WDW – Best Top of the World Views!

Ever wondered where you can find the best views at Walt Disney World?  Want to take in the most scenery?  See the big picture?  Here are a few of our favorite spots:

WDW – Best Top of the World Views!RM-Expedition-Everest

Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) – Hands down (or hands up, if you prefer), this attraction offers the very best (in my opinion) view of any other Disney World attraction.  As my little tea train sets off on an amazing Himalayan adventure, I look forward to so many special moments along the way.  Among these is the spectacular view offered on the way up the Forbidden Mountain.  The going is slow enough for guests to take in the breathtaking, really spectacular scenery.  There’s so much to love about this attraction, this view is often overlooked (hahaha) and underappreciated.RM-PeopleMover

The PeopleMover – If you have not taken a spin on this Tomorrowland attraction (Magic Kingdom), you do not know what you’re missing.  It’s a tour of Tomorrowland and a tunnel of love all in one.  You’ll go inside for some fantastic behind-the-scenes looks at Tomorrowland attractions and outside for a bird’s-eye view of others.  A smooth, relaxing ride, exceptional scenery, and a couple of kiss-stealing opportunities – what more could anyone ask for?  Some of you may remember the old Skyway gondola ride in Magic Kingdom (1971 – 1999) , it was (to me) once the very best way to see the World.RM-Top-of-the-World-Lounge-View

Top of the World Lounge – This little corner of the World is especially reserved for Disney Vacation Club members and guests.  Like the next location on this list, it offers exceptional Magic Kingdom views and is a fantastic place to end the evening at Walt Disney World.  The interior is a tribute to the monorail offers a unique and different atmosphere.

RM-California-Grill-ViewCalifornia Grill – Yes, you can see Wishes from the balcony of this signature dining restaurant atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort.  The views from the windows that surround the dining room are always awesome – with or without Magic Kingdom fireworks.  I particularly love sunset while enjoying the Cali Grill’s excellent food and service. (Full review here.)Twilight-Zone-Tower-of-Terror

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – It’s a fleeting view, but whoa!  It’s a haunted hotel, you’re in a crazy service elevator with a mind of its own and there – for a mere moment at a time, your elevator allows you a glimpse outside from high atop the tower!  Scream all you want to, but do try to keep your eyes open so you won’t miss the view!

Cinderella’s Royal Table – The one and only time we went, our table was in the middle of the room and it was dark outside.  My friend Heather and her family LOVE this Magic Kingdom dining experience, though, and find the views to be particularly enchanting.  Catch all the details here.

Where are your favorite views at Walt Disney World?  Your resort room balcony?  Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse?  Characters in Flight?  Tell me what I’ve missed.

 

 

Disney Dining – Table Service VS Signature Dining

So many dining questions (mostly my own) when planning a Walt Disney World vacation!  One of the most common is…What the heck is the difference between a “Table Service” restaurant and a “Signature Dining” experience?  This is an excellent question!!!  For guests on the Disney Dining Plan, the difference boils down to this:  Table Service = one credit and Signature restaurants = 2 credits.  But what is the difference REALLY?  What do I get for either my money or my dining credits?  That, my friends, is an interesting poser!RM-Yachtsman-Filet

To even the playing field for today’s exercise, I’m excluding all in-park dining options and focusing on two main categories:  1.)  Resort or Downtown Disney Dining Options and 2.)  Places Where I’ve Eaten.  With this information, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two dining categories AND you can think about choosing a restaurant without the added expense/use of a theme park ticket.  Honestly, it’s no big secret that our family generally prefers dining at the resorts over the parks anyway.

Disney Dining – Table Service VS Signature Dining

In General:  

Signature Dining is more grown-up.  With the exception of Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney World restaurants are kid-friendly.  That being said, folks in Signature eateries tend to be adults-out-for-an-evening versus families with little ones.Citricos-Window

Signature Dining tends to involve dressier attire.  From the Disney Dining Plan information sheet:  “Dress Code for Signature Restaurants is Resort Casual. Not permitted in dining room: Tank tops, swimsuits or swimsuit cover-ups, hats for gentlemen, cut-offs, torn clothing of any kind, or T-shirts with offensive language and/or graphics.”  You just get a dressier vibe in general and we tend to clean up at our resort before we hit one of the restaurants of the Signature Dining variety.

Signature Dining is more expensive.  In our experience, this is true.  Sure, you can run up a large tab anywhere, but based on a basic 4-5 course meal, Signature restaurants cost a bit more.

