Bratwurst Meal

I have to say, my husband and I were both very surprised how great this meal was for [Read more…]

Review and Preview: The Causeway at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

In just a few short days, we will be headed to the The Fourth Annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic!

This event, which coincides with the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, is a food and wine lover’s dream.

This year’s Food and Wine Classic will take place on Friday, October 18 and Saturday, October 19. The two-day event consists of food and wine tasting booths set up on the resort’s beautiful causeway each evening.

Guests can also take part in a number of special food and beverage seminars for an additional fee. Seminars take place at 4:30PM both days, and the Causeway booths are open from 5:30 until 9:00PM on Friday and Saturday.

In addition, guests can enjoy a complimentary Cocktail 101 seminar three times during each evening on the Causeway as well as live musical entertainment.

Tasting Plate from Shula's Steakhouse

We’ve had the opportunity to attend the event for the last three years, and we’re looking forward to what 2013 holds! To give you an idea of what lies in store for guests of the Food and Wine Classic, let’s take a look at the 2012 event!

Atmosphere

When you first arrive, you’ll most likely need to pick up your tickets at the Check-In Table.

Check In for the Causeway

Here, staff will check for your reservation, and you’ll receive either your tickets or a wristband, as well as a palate plate and a wine glass.

We had wristbands for the event, which meant that we were free to enjoy unlimited trips to each of the tasting stations. If you prefer a ticketed approach, however, you can purchase books of 25 tickets (most of the booth items require between 2 and 6 tickets).

Food and Wine Classic Wristbands and My Seminar Ticket

For this event, tents are lined up the length of the walkway between the Swan and Dolphin Resorts as well as along the walkway behind the Swan. The resorts are located within walking distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The Causeway Setup

Tables of all sizes are covered with brightly colored tablecloths, and offer guests a place to sit and relax while enjoying their food and drink.

Tables and Booths Ready for Guests

In addition to tables with chairs, guests can also take advantage of high tops if they prefer to stand.

Individual Tables

It wasn’t too long before the crowd began to swell as guests looked forward to tasting a myriad of dishes.

Causeway is Getting Busy

On Crescent Terrace, guests could also take advantage of [Read more…]

Guest Review: Biergarten in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion

A visit to Walt Disney World includes dining at some unique restaurants! In Epcot’s Germany pavilion, the Biergarten is more than a place to eat; it’s also an entertaining venue! Welcome back guest author Rebecca Dolan with a fun review.

Everyone has a restaurant or two that, for them, make a trip to Disney World complete. For me, that’s Biergarten.

This all-you-can-eat smorgasbord in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion is one of the few restaurants I insist on visiting nearly every time I’m in Orlando. Like Rose and Crown, Biergarten was one of those places my mom made me eat as a kid and I hated it. But, now it’s one of the few places where I truly relish getting my meat and potatoes on. And, if you’re a meat and carbs kind of a guy/gal, then this is definitely the place for you!

The back of the Germany Pavilion.

Atmosphere

The Biergarten can be found at the back of the Germany Pavilion, under the big bell. The hostess stand is located outside, under the stone arch to the left.

They’re a bit particular about how things are run here, and you won’t be allowed inside the restaurant until your name is called and your party is complete.

Once you’re party is called, you’ll be shown in through these doors.

Walking inside is actually like being transported back outside, as the cavernous restaurant is designed to look like an Oktoberfest celebration being held in a town square.

A semicircle of Bavarian-style buildings, draped with flags of various German locales, arches around a central stage, while a full moon oversees the action.

Inside the courtyard.

At least once during your seating, the stage will come alive with the sounds of a lederhosen-clad band that plays everything from alpine horns to polka.

The band takes the stage. Make sure to bring your dancing shoes.

Playing the alpine horns.

More cowbell!

It’s important to note that the party atmosphere comes complete with [Read more…]

2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Booth Preview: Scotland and Brazil Booths

Excitement is building for the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival! And we know that you’re looking forward to it just as much as we are!

We’re keeping track of the Food and Wine Festival marketplace booths and menus carefully, and I wanted to share a preview with you today!

As always, the culinary team at Epcot is striving to keep this classic event fresh and exciting by introducing some brand new Marketplace Booths to the mix. New for 2013 is another entry from the United Kingdom, the Scotland Marketplace Booth! And after a year long hiatus we’re also excited to see a return of another South American hotspot, the Brazil Marketplace Booth!

Let’s take a closer look at what these two marketplaces will offer this year’s festival guests.

Scotland Marketplace Booth

While we are still awaiting our first pictures of what the Scotland Marketplace Booth will actually look like (soon!), we are excited already to know some of the fun additions that the menu will bring to this year’s festival.

And check out the new stamp from the Scotland booth that guests will be able to get in their Food and Wine Festival passports! (It’s in the bottom right hand corner of the slide.)

Scotland Booth Information

The menu offers some intriguing new flavors for guests!

