Review: The Garden Grill Restaurant

 

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure if this is still the logo. But it works.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure if this is still the logo. But it works.

 

As far as character dining experiences go, one of my all-time favourites is the Garden Grill in Epcot.  I’ve been two times, and both times were terrific!

Now one thing I’ll say up front, before I delve into the review, is that I am not a picky eater.  I can be happy with somewhat mediocre food so long as the experience is unique or exciting over all.  (We’ve all heard about me and the Sci-Fi Dine-In.)  So when it comes to Garden Grill, I’m definitely ranking it based more on the character interactions than on the actual MEAL.

With that said, read on for some specifics!

This is how they bring out the dishes, btw. :)

This is how they bring out the dishes, btw. 🙂

Garden Grill, as I said, is located in Epcot.  Specifically it’s in the Land Pavilion, on the same floor as the entrance; you enter, walk past the Circle of Life, and the restaurant is just before the escalators that take you down towards Soarin’, Living With the Land, and Sunshine Seasons.  As I also said, it’s a character dining experience with visits from Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Farmer Mickey.

One novel aspect of the restaurant is that it rotates – very slowly, throughout your meal.  It’s such a slow rotation that it’s not at all disorienting and you can’t even really feel the motion; you just see your view changing, bit by bit, the whole time.  Usually you’ll get a little over one full rotation in the timespace of the average meal.  Another novel aspect of the restaurant is that it actually overlooks part of the Living With the Land ride; there is a balcony section you’ll rotate past, and when you look out over that balcony you can see the boats going past, and the buffalo and farmhouse scenes.

The character interactions have been top-notch, both times I’ve eaten there; the first time was without kids and the second time was with.  Both times, we got a lot of attention, particularly from Chip.  In fact, I’d say our best actual experience was with just me and my husband and Chip; Chip messed with my husband incessantly.  He put packets of sugar onto his head and at one point he picked up a pile of sugar packets, opened each, and started pouring them one at a time into my husband’s lemonade.  Staring at him the entire time. “You gonna stop me?  Does this bug you?”  OMG I died.  He also gave us his “agent’s” name and phone number when Dan asked if Chip would come live in our Christmas tree that winter.  “Mickey M” and a “Big Cheese” 800 number. XD  Dan also got complimented on his Pink Floyd shirt by Pluto, who apparently has a classic rock taste in music. 😀

The munks are such huggers.

The munks are such huggers.

Our second visit was a birthday dinner (slightly early) for my daughter.  We were given VERY attentive service from the waitress, who towards the end brought out a birthday card signed by all the characters; visits from the Disney friends were all excellent.  Man, my daughter was so beyond thrilled to meet Mickey, she just loved him! And she’d already met him twice that trip! 😀 But this was our first character meal, and having him come to the table to hang out with us was like, new and different. 😉  I still feel like the chipmunks were the top of the experience; they were charming, danced with my daughter and played with my son who was 18 months at the time.  They really seemed taken with him.  Pluto was also super sweet with him and a super-hugger for both kids.

No meal is complete without a Mickey!

No meal is complete without a Mickey!

Funny story: at one point the kids and I got up to look around the full restaurant and see all of it without waiting for it to come by (haha), and as we walked, my daughter saw Mickey arrive at a table of other kids.  “MICKEY!” she squealed, and if I hadn’t caught her around the waist and lifted her off the ground she would have run off to him and tackled him. XD  OH THE EXCITEMENT!

So regarding food; well, I like it.  It’s not amazing food, this is not one of their high-end restaurants, but it’s food I enjoy.  You can find the most up-to-date menu here from AllEars.net.  The restaurant is a Family-Style meal, meaning it’s fixed price, fixed menu (although they will always accommodate allergies or dietary restrictions; it’s recommended that you ask in advance!) and that you can ask for more of anything you want seconds on – or thirds, fourths, etc.

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!

