We head out to visit Disney’s Contemporary Resort and the iconic Chef Mickey’s restaurant that’s located on the fourth floor Grand Canyon Concourse. Whether there’s something in the water, a fear of Donald Duck’s imminent retribution, or it’s simply Disney’s unyielding marketing machine, every child that enters this world wants to eat here. That power transcends price, food quality, logistics, and by all other accounts, logic. After all, a family of four eating dinner at Chef Mickey’s will pay $215.39 with tax/tip for a buffet that is almost universally panned on pricing and food quality.
The website’s archenemy, Tom Bricker, puts it at #4 on his list of “‘Top’ 10 Things We Won’t Do At Disney World Again” citing that it defied his “lowest expectations and manages to be even worse than anticipated.” MUST BE NICE NOT TO BE THE GUY THAT HAS TO GO BACK TO DIAMOND HORSESHOE A SECOND TIME, NIKON. And as much as it pains me to say this, I would agree on the price and food front.
In case you don’t want to trudge any further on what I’m sure will end up being a 2,500 word treatise on peel-and-eat shrimp quality, I will break it down for you right off the bat: Chef Mickey’s is expensive and the food is edible at best, but you are paying a premium for all of the fun and joy that the experience offers. The wonder of walking up to the massive A-frame building with the monorail running through it. The smell of green clove and aloe wafting over you as you feel the power of the air-conditioning long before the sliding glass doors open. The excitement of entering the lobby and riding up the escalator towards Mickey’s kitchen. The fun of waving up to the guests riding on the monorail to Magic Kingdom just like you’ve waved down at those heading to breakfast so many times before. They say that you can’t put a price on happiness, but I think that we can all agree that Disney manages to do a good job of doing exactly that.
It is probably inevitable that you will balk at the check when it arrives, but the pictures taken, memories created, hugs shared, and autographs collected will (hopefully) far outlast the payments on that second mortgage. And if you want to rationalize it further, you might consider just how (un)important food quality is once the meal is over. We have all probably enjoyed fantastic food and service with the happy memories that go along with it. But Goofy was probably not involved. And you will probably enjoy Chef Mickey’s and everything that it offers even though fantastic food and service probably won’t be involved.
And with that, let’s continue to the trash-the-experience-and-make-you-feel-bad-about-wanting-to-go portion of this review.
Kim and her daughter Ellie were nice enough to invite me along for the ride. I will tell you that if there is anything more embarrassing than taking buffet food pictures at the buffet, it’s returning to a table for one after an extended photoshoot only to find Chip and Dale looking feverishly at their watches while the character attendant gives you that, “Really, guy” look. And yes, really, I require pictures for the Internet.
Chef Mickey’s charm is primarily derived from two sources – one is the monorail (wearing an invisibility cloak in this picture) whizzing by overhead every few minutes. It took all of my self control not to add, “if it’s running, of course” to the end of that sentence. #thisisapositiveblog.
But Contempo Cafe, the quick service located right next door, offers even better views of the monorail overhead and commands closer to $20 than $60 for a beverage, entree, and dessert. All of which will be potentially higher quality.
The overwhelming reason why people pick Chef Mickey’s is the characters and fun that comes along with it as Pluto waves goodbye to us and Donald visits a delighted family behind him.
This is the only location where diners meet each of the “Fab 5” characters – Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto.
The fact that the characters are actually the chefs cooking the food in the back might explain a lot…
It’s hard to be adequately attentive to the risotto when you spend the majority of your time hugging Duffy bears and leading parades around the restaurant.
Both breakfast and lunch at Chef Mickey’s, with tax, cost $40.47/adult and $24.50/child ages 3-9. How that stacks up against other breakfast buffets:
- 1900 Park Fare: Adult: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- Akershus: $47.93, Child: $28.76
- Boma: $24.50, Child: $13.85
- Cape May: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- Captain’s Grille: Adult: $23.43, Child: $12.78
- (Chef Mickey’s): $40.47/adult and $24.50
- Crystal Palace: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- Cinderella’s Royal Table (Tip included): $75.36, Child: $44.42
- Garden Grill: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- Hollywood & Vine: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- ‘Ohana: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- Trail’s End: $19.17, Child: $10.65
- Tusker House: $31.95, Child: $19.17
- The Wave Adult: $23.42, Child: $12.77
$32/adult and $19/child is the standard price for most character meals featuring Mickey and the gang. Chef Mickey’s is about 25% more expensive than that. The princess meals cost a lot more while those without characters cost somewhere between $20 and $25 per adult and around $13 for kids.
