Disneyland Resort Trips Report – June/July 2008 Part 1: The Food

The headline for this post is not a typo.  This report is going to cover two different stays at the Disneyland Resort over just a few short weeks of time.  We first spent 4 nights at the resort on June 22-25 and then stayed overnight again on July 4th.

We have a membership in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) timeshare and had originally planned to make a trip to Walt Disney World in late June right after our son completed his first year of pre-school.  After our October trip last year, we found that our son had become pretty skittish on rides and attractions and we decided it probably would be wise to delay our trip until December to increase the chance that he would grow out of that a bit.  Canceling that trip meant that we ended up with a number of DVC points that we had to use by August or end up forfeiting them.

My parents live in the Orlando area and they decided to come up to visit us during the same period that we had originally planned our Florida trip.  They were interested in staying down at the Disneyland Resort for a few days, so it then made sense to use up those points with a stay down there.  After researching, we discovered that we had the points available to cover the cost of a concierge-level room at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel for those 4 nights in June with enough left over for the 4th of July as well.  We had used points to stay there on July 4th for the last few years (avoiding the need to drive home after the fireworks) and it was very appealing to do that again this year while also having the chance to enjoy a longer, multi-day stay at the Grand Californian as well.

Instead of trying to test my memory with a day-to-day report on our visit, I’m going to categorize my report.  In this first part, I am going to concentrate on our dining experiences during the trip.  I’ll likely add additional parts to this over the next few days reporting on other aspects of the trip.

Character Dining

My parents arrived mid-afternoon on June 22 and we decided that a character dinner would be a good way to start the trip.  Around the 60 day mark before our trip, we made reservations at Goofy’s Kitchen (at the Disneyland Hotel) for that first-night dinner.  Our reservations were at 6pm and we were happy that they were able to seat us within about 5-10 minutes of our arrival at the restaurant.  Walk-up guests were being told that there was a 90 minute wait, so reservations are definitely a very good idea here.

Before seating, they gathered our family together for a photo with Pluto.  About halfway through the meal someone came to our table to try and sell us a pretty overpriced (around $40, if I recall) package of the photos.  They did the same thing when we did the character breakfast at PCH Grill later in the week (this time with Daisy Duck), so this must now be standard at the character meals.  In both cases, we declined as the packages were pretty costly and the photos weren’t that great.  I don’t remember encountering this there before (although it has been a while since we last did a character meal at DLR) and I don’t really care for this system.  I don’t mind the pre-meal photos, but I’d much rather they use Photopass to sell the photos.  At least at PCH, a CM did offer to also take a couple photos with our own camera, something that wasn’t offered at Goofy’s Kitchen.

The food at Goofy’s was ok, but nothing special.  This was consistent with our past experiences there.  We have always found that you definitely go there much more for the character-experience than for the food.  The food is definitely better than a low-end buffet like a Hometown Buffet, but I would also say it is closer to that than it to what you typically find at a high-end hotel buffet such as at the better Vegas hotels or at somewhere like a Hilton or a Hyatt.  Those used to the Walt Disney World character meals are also apt to be disappointed by Goofy’s based on our typical experiences.

The buffet does feature carved prime rib as a main entree and it was pretty decent.  On my first trip up there, I did get a piece that turned out to be quite a bit more rare than I generally like (and I prefer beef to be medium to medium-rare), but I can’t fault them too much for that since I didn’t specify a preference.  On a subsequent trip up there, I was easily able to get another slice that was more to my taste.  I do think they should probably ask before serving the meat that rare, but it still wasn’t that big a deal.  I did think the rest of the selection at the buffet was somewhat more limited than it should have been, which was not unexpected based on past visits.  For example, I was really surprised that they only offered one variety of roasted potatoes (which I couldn’t eat because they had onions) and didn’t even have the mashed potatoes and gravy that are usually commonplace at this kind of buffet.

I actually thought that the children’s section of the buffet was a better selection.  They had a couple different kinds of pizza, chicken strips, popcorn shrimp (I actually had quite a bit of this), macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti.  Our son actually completed finished off two pretty full plates of food, which was a larger meal than we are used to him finishing.  He especially liked the spaghetti and ate two pretty big helpings of that.

