Velkommen til Akershus!
Today we’re visiting Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot’s Norway! This Pavilion has certainly seen its fair share of changes over the past year or so, primarily due to the influence of all things “Frozen.” The biggest headline of them all, of course, was the closing of the Maelstrom attraction in October 2014 (prompting a memorial Maelstrom Margarita at La Cava del Tequila in the neighboring Mexico Pavilion) to make way for “Frozen Ever After,” anticipated for a 2016 opening.
But that’s not the only change. We learned that Akershus — best known as being home to the Princess Storybook Dining character meal — had undergone a test alteration of its own. Typically featuring a cold buffet (Norwegian Koldtbord) along with hot breakfast, lunch, or dinner entrees served at your table, a test run recently brought about a new service style to Akershus. While it remains an All-You-Care-to-Eat option, the cold buffet was closed and several of the previous options are now brought to the table and served family style as part of a trial run at this popular restaurant.
This test has since ended, but we were told that it’s now up to guest feedback as to whether it comes back permanently.
Let’s head back inside the fortress walls to see what’s changed, what hasn’t, and what we think about this proposed update to the serving style at Akershus!
For quite some time, Akershus made a name for itself as being a great alternate choice if you were unable to score an Advance Dining Reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. While that remains true in some respects, Akershus has earned a reputation all its own due its unique Norwegian cuisine (with just enough picky-eater friendly fare), and… let’s see, what was the other thing? Oh, yeah… PRINCESSES!
Our visit started with Beauty herself, as Belle was waiting to greet us with a smile and a photo opportunity (be sure to have those autograph books at the ready!).
We’ll be meeting the other Princesses soon, but let’s take a look around first, because the setting here is nothing to sneeze at. Aside from the chance to meet several Disney Princesses throughout your meal, the other reason Akershus became known as a good alternate for Cinderella’s Royal Table (which takes place, of course, inside Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom) is its beautiful castle feel, complete with stately windows, banners hanging from the dark wood ceiling, and stone fortress-like walls.
I can’t help but check out one of my favorite Akershus details every time I visit. The (loosely translated) lyrics to “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from the Cinderella film in Norwegian remain displayed on top of a dish cabinet.
By and large, the setting hasn’t changed — with the exception, of course, that the areas which typically serve as buffet stations were covered over and decorated with flowers and greenery due to the serving style test.
This time, all of our food offerings would be brought to us at our table.
And speaking of seating, the main draw at Akershus is still visiting with a few special guests who stop by your table…
Of course, we’ve already greeted Belle… but you do know that she brings along a few of her friends for Princess Storybook Dining, right :)? Throughout the meal, princesses stop by the tables and chat a bit, take photos and sign autograph books. While the attending Princesses can vary, we saw the following (in addition to Belle) during our recent trip. Introducing Her Royal Highnesses!
Ariel arrives at Akershus sans mermaid tail, opting instead for her aquamarine dress.
While you can wait to greet Snow White at various times throughout the day at the Germany Pavilion, she comes to you during Princess Storybook Dining.
And what Princess meal is complete without Cinderella?
She kindly stopped for a bit to show us the hidden slipper in the pattern on her dress. Can you spot it?
Again, visiting Princesses rotate at Akershus, so your meal may possibly include Mulan or Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty (Mary Poppins has also been listed among the rotation, though I have never personally seen her at Akershus).
It should be noted that at this time — as far as we are aware — there are no plans to have Anna and Elsa from Frozen join the cast at Akershus (though they will be available for pictures in the Norway Pavilion again once their upcoming meet and greet space opens). Plus, Elsa is a QUEEN, so that might cause all sorts of princess-y drama… and we wouldn’t want that, would we 😉 ?
So, yes indeed, the Princesses are a pretty BIG DEAL at Akershus. In fact, their royal presence may well be the primary reason for a proposed service change at the Royal Banquet Hall.
Before we dive into our review of the meal, just a little reminder about the main reason for our visit: to observe the testing of a new service style at Akershus. So, while we go through the eats, we’ll be showing you the updated style of service.
As always, though, lunch service started with reviewing the menu to select beverage and main entrees, since you choose your own hot entree at Akershus in addition to the koldtbord accompaniments.
At this time, the mention of the buffet remains on the printed menu, even though we experienced the new service style.
As with all Disney all-you-care-to-eat restaurants, regular beverages such as soda, coffee, tea, and milk are included with your meal, but we couldn’t resist some specialty drinks this time.
My first one was an oldie, but a goodie… served up a bit differently! The Blue Glow-tini (a sweet and fruity blend of citrus vodka, peach schnapps, blue curaçao and pineapple juice) arrived not with the standard souvenir glow cube, but instead in a souvenir glass themed to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival!