Signature Dining may have better service.  MAY being the operative word here.  We’ve had incredible service at places like Flying Fish but, on the flip side, have never had poor service at any of our favorite Table Service restaurants.  If you want your server to know more about wine pairings and how certain dishes or sauces are prepared, you’re more likely to find that in a Signature Dining restaurant.Citricos-Michael

Signature Dining is quieter and more relaxing (and takes longer).  Fewer kids, generally better pacing – the meals tend to flow better in favor of enjoying each course and the dining experience to a fuller extent than at a regular Table Service place.  There’s no rush to move families along before a melt-down occurs.

Let’s look at specific restaurants and compare!

Our favorite Table Service restaurants include this selection of six from the resorts (all are ONE credit on the Disney Dining Plan):

  • Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Buffet with a fixed price (unless you order adult beverages) that includes a selection of both exotic, African-inspired dishes AND kid (and picky eater)-friendly choices.  Soups, salads, entrées, desserts – a feast to please every taste!
  • Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village) – Feels very close to a Signature Dining experience with exotic flavors and an unsurpassed appetizer, the “Bread Service”.  It’s warm, cozy, and boasts an excellent, knowledgeable wait staff.  (Choose this over Jiko if you need to save a Table Service credit, but want the great flavors and atmosphere if Animal Kingdom Lodge.)RM-Sanaa Server
  • Olivia’s Café (Old Key West) – Underappreciated and off-the-beaten-path, this place is cozy with a homey, beachy vibe.  The service is above par and the relaxed atmosphere after a hectic day in the parks cannot be beat!Relaxed Dining at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West / Walt Disney World
  • Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) – If I had to rank this list, Kona Café would come in last.  Based on the one-and-only time we’ve eaten there, the atmosphere and service left us underwhelmed, but the food was delicious!
  • ‘Ohana (Polynesian Village Resort) – Perfect for families with big appetites looking for a kid-friendly atmosphere.  It helps if you like meat as this is a Brazilian Barbeque-style dining experience.
  • Raglan Road (Downtown Disney) – We love this place!  For an Irish Pub, it’s extremely family-friendly, has fun live entertainment, great music, and a delicious comfort-food-intensive menu.RM-Raglan-Road-Dancers

Resort Signature Dining (TWO Disney Dining Table Service Credits) experiences we’ve tried include:

  • Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – We love this place!  Expensive, yes, but exotic with great service, awesome wine selection, and delicious menu choices that have never disappointed.
  • Flying Fish Café – The artisanal cheese appetizer is amazing, but we also love the service, the interesting menu (something for everyone, even non-seafood-lovers) and the atmosphere – prime location on Disney’s Boardwalk.Disney's Flying Fish Cafe Interior
  • California Grill – More kids than we anticipated!  Of all the Signature Dining places we’ve tried, this one was the nosiest and had the most kids-on-the-loose.  It’s the balcony that allows guests a magnificent view of Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks show) – Access is included with a dining reservation.  The food’s great, the service is awesome, but if you’re looking for a quieter, kid-less dinner, think about trying a different restaurant.
  • Citricos (Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) – This place feels elegant, upscale, and unpretentious at the same time.  The service is excellent!  The menu is broad enough for picky or special-restriction diners.  We also think the atmosphere strikes just the right balance between fancy and on-vacation.Citricos-Interior
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht and Beach Club Resort) – Looking for a great steak dinner?  You’ll find one here.  Compared to the great service we’re received at other Signature Dining restaurants, Yachtsman’s servers possess the most pride in their food, atmosphere, and service.  There seem to be more kids here than at some other Signature Dining restaurants, but they’re too busy enjoying their steaks to make noise or cause a ruckus.RM-Yachtsman-Dining-Room
  • Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge) – Again, if I had to rank the restaurants in this category, Artist Point would come in last.  It’s dark and, compared to Wilderness Lodge’s awesome ambiance, lacks character.  Save your dining credits!  We’ve found much better experiences at NON-signature restaurants.  Rumor has it that changes are on the horizon for Artist Point, but it would take a lot to get me back in there for another meal when there are so many other, more reliable options.

Whew!  I’m exhausted…and hungry.  I hope I was able to shed a bit of light on the differences between the different dining experiences at Walt Disney World for you.  I believe it’s important to be an informed consumer when it comes to my precious vacation dollars.

What would you recommend for an excellent sit-down meal at a Disney resort?