As I mentioned earlier, we also went to the character breakfast at the PCH Grill in the Paradise Pier Hotel.  This was something of a last minute decision on our part, with us making the reservations on Tuesday afternoon for breakfast on Wednesday morning.  Fortunately, this is a pretty easy character meal to get into, so we had no problems getting the reservation at pretty much our choice of time.  With 4 nights at the resort (and none of us being infrequent visitors to Disney theme parks), we were on a pretty leisurely visit and didn’t have breakfast until 10am.  The person taking our reservation actually asked several times if we really were sure that we wanted to have breakfast that late, so I got the impression that the demand for that time isn’t very high.

I was quite pleased with the food at the breakfast and would probably be inclined to recommend it over Goofy’s, at least if the food is a key consideration.  One of the best features of this buffet (which is actually standard at all the DLR breakfast buffets) is the omelette/eggs-to-order station.  I had a ham, cheese, and bacon omelette that was cooked exactly to my taste (I requested it well-done) and very good.  On a previous visit, we had found that they had pre-prepared scrambled eggs that were pretty bad, to the point where we thought they may have been made from powdered eggs.  We noticed that this time the only eggs they had on the regular buffet were a western-style scramble with all kinds of veggies and such mixed in.  For regular scrambled eggs, they cooked them to order.  My wife had some and, again, they came out exactly the way she likes them.

The rest of the buffet had most of the usual breakfast foods, including bacon, sausage, potatoes, waffles, pancakes, french toast, fruit and melon, and various pastries.  It was a good selection and the quality was generally high.  I particularly liked the bacon which was thick and had a strong smokey flavor.  A nice touch was that both the pancakes and the waffles were Mickey Mouse shaped and the waffles were offered in both larger waffles intended for adults and smaller ones intended for kids (or lighter eaters, I suppose).  Another really cool feature of the buffet was that they had a pitcher of fruit smoothies and plastic cups available.  These were a kind of citrus, banana mix which I found to be very tasty and refreshing.  I ended up going up for a couple refills on this.

I’ve talked about the food at both restaurants, but the character-interaction is obviously every bit as important at these buffets.  At Goofy’s Kitchen, we saw Goofy (of course…), Pluto, Chip & Dale, Baloo, Mulan, and Jasmine.  At PCH, we saw Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Stitch, and Lilo.  Mickey Mouse doesn’t usually appear at any of the DLR character meals and we didn’t see Minnie at either one this time.  At Goofy’s Kitchen, Pluto did eventually circulate around to the tables, so I presume that some other character took over the arrival photos at some point.  We didn’t see Daisy circulate to the tables at PCH, even after Pluto took over the photo sessions mid-way through the meal (Pluto never circulated either).

As you might guess from those lists, the character greetings at both restaurants were pretty frequent, something that hasn’t always been the case at DLR character meals.  Both restaurants do unfortunately tend to have some stretches where no characters seem to be in the dining room at all, but fortunately they weren’t too long this time.  The overall experience at PCH is much more relaxed than at Goofy’s, where they occasionally stop to do the Macarana (using the “Tiki Room” version) or give kids a chance to pound on a bunch of plastic pots and pans.  The latter was something my son did enjoy quite a bit.  Goofy’s was also much more crowded and had a lot more occasions where all the characters were diverted for a bit for birthday parties.  The result was that the character visits tended to be shorter there.

Goofy’s Kitchen is a bit more expensive and guests are required to pre-pay before being seated, unlike at PCH where a check is brought at the end.  Goofy’s also automatically added a gratuity to the check for our group of 5, while it was left up to us at PCH.  It might seem surprising that the service was actually much more responsive and attentive at Goofy’s, but PCH really has a long-standing reputation for extremely poor service.  This was far from being our worst experience there from this standpoint, but we did tend to have to wave people down to remove used plates or get drink refills.

Table Service Dining

During our visits, we had 3 regular table service meals: lunch at the Blue Bayou, breakfast at Carnation Cafe, and dinner at the Catal Uva Bar at Downtown Disney.  All were very good and enjoyable experiences.  The only one we had a reservation for was the Blue Bayou (it is pretty much a necessity there), but we only had very short waits for our tables at any of the three.

