For a sumptuous meal, excellent service, luxurious atmosphere, and a breathtaking view, you can’t do any better than the California Grill Restaurant. Not if it’s the one that sits atop The Contemporary Resort, fifteen stories above the Seven Seas Lagoon at Orlando’s Walt Disney World.
== Making Reservations ==
It all starts with a phone call, which you should make at least two or three months in advance. You can do this yourself, or if you’re a member of AAA, they can set up all the details of your Disney vacation, including dining reservations.
To enjoy all the amenities of being “on top of the world,” check the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks schedule for the night you’d like to dine (and be ready with a second and third choice of dates and times, just in case your ideal pick is already fully booked). Hence, if you book early enough, you will be able to watch the fireworks before, during, or after your dinner, depending on your preference.
== Getting To The Resort ==
So now your dining plans are set, and all you have to do is show up. Assuming you’re already in Orlando and on Walt Disney World property, you can get to the Contemporary Resort via car, bus, monorail, or boat.
The parking lot is near the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) on the opposite side (south) of the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom. If you have a car, you can park at the TTC and take a monorail or bus to the Contemporary Resort, or you can simply drive yourself.
If you’re coming from nearby Wilderness Lodge Resort, you can take the ferry. If you’re coming from the Magic Kingdom (or any Disney park), just grab a monorail or bus and you’ll be at The Contemporary in minutes. Both are on constantly running loops, allowing a wait time of up to about 20 minutes, depending on crowd size.
All signs are clearly marked, but if you become lost or unsure during your sojourn, just ask. Disney employees (a.k.a. Cast Members) are very genial and will try to help you any way they can.
== Getting To The Restaurant ==
When you arrive at The Contemporary, go to the special check-in desk on Level Two. It’s not the easiest desk to find, so look for signs. The staff there will verify your reservation, then personally escort you into the nearby express elevators and up to the 15th floor. For those with a touch of claustrophobia, don’t worry: You’ll have a staff member with you, and the elevators are very quick.
When you arrive at the restaurant, check in at the desk, where one of the hosts or hostesses will most likely give you a buzzer that will tell you when your table is ready. I had mine less than five minutes before it buzzed.
== The Entertainment ==
You can now move to the outdoor observation deck if you’d like, or stay inside at the lounge or full bar. The restaurant’s sound system is connected to the Magic Kingdom, so you’ll hear the same background music and fireworks narration that the people down in the park are hearing. This makes for a nice listening experience, since the restaurant generally has less ambient noise than the park.
So now your buzzer goes off and the host or hostess leads you to your table. If you’ve scheduled your dinner right, you are seated and have just seen the fireworks, or are getting ready to watch the fireworks. One nice thing is that the wait staff will usually let you watch from inside or outside, although it’s still common courtesy to claim your table when it is ready for you.
If you have not scheduled your dinner around the fireworks, but would still like a show, you can watch the chefs creating their culinary masterpieces. Though they are in the “stage” kitchen, they truly are making the meals – nothing fake here. The restaurant is designed for a little standing room, but if you do decide to watch the talented cooking staff up close, please be aware of the waiters and other patrons in your immediate area.
== The Menu ==
Your efficient, conversational waiter or waitress will skip any menu item that you don’t want to hear about, but still offer recommendations. All dishes are made fresh daily and all food items are in season. Here’s what I ordered (in December 2007) from the menu updated in October 2007:
Appetizer – Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli. This large, round ravioli was served with dried tomatoes, mushrooms, plus pesto & basil for seasoning. Although I’m not a big fan of tomatoes, the rest of the dish was very good. Other appetizers were mostly centered on seasonal vegetables and brick-oven baked flatbreads.
Soups/Salads – I did not order a salad to save room for dessert. The dishes in this section featured items like tomato soup, Florida peaches, and grilled shrimp.
Entree – Oak-fired Beef Filet. The meat was cooked to order, quiet tender, with not one ounce of fat. Red potatoes, green beans, and a bacon garnish were on the side, plus the teriyaki bbq sauce (two of my favorite flavors in one!) was tangy, but not overly powerful. Mouth-watering!
Other featured entrees consisted mostly of seafood and sushi (Dungeness Crab, Yellowfin Tuna, Shrimp Tempura, Alaskan King Salmon, etc.) and a few land-based meats (Free Range Chicken, Buffalo Strip Steak, etc.), with flavorings such as Zinfandel glaze, coconut curry sauce, or tomato-sherry vinaigrette.
Dessert – Valrhona Chocolate and Cherry. This was a delicious chocolate tort cake with hot chocolate syrup inside, served with a flavored house made ice cream and sauce. I opted to substitute the coffee ice cream for vanilla. The combination of thick ice cream, molten syrup, and warm cake was the perfect finish to an excellent meal.
Drinks – I did not order any alcohol with my meal, but the list, while not the longest I’ve seen, had a great variety. You can order wines (Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Zinfandel, house wine, alternative white or red, etc.), sake, cordials, single malts, brandies, or cognacs. All drinks come by the bottle or glass.
Kids Menu – No Disney-related restaurant menu would be complete without a smattering of simplified foods for children. There was one salad, entree choices of macaroni and cheese, pizza, chicken, steak, or salmon, then dessert choices of chocolate pudding, vanilla ice cream, or crisped rice sushi.
Please be aware that all menu items and prices can and will change, presumably based on what’s in season and available. It should be a wonderful outing for anyone who enjoys being pampered. After a long, hot day at a Disney park, you deserve a night of luxury.
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