I know what you’re thinking….”Josh, there’s like two weeks until Christmas, can you please write a review of the Halloween-themed character dinner at Hollywood & Vine?”
Sure, I can do that for you.
“Kidding” aside, over the last 15ish months Disney has offered one of five different seasonal dinners hosted by Minnie Mouse, in addition to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy greeting diners.
Moving forward, we can expect Mickey’s Holiday Dine to continue through January 6, 2017. That’s followed by Minnie’s Silver Screen Dine, which runs from January 7th through March 19th of next year. Disney hasn’t confirmed exact dates after that, but I’d expect to see Minnie’s Springtime Dine from March 20th through June 4th followed by Minnie’s Summertime Dine from June 5th through September 10th and then Halloween Dine arriving again from September 11th through November 6th.
There is sometimes some confusion at Hollywood & Vine over which characters are appearing for what meal. Breakfast, which is served for reservations from 8am through 10:45am, and lunch, which is served from 11am – 1:45pm still feature the Disney Jr. characters along with the “Play ‘n Dine fun and interactive experience.” The characters you’ll see during that meal are typically Doc McStuffins, Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sofia the First, and Handy Manny.
All of those characters, with the exception of Handy Manny, meet throughout the day in Animation Courtyard to waits that are typically between 10-25 minutes depending on character and time of day. Their outfits at the meal are the same as at their outdoor meet and greets.
Historically, Hollywood & Vine is a buffet that enjoys one of the worst reputations of any Walt Disney World restaurant among the “Disney online community.” But like a number of restaurants that we’ve looked at lately, including Nine Dragons, Electric Umbrella, and ABC Commissary, I think it’s time to remove that stigma. Because Minnie’s Seasonal Dine offered the best food of any character buffet or family style meal that I’ve encountered in recent memory. More than a few items were very good.
“But Josh, we ate dinner there in September 2008 and it was terrible. NEVER AGAIN!!”
Yes…okay…but every single character buffet on property, with the exception of Swan/Dolphin/Four Seasons are operated by the same Company. And in this age of Disney Ubiquity, when every buffet uses the same food, is pressured to make the same gross margins, and recycles the same cast members, there isn’t going to be a massive difference in the quality of service or food from one buffet to another. Or perhaps more specifically, you aren’t more likely to run into garbage food and lousy service at Hollywood & Vine than at 1900 Park Fare, ‘Ohana, Garden Grill, Liberty Tree Tavern, Crystal Palace, etc.
One note on theming – because there is virtually no turnover time between lunch and dinner, the seating areas are very sparsely decorated for any particular seasonal meal.
I was expecting this and didn’t find it to be disappointing, but if you are expecting fog machines and plastic bats hanging from the ceiling, you may be disappointed.
But while that may be true, the character outfits are a lot of fun, particularly at Halloween.
Anne and family were nice enough to invite me along on their meal and we’ll see their kids from time to time. The forthcoming opinions are based on a consensus of what we all thought about the meal.
That’s the usual reaction.
When there’s only one costume left at Target.
When you get the bill at the end of the meal.
Minnie, as perfect as ever.
I want that hat.
If you have interest in the holiday dinner specifically, Bricker wrote a review of his experience of that meal from early November here: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/minnies-holiday-dine-review/. Our experiences on food quality, character interaction, and value are similar, but it’s always nice to have a second opinion and his pictures are always better than mine, in addition to offering a look at the holiday outfits and some differences in food offerings. And here is another gallery of even better looking photos from the buffet.
And I would reassert Disney Tourist Blog’s tip of booking a late dinner about an hour before the restaurant closes if it’s available and you don’t mind potentially missing the nighttime entertainment. As more and more people leave, the characters will return to the table more and more often. At the end of our meal, when there were only seven or eight tables occupied in the entire restaurant, we saw the characters two additional times each.
But with character meals, each table stop is ordinarily going to be long enough for a couple of hugs and a couple of quick pictures. Most characters will look around to make sure they aren’t missing anybody, but don’t expect a stop to last more than a minute. They typically don’t and you’ll have a more enjoyable time if reasonable expectations are set beforehand. Characters may or may not sign autographs depending on how busy they are. If they aren’t, they pass out printed signature cards.
Speaking of food, I’ll show off what was available, keeping in mind that it’s sort of a run-and-gun situation with the camera and the dark quarters. Here we have spitzweck rolls, pretzel rolls, apple butter, butter, and mustard under the “BOO BREADS” designation. For the holidays, they trade out the apple butter for cranberry butter.
While we are not in Le Cellier territory with the pretzel rolls, they are a little different than your typical roll and had a nice bite to them.