Our breakfast at Carnation Cafe on Main Street was the morning of our first full day (Monday) and was actually the very first thing we did inside Disneyland itself.  I’ve always loved the location of this restaurant, which is an outdoor cafe right on Main Street itself.  It is a great atmosphere and extremely fun place to dine, particularly when the weather is nice.  I’ve not been too happy with their lunch or dinner menus for a while, so it was nice to have the opportunity for breakfast there.  The breakfast menu includes a nice selection of egg & meat platters, waffles, pancakes, etc.  I suspect most guests wouldn’t have much trouble finding something to their liking there.  I had the Mickey Mouse waffles, which were hot and fresh and very good.  Others in our party had the pancakes and the bacon and egg breakfast and everyone seemed happy with their choices.

Our lunch at Blue Bayou was on Tuesday afternoon.  The restaurant was refurbished a couple years ago with a new, upgraded kitchen.  At that time, it was upgraded to a higher-end “fine dining” location with quite a bit higher prices (Cafe Orleans took over as the lower-cost table service location in New Orleans Square), but also a reputation better food quality and a somewhat more upscale menu.  This was our first visit to the restaurant since this upgrade and we weren’t disappointed.  Three of the adults in our party all ordered the prime rib dinner and one ordered the pork chop.  I was happy to see that they actually offered a child’s portion of the prime rib as we have often complained about the tendency of Disney not to offer a kid’s version of adult entrees that our son would have enjoyed.  In this case, he decided he wanted the macaroni and cheese instead, but it is great to know prime rib is available to him.

We were all very happy with our selections.  The adult entrees were all served with the restaurant’s “wedge salad”, which is a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with a light vinaigrette dressing.  I found it to be very good.  I do know that some people aren’t as fond of iceberg lettuce and I have read some concerns about whether that is really “high-end” enough for this kind of restaurant, but I prefer iceberg over other kinds of lettuce so it was very much to my own taste.

The prime rib was a good quality piece of meat and was cooked pretty much exactly right for the “medium” level that I had ordered.  The meat is served with a fairly strong wine-based sauce that I found complimented the flavor very well, although I do tend to really like beef served with that kind of sauce.  My wife was less enthusiastic about it and indicated that she would probably ask for it to be left off for future visits.  My mother was pretty happy with the pork chop as well.  I did try a small piece of it and can’t say it is something I would likely order there.  It is served with a sweet, apple-based sauce and I’m not generally a fan of most meats when served with a sweet sauce like that.  My mother does tend to like that better than I do and did really enjoy the entree.

On the last evening of our longer trip (Wednesday night), we made a somewhat spontaneous decision to have dinner at the downstairs Uva Bar at Catal in Downtown Disney.  My father had initially suggested Storyteller Cafe in the Grand Californian, but we hadn’t eaten at the Uva Bar for quite a while (and they had never eaten there) and I had heard from other friends that they had recently made a number of positive updates to their menu.  The restaurant was not overly crowded that evening and we were seated in the outdoors section almost immediately upon arrival.

When the restaurant had first opened, the downstairs location had initially specialized in tapas (smaller, appetizer-portions that are generally intended to be combined and/or shared).  They had generally moved away from this for a while, but have recently mostly returned to this format.  I typically find this to be a pretty appealing type of meal, particularly when there are a fair number of selections that are to my taste.

At this particular meal, I ordered three different items: BBQ ribs, garlic shrimp (which my father and I shared), and a “snack” type order of roasted almonds (my son ate quite a few of these as well).  Others at the table also ordered small Caesar salads and a few of us ordered strawberry smoothies to drink.

All of the items we ordered were excellent and we all left quite full.  My favorite item was the shrimp, which had a rich, garlicky flavor without allowing it to become overwhelming.  The ribs are actually served in fairly large portions for a tapas style restaurant and likely would be plenty of food for light eaters or for those not looking for an overly large meal.  The meat on the ribs was very tender (pretty much falling off the bone) and the sauce was very good and not too heavy.