But Chef Mickey’s is one of the most difficult reservations in all of Walt Disney World to secure, despite the higher price.
And while most of us laugh whenever Disney makes an unpopular change based on “guest demand,” adding brunch hours here and moving the start of dinner at ‘Ohana to 3:30pm are both designed to increase availability and make it a little easier for people to secure reservations at some point during the day.
Chef Mickey’s offers breakfast from 7am to 11am and brunch from 11:30am – 2:30pm. Pricing is the same for both meals and the lunch hours do potentially make Chef Mickey’s a more convenient stop after a morning spent touring Magic Kingdom. A lot of people that frequent sites like these are probably looking at those early reservations with plans to walk to Magic Kingdom for rope drop immediately after. But for those that prefer to sleep in a bit, you might instead book brunch for around 12:30pm, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy two of the least crowded hours at the Park, some FastPass+ experiences, and potentially a show or two before heading over to the Contemporary for a break.
At least according to the menus out front: For brunch, we have Peel & Eat Shrimp replacing the Waldorf and Quinoa Salads, Hard Boiled Eggs, and Trout that goes along with the Smoked Salmon. Corned Beef Hash, Baked Salmon, the Etouffee, and Mango BBQ Pork Ribs are added for brunch in place of Oven Roasted Turkey Hash and Tofu Scramble w/ Spinach. For the kids, “Mickey’s” Macaroni & Cheese and Chicken Nuggets replace Turkey Sausage at 11am. And the desserts are different.
But much like Trail’s End brunch, a lot of the items that aren’t “supposed” to be here are still present at a buffet area that might be surprisingly expansive.
I would offer one other tip on timing – brunch seatings end at 2:30pm and as people leave, the characters will have fewer and fewer tables to visit, which means they’re more likely to spend more time with your table and potentially revisit a second or third time before heading back to the kitchen to start on dinner. We were seated around 1:50pm with a 1:45pm reservation. It took a while for the characters to come around the first time, but as more and more people left with nobody to replace them, the characters started dropping by much more frequently and two different character attendants came by to make sure we had all the time we needed with each character. Had we scheduled an earlier breakfast, every table would be full and quickly replenished, which means fewer opportunities to spend time with the characters and attendants that are far too busy to come by multiple times to make sure everybody is satisfied. Note that this is only true when there is an extended amount of time in between meals or at the end of dinner service. At a buffet like Crystal Palace or Tusker House, which picks up for lunch immediately after breakfast ends, you don’t get the same lull in traffic between meals.
By 2:50pm, there’s just one table occupied in this entire section.
Very few tables have much of a view of Magic Kingdom, but you might ask at check-in if one is available.
What is perhaps the “main dining room” away from the buffet is usually loud and less private, which means you’re more likely to have others invade your time with the characters as they make their rounds. You might request a table elsewhere.
Those seated in the area directly behind the check-in area will enjoy a better view of the monorail overhead.
Somebody must have recognized me as they sat us down right in front of the Mickey waffles.
The yogurt and fruit are down here on the right, in addition to a couple of items that are “supposed to be switched out,” including the Waldorf salad and hard-boiled eggs, in addition to the Greek-style yogurt, strawberry yogurt, fruit salad, caesar salad, cottage cheese, cheese cubes, and broccoli salad.
The grapefruit and caprese salads are highlighted here on the left.
Potato salad and the quinoa that’s not supposed to be here.
The antipasto salad on the right was one of my favorite items at the buffet, in addition to the broccoli salad in the picture above. The seafood is of unfortunately low quality, with the peel & eat shrimp in particular being virtually inedible.
Grab the scrambles and fritattas as soon as they’re replenished, which is often.
Most of the breakfast items, like the cheesy hashbrowns, bacon, and sausage are all somewhere between serviceable and good in quality, at least compared to Disney quick service breakfast.