I believe that all – and if not all, definitely most – of the food served at the Garden Grill is actually grown in the Land.  I guess probably not the turkey or beef (lol), but the fish are raised there, and all vegetables are from their greenhouse.

The bread basket comes first, and is pretty standard.  I remember it being pretty tasty, but I am generally easy to please when it comes to bread. 😀 I can actually go without the maple butter, as I’m not a fan of sweeter spreads on my bread products. (Conversely I rarely put butter onto pancakes, ick.)  Most everything else comes all at once.  The meats are good. We had tilapia for the fish.  They consistently have beef, turkey, and fish, but the presentation changes; rather than “red wine butter” we had a cranberry relish, and instead of “lemon caper sauce” we had gravy and stuffing with the turkey breast.  The fish was breaded.  It sounds like they’re trying to move away from the “country style” food presentation here and make it more of a classier selection.  Not having had any of the new presentation I can’t comment, but I’ll miss the gravy and stuffing.  On the other hand, the caramelized onion mashed potatoes actually sounds really good, as does the red wine butter with the beef. (Again, I’d rather avoid sweetened stuff with dinner for the most part.)

The childrens’ meal when we were there was not turkey breast as above, but chicken legs, served with sweet potato French fries, and macaroni and cheese.  (The broccoli was the same.)  There’s a clear effort to health-up the kids meals in effect now since they’ve subbed out rice pilaf for the mac and cheese, turkey breast for the chicken legs, and fruit cup for the sweet potato fries.  I know I’m not the one eating it, but I won’t miss the mac&cheese (though my m&c-loving daughter sure would), but I do kind of miss the sp fries.  My daughter didn’t care for them but my son did and I was happy to eat the rest. 😉

Now to be honest, I don’t remember our dessert. Currently it’s bread pudding, and skillet cake with vanilla bean whipped cream; I’m wanting to say there was something to do with berries when we went but I might be making that up.  However, I know for a fact that they used to have a special kids-only dessert, a variation on dirt and worms; they definitely had that on our first visit, though we didn’t get it since we were kidless.  On our last visit the kids got a kind of cookies-and-cream… thing; they came with two oreo-style cookies and a blob of what I thought at first was cookies and cream ice cream, but came to realize was a kind of whipped cream instead.  Now, I’m not clear on whether this was their standard kids’ dessert of the time or if they were doing this as a birthday special for my daughter; hers came with a candle in it 😀  But either way, it was CRAZY popular.

Definite success on the cookies n' cream.

Definite success on the cookies n’ cream.

Any dessert that gets you messy will be popular with this guy.

Any dessert that gets you messy will be popular with this guy.

 

So. I love this restaurant and will definitely go back, not on my next visit (not enough time for a sit-down meal), but the next family visit.  It is always worth it, and I highly recommend. 🙂

Review: Marrakesh at Epcot

Image (c) tripadvisor.com.

Image (c) tripadvisor.com.

 

I’ve eaten at Restaurant Marrakesh twice, once pre-children and once with kids.  The experience sort of varied.  To sum up, it was better without the kids.  I don’t know if that means it’s gone downhill or just that it’s not one of the best restaurants for children; I’m really betting it’s the latter, but I’d have to go back to find out, I guess.  Here is the adult dinner menu, to start with.

The pre-kids experience was in 2005, while I was pregnant.  My husband and I arrived in a rainstorm and were soaking when we got there for our reservations.  In spite of that it was a great night.  We were on the DDP, so we got to choose whatever we wanted; I’ll be honest and say that it was so long ago that I don’t recall what I had, but it was delicious.  I’m a real lover of pretty much any ethnic/exotic food and a particular fan of anything meditarranean, east indian, or similar.  I know it had cous cous and I think it had lamb, though it might have been chicken.  Back then the DDP still included appetizers and desserts, so we got some chicken bastilla as well – oh lord, that was good.  And for dessert, although we were stuffed, we were given a platter of pastries like baklava and others.  We were so full we asked to be able to take it to go, and they let us.

