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Disney Restaurant Review: California Grill 50th Anniversary

The 50th Anniversary celebration at Disney World is in full swing, and restaurants like California Grill are celebrating. California Grill always tops my list when it comes to dining for special occasions. The food and the atmosphere make this one of the best places to dine on Disney property. 

The restaurant, which originally opened in 1971 as Top of the World and later became California Grill in 1995, is located on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort and has an outstanding view of Magic Kingdom. The menu typically features seasonal items that give off California vibes, and they have quite an impressive wine list. 

With the new 50th Anniversary celebration menu, this dining reservation got bumped to the top of my must-do dining list. Because when in Disney during the most magical celebration one must do the 50th Anniversary right. 

50th Menu

In honor of the 50th celebration, California Grill is celebrating with a limited-time prix fixe menu. It is a three-course meal that includes, an appetizer, entree, and a dessert for $89/adult and $39/child. Yes, the price is steep, but the experience at California Grill is one you will continue to talk about long after your trip is over.

The thing I loved about this menu were the nods to dishes that previously had been popular at Top of the World and California Grill. It was a nice way to reflect on the past of this restaurant and a nice dedication to the previous Executive Chefs.

But let’s talk about the physical menu, and no I am not talking about what is on it. This dining experience comes with a brochure-like menu, that is yours to keep after dinner. It’s a nice keepsake, and was a nice touch since I previously have been so used to QR code menus. 

Atmosphere

Honestly, there is no other restaurant in Disney that beats the overall atmosphere of California Grill. It is fancy without being stuffy, and the restaurant’s windows allows for a perfect view of Magic Kingdom and beyond. 

Check-in happens on the 2nd floor of The Contemporary Resort, and once your table is ready you will take the dedicated elevator up to the 15th floor. 

The restaurant is far from being quiet, as the kitchen is along the back wall which allows for just the right level of noise for a lively dinner. The open kitchen allows you to watch the food as it is being prepared, and while it is entertaining to watch it is not overly noisy which allows it to fade into the background as you enjoy your dinner. 

Fireworks

There are also two rooftop observation decks at California Grill, the one on the north side of the restaurant is perfect to take in Disney Enchantment, the new nighttime fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. You won’t miss a thing when it comes to the fireworks show, the music is piped into the restaurant and out on the observation decks, and they even dim the lighting inside California Grill.

Protip, no matter what time your dinner is, you can still head up to the deck to watch the fireworks. Simply check-in with the host on the 2nd floor and they will put you in the fireworks viewing line. But note you must be dining at California Grill that night to take advantage of this benefit. 

Our dinner reservation was at 8:20 PM, we arrived at the host stand at 7:30 PM in anticipation of the 8 PM show. Honestly, it was perfect timing as we were the second party in line heading up to the observation deck for the fireworks. This meant when we got to the rooftop deck we were able to grab a spot right along the railing. If you wait until right before the fireworks start, the deck will fill up, so you will be standing behind others. 

When we checked in at 7:30, they also checked us in for our reservation which was in 50 minutes. We got the return text about 2 minutes before the fireworks started, but don’t worry, they understand. We enjoyed the show and then simply returned to the check-in area after the show was over. 

Food

The food always impresses at California Grill, and the 50th Anniversary menu is no different. There was a range of options on the menu, and the portions were perfect for a prix fixe meal.

Appetizers

The appetizer course is called ‘Market Inspirations,’ with my stand-out dish, of course, being the Braised Beef Short Rib Wontons. They are my favorite appetizer in Disney World and have been a staple at California Grill for quite some time. 

They are described as, ‘Doenjang Miso-Cola-Onion Sauce, Crispy Garlic-Chili Oil, Radish, Pickled Lotus Root,’ and are honestly close to perfection. The braised beef melts in your mouth, and the chili oil gives this dish a pretty significant kick. There might have been something you overlooked in the description, Doenjang Miso-COLA-Onion Sauce. That’s right, these wontons actually contain Coca-Cola, and honestly, you would never know because the flavors blend perfectly together.  

Other stand-out first courses were the House-made Artisanal-style Duck À L’Orange Pizza, and the Heirloom Apple Salad. The pizza is a 50th-anniversary special and was inspired by an entree at Top of the World when it opened in 1971. The apple salad was crisp and delicious, and is plant-based, including plant-based feta, which was delicious.

