There have been quite a few changes to the Disney World dining experience. Tables are spaced out, mobile ordering is highly encouraged, and characters have adjusted the way they interact with guests. When we heard California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort was reopening, we just had to head over on opening day and see what is different and what remains the same. Oh yeah, and we ate our way through a TON of food and drinks too!
This spot is known for its stunning views — especially of those Magic Kingdom fireworks that aren’t currently happening. Is it still a favorite without the extra perks?
We visited California Grill on the first day it reopened and headed to the second floor of the Contemporary to check in. We were ushered to an elevator that took us to the 15th floor where California Grill is located. The restaurant is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows so most tables get a peek at the World below.
Table seating was structured similarly to other restaurants we’ve visited recently on Disney property. We were spaced out from other groups to allow for physical distancing.
Since they had JUST reopened it was quite busy when we dined — every table that was available (about half of them) was filled so it felt a little crowded. Right now, restaurants are typically seating at around 50% capacity, so it’s still a good idea to get a reservation if you’re looking to eat here.
The kitchen is visible to guests so we could see the staff actively trying to keep their distance from each other. It seemed like a difficult task with so much activity!
You don’t need a reservation at all, however, for the lounge at California Grill. and there was some space available in the lounge while we were there.
For those of you who currently don’t feel comfortable in crowds, it might be best to wait before visiting this restaurant. It was definitely one of the most crowded restaurants we visited on our trip.
If you do venture over to this beautiful spot though, you’ll find that the magic is still alive at California Grill! There was a Cast Member making little designs with confetti on each table, which was super adorable! Our server was a longtime Cast Member and the service was GREAT!
One of the best things about California Grill is that it offers some of the BEST views of the Magic Kingdom. Outside on the observation deck, there were social distancing markers on the ground that showed us where to stand.
We also had to wear our masks while we took in the view of Space Mountain and Magic Kingdom. (Guests are asked to wear masks whenever they are not eating or drinking anywhere on property!)
It truly is such an incredible view! But, one of the BIGGEST reasons guests like to dine at Cali Grill in the evenings is for the unmatched views of the fireworks each night in Magic Kingdom. You don’t need to be eating right when the fireworks begin to enjoy the show either (but if you are, you’ll find the lights dim and the music is piped in!).
Once the fireworks are being shown again, you can make a reservation any time during the dinner service and return (with receipt in hand) to view the fireworks from the observation deck. DFB TIP: Even patrons of the lounge are welcome to return to view the show on the observation deck! Just make sure to have your receipt!
Since fireworks are temporarily on hold around Disney World, that aspect of the dining experience is certainly lacking. But would the food alone be worth the price tag??
California Grill is offering a limited menu to account for purchasing shortages and increased social distancing in its kitchen.
It’s good to note that California Grill’s signature hand-rolled sushi is very much STILL available. A variety of freshly prepared rolls are available to guests, but it does seem limited from offerings we’ve seen from this spot in the past. If a favorite is missing from the menu, ask your server if the sushi chef can accommodate you!
First up, drinks! We tried a Blueberry Lemon Drop Martini to start. This was SO GOOD! The martini is made with Three Olives Blueberry Vodka, lemon, and pomegranate juices. It was a great version of the classic tart drink with just a touch of sweetness from the juices and sugar rim. It’s a good choice for cocktail lovers who don’t like their drinks to be too sweet.
We also tried the Blackberry Sour, which is made with Ketel One Citroen Vodka, house-made lemonade, and blackberries. The drink was fruity and light, but not too strong. After a long day, we were hoping the drink would have a little bit more oomph! This drink is a great choice for those who are a bit more sensitive to strong drinks, but still want something tasty to sip.
Last, we tasted the Sonoma Maple Bourbon, which is made with Old Fashioned Sonoma Distilling Co. Bourbon, vanilla maple syrup, Angostura Bitters, and Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries with an orange twist.
This drink was awesome! We really liked that it was slightly sweeter than a regular Old Fashioned. The vanilla, bitters, and orange really brightened up the flavor of the drink overall! Now it was time to move on to the FOOD!
We were v. sad to see the famous Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli wasn’t on the menu. But the chef assured us that it would be back eventually!
There’s still plenty to choose from though, and there’s even a new appetizer! We started out with the Bread Service that we’ve enjoyed before.
The bread comes with a delicious dipping oil that is packed with flavor from the sun-dried tomatoes, chives, and spices.
We recently discovered the most unlikely Disney restaurant to serve beer cheese, so we HAD to order the Beer and Cheese soup at California Grill to continue our beer cheese kick! This soup is NEW to California Grill and is a great substitution for some of the items that have been removed from the menu.
The soup is served with a gorgeous hand-braided pretzel that really reminded us of Auntie Anne’s in its texture and flavor! Yum!
The soup itself is made with potato-celery root foam, garlic butter, and heirloom apple. It was very rich and very good. This was like traditional Beer Cheese Soup’s fancier Cali cousin!