Service at all three of the table service restaurants was generally attentive and friendly.  Blue Bayou has a reputation for somewhat spotty service, but that was not our experience at all on this visit.  We did find the food to come out a little bit slowly at the Uva Bar, especially for that type of restaurant.  While Catal is one of my favorite restaurants, we have often found that our one small complaint has been that the meal pacing has been a little off on many of our visits to both the upstairs and downstairs parts of the restaurant.  It wasn’t a huge flaw, but worth noting, particularly for those that are looking for a somewhat quicker meal, such as before going back into the parks.

Grand Californian Craftsman’s Club (concierge lounge)

We also had two breakfasts and a several snacks in the Craftsman’s Club, which is the special lounge that is only accessible to concierge level guests at the Grand Californian.  The Craftsman’s Club provides a number of different buffet-style food offerings, including continental breakfast in the morning, late morning/early afternoon tea time, late afternoon wine and cheese, and evening desserts.

For breakfast, they offer a variety of pre-packaged breakfast cereals as well as a buffet of fresh fruit and pastries.  The buffet also has bread and bagels and an available toaster.  Various juices, milk, and coffee are available to drink (the club also always has mini-refrigerators stocked with small bottles of water, Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite).  I particularly liked the croissants, which were very fresh and light.  In fact, on the morning we checked out after our first stay, we ended up stopping in and picking up one of these for each of us as a quick, on-the-road breakfast before our drive down to Carlsbad for a day at Legoland.

The buffet at the tea included a few different types of mini-sandwiches, chocolate-dipped strawberries (we ate a lot of these…), more fresh fruit, a couple different kinds of cookies, and freshly-baked scones that were served warm.  For the scones, some fresh berry jam was provided as well.  Obviously, various types of tea was available as well, although neither my wife nor I are tea drinkers so we didn’t try any.  One nice touch is that they also had a big container of Goldfish crackers (and small bowls to put them in) as an extra kid-friendly snack.  These were also available during the wine and cheese time later in the day.  Our 4-year-old really enjoyed those, although I admit my wife and I ate quite a few of those too.

The afternoon wine and cheese buffet includes a good selection of different types of cheese and crackers.  Most of the cheeses offered are of the somewhat more gourmet varieties, including various soft-cheeses, brie, and even blue cheese.  This is very much to my taste, although my wife expressed some disappointment that they didn’t offer more in the way of simpler cheddar or other more mainstream types of cheese.  A number of different choices of wines were available by the glass and I believe I saw that they offered beer as well.  The alcoholic drinks are served by the hosts and hostesses on request, but the drinks were all complementary and they were reasonably generous about offering refills.

The last food selection is a dessert buffet that is offered in evening.  This buffet included a nice selection of cookies, cakes, and other sweets.  We were only at the hotel early enough for this on the last night of the first visit (since we were in the parks the other evenings), but we did enjoy picking out a selection of sweets to take back to our room and enjoy while we watched the fireworks from our balcony.

The Craftsman’s Club is generally a really nice benefit available to the concierge-level guests and I do think it does somewhat help to justify the higher cost of the room.  The one criticism that I do have is that I really think they could use some adjustments to the hours and schedules.  First of all, the club closes at 10pm every night, which is especially early when you consider that one or both parks is typically open later than that a fairly large percentage of the time.  It would be very nice to be able to make some use of the club upon return to the hotel after the nighttime entertainment in the parks.  If nothing else, we would have liked very much to have had access to the complimentary sodas and water.  It doesn’t help that pretty much everything in the hotel (except the bar) closes at 10, making it pretty difficult to find drinks or snacks that late.

We also thought that they were perhaps a bit too strict with the ending times for the various buffets, particularly breakfast.  Officially, the breakfast ends at 10am.  On July 5, we made it over there around 9:55 and found that the hosts and hostesses were strongly pushing a “last call” for everyone to get any food that they wanted.  Promptly at 10, they very quickly started gathering up all of the food.  This is despite the fact that there were still quite a few people still in there eating and the tea doesn’t start until 11.  To their credit, I did see the hosts and hostesses make a few trips to the back room to get additional items for people after the food had been put away, but it did seem like a bit more flexibility would be in order here, possibly even keeping the breakfast foods out until pretty much time for the tea to start.

