I had been interested in trying the Highway in the Sky Dine Around Progressive Dinner since it was announced back in November of last year and Erin and I finally got around to giving it a whirl last week.
“Finally got around to it” is perhaps a bit too flippant as the dinner is virtually impossible to book. Currently scheduled on Tuesday through Saturday nights until the end of June, each event is capped at a total of 25 guests. Looking over June, I only see one available date and it’s for up to ten people on Tuesday the 20th, meaning a large group probably canceled recently. I would expect the event to be continued after June, but Disney has been slow to commit to extensions.
Disney outlines what to expect from the evening well:
With stops at the Contemporary, Polynesian Village, and Grand Floridian Resorts.
At $170 with tax, it’s not an inexpensive evening, but it starts 3.5 hours before the fireworks and continues through the end of the nighttime spectacular. Let’s see what we experienced on the evening of May 5th, 2017.
The experience begins on the ground floor of the Contemporary Resort, inside The Wave restaurant, on the left just past the check-in/concierge desk. We received a call a couple of days prior to confirm the we could check in 20 minutes before the official start of the event, or 5:25pm with the 5:45pm start. Dietary needs were discussed and we were reminded that valet parking is included. If you do need an accommodation due to food allergies or what have you, your lanyard attached to the Highway in the Sky credential will be white instead of black, so they can identify you at each stop. I thought it was a nice, subtle touch.
I suggest arriving shortly after they begin checking in guests as the first stop is rather brisk if you don’t.
The group occupies an alcove to the right of the bar and you’ll likely engage in a lot of lively conversation with your fellow Highwayers as the night progresses. As we move through each stop, I’ll compare what we experienced with how the night was originally organized.
A full-size Bay Lake Sunset is delivered first, consisting of Stoli Vanil Vodka, Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, and Pineapple Juice with a splash of Grenadine. While they can make this elsewhere, it’s exclusively on the menu at Bay Lake Tower, so it was nice to try something that most guests won’t otherwise have an opportunity to experience outside of Top of the World Lounge next door. The drink is a little fruity, but packs a serious punch underneath the tropical flavors. Very good.
A tiny cup of soup accompanies. During the fall/winter, it was butternut squash. Here, it’s a warm pea soup with truffle oil and dried mushrooms with creme fraiche on top and a pecan nut rim. It’s not something that I would ordinarily order, but that’s part of the fun of these kinds of events and the soup was exquisite – rich and earthy with a really creamy base. It’s only five or six small bites worth, but don’t fret, more is coming.
The event is hosted by three cast members that will whisk you from stop to stop. They check in with each guest about five minutes before departing each stop so you know it’s time to guzzle the drink and hit the bathroom as necessary. Highway in the Sky has a dedicated monorail car at the front of the train, so you don’t have to do any mingling with the “regulars.” I’ve seen this described as “awkward,” but in my opinion, it’s anything but. At the Grand Floridian, we were running a bit behind and cast had to hold the monorail for a few minutes while many resort guests waited. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as I pranced and spun my way to my private chariot. I would have paid twice the event price to just do that all night. Otherwise, it’s pretty unlikely that Highway will impact your evening if you’re not participating as just one cabin will be reserved on one train over the course of hundreds of stops over the course of the night.
Originally, Highway in the Sky occupied the surf board table and adjacent area at Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace outside the Polynesian Village Resort.
Now, the event takes place just inside of the monorail platform on the right, in what I think is a lesser space. Sure, it’s a shorter walk and it’s climate-controlled, but the Tiki Terrace is a lot of fun and it affords an opportunity to sit, unlike this area where most of the tables are high-tops. But there are a few chairs and lower tables for guests with mobility issues, which is another nice accommodation.
And instead of the HippopotoMai-Tai served in the fun tiki glasses, you’ll be served a “regular” Mai Tai in this slanted glass with a pineapple garnish. But the classic cocktail is mixed well with flavors of lime juice and almond washing away the rum – it doesn’t suffer at all from that thick sweetness that seems to have infiltrated most bars in recent memory.
And like the Bay Lake Sunset, there’s a considerable amount of alcohol in it, which is always appreciated considering the drinks are pre-made and ready to go at the time of your arrival.
Three individual bites were delivered to each guest during our ~30-minute stop, one after the other.