Entrees

California Grill is known for a few dishes, all of which are represented on the prix fixe menu. Standouts on this were the Oak Fired Filet of Beef, a true classic on the California Grill menu. The steaks here are always cooked to perfection, and I spent the evening obsessing over how outstanding the potatoes were, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

The Florida Coast Black Grouper was recommended by our server, and it did not disappoint. It is described as a ‘Herbed Basmati Rice, Cashew Chutney, Bok Choy, Baby Shiitake, Green Curry-Coconut Nage.’ In addition, the Cast Iron-grilled Pork Tenderloin was a favorite at our table.

We also tried the Handcrafted Wild Mushroom Ravioli, the plant-based selection on the menu. I have previously loved the plant-based pasta options at California Grill, and for me, this one wasn’t my favorite. It was good, I just felt like there wasn’t anything there to lighten up the dish and make it feel fresh.

Desserts

There are five different selections for desserts and something for everyone. The stand-out is the Five Magical Bites 50 Years in the Making, which was a dessert bite from all of the executive chefs that had worked at Top of the World or California Grill, with all the chefs coming back together for this unique dessert. Each chef got to create or choose their own dessert favorite, and these five bites were the perfect way to finish dinner.

The Earidescent Grand Marnier Souffle was also an excellent choice and was perfectly baked. The combination of the piping hot souffle and the creamsicle ice cream is what dreams are made of! And if you aren’t the biggest sweets fan (like myself) there is the Chef’s Selection of California Cheeses, a European trend that I love seeing, and I enjoyed closing out my meal with cheese.

Drinks

California Grill has an impressive wine and cocktail list, but do yourself a favor and get the wine pairing. It is an additional $39. Every dish on the menu has been expertly paired, and you get 3 glasses of wine.

Honestly, the wines were perfect and a great value for the quality of wine that was presented. 

Overall Thoughts

Yes, this meal is expensive. However, if you are looking to treat yourself to a nice meal during Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, choose California Grill. The food and atmosphere are perfect if you are celebrating any occasion, and it is a can’t miss if you want the full Disney World Anniversary experience.

You need to snag this reservation ASAP, and currently, the dining reservations at Disney World open 60 days before. If you missed the opportunity to snag your reservation, you can always try Touring Plans Reservation Finder, a free tool that will send you a text when a reservation opens up.

Full Menu.

Type of Food. American. Seafood. Sushi.

Location. The Contemporary Resort

Discounts Offered. Annual Passholder 10%

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Eating Around Disney World: Hollywood Studios/Disney Springs/Epcot

It is time to kick off a breakdown of the second day of my last Disney World vacation, so let’s talk about everything I ate and drank. This was quite a full Disney day, the morning started at Hollywood Studios with a 9:30 AM reservation at Oga’s Cantina. Honestly, it tends to be a difficult reservation to get, so you have to take whatever is available. Luckily, we had also snagged a pretty early Rise of the Resistance boarding group, so I was happy to be able to squeeze that in after Oga’s.

Then it was off to Disney Springs around noon to meet up with Touring Plans, we were on a mission to find the Halloween Treats in Disney Springs, and boy did we, more on that in a later post. We grabbed a quick lunch at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, it’s right on the water and it is a great place to enjoy the sights while grabbing a drink and a meal.

After spending some time in Springs, it was off to Epcot, this was my first look at Food and Wine in 2021. I didn’t eat much, but I did make my way around World Showcase and scout out what was on the list for later in the week! Overall, it was a great day of eating around Disney World, now let’s break it down!

Before we start talking about food, let’s break down some of the trip details:

Dates: September 6-10, 2021

Resort: Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House

Jump to:

Day One – Animal Kingdom

Day Three – Hollywood Studios (coming soon)

Day Four – Epcot (coming soon)

After Hours – Boo Bash (coming soon)

Disney Springs Halloween Treats (coming soon)

Resort Dining (coming soon)

Breakfast – Hollywood Studios

Bloody Rancor

A liquid breakfast counts as breakfast, right? Look, when you get a reservation to Oga’s you take it no matter the time of day. Which is exactly why I was drinking at 9 am in Batuu, plus its vacation so don’t judge me. I did score this reservation using Touring Plans Reservation Finder, so if you are trying to snag Oga’s, give it a go.

