I feel a little rusty in writing since lately our vacation blogging has taken a backseat to other life events. But, now that the holidays are over and our Disney trip is still fresh in my mind, I’m diving back in. Even though I haven’t been writing, I have been doing a lot of talking about Disney! It seems all of a sudden every friend I know is contemplating a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth! (Which is fun for me because I can live vicariously through them!)
In those conversations, I find that everyone asks about what restaurants we love, or my opinion on what they should avoid.
For us, one of the highlights of any trip to Disney World is a Character Dining Experience; but like so many other things, not all Character meals are created equal. Over the last 5 years, our family has been lucky to experience almost all (still have Cape May Café, Trattoria Al Forno, and now Artist’s Point to go!) of what Walt Disney World has to offer in terms of Character Dining. On our recent December trip (2018) we had lunches at both Chef Mickey’s and Garden Grill. Since you can meet Mickey at both, I thought it would be fun to compare the two against each other.
Chef Mickey’s versus Garden Grill
|Chef Mickey’s||Garden Grill|
|Location||Inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort||At Epcot in the Land pavilion|
|Food (brunch/lunch)||Buffet style: basic American fare including Mickey waffles, but choices are minimal.||Family style: 3-courses starting with salad, platter including roast turkey with stuffing and ending with a berry short cake.
|Ambience||This restaurant is light, airy and with a party atmosphere but chaotic. The biggest challenge is that tables are very close together so you can feel like you are dining with another family even if you’re not.
|This restaurant’s décor is looking a bit dated, but the rotation of the dining room with changing scenery is fantastic.|
|Character Interaction||All of the “Fab 5” characters: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy & Pluto.
|Mickey, Pluto, Chip & Dale.|
|Pros||In our opinion, meeting all of the classic Disney characters at once without standing in line is a plus at every Character dining experience. This is also a great option to meet some characters on a “rest” day when you’re not planning on going into any of the parks!||Great option for any Chip & Dale lovers. Mickey and Pluto are also in farm attire, which is fun! The rotation of the dining room was an added bonus; although we wished we were on the lower level, as the view would be much better. Another pro to this meal is the family style serving, meaning you never have to be up searching for your food.
|Cons||Food quality was lackluster. Our two biggest thoughts on the food after were that more choices are needed that appeal to adults and the quality was just not great. This is an expensive experience and while you are definitely paying for the Characters, other meals have also given great quality food. Not the case here.
|Epcot has so many great restaurant choices, so for us the only con is that time spent here takes away a meal from somewhere in the World Showcase.|
Overall thoughts and impressions…
First, I wish I could tell all of my friends to eat at Chef Mickey’s. I mean, I really wanted to love it. The concourse at the Contemporary is such an iconic venue and I light up when I walk in that resort. I mean it folks, I really want to love it.
Sure, I read the mediocre reviews before we went, but I had read bad reviews of other places and ended up pleasantly surprised! I pains me to say… but I just can’t gush.
Now, don’t get me wrong- we were glad we had experienced it. I was happy to check it off my “WDW Character Dining Bucketlist.” I just don’t need to return any time soon.
The character interaction was very good. While it was quick, none of us felt rushed and we had some fun pictures with each character. The less than glowing recommendation from us really comes down to food choice and quality. My husband mentioned that maybe the dinner service offers more, but since we were there for brunch, I can’t comment on that. We just left feeling unsatisfied. Our pockets were considerably lighter and our bellies were full(ish), but nothing stood out as great. And when you’re at Disney, things should be GREAT. We have had AMAZING food at other Character experiences, so I know that it’s possible- which maybe is what added to our disappointment.
However, if your family is like mine and you’re trying to experience all the WDW has to offer and you haven’t dined at Chef Mickey’s- give it a try! Better yet, go at dinner and let me know how it measures up!
Now, in comparison, Garden Grill emerged as our favorite table-service meal of this trip!
In the effort of full-disclosure, I will confess that I’m a sucker for family-style meals. With little boys wanting to serve themselves, a buffet is just more challenging for us; so I always prefer the family style. Lunch at Garden Grill started with salad- nothing exceptional, but solid. We felt as though the main course was delicious and had enough choices that we were all happy. Don’t be afraid to ask for more of anything on the platter- my oldest son is the pickiest eater of our foursome, but he liked the roast pork. We ordered up more pork with “nothing touching it” and the server was happy to oblige. The dessert was a fantastic berry short cake, again served family style. If I could have redone this meal, I would have skipped the salad to save more room for dessert. It was sooooo good!
As far as the characters here, we spotted them roaming as soon as we were seated and they came around quickly. Interactions were good and we even ended up seeing Chip & Dale twice.
While I sadly don’t have intentions on revisiting Chef Mickey’s anytime soon, I can guarantee Garden Grill is on my list of repeats. Next time, I have my eye on their famous sticky bun for breakfast!