While somewhat unattractive looking, this is a Roasted Beet Salad with Golden Beet, Herb Goat Cheese, Pistachio Dust, Frisée Lettuce, and a rolled up Radish underneath a Vinaigrette Dressing. And while it’s not much more than three bites-worth, if that, the mellow beet offered a touch of sweetness against the tang of the goat cheese and the crunch of the pistachio. The crisp pink radish offered a burst of bright flavor with a hint of pepper on the back end. It was a nice way to continue the evening.
Next up is a change from the original lineup, when a piece of ahi tuna was served alongside the beet. Instead, we’ve got a large piece of Spicy Tuna Roll.
Served from Kona, it was a competent sampling on top of the soy sauce, but “felt” kind of like filler, though it seemed to be stuffed with more tuna and scallion along with the creamy sauce than your typical Kona sushi. Good, but not something you couldn’t ordinarily order.
Next up is Chile-Dusted Pork Belly on top of Pickled Vegetables.
A chef was preparing the meat as we arrived and the meaty smell wafted gingerly throughout the lobby. Mine was a little overcooked on the edges, but it had a nice crispiness to it with a rich salty flavor that was perked up by the togarashi seasoning, which offered some spicy chili and sweet citrus notes. Quite good and not something you’d ordinarily find on the menu, though it does pop up from time to time in the Club level lounge.
One mild annoyance is that you’ll need to pass through bag check and go through the metal detector at each stop. Even the lanyard has metal in it, so you’ll need to take that off too.
The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is where dinner is served.
Garden View Lounge is the first stop, pictured here during the day during regular tea service. For Highway in the Sky, you’ll occupy the tables on the far right side.
Cheese and charcuterie plates were waiting on the tables, each designed to be shared among two people. The majority of the group consisted of couples in their 40s and 50s, perhaps due to the price and the atmosphere of the event. But like the Jiko Wine Tasting that I reviewed yesterday, a solo traveler might have fun socializing and meeting other people. We palled around with a variety of people over the course of the evening – everyone is a big Disney fan and it’s interesting to hear what they’re up to and what they think about this and that.
And they didn’t cheap out on the offerings, all of which are available upstairs on the Citricos menu. Really good and with two large pieces of most offerings, easily shareable.
It’s paired with a tall glass of the Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, a crisp, satisfying sparkling wine unique to Walt Disney World. This was a really fun stop and an early highlight of the event. When Highway in the Sky was first offered, this course was served after dinner, but I think it works better before.
At each stop, we were welcomed by a cast member at the resort who offered a brief history of the resort and explained what we were about to try.
Dinner is upstairs at the elegant Citricos. Here, parties are split up based on where they’re standing during the introduction and sat around the restaurant. So try to pair off with someone that either seems really weird, or not that weird, depending on your predilection.
A basket full of the restaurant’s signature olive loaf alongside multigrain bread is waiting on the table. A server will come by and offer a pour of the Lucente Italian Red (normally $13/glass or $55/bottle) or the Stonestreet Estate Chardonnay ($17/glass or $75/bottle). The sea salt butter here is excellent and quickly grazing on a slice or two of bread before the entree arrives is smart.
Dinner was a duo of the “Red Wine-braised Beef Short Ribs” and in this instance, the “Wild Caught Halibut.” Previously, the surf offering had been scallops, which were also mentioned during our initial introduction after just stepping off the monorail. But they ended up switching those out for the fish, which was mildly disappointing at first. But the halibut had a really nice flaky texture and a mild flavor that was brightened by the chorizo in the vinaigrette. A couple of crunchy green beans accompany underneath. The short rib was served on a fluffy bed of mashed potatoes and topped with an elegant bordelaise sauce with rich wine, shallot, and pepper notes. Really decadent and it helped elevate the meat, which is braised for hours to a perfect tenderness, to new highs. Really fantastic.
Here’s the regular Citricos menu in case you’re interested:
On food quality, I think it’s my second favorite signature restaurant on property, just behind Flying Fish.
One thing potentially worth noting is that nobody ever checked in on us during dinner. After the wine was poured and the food delivered, that was it, as no servers were really assigned to our tables. There were no problems to speak of, other than I would have liked to have tried to con someone into a wine refill and a plate of scallops. But I would have had to flag someone down if I needed anything. The cheese/sparkly course downstairs was a 20-minute stop and dinner took about 45 minutes. After sitting down at Citricos, we had our wine in less than five minutes and our food arrived about five minutes after that.