Entertainment was spectacular – of course there was the bellydancer.  She was wonderful!

This is not the Marrakesh bellydancer, but she is gorgeous and at Epcot, so close enough.

This is not the Marrakesh bellydancer, but she is gorgeous and at Epcot, so close enough.

We loved the decor and the whole evening was comfortable, beautiful and pitch-perfect… one of our favourite dining experiences on that trip.

Anyway, our first trip with the children in 2011, we had the free DDP again and so we made reservations there.  As I said, it was just not as good.  Part of this might have been because my son was 1, and thus not on the DDP, and as a result I did a lot of sharing with him off my plate (which is totally allowed, btw).  This was no trouble at all when we were at a buffet, but trickier at ala carte restaurants because I had to find things off the adult menu I knew he would like; fortunately a lot of the time my daughter was willing to share as well.  But not always. ;P

In any case, I’m not sure why I did this, but instead of getting Chicken cous cous I got Lamb Shank cous cous to share with my son.  Who, at the time, would eat anything – but did not like the lamb.  And to be honest, the lamb was not well-cooked.  Lamb can be hard to cook properly, I realize, so I am gracious about that; it tasted fine, but it was tough, so not the easiest for my little guy – or me– to chew.  And there was a lot less meat and a lot more bone than I’d have expected.  And there were bone fragments. 😦

Actually this meal put me off lamb, which I had really liked for some time and rarely got to have… I suppose that’s why I ordered it like a dope (lol).  But what happened was that my son decided not to eat it but to smear it around, and it got in his hair.  And even though he got a shampoo, his hair still smelled like lamb.  For the next three days.  And then he got a stomach virus (NOT, for the record, from the lamb!  It spread through my family, was a legit bug, not food poisoning; I got it 2 days later) and his hair still smelled like lamb the entire time.  So yeah.  I can’t really do lamb anymore. 😛

But that’s not Disney’s fault, lol.  A lot of this I do chalk up to my own bad choices.  My husband wasn’t quite as impressed with the food either, if I recall, but my daughter had a GREAT time; she got chicken tenders and got up and had a belly dancing lesson.  Which goes to show you, it’s all in the experience as much as the food.  I don’t even remember if we had pastries at dessert or not; the rest of it is kind of blocked out.

The decor is just as nice as ever, though.  It’s honestly just such a comfortable restaurant – everything is all plush and nice.  Every Moroccan restaurant I’ve been to has this same thing going.  Like sitting on pillows. 😀  Service was quite good; I’ve read reviews that said that the staff at Marrakesh is not attentive, but that’s not something I’ve ever experienced.  They were fine with us. I was just super distracted and ultimately I believe I had to take the boy outside before everyone else was done, which is probably why I don’t remember a lot of the last bit, haha!

So over all: my recommendation would be to give this restaurant a shot, without young children, and keep an open mind about the cuisine you’re going to have. And I’m cautious about that, because I wasn’t hot on my lamb last time, but there were external factors seeping into that; as far as I know the chicken is still fine.  I still really love the look of the restaurant and the bellydancer is still terrific.  I’m not writing this one off until I give it a third try and see what happens.

 

Flame Tree BBQ – A Review

It’s Review Day at Disney With Me! I’m trying not to only do restaurants but BOY there are plenty of restaurants at WDW to review. (By the way, did anyone see my Boma review before WordPress ate it? I’m not kidding, it’s GONE. I’m peeved, it was an early post but a GOOD one. Anyway.) So today I thought I’d do a counter service restaurant, so as to get a little bit of variety in.

I had researched our dining options in Animal Kingdom in advance to try to figure out what would probably be the most family-pleasing, budget-friendly, and still thoroughly delicious place to grab quick food. I chose the Flame Tree Barbeque (or as you plebes would spell it, Barbecue, but I like my fancy-pants spelling better and will stick with it, unofficial or not), because first of all, “flame” and “barbeque” in the same cluster of words makes me drool.  I have no clue why. It just sounds so… so… flamey.  And barbequed.  It’s funny, because I’m not a meat fanatic and I’m not even that big on actual BBQs but… somehow that combo hits all the right spots in my brain to make me REALLY crave it.