 

Celebrating at Disney’s California Grill

RM-California-Grill-Place-SettingRaymond and I toyed with several options for our “official” 25th Anniversary Dinner.  Nothing was off the table (see what I did there?) including Victoria and Albert’s.  Not gonna lie, I was tempted.  But then I thought about how much we love the Contemporary and what a big role that resort has played in our Disney past and how many years ahead we’ll enjoy it as DVC members at Bay Lake Tower.  I think we were both a bit surprised when I passed on V&A’s in favor of the California Grill.

It had probably been ten years since we’d enjoyed the California Grill and we were excited to see the updated version.  You check in on the resort’s second floor and are escorted up to the restaurant.  I don’t mind this process – it adds to the “specialness” of the occasion.  We were pretty excited to be riding in the elevator with a couple celebrating their 40th anniversary.  We could easily picture ourselves in another 15 years.  They were very sweet and obviously still very much in love.  They told us they’d be back next year to celebrate in the same way.RM-California-Grill-Bar

Once we checked in, we were given the flashing buzzer thing and told it would be just a few moments and we were free to sit at the bar if we liked.  The bar looked great – very welcoming with an open design that showcased the impressive selection of libations.  Just as we touched the backs of our barstools preparing to sit down, our flasher/buzzer went off.  On to the table!RM-California-Grill-InteriorRM-California-Grill-View

Here’s where I got distracted.  The table for two by the window with a breathtaking view of the setting sun was perfect.  As were the magical touches we noticed throughout the evening – meant to make our anniversary dinner all the more special.  RM-California-Grill-Patron

Because I was distracted, I failed to make a note of our server’s name. I also forgot to snap a quick picture of our appetizer – I’d say I was sorry, but it’s hard to regret shutting out all distractions for a little while to enjoy Raymond’s company, soak up the atmosphere, and savor the incredible sushi we ordered as our first course.  The Mickey-shaped confetti sprinkled on our table was very festive!RM-California-Grill-Celebration

We’d ordered a bottle of wine, sampled the assorted breads served before the sushi arrived. ate ever grain of rice in our sushi (Spicy Kazan Roll: Crab, Shrimp, Scallops, Tuna, Fireball Sauce) and were ready for our entrees! Raymond ordered the “Spanish Seafood Pilaf – Cold Water Lobster Tail, Clams, Gulf Shrimp, Chorizo Picante, Saffron Rice” and I opted for the “Seared Rare Ahi Tuna with Lo Mein Noodles, Baby Shiitakes, Crispy Broccolini, Cilantro Soy Broth.”  See full menu hereRM-California-Grill-EntreeRM-California-Grill-TunaAfter our plates arrived, we were very quiet for quite a while.  I couldn’t finish my tuna, but it was exactly what I’d hoped it would be – maybe even a little bit better.  Raymond felt the same way about his choice.  We were happy!RM-California-Grill-Dessert

Selecting a dessert was hard!  Raymond always gravitates towards anything cheesecake and that evening was no different.  He ended up choosing the “Blueberry-Lemon Cheesecake (No Sugar Added) Local Florida Blueberries, Huckleberry Sauce, Almond Tuile, Lemon Whipped Cream”  RM-California-Grill-FritterMost of the time when I say I want dessert, I end up not ordering anything but coffee then I’m happy with a bite or two of Raymond’s cheesecake.  That night though, I saw something on the menu that really piqued my interest. “Warm Homemade Fritters – Banana-stuffed, Cinnamon-dusted Fritters complemented with a Trio of Dipping Sauces”  Can I just say that this is my most favorite restaurant dessert ever ordered – in the history of my life?!?  The fritters were like dense, cake-doughnut holes with the slightest hint of banana-bread-ish-ness, rolled in cinnamon-sugar.  They were served in a paper cone and were, indeed, warm as promised.  RM-California-Grill-Dessert-SaucesThe dipping sauces, our server explained, were chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel.  I could shower you now with descriptive words in a lame attempt to convey the utter perfection of those fritters dipped in their accompanying sauces, but no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t be able to adequately share with you the perfection of that dessert.  RM-California-Grill-Dessert2Holy Moly.  Every single bite was amazingly delectable – Made even more special by the complimentary glasses of champagne that were served with our desserts in honor of the occasion. RM-California-Grill-Champagne

We. Were. Stuffed.  Coffee was in order to enable us to actually get up and move away from the table.  This is when I was even more happy we’d decided on the California Grill – we had only a short stroll across the walkway between the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower to get back to our cozy little studio and sleep off our incredibly delicious and very special 25th anniversary dinner.

Have you been to the California Grill lately?  How did you enjoy your experience?