Another appetizer? Don’t mind if we do! The Braised Beef Short Rib Wontons are made with doenjang miso-cola-onion sauce (say THAT three times fast!), crispy garlic-chili oil, radish, and pickled lotus root. This dish is BEAUTIFUL and tastes just as good as it looks. Hands-down the BEST thing we ate all night! The beef was super flavorful and there was a nice splash of heat towards the end that really made this dish stand out!
We were slightly disappointed the last time we had pizza at California Grill, but we decided to give the hand-crafted pizza another chance and ordered the Pepperoni Pizza made fresh in their wood-burning oven!
Thankfully we were not disappointed this time! The pizza was a great choice and the crispy crust tasted excellent! The pizza comes topped with house-made pepperoni, tomato conserva, fontina, asiago, parmesan, mozzarella, and basil-oregano pistou.
There was SO much flavor to this! This would be a stellar pick for sharing in the lounge or for a slightly pickier eater in your group. It’s upscale pizza done remarkably well.
So, appetizers basically blew us away. So let’s see what happens with the rest of the meal! For our first entree, we went with the Oak-fired Filet of Beef. The beef was topped with oxtail marmalade and a red wine-sweet onion au jus. This dish had a really good cut of meat that tasted very rich and flavorful.
We asked for our beef to be cooked medium-rare and were pleasantly surprised to see it was cooked just as we had asked!
The beef came with a side of aged gouda macaroni and cheese and brussels sprouts. The macaroni and cheese was a little bland for our taste, so we had to ask for salt to add some more flavor.
FYI — when you ask for salt at any Disney restaurant now, you will either receive individual salt packets or a ramekin with some salt for your use. They are not distributing multi-use salt shakers at this time.
Next up: the Grilled Pork Tenderloin. This is a classic dish from California Grill and is usually really well made. The pork is marinated with a Zinfandel glaze and nestled on top of goat cheese polenta, mushrooms, kalettes, bacon, and dried cherries.
It truly was delicious! The pork was super moist and flavorful and went so well with that creamy goat cheese polenta! There’s a reason this has been on the menu FOREVER. And we basically wanted to take a vat of that polenta home with us.
Our meal simply couldn’t be complete, however, without dessert! Now, Cali Grill — as well as several other signature restaurants — has a pretty boring dessert menu IMHO. I’ve never been a huge fan of signature restaurant dessert menus, though, so if fancy desserts that cost an arm and a leg is your thing, by all means go to town!
First up was the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with its beautiful artistic display! Have you ever seen such a gorgeous presentation?? It was almost too beautiful to eat. Along with the cake is a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, milk chocolate-whipped panna cotta, and a bit of pretzel crunch.
It’s pretty, but it was a little one-note for us, just as it was on our previous visit. It’s a very rich chocolate cake. But that’s just about all that’s going on here. A great choice for uber chocolate lovers though!
The desserts didn’t stop there though! The White Chocolate Crème Brûlée was adorned with cornflake crunch, sponge cake, coconut whipped ganache, and Plant City strawberries.
The Crème Brûlée itself was nice and creamy, and was balanced out well by the fresh strawberries. The cornflake crunch added a nice difference in texture. It wasn’t the most spectacular sweet we’ve had, but it was the better choice between the two desserts we ordered.
Nosh or Not
Consider Dining at California Grill if:
- You’re looking for a good spot for a date night. The stunning views and upscale dining experience make this restaurant feel very romantic!
- You want to experience the Contemporary Resort without staying overnight.
- You’re looking for a good meal near Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is just a monorail ride away from Magic Kingdom and the new castle!
Consider Skipping California Grill if:
- You’re looking for casual dining. The restaurant is fairly upscale!
- You’re looking for something on a budget. It’s definitely one of the more expensive restaurants on property.
- You’d like more exotic eats than this modern American menu. (Though they do specialize in some interesting sushi options at California Grill.)
After all these years, California Grill is still one of the swankiest restaurants in Disney World. The classic cocktails are on point and the signature dining service makes it all come together. We’re big fans of the small touches like the Mickey confetti too. It’s a subtle way to remind us that although we’re dining fancy, we can still experience the magic of Disney.
While our dining experiences here have been hit or miss over the years, we were very satisfied with our main entrees, the soup was hearty, and the Short Rib Wontons were a pleasant surprise. Still though, we think there are much better places to grab dessert at Disney World (maybe one day Disney World’s Signature joints will up their game and offer more robust desserts!).
Yes, it’s a bummer to not have the fireworks to go along with your meal. The fireworks view is one of the biggest draws to this restaurant and why dinner reservations book up so quickly. However, you will likely enjoy your experience if your only opportunity to visit California Grill is during the fireworks hiatus. You can still take in the view of the Magic Kingdom, and the high-quality, thoughtfully-prepared food makes up for some of the loss. While the fireworks are away, we suggest visiting earlier in the evening so you get a good look at the castle and surrounding resorts.
We’ll continue to make our way back to California Grill to try new dishes and drinks (maybe that scrummy Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli will make a reappearance soon?!).
Curious about table service dining in the newly reopened Magic Kingdom? Read our review of Be Our Guest Restaurant HERE!
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Will you be heading to California Grill soon? Let us know in the comments!