Uh, but I digress (I think this is one of those “don’t type hungry” moments).  I picked this counter service restaurant out because they had a good variety of options and I was definitely looking for something non-pizza, and because the reviews on it were consistently very good.  After reading the menu at AllEars.net, I was doubly sure I had picked the right place.  Chicken?  Pork sandwich?  Ribs?  I am a ribs fanatic so they had me at “hello”.  (Ironic spoiler alert: I did not actually order the ribs.  Go figure.)  The kids’ menu was good, because although my children both love mac and cheese, it’s ubiquitous at WDW and I wanted someplace with OTHER options.  Same deal with chicken nuggets.  So the baked drumstick and the hot dog were music to my ears.

So what we ended up with was a drumstick for my daughter, a 1/2 chicken for me, 1/2 ribs for my husband, and my 1 1/2 year old son shared my chicken.  My daughter didn’t finish her chicken, but that was pretty standard for her at the time.  My husband said the ribs were very good, and I tried a bit so I know it’s true.  I loved the chicken.  I ’bout died over it.  Oh wow.  I know I said I’m a rib fanatic but I’m glad I got the chicken.  (Yes, you can get a rib/chicken combo; I didn’t because I have a weird thing about getting something different from what the hubs gets.)  It did not cost that much, and I had a hard time finishing it because it was so large.  There was no problem giving my son some without me feeling short changed.  Also, the beans and coleslaw that came with it were GOOD.  I don’t consider myself a big fan of coleslaw, but when it’s GOOD, I really like it.  This was some good slaw.  Beans aren’t all that hard to get right, so I don’t have a lot to say there. 😉  Funny thing: I don’t remember having dessert.  I’m pretty sure we did but I have NO idea. According to the menu, the desserts are mousse, and I just don’t remember having any mousse.  Chalk this up to a poor memory and not to it being underwhelming, okay? *G*

We also got two conservation pins, one for each kid, and a beautiful outdoor seating area with birds wandering around on all sides.  I don’t have any pics of my own to share so rather than nip off with someone else’s, here are the results of a Google Image search for you to enjoy!  (That chicken. I’m dying here.)

If ever in Animal Kingdom, this is my first and most vehement recommendation for a dining location.  Good food, good location and good prices.  I didn’t try the chicken salad but based on the quality of the food we did have, I’m willing to bet it’s great.  I have yet to read a bad review of this restaurant. 🙂  Admittedly, it is not the ideal place for a vegetarian to dine, but other than that – go!  Enjoy!

Vegetarians: Bradley Falls and Tamu Tamu Refreshments have a few good, and not-just-cheese-pizza, options.

Review: Princess Storybook Breakfast at Akershus

For my kids’ first trip to Disney World, my daughter was just turning five, and I knew a Princess meal was an absolute must. Her younger brother was 1 1/2, and he didn’t really care who he met, though he turned out to be pretty partial to the cuddlier characters; but D, my daughter, loved to talk to pretty much anyone and it turned out that the face characters, with their ability to react and have conversations with her, were a big, big hit.

But mostly, you know. Five-year-old girl, Disney Princesses? No-brainer.

Royal Proclamation at Akershus; if you can read this you don't need glasses

Royal Proclamation at Akershus; if you can read this you don’t need glasses

Rather than take the plunge for a meal in Cinderella Castle I decided to go a slightly-less-traveled route and opted for a breakfast at Restaurant Akershus in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. I really didn’t know what to expect, except that I knew we got a picture with a princess included with the meal and that we’d see a number of princesses. And that it was a buffet meal with mostly typical breakfast and a limited amount of Norwegian food, and this was a tiny bit worrisome to me since D could be a picky eater.