Warlock Broccoli Slaw with Soy Nuts, Marinated Bocconcini (small mozzarella cheese balls), Carrots, Balsamic Dressing, Ranch Dressing, Red Onions, Marinated Cherry Tomatoes, Autumn Green Mix, and Great Ghost Caesar Salad. Holiday offerings should include a Winter Kale Salad and Cabbage Salad with Pumpkin Seeds and Dried Cranberries along with a Caprese/Tomato salad.
The salads were fresh, though perhaps not much more than a bag of Fresh Express from the store with just some pretty basic vegetable add-ons. I did like the mozzarella balls though.
Chilling Cocktail Shrimp with Bloody Mary Dressing, Zombie Mussels with Shallot Vinaigrette, Goblin Feast Fruit Salad, Spooky Spinach Salad, Boogey Man Salad. For the Holiday Dine, expect a Beef Salad with onions, peppers, and tomatoes in place of the Boogey Man Salad, which is served with beets. A Pear and Pomegranate Salad should also be available for the winter season.
The buffet shrimp aren’t getting any more edible as this is the fourth buffet that I’ve seen them at in the last few months. Shrimp are a buffet mainstay but these are time consuming and pretty gross – very small and slimy.
The Green Lip New Zealand Mussels impressed – perhaps even meatier than the Food and Wine Festival offering. Each of us wondered out loud after eating one if they were supposed to be served cold. Which they are…since this is the cold section… Anyway, it’s not exactly king crab legs, but I enjoyed five or six a lot more easily than trying to deal with the shrimp.
I had seen some pretty substantial salad offerings from the spring/summertime meals, perhaps because that’s closer to “salad season” than October-December.
But both the Spinach and Arugula/Apple/Beet Salads weren’t much to write home about. You can check the “little bit of salad with your meat” box though.
The Witch’s Vegetable Potion and what was at one time a Spiced Pumpkin Soup though that is currently a bowl of spoons.
From left to right: Vampire Repelling Mashed Potatoes with Garlic; Monstrous Meatballs in Barbecue Ooze; Creepy Corn Nibblers; Inferno Chicken in Buffalo Sauce and Ranch Dressing; Cackling Casserole with Pumpkin, Turnips, and Carrots; and Supernatural Lobster and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese. Holiday substitutions include a Green Bean Casserole, Sweet Potato Casserole, Corn Bread Stuffing, and Pumpkin Ravioli.
The mashed potatoes were appropriately hearty and obviously made from scratch. Narcoossee’s version obviously comes in first place on the mashed potatoes front, but I’m not sure you could do better at a buffet or single credit table service restaurant.
The Meatballs in Barbecue Sauce are going to be a “safe” bet for most people I think and they’re easy to fill up on with an appropriate amount of spice that’s easily cut by the tangy sweetness from the sauce. The sweet corn, here in what is probably way too much butter, was tasty.
We’re almost in tiny-tin-of-snow-crab-at-the-local-$8-Chinese-buffet territory here with the Lobster and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese. It has a nice cheesy, creamy, mildly seafood-y flavor even if you can’t elbow the 11-year olds away from the lobster that’s typically placed on top of the pan, but it is a dish worth practicing your box out on.
Here’s a YouTube guide on how to go about doing that. It’s a similar technique to wildly throwing elbows on the race to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
On the left is what happens when you don’t practice your core skills. I’m shoveling turnip casserole onto my plate while Anne goes to town on the lobster.
Here’s to hoping Lightroom 7 comes with a “Make Me Pretty” button. If you tried it with this photo, it would probably come up with an error dialogue box that just says, “Nah fam.” But I’m mostly kidding as the vegetarian casserole had a nice natural sweetness from the pumpkin and brown sugar along with a nice earthy crunch from the seeds on top. Quite filling.
Moving down the line, we’ve got Enchanting Eggplant Parmesan, Hocus Pocus Pork Loin Roasted with Peach and Apple Barbecue Sauce, Ghoulish Green Beans, and Shrieking Shrimp and Chips. For the holidays, they do a marinated flank steak, roast pork with apricots, and a brussel sprouts dish.
I admit to not getting to the Eggplant Parmesan, the picture of which looks more like it’s out of a Rob Zombie movie than a Disney buffet. Very festive for the season.
The Pork Loin on the other hand was particularly delightful.