So, the Bloody Rancor isn’t on the menu anymore, it has become a hidden menu item that Millennials on Main Street gave me the 411 about. Honestly, I am not the world’s biggest Bloody Mary fan, but this one was good. The highlight for me was the meringue bone that comes on the top.

Location: Oga’s Cantina

Price: $18.00

Rating: 7.5/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes, if I were hungover.

Batuu Bits

Look if you are rushing to get to your reservation, haven’t eaten anything yet, and are prepared to down 2 cocktails in under 45 minutes, this Batuu Bits is fine.

Honestly, nothing about it is good, and I don’t understand why they can’t do something a little bit better at Oga’s. I said what I said. I also refuse to pay $21 for the underwhelming looking Charcuterie Board, go to Baseline Tap House after and order their $10, it is outstanding.

Description: Crispy Galaxy Snack Bits with Spiced Chermoula Dip

Location: Oga’s Cantina

Price: $11.00

Rating: 1/10

Would I Order it Again: Absolutely not.

Lunch – Disney Springs

After spending the morning on Batuu, it was off to Disney Springs to meet up with my friends from Touring Plans. We were on a mission to try all the fun Halloween treats in Disney Springs, and we did, more on that in a later post. But my other goal was to stop by Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar to try the loaded pretzel, I have heard the hype and I just needed to order this one!

Air Pirate’s Cargo Loaded Pretzel 

Honestly, this pretzel is a masterpiece, it is like a combination of a pretzel and a charcuterie board and I am LIVING for it. Jock Lindsey’s is a fun time to begin with, if you love Indy, you have to visit. They always are adding something unique and fun to the menu, for example, Bacon of Doom, which was chocolate-covered bacon that came with a smoke show.

But back to the pretzel, I loved every aspect of this one, the pretzel was fabulous, I couldn’t decide what I enjoyed more, the beer cheese or the spicy mustard, both were outstanding. But seriously, there is so much to eat on this plate that it is easily a full meal.

Description: Prosciutto, Sliced Brats, Artisan Pepperoni, Smoked Cheddar, Black Diamond Cheddar, Caraway Pickles, Spicy Mustard, and Beer Cheese Fondue.

Location: Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar

Price: $22.00

Rating: 10/10, dare I call this the best pretzel at Disney World?

Would I Order it Again: Yes, all day every day.

Afternoon Snack – Epcot

Park hopping was in the cards this day, there was a lot to do and see. We had evening reservations at Citricos, more on that later, but spoiler alert it was phenomenal. After dropping off the Halloween goodies, we took the bus over to Epcot to get a first look at Food and Wine. Am I late on the trend, yes, but it is what it is?

Char Siu Pork Udon

Upon arriving at Epcot a good ole afternoon Florida rainstorm came through, so we took shelter by the main entrance and waited for it to stop raining. The downfall of that, the humidity because like 1000% percent and it feels so hot. So what better place to stop first than the brand new, The Noodle Exchange. This one is a take on Far East noodles, so we are talking hot soup, but boy this booth was about to impress me this whole trip.

I had heard amazing things about the Char Siu Pork Udon and I knew I had to order it, despite the full-body sweating. Someone said that two hot things cancel each other out, and while I don’t think that is true, I went with it.

My first thought is, is this traditional Udon? No. Despite it feeling like 100 degrees out is this delicious and did I want to eat the whole thing? Without a doubt. The pork was actual perfection, I have no other way to describe it. The flavor was phenomenal, and it was tender and delicious. I would order this one every single time… if I didn’t want to try other things on the menu.

Description: with Enoki Mushrooms, Bok Choy, and Soy Pickled Egg

Location: The Noodle Exchange at Food and Wine

Price: $5.50

Rating: 9/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes.

A Day of Eating

This about wraps up my second full day of eating in Disney, after that we hopped on the monorail over to Grand Floridian for my first look at the new and revamped Citricos. I know my review isn’t up yet, but if you are about to make dining reservations, book it now! You’ll see why I loved it so much later, no one aspect of that restaurant disappoints.

Be sure to come back for the next part of my series, because we are headed back to Hollywood Studios to eat. Trust me when I say Hollywood Studios has the best Halloween snacks of any Disney Park!