2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Scotland Booth Menu

  • Seared Scottish Salmon with Cauliflower Puree, Watercress and Malt Vinaigrette
  • Vegetarian Haggis with Neeps and Tatties (Griddled Vegetable Cake with Rutabaga and Mashed Potatoes)
  • Scottish Banoffee Tart with Bananas, Scottish Whisky Toffee, Walkers Shortbread Crumbles and Sweet Cream
  • Innis & Gunn® Original Beer
  • Loch Lomond Cocktail featuring Glenfiddich® 12 year
  • Glenfiddich® Scotch Flight (12, 15 and 18 year)

Seafood lovers are already looking forward to the inclusion of authentic Scottish Salmon.

Scottish Salmon with Cauliflower Puree, Watercress and Malt Vinaigrette

And the Scottish Banoffee Tart will feature a pleasant kick courtesy of Glenfiddich Whisky Cream! I can’t wait to try this one!

The Scottish Banoffee Tart will be part of the NEW Scotland Booth at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in 2013

I have no idea what to expect from the Vegetarian Haggis, but you know I’ll be first in line to try it!

The other real standout here will be a number of [Read more…]

Review: Sommerfest in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion

Editor’s Note: New entrees and side items were recently added to the menu.

Alrighty, all — it’s time to take a little field trip to Deutschland!! We’re headed to Sommerfest!

This place is as simple and what-you-see-is-what-you-get as possible, but sometimes simple and easy is exactly what you need on a long Epcot touring day. When you don’t have an advance dining reservation and you’re headed toward Epcot’s Germany Pavilion, you might consider stopping at this little counter service spot!

Sausage. Pretzel. Beer. Cake. What more do you need? Let’s check it out!

Atmosphere

Atmosphere is kind of limited, since this is basically in the giant stone waiting area of Biergarten, the pavilion’s table service restaurant. That said, the waiting area itself is very well themed and has a fun old world feel to it. That’s really something I love about the whole Germany Pavilion.

Mural Welcoming Guests

Sommerfest is located at the back of the Pavilion. Head through the “town square,” past the counter selling beer and Jägermeister on your right, to the awning that reads “Sommerfest Snacks”.

Outside View

Turn the corner to the left, and you’re there! It really isn’t much more than a serving counter. You’ll head back out to the sunshine to find a seat in the square by the fountain once you get  your food.

Speaking of seating — there’s not much of it. There are a few tables scattered inside the big covered area, and a couple of them outside as well. But if you’re visiting during prime meal hours or a busy Disney season, those WILL all be taken when you get your food. Many folks perch on the edge of the fountain, or even sit on the ground to eat up.

And one other thing — there’s almost always a line here. But your patience will be rewarded.

Cast Members at Sommerfest

Cast Members here, who are from Germany of course, know [Read more…]

Disney Dining Tip from the DFB Guide: Dining at Bars and Lounges in Walt Disney World

When it comes to Disney World, bars and lounges aren’t just adults-only destinations — and they don’t just serve drinks.

In fact, here’s a Best Kept Secret in Disney dining planningDisney bars and lounges can be great places to get a meal with the whole family. These hidden gems are often less crowded than standard restaurants, too!

In The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013 e-Book, we have an entire section reviewing every single bar and lounge in Walt Disney World. It’s well worth a read to find out great spots to get a full meal or a snack — even with no Advance Dining Reservation!

Now let’s take a peek at a few of our favorites…

English Bulldog with Chips at Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot's UK Pavilion

Bars and Lounges Inside the Theme Parks

A Disney World trip can be hectic (meeting characters, dashing to attractions, and racing off to dining reservations!), so finding a place inside the parks to escape the hoopla is key to a relaxing vacation!

With signature cocktails, cheese plates, fondue, burgers, donuts, pasta, and more, you’ll find some truly inspired menus at Disney World’s bars and lounges. Sometimes you’ll even be able to order from the full menu of a nearby restaurant.

In Epcot, we can highly recommend stopping in to Tutto Gusto in Italy, Rose and Crown Pub in the UK, or La Cava del Tequila in Mexico.

Fireplace Area Seating at Tutto Gusto

At Tutto Gusto, order from an awesome menu of meats and cheeses, paninis, pastas, and more. A relaxing atmosphere and full tables allow for an easy meal for the whole family.

Cheeses, Meats, and Shrimp Cavatappi at Tutto Gusto Lounge in Epcot's Italy

Rose and Crown Pub, attached to Rose and Crown Restaurant, features a fun menu that — gasp! — the kids might even like! We can highly recommend the Scotch Eggs and the British Bulldog sausage (see our review of the British Bulldog here — and the photo at the top of this article)!

Scotch Eggs at Rose and Crown

If you’re there on a weekday, seek out Carl the Bartender and ask him to show you his amazing magic trick!

Carl the Bartender and the tipping pint

At La Cava del Tequila, sample a few Mexican appetizers like chips and salsa, queso, and guacamole along with your margaritas!

Chips and queso at Cava del Tequila

Another favorite place to unwind in the parks and get a great meal is at Tune-In Lounge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Here, you can get great shakes for the kids, fun signature drinks for [Read more…]