Other Restaurants

I don’t see much need to go into too many details about our experiences at the more casual food locations in the parks and hotels (particularly with this post approaching epic length), but there were a couple things that I did want to highlight.

One of our happiest discoveries on this trip is that they have now carved out a portion of the underutilized MuppetVision 3D queue area to build a fairly good-sized dining area for Award Wieners in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot section of California Adventure.  This location has always had a pretty good selection of different types of hot dogs and sausages, with my particular favorite being an Italian sausage that they serve covered with a meaty marinara sauce and lots of cheese.  They also have chili cheese dogs that other members of our party enjoyed as well as plain hot-dogs for those looking for something simpler.

While we had liked the food on previous visits, this was a location that we visited extremely rarely due to the seating.  Previously, they only had about a half-dozen or so tables along the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.  These tables were very difficult to get and you usually ended up having to juggle the food on a bench or curbside, which was particularly difficult with the messier sandwiches.  The new dining area is pretty large and is covered and was fairly cool even on the pretty hot day that we ate there.  The Muppet-theming for the attraction also provides a kind of fun atmosphere.  This dining area is a great addition and will likely make this location a much more frequent choice for us.

The other casual dining experience that is worth mentioning was at French Market in New Orleans Square on the 4th of July.  This restaurant has just introduced a pretty heavily revamped menu that eliminated a number of the location’s previous signature items (including the fried chicken) in favor of a number of new entrees.  One of those new items is carved roast beef with a peppercorn au-jus sauce, something that is a particular favorite of my wife and me and, thus, something we really wanted to try.

The beef was quite tasty, although it did have a bit of a pre-prepared look and feel to it.  Nobody is going to mistake the beef for fresh carved, but it still was good for this kind of location.  The sauce is definitely very heavy on the pepper and other spices.  We both liked it very much, although it is perhaps a bit of a heavy item for a theme park.  The beef is served with mashed potatoes and a side of vegetables.  Since the veggies weren’t appealing to me (I generally don’t like cooked veggies), I asked them to leave them off.  Instead they gave me double potatoes.  That turned out to be pointless, though, as one bite quickly told me that they had onions mixed in with them.  Onions tend to badly upset my stomach, which meant that I was unable to eat the potatoes at all.  Note that the potatoes also had cheese mixed in with them, which isn’t a problem for me but might be for some people.  While the new menu at French Market isn’t bad and I did generally like the roast beef, I think they do need to rework the options for side dishes a bit.  At the very least, I do think they need to offer some form of plain potatoes.

Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner

During the 4-night stay at the Disneyland Resort, we did have one meal that was off of Disney property.  Nearly 8 years ago, my wife and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner at Mrs. Knotts’ Chicken Dinner Restaurant at Knott’s Berry Farm.  My mother had remembered really enjoying that dinner and really wanted to eat there again on this trip.  It had actually been a few years since my wife, son, and I had been there either, so we were definitely very open to the idea.  We ended up driving over there for dinner on Monday evening.

Since it was a weeknight and we headed over there fairly early in the evening, we only had a very short wait for a table.  For dinner, we all decided to get the fried chicken dinner, which comes with several large pieces of chicken, a big helping of mashed potatoes, a side of either corn or spinach, a cup of chicken noodle soup, a side-salad, and dessert.    The child’s version of the chicken dinner included a couple drumsticks along with mashed potatoes and corn.  A bowl of Jello was provided at the same time that the adults received our soups and salads.  For dessert, the kid’s meal came with a Snoopy-shaped ice cream bar.  Since our son is a big soup eater, we also ordered an extra cup of soup for him.  The waitress had indicated they would have to charge extra for that, but it didn’t show up on the final bill.

At the start of the meal, they bring out a basket of fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits.  The buttermilk flavor, which most of us in our family don’t like very much,  is quite strong on them.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that before trying them.  For most of us, it wasn’t a big deal, but unfortunately my mother said that it left a pretty bad taste in her mouth that kind of reduced her enjoyment of the rest of the meal.  My wife and I didn’t really care much for them either, but didn’t have such a strong reaction to them.  My father and my son both did seem to like them quite a bit, though.