Well, first, the restaurant is lovely. Not a huge surprise, I know, because this is Disney and all their restaurants are at least a little nice to look at; but the architecture and woodwork in Akershus is really striking, and quite classy. It fits more with the viking/early nautical theme than with a Princess theme, but it’s not jarring or anything.

Some local Norwegian architecture

Some local Norwegian architecture

The wait wasn’t too long… we weren’t seated right away, I think we waited about ten minutes or so, but the Norway shops were open even though the pavilion itself wasn’t open yet. We poked around and the kids looked at swords and things, you know, as you let your kids do. I have an ongoing thing about worrying that the buzzer will go off and I won’t be in range for it to go, so I always hover, but I got some nice pictures of the kids relaxing and browsing. 😉

When we went in we got a photo op with Belle, who greeted my daughter as her “twin” since D was also wearing a Belle dress. The photo op is in this little nook towards the front of the restaurant, and towards the end of your meal they bring you a folder with your print in it. A nice thing is that the photo is included with the price of the meal (not the case at Chef Mickey’s).

So at this point we were seated, rather near the front of the restaurant, very close to the door that the Princesses enter and exit from. We got some food and waited for someone to come by. The food was better than I’d worried it was and everyone was quite happy. In addition to your standard scrambled eggs, bacon/sausage, cinnamon rolls and so forth, there were also a few Norwegian type things like some fish, as well as some tasty biscuits and my kids’ favourite, a nice variety of fresh fruit. My daughter ended up with so much berry smeared over her face that she looked like she’d been guzzling a smoothie or something. Nope, actually, just nature’s candy.

It wasn’t too much longer before the Princesses started coming by! We saw Aurora, Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel. D was very excited to meet Ariel, but honestly I think it was Cinderella who left her the most starstruck. Both of them, however, were amazing with her. They got down on her level and really talked to her, and although Snow and Aurora were both nice and sweet, they didn’t seem quite as involved as Cinderella and Ariel. Of course I’m a HUGE Ariel fan, so I am biased, but I will also say that I hold meetings with Ariel to a very high standard so I’m *less* likely to fawn over her in person than I am onscreen. 😉

But she was really really good and there was lots of attention and hand-holding!

But she was really really good and there was lots of attention and hand-holding!

And this is when Cinderella and D danced

And this is when Cinderella and D danced

On the other hand, I’ve never been much of a Cinderella fan, but she won me over that day. Just absolutely divine with my daughter, it was wonderful. Plus, we stayed just long enough to participate in something I hadn’t known about: the Princess Parade. An announcement came up asking all children to find the nearest Princess and join them in a parade around the restaurant. Cinderella came by and *found* my daughter, taking her by the hand and promising to show her exactly what to do, and the next time I saw her she’d made nearly a full circuit around the restaurant. And Cinderella had shown her how to lift her skirts as she walked, so she was walking by with her skirt pinched between her forefinger and thumb in each hand, all super-dainty; and later she showed us the right way to wave, with the wrist curl and everything.

Honestly, Cinderella's such a sweetie.

Honestly, Cinderella’s such a sweetie.

It was a unique experience, to say the least. I can’t say I always like the whole “Disney Princess” culture – too much adherence to gender roles – but it’s up to me how much exposure to it my daughter gets, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with moderate exposure. And she certainly loved it, and watching her be a princess was just… it just made my heart swell. 🙂

As for the price – it’s high, what with the cost of the photo being factored in. I won’t pretend it’s not high. But is it worth it? I can’t say for sure; I had the free dining plan deal and if I hadn’t been on the dining plan, I would not have done it, simply because I can’t afford to put down $40 or so per person on breakfast. HOWEVER, I would have regretted not doing it. Like, a lot. So I think the price is worth it even if that makes it something I can’t always do. That’s what special occasions are for, right? Seeing my daughter walk all dainty around the room, feeling like a princess, that’s worth it.