Dessert is served back at the Contemporary outside on the Fourth Floor Observation Deck.
Offerings are down from the original four to just two, but both the Blood Orange Cake and Flourless Chocolate Cake Pyramid Thing were excellent. The Orange Cake was imbued with a pretty orange color and a natural, bright citrus-y sweetness. I think these sorts of cakes have a tendency to be a little gummy, but that wasn’t a problem at all here with the cream in between the layers of cake sweetening up the flavor profile even more. I liked it more than the Orange Blossom version I recently sampled at The Polite Pig. The dense chocolate cake was really rich with a bold chocolate flavor and a fun whipped cream and crunchy chocolate topping.
Coffee, Tea, Hot Cocoa, and Soft Drinks were available, in addition to the option to add some Bailey’s, Kahlua, Frangelico, or Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur. I was slightly miffed by the lousy pour on the liquor, but they apparently have just one bottle of each to offer over the course of the night. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. I was sipping Kahlua over ice and a nice 3-ounce cup would have put a smile on my face, in addition to dulling the pain of Wishes going away the following week. But it is an opportunity to spike your coffee a little bit.
There’s permanent seating for about a dozen guests up front and the rest of the group filled in behind just before showtime.
If sitting is important, find a spot early.
The off-center view is not a personal favorite, but it may be a fun perspective to enjoy the fireworks, particularly with the monorail whizzing by every couple of minutes. You can kind of see it going by in front of the Castle.
Two truffles inside of a cute silver box with the Contemporary Resort logo were handed out as we exited – another nice touch.
Money-wise, I think the per-person breakdown on what we received in regards to food and beverage would be:
- The Wave: $11 Bay Lake Sunset + $3 soup = $14
- Polynesian Village Lobby: $10 Mai Tai + $7 Appetizer Sampler = $17
- Grand Floridian Lounge: $15 Fairy Tale Cuvee + $8 Cheese Plate = $23
- Citricos: $15 Glass of Wine + $40 Entree = $55
- Contemporary Dessert: $9 Coffee + $9 Dessert = $18
- Two Truffles: $4
That comes out to $131 or assuming an 18% tip and 6.5% sales tax on everything, $162 versus the $170 price. Assuming you eat and drink everything.
Overall, I thought Highway in the Sky had a bit of an Adventures by Disney vibe. You’re paying a little extra and giving up a little freedom in order to streamline the evening. This would be particularly ideal for guests that are short on time and/or unfamiliar with the resorts. The event was nearly four hours long if you arrived at The Wave at 5:25pm and departed after Wishes around 9:25pm. There’s no way you could have stopped at five different places on your own in that amount of time. Dinner at Citricos alone could easily take two hours compared to the 45 minutes we spent. And there’s no way to enjoy the quaint atmosphere of the Garden View Lounge at that time of night outside of the Highway event.
But I couldn’t help but think I could have spent my time and money a little more wisely if I had been picking my own food and drink. It would be nice if there was a wine, cocktail, and beer choice at each stop, but that would obviously be more logistically burdensome. Not everyone likes Mai Tais or chardonnay, for example. I was surprised when the gentleman I sat next to at Garden View didn’t drink. And his wife had one small sip of the cuvee. Which is fine, of course. But $60, or about half of the perceived value, is drinks. I don’t really see any way this would make financial sense if you’re not looking to put back some drinks. You could easily stop by the Citricos bar for the cheese/charcuterie plate and then head over to California Grill to drop $100 on dinner there for less money and come away with a lot more food and what would almost certainly be a more fulfilling experience.
I thought the Polynesian stop was the only one that disappointed. With the reserved area immediately outside the monorail exit on the second floor, you don’t experience the resort in any meaningful way. But The Wave is always fun and the Grand Floridian always impresses. The fireworks viewing isn’t anything you couldn’t normally do, but it’s nice to be able to roll up 15 minutes before the start of the show and have the best seats reserved with a drink and dessert immediately in-hand.
It’s also fun meeting new people and telling them why they should feel bad about whatever they think. And I’ll never forget that lady’s glare as I waltzed by her family into my private monorail car at the Grand Floridian. Word to your mother.
I’m not in a big hurry to do Highway in the Sky a second time, but if you’re looking for a curated experience, there may be some value in being whisked from place to place in short order. I had a good time and, all things considered, got my money’s worth.