My friend enjoyed a more traditional drink found on the menu, the Fjellbekk. This one’s made with vodka, Sprite, lime and Aquavit (can’t say I prefer it as a shot, but enjoyed it in this cocktail!). Very smooth, and pleasantly strong.
Rarely (okay, never actually) do I think about Akershus as a spot for standout drinks, but this one surprised us!
Even before our drinks arrived, though, our server brought a large assortment of meats, cheeses, fish, and accompaniments to our table, and herein lies the service style test. Guests familiar with the buffet at Akershus will likely recognize the following inclusions: salami, ham, turkey, Jarlsberg cheese, goat cheese, smoked fish dip, and a generous pile of smoked salmon atop pickles, mushrooms and tomatoes.
A cucumber salad and a well-balanced fresh fruit salad completed the mix (along with the standard bread rolls, which were oddly on the dry side, and unfortunately crumbly).
There is PLENTY of rich food here (the assortment you see was brought out just for my friend and me), and many of the favorites have remained from the buffet service. That definitely includes the smoked salmon, which was a true standout again this time, with excellent flavor and seasoning among the more typical meats and cheeses.
And remember, if you decide you would like more of anything — such as that salmon — simply ask, and it will be brought to you!
So, yeah… let’s start with the obvious: the array of food is indeed less than what we’ve previously enjoyed with the buffet (for those unfamiliar with Akershus, you can check out examples of the full buffet spread here). Most notably, I missed some of the additional salads (the Potato Salad and Pear and Apple spring to mind), as well as a few other selections that were often available, such as cold asparagus. Plus, you know, I’m always up for more cheese, so it’s a good thing you can request replenishments!
Still, with regards to the service style itself, the fact that it remains all-you-can-eat is great. But the win here is actually less about the food: it’s the fact that there is no worrying about getting up for the buffet, only to return to your table to discover you’ve missed a visit from a Princess. Other character meals utilizing family style service include the Garden Grill, and ‘Ohana (the Best Friends Breakfast features Lilo and Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto). Overall, I do feel it lends to a much more relaxed dining experience, without constantly having to peek around to monitor who is on the way and try to gauge their arrival between buffet trips. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed Piglet or Tigger over at Crystal Palace.
From here on out, though, things operated pretty much as usual, continuing with our choices of entrees (which have always been brought directly to the table). We went with something we hadn’t tried before, along with a bona fide Akershus tradition.
First up, my friend decided to try the House-made Potato and Goat Cheese Ravioli. It’s presented upon a fennel leek cream and topped with a tomato jam.
The verdict? Terrific! Both creamy and rich — but not too much so, since the balsamic cut the richness and helped the flavors to blend nicely so that no one taste overpowered another.
We could have easily devoured two portions of this if we hadn’t had so much of the meat and cheese board.
The thing is, though, I find it difficult to dine at Akershus without indulging in a classic, the Traditional Kjottkake: Norwegian meatballs served on mashed potatoes with gravy and lingonberry sauce, and a side of green beans.
My green beans were perfectly seasoned, the potatoes nice and creamy, and the sauce was both savory and sweet with the notes from the berry. The main attraction of the meatballs themselves definitely had good flavor but were a little dry this go ’round.
Do yourself a favor, though, and combine a bit of each: a bite of the meatball, sauce and potato, and I think you’ll find that the flavors and textures really come together well.
After our main courses were finished and barely cleared away, our waitress (who was wonderful throughout the meal, by the way) came back to us with The Royals Chef’s Dessert Plate. While options can vary, we’ve actually enjoyed this same assortment on a previous visit: Traditional Rice Cream, Chocolate Mousse, and Apple Cake with cardamom whipped cream.
I’ve long been a fan of the vanilla-y, mild but comforting Rice Cream in the Norway pavilion, though I prefer it in its cup presentation at Kringla Bakeri og Kafe, which leans more heavily on the sauce along with chunks of strawberry.
While the Apple Cake wasn’t as moist as I hoped, it did have good flavor.
Last but not least was the Chocolate Mousse. The center was a little hard, like it had maybe been frozen at some point and hadn’t finished thawing entirely, but everything else about it was simple and straightforward.
Pleasantly full and with one final royal wave to the Princesses, then, it was time to get back to our World Showcase stroll.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall remains a hit in my book, regardless of whether or not they revert back to the buffet or move on the family style service going forward. Yes, it’s pricey (though it remains a particularly good value for guests on the Disney Dining Plan, who will utilize one Table Service credit to dine here). However, it’s still less so than Cinderella’s Royal Table and with — in my opinion — better food. Add to that its own unique style of inviting decor and the chance to meet 4-5 Disney Princesses in one fell swoop (in air-conditioning), and I think we’ve still got a winner with Akershus.
What do you think of the possible changes to dining at Akershus? Please let us know with a comment!