For those of us “poor, unfortunate souls” who live outside the shadow of Cinderella Castle, the wait between visits to Walt Disney World can seem like an eternity. I would guess most non-Florida residents visit the motherland no more than once per year, at most. How, then, does a neurotic Disney family get the absolute most out of its all too infrequent Disney vacation?
A memorable vacation, like a memorable meal, has a structure—it begins with an appetizer that sets up what is to come, transitions to the main course, the day to day details of the vacation itself, then ends with a desert that aids in digesting what has been experienced.
Much has been written about the main course. Books, blogs and websites provide advice about what parks to visit on what days and in what order. Theories and, of course, disagreements exist regarding whether the Magic Kingdom should be toured first or last and vary based on the ages of the guests and the time of year of the visit. But little advice has been offered about what to do during the first hours of your visit, after the obligatory resort reconnaissance but before venturing into the parks. That is where the neurotic Disney family can squeeze some extra magic out of its vacation.
And one of the best ways is to head to the California Grill on the first evening of your arrival.
Widely regarded as the very best restaurant on property, California Grill has a breathtaking view of much of the Disney property and the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks display. Dining at the California Grill means a visit to the Contemporary Resort, one of the original Disney resorts. The Contemporary, with its indoor monorail station and 5-legged goat mosaic, is an icon worth visiting on its own.
Dining at the California Grill on any evening is special. But doing so on the first night of your vacation is an extraordinary experience. Magically, your previously abstract vacation begins to take shape.
As you wait for your table and look out of the nearly floor to ceiling windows or stroll on the outside observation platform, you begin reviewing the details of your touring plans: Animal Kingdom tomorrow, Hollywood Studios the next day…. You enjoy an unforgettable meal (just remember Brick Oven Fired Flatbread, Yoshie’s Deluxe Sushi Platter and Valrhona Chocolate Cake). Then, the lights dim, music plays and the magic begins.
When the show is over you are comforted, no, exhilarated, by the realization that you will see the show again…but next time while standing in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A. You then begin to grasp that your vacation has barely begun, that this evening was just a preview, a taste of what is yet to be experienced. You review your plans once again: Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, a round of golf, speed boats on Seven Seas Lagoon, dinner at Kouzzina, and, finally, the Magic Kingdom.
And to think you could have settled for a burger at the resort food court, stayed in your room and watched Stacey on Walt Disney World Top 7 Must Sees… over and over.
Contributed by: John M. (NDD #172). John is our resident DVC expert.