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Eating Around Disney World: Animal Kingdom

There is always so much food to choose from at Disney World, and narrowing down the choices and figuring out what you might want can be difficult. I am kicking off a brand new series where I break down everything I ate during my Disney World trip, it’s essentially a look into what I eat in a day. I’ll tell you what I loved and would order again, and what wasn’t my favorite and I probably avoid from now on.

So, let’s kick this one off on day one of my last trip to Animal Kingdom. If you want to get my full reactions to these foods, head over to my Instagram story highlights, where you can see my real-time reactions! Now, let’s head to Animal Kingdom!

Before we start talking about food, let’s break down some of the trip details:

Dates: September 6-10, 2021

Resort: Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House

Jump to:

Day Two – Hollywood Studios/Disney Springs/Epcot (coming soon)

Day Three – Hollywood Studios (coming soon)

Day Four – Epcot (coming soon)

After Hours – Boo Bash (coming soon)

Disney Springs Halloween Treats (coming soon)

Resort Dining (coming soon)

Breakfast

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit

Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit from Pongu Pongu

I heard a tip that the best biscuits in Animal Kingdom can be found in Pandora at Pongu Pongu, which is unsuspecting at first – However, the central kitchen is located right behind Pongu Pongu, so essentially it has something to do with the proximity from the kitchen to consumer.

This biscuit did not disappoint, the biscuit itself was perfectly golden brown, buttery in all the good ways. The cheese was perfectly melted to bring the sandwich together, and I have added this one to my list of must-order foods in Animal Kingdom.

Location: Pongu Pongu

Price: $6.99

Rating: 8.5/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes!

Rum Blossom

I will be honest, I usually don’t drink this early at Disney World, but this was a hair of the dog situation as I was struggling from drinking around the monorail the night before. Honestly, this drink never disappoints and is a staple when I am in Pandora.

My biggest complaints are, it melts fast in the Florida heat, and you have to stir it and ruin the pretty colors to mix in the rum which as served just sits on top. This one is a good combination of Desert Pear Limeade and Apple, the limeade cuts the sweetness and this one just blends so well together. There is also a non-alcoholic version of this one called the Night Blossom if drinking in the morning isn’t your thing!

Description: Bacardi Superior Rum with layers of Apple and Desert Pear Limeade topped with Passion Fruit Boba Balls.

Location: Pongu Pongu

Price: $13.00

Rating: 10/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes, and I always do!

Lunch/Snack

Look, you are going to have to roll with this one because I am more of a grazer and not someone that eats three-round meals at Disney World. So that being said you typically won’t find me eating a traditional lunch, so let’s break it down as I wander around the park. On a side note, Animal Kingdom has the best food of any Disney World Park, and you can quote me on that, so let’s continue eating!

Ngumu Jungle Juice

Orange Ngumu Jungle Juice from Dawa Bar

Okay, so recently, Disney World had a Jungle Juice shortage, the supplier they were using discontinued it, and they were without POG Juice until they could find a new supplier. It was on the menu when I went to Dawa Bar, so I asked the bartender about it. He said this was the first shift he had seen POG Juice back, and he warned me that it was different (never a good sign).

Overall, the new POG Juice is different, our beloved juice has changed, but it is still good. The Ngumu Jungle Juice is such a well-balanced drink, with peach schnapps and vodka, and it is a perfectly refreshing cocktail for when you get off the safari.

Description: Snow Leopard Vodka, Bols Peach Schnapps, and Tusker’s famous Jungle Juice.

Location: Dawa Bar

Price: $13.00

Rating: 7.5/10, this one is taking a hit solely because of the new POG Juice situation.

Would I Order it Again: Yes, but I might be trying other things.

Mr. Kamals’ Fries

Grilled Curry Corn on the Cob, Ngumu Jungle Juice, Chicken Dumplings, and Mr. Kamal's Fries

Did I choose to drown my sorrows in food when I realized the POG Juice was different? You better believe it, luckily Mr. Kamal’s is just down the path from Africa and the perfect place to grab a snack.

These fries are perfectly spiced without being spicy and are amazing if you catch them fresh out of the fryer. I hate making decisions, so that being said I will say I love the dipping sauces equally. There is a Curried Honey Mustard and the Korean Chilli Ketchup, and I enjoy mixing them together.