We did find that the pacing of the meal was not the best.  After ordering, it seemed like quite a bit of time went by before they brought out the soups and salads.  After that, they were then much too quick to bring out the main course.   We were all pretty hungry upon arrival and got a bit frustrated waiting for the first course to arrive (my wife actually ended up eating several of the biscuits even though she didn’t like them very much) and then most of us didn’t have enough time to completely finish both the soup and the salad before we had to turn our attention to the main course.  I absolutely love their chicken noodle soup, so it was the salad that I ended up largely skipping over.

The restaurant specializes in various fruit pies for dessert, with the boysenberry pie being their specialty.  On the night we were there, they had a special pie available that was a mix of apple and boysenberry filling.  That is what I ended up ordering and I found it to be absolutely delicious.  The two flavors really blended very well.  My parents both ended up ordering dishes of boysenberry sherbet for their desserts and they both found that to be very refreshing.  My wife had an ice cream sundae, which she also enjoyed.

Although we had a few complaints, we still found the overall food quality to be generally quite high and the prices quite reasonable (the full meal is around $15).  The restaurant is still one of the better bargains in the area and we thought it was a worthwhile side-trip during our stay.

2 Responses to “Disneyland Resort Trips Report – June/July 2008 Part 1: The Food”

  1. Cindy says:

    Thanks for the tip about PCH Grill’s breakfast. Is it still Lilo and Stitch themed? I had considered trying it at some point previous, but I remembered hearing that the breakfast choices were Mexican-themed, which isn’t the breakfast I was interested in, so I didn’t end up picking that restaurant. Sounds like it’s more American-style food again. I miss going to that restaurant since they’ve changed everything around, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to be interested in their dinner menu.

    So the character interaction at Goofy’s Kitchen was good? Were you at a well-placed table? I’ve just become completely soured on that place since our last visit a few Easters ago, especially with the fiasco about them wanting to break up our party even though I had a PS, and then the horrible placement of our eventual table, where characters walked by but hardly ever stopped. I have many fond memories of brunch and dinner there, so it’s been a shame that I haven’t felt like it would be worth it to go back. I agree that it’s definitely not about the food, it’s more about the characters, but given the horrible customer service I was subjected to last time and then non-existent character interaction on top of that, I’m reluctant to pay the premium to go.

    “The other casual dining experience that is worth missing was at French Market in New Orleans Square on the 4th of July.”

    Did you really mean to say that? I was expecting an awful review, but while it wasn’t glowing, you seemed to like it ok. I can’t figure out what you might have meant by what you wrote.

    I know you’re a fan of Knott’s chicken dinner, but I don’t remember if you’ve had the fried chicken at Plaza Inn or what French Market used to serve. If so, how would you rate the three? I’ve not ever been that big a fan of Knott’s chicken – it was ok but to me, not on par with the raving I usually hear about it. French Market’s was my favorite, followed by Plaza Inn’s.

    Looking forward to reading more of the trips report!

  2. jgraebner says:

    Very weird typo on my part. In my discussion of French Market, “missing” was supposed to be “mentioning”. I’ll correct it in the post. In my defense, I was typing that part of the review very quickly while descending into Burbank, trying to finish before they announced that electronic devices needed to be turned off. :)

    The character interaction at Goofy’s was pretty good, although the visits did tend to be fairly brief. We have been several times since that Easter visit and those experiences have definitely been better. It is a bit hit-and-miss, though, and table placement definitely does matter.

    PCH Grill is still Lilo and Stitch themed, although that doesn’t seem to be emphasized quite as much as it was when the movie was newer. Both characters were still circulating at the breakfast and they had Hawaiian-style music playing, including the two songs from the movie.

    I did think the fried chicken at Knott’s was very good and I do generally prefer it to the Disneyland options. I like the Plaza Inn chicken as well (although I think it has gotten a lot greasier recently than it was early on), but I don’t think it has ever been quite as good. I did have the fried chicken at French Market on occasion, but I wasn’t a big fan of it. It always really tasted like re-heated frozen chicken to me.

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