The lunch-y items are where things start to take a dive. These mango BBQ ribs up front are fat and bone. The etouffee is slop. The baked salmon may never have spent any time in water. The rice is the same quality as it would be if you made it at home and left it on the stove for three days then siphoned out any remaining moisture.
Here we have broccoli and cheese sauce down on the far left, roasted potatoes, tofu scramble, kielbasa, and the corned beef hash. Most of this was in the vicinity of decent somewhere below the quality you’d find at an Old Country Buffet.
Mickey Waffles are plentiful along with warm syrup as they are pressed fresh right on the buffet line. The smoked ham on the other hand was the worst that I think I’ve ever put in my mouth. They would be better off going Full Grocery Store like they did with the cheese cubes and set out some Oscar Mayer lunch meat. The person doing the honors was legitimately surprised when I asked for a piece and when she cut it, it just kind of crumbled onto the cutting board. Steamship Ham Roast shouldn’t be served with a spoon in my opinion.
If you’re in the mood for soup then Minestrone is probably the name of the game.
Bread-wise, croissants are located on the buffet line.
Bagels were all located in the dessert section, which didn’t seem particularly intuitive though you probably want to budget your carbohydrates on Mickey waffles anyway.
Kids enjoy a few options that are open to all, as is anything else on the buffet line – scrambled eggs, tater tots, chicken nuggets, and macaroni and cheese with Mickey pasta shapes.
Overall, how hard you come down on the food is up to you. The breakfast items are pretty good for the most part and somewhere in the vicinity of on par with what you would receive at a Value resort quick service. There’s enough variety in the Mickey waffles, eggs, meats, potatoes, and yogurt that if you never venture away from that, then you would be doing quite well for yourself. Relatively speaking. The cold salads are of decent quality for the most part and should add a bit of freshness to your meal. Everybody knows a scoop of caprese salad reduces the calories of Mickey waffles by half. Once you get into the shrimp, salmon, ribs, and other items added later in the day, I think you’re mostly in for a disappointment.
But dessert is involved of course and it’s basically a collection of all-you-can-possibly-eat desserts similar in quality to what a quick service serves or perhaps more akin to the Desserts and Champagne booth at Food & Wine:
Desserts are small enough that you can sample a variety of flavors or double or triple down on whatever tastes best. The various cake/pudding cups are nice and light as is this chocolate cake thing.
Soft serve and a variety of syrups and toppings are also a focal point of any Chef Mickey’s meal whether you have to sneak a cone at 7:30am or indulge before lunch.
My dad is world famous for ordering dessert first, much to the horror of his lovely wife. YOLO.
So in 2,000+ words I have hopefully managed to tell you exactly what you already knew. Chef Mickey’s is a little more expensive and the food is a little (and occasionally a lot) worse than other similar buffets. But there is no other restaurant in the world that offers the opportunity to enjoy a meal while the Fab 5 visit you tableside and the monorails whiz guests to and from Magic Kingdom overhead.
But is it worth it? Like most things Disney, the fact that it’s booked solid is some indication that it’s worth the premium over similar experiences. And I think a lot of people will find value in trying it once. That’s particularly true on the Disney Dining Plan at dinner, where guests will find a lot of value while the meals still cost just one credit. If you don’t think much of the atmosphere, but still want to enjoy a character breakfast with similar characters, then I would look at Garden Grill (Mickey, Pluto, Chip, Dale) or Tusker House (Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Goofy). Without characters, The Wave and Trail’s End get my vote.
Dinner is an even more expensive proposition, though I have actually heard improved things about food quality recently. I am not sure if expectations have simply sunk so low that anybody coming away without food poisoning that lasts more than two days is leaping at the opportunity to leave a 5-star review on Trip Advisor. EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS! WAS BACK IN THE GAME NO LATER THAN THE NEXT AFTERNOON!
Considering the horrific quality of the etouffee, pork ribs, baked salmon, and peel & eat shrimp that we experienced, I can’t really envision a substantial increase in quality being true. But brunch does look to be a nice mix of the best breakfast foods along with some of the dinner options.
Looking up availability for brunch one week from tomorrow, there are several times still available for a relatively large party. Obviously you still want to book this as early as possible and there remains very little or no day-of availability.