Description: Served with curried honey mustard or Korean chili ketchup.

Location: Mr. Kamal’s

Price: $5.99

Rating: 9.25/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes, these fries are heaven.

Chicken Dumplings

Okay, so the fries at Mr. Kamal’s typically get all the hype… however, that means you might be overlooking the chicken dumplings when you shouldn’t be! These dumplings are deep-fried to perfection and come with a ponzu sauce to dip them in. The sauce has a hint of citrus and is perfect for keeping the dumplings light and fresh.

My biggest complaint, there are only 3 dumplings for the price, so it is never going to make the list of one of the best deals in Disney.

Description: Served with Ponzu.

Location: Mr. Kamal’s

Price: $5.99

Rating: 7.5/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes, they aren’t the best value so I don’t order them often, but they are always a good treat.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

I know that corn on the cob might not be the quintessential theme park food, but you have to try this one when you are in Animal Kingdom. You have the option to get it with or without the African spices, but take my advice and order it heavy on the seasoning.

The spices are a combination of African Berbere Spice, and curry powder, and are the perfect seasoning for some fresh corn on the cob. One of the best parts about Harambe Fruit Market, which is where they sell this, is they grill the corn fresh on a large grill in front of you!

Description: With or without African Spices.

Location: Harambe Fruit Market

Price: $5.29

Rating: 10/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes, it is my number one must-order thing in Animal Kingdom.

Pumpkin Pie Latte with Kahlúa

Joffrey’s is such a staple of Disney Parks and one of my favorite locations is in the little building tucked away right across from the Yak and Yeti quick service. If you follow the path to the right of the building it will also take you down to a little seating area on the water, and it is the perfect place to character watch as they pass by on the boats.

Now let’s talk coffee, of course, I had to be basic and go with a pumpkin latte, and of course, being me, I had to spike it. And if you are looking to make this into an adult beverage, they will add shots of anything you want, so that is always a great option.

Description: Pumpkin pie syrup, milk, and espresso.

Location: Royal Anandapur Tea Company

Price: $6.09 without the alcohol.

Rating: 8/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes.

Nomad Lounge

Did you even visit Animal Kingdom if you did stop by Nomad Lounge? This lounge is tucked in right next to Tiffins and right before the bridge to Pandora, and is the perfect spot to relax and grab a drink. The waitlist often gets to capacity, but keep checking it and also ask the host if there is any availability.

Jenn’s Tattoo

Honestly, there isn’t any cocktail on this menu that you would be disappointed in if you like what is in it. Nomad Lounge does an outstanding job with their cocktails, and depending on my mood depends on what I order.

Jenn’s Tattoo is well-balanced, and I love watermelon during the summer. It also comes with a Hibiscus flower, which you can eat, and is often referred to as “nature’s fruit roll-up.”

Description: Ketel One Vodka, Watermelon, Hibiscus, and Lime Juice.

Location: Nomad Lounge

Price: $13.00

Rating: 9/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes.

Churros

Churros in a basket with two dipping sauces in front, a chili-strawberry and a Vanilla Crema

“You go and save the best for last.” These are the best churros in Disney World and that is not up for debate. Not only are they perfectly golden and covered nicely in cinnamon sugar, but they are also GLUTEN FREE. For $9 you get an entire basket, which I feel is a great Disney deal. Also, the sauces that you dip them in are perfection, the chili-strawberry has a nice kick to it, and I love dipping my churro in both.

PSA: You can also order these churros to go. Just let the host know you want to order and she will direct you to the end of the bar where you can order to-go drinks AND CHURROS!

Description: Vanilla Crema, Chili-Strawberry.

Location: Nomad Lounge

Price: $9.00

Rating: 12/10

Would I Order it Again: Yes, and if we are meeting at Nomad, please order your own!

A Day of Eating

I usually am not one to have dinner in the parks, I just think the resorts and Disney Springs offer much better options. So, usually late to mid-afternoon, I will head back to the resort to freshen up before dinner. I hope you enjoyed eating along with me on this first day of my trip, and I can’t wait to share the rest of the foods I enjoyed on my Disney trip!

Be sure to follow along because tomorrow I am wrapping up a busy day of my trip as I hopped from Studios to Springs, to Epcot, and the treats were plentiful.