A special thanks again to Kim for the invite. Next time, to Victoria & Albert’s!
As alluded to some time ago now, Contempo Cafe is the resort’s quick service with seating that sort of overlaps Chef Mickey’s check-in and lobby areas if you were to draw a line from one side of the A-frame tower to the other.
You might notice that the self-ordering kiosks that used to be located along the walkway into the quick service are gone and you now order at one of the registers.
You’ll first select sweets and grab-and-go-items.
The current dinner menu:
Verify and check other meals here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/contemporary-resort/contempo-cafe/menus/dinner/.
I’ve had more luck with Contempo than any other resort quick service on property, I think.
Pot Roast pretty good.
Turkey Sandwich pretty good.
Caprese Flatbread pretty good.
Chicken Alfredo I probably wouldn’t – water-y, flavorless sauce.
Smoked Pulled Pork Flatbread pretty good. Though hard to photograph without a flash, which I only have on my body when I’m planning on taking pictures at Pirates of the Caribbean or the Reign of Kong queue.
This time we returned to the $11.49 Spicy Chicken Sandwich – Spicy Breaded Chicken Breast topped with Vegetable Coleslaw on a Multigrain Bun, which is the best quick service chicken sandwich on property, I think. It has a nice hand-breaded quality to it and more of a kick than you would expect given most of Disney’s other “spicy” offerings. Very good.
So if you’d like to experience most of what the Contemporary offers without splurging on the cost of Chef Mickey’s, you could feasibly plan a meal or snack here instead. A cupcake or soft serve ice cream cone would run you about 10% of the dinner buffet price.
The Resort-specific merchandise at the Contemporary might be the most disappointing of any of the Deluxe resorts, particularly considering it was the last to appear.
You have 40+ years of designs and this is what you come up with.
At Bayview Gifts, also on this floor, you’ll find a case of treats similar to the recently-installed display over at the BoardWalk.
Of course, if you’d like to spend a lot more money, there is always California Grill:
It will be interesting to see where the restaurant goes now that it has lost its head chef, Brian Piasecki, in addition to its sushi chef a couple of years ago. You may remember the recent Tiffins review, where I pointed out that while the menu there was “expensive,” that it was actually less expensive than the other theme park signatures and much less expensive than those found at resorts. California Grill’s vegetarian curry is $36 or 24% more expensive than Tiffins’ while the Wagyu here is $58 rather than $53 at Animal Kingdom.
At least the price on the Cardinale ’06 is competitive. I paid $284.75 from grapeswine.com last month.
Fantasia is the name of the store in the middle of the Concourse.
It’s mostly generic merchandise, which means Star Wars and Frozen.
They do have an impressive collection of MagicBands and it’s also popular with those looking for the current Marvel comics.
At Fantasia Market, a small store on the opposite side of Chef Mickey’s/Contempo:
Considering the high Disney upcharge on most products, I would remind you that wine is pretty reasonable, particularly compared to beer and liquor.
I’ve been known to take a seat on the observation deck outside to enjoy the view.
This area is located outside through the double doors on the opposite side of where Chef Mickey’s is located. During the fireworks, the lower platform can become a bit congested and you have the monorail beam partially blocking the view overhead. I like to head up the stairs a couple of stories.
There’s a second set of stairs on the opposite side of the observation deck with Bay Lake Tower in the background. The problem with this view is that it makes it incredibly obvious that the fireworks are shot off from the Space Mountain area and are off-center.
So we learned little via this outing, though if I remember anything from my PhD studies at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, it’s that we did prove the hypothesis and that’s 90% of the scientific method. Chef Mickey’s is going to be one-and-done (if you’re lucky) for most parties, but that doesn’t mean that the experience isn’t worth the money. But it also might mean that, which is why the website would direct most of its dwindling readership to a similar buffet elsewhere. Namely, Garden Grill and Tusker House. Otherwise, like a meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom, Chef Mickey’s is an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. And The Mouse is going to tax you for the pleasure.
Things do begin to heat up with New Soarin’ and New Maelstrom and New Dream Along with Mickey and New Star Wars Fireworks all debuting within the next week. Hopefully we can get to a couple more things before that happens.