I should mention that Anne messaged me around 2:30pm back on October 26th and I had “literally” been sitting at Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom for more than two hours lamenting their new all-you-care-to-enjoy lunch Patriot’s Platter. You might remember my review of that meal, where the pork on the left is “literally” the Hormel sodium bomb that you can buy at the grocery store for $2.99/pound. I waffled for a moment trying to decide if I really wanted to risk hitting 500 pounds by going to Hollywood & Vine of all places just four hours later. But for the sake of bloggability, here we are.
Anyway, & Vine’s pork was the real deal – thick cut and flavorful gussied up with a tangy barbecue sauce backed up by the fruitiness of the fresh peach and apple. It wasn’t quite the quality you would expect from one of Disney’s typical $23.99 pork chops based on how it looked, but it was just as juicy and flavorful as some that I’ve tried in the past. And if that was what was served at Liberty Tree Tavern, that review would have been a heck of a lot more positive than the “don’t go here” conclusion.
Even the green beans tossed in butter and pepper had a nice crunch and a fresh flavor.
I apparently don’t have a closeup of the shrimp, which were fried with more batter than I would have liked. But I should have gone and grabbed some cocktail sauce from the peel-and-eat station.
Succulent Braised Short Ribs; Kraken Pasta – Squid Ink Pasta, Calamari, Cherry Tomatoes, and Herb Aglio E Olio (with garlic and oil); Thrilling Catch of the Day Served with Olive Tapenade, Frightening Farro Risotto – Portobello Mushrooms and Unearthly Autumn Vegetables; Petrifying Pumpking-Seed Crusted Trout; Mud Brown Gravy.
The Braised Short Rib was perhaps my favorite item on the entire buffet – the meat was perfectly tender and fell off the bone as soon as my fork all but threatened to touch it. IT TASTED BETTER THAN JIKO. I SAID IT. And just that piece in the far back is a larger portion. That’s the buffalo chicken on the right side, which was an impressive piece of bone-in meat with a sauce that was hotter than most – just slightly tempered by a bit of ranch.
Jiko – $48 for maybe eight bites. I’ve had it twice.
The Squid Ink Pasta on the left was freshly prepared and packed with a surprising amount of seafood. The calamari had the required chew but wasn’t gummy and the light oil and garlic helped jazz up the dish.
I didn’t try the fish of the day, which is served on quite the oval tray in the middle. “Nice review Josh.”
The risotto on the right was done surprisingly well for a buffet setting and would be another nice vegetarian option on the buffet with quite a bit of fiber and protein in the farro. It had a nice creaminess to it while still maintaining a solid texture.
There needs to be a class on making mud-brown gravy look appetizing. Otherwise, the pumpkin crust on the trout produced nice autumn flavors against the salmon-like fish.
At the carving station, Roast Turkey along with Marinated Beef Roast were offered with the gravy and horseradish as accompaniments. You should have seen the look on the guy’s face that came away with that turkey leg. Dude would have had trouble choosing between that and winning the Powerball. For the holidays, they serve Cherry Port Ham and Honey Bourbon Turkey with a Cranberry Sauce.
The kids have their own stations that anyone is welcome to sample – Steamed Broccoli, Phantom Pasta, Banshee Baked Chicken, Twisted Steamed Carrots, Ghost White Rice, Monster Macaroni & Cheese, Chicken Nuggets, Tater Tots, and Corn Dogs (just out of frame).
So ignoring sauces and the nonsense salad toppings, the buffet offers adults 28 items along with nine more aimed at kids. That’s a pretty decent selection with several that really stood out, including the short ribs, lobster macaroni and cheese, squid ink pasta, pork loin, mussels, and hot chicken wings, in addition to the salads and various sides. So I’m not really sure how you could come away unsatisfied with the food.
The dessert lineup consists of miniature versions of a variety of cookies and cupcakes, in addition to chocolate dipped strawberries and soft service ice cream – chocolate, vanilla, and twist.
I liked the gummy worm chocolate cupcake and strawberry that I tried and the banana whoopie pie (yes we are still aware it is not a “real” whoopie pie northeast PLEASE STOP EMAILING ME) tasted exactly like the larger version that they sell for $5 at Sweet Spells. Add in ice cream and fudge sauce and you should be able to put together a decent plate of sweets.
Minnie’s Seasonal Dine will set you back $50/adult and $30/child for dinner with seatings that begin at 3pm. Lunch, with the Disney Jr. characters, will set you back $45/adult and $27/child, while breakfast comes in at $32/adult and $19/child. When deciding between lunch and dinner, you’ll need to decide if the interactive experience is worth the money compared to being able to meet three of the four characters outside. You’d also want to consider whether spending the extra five bucks/adult and $3/child is worth seeing Mickey and the gang instead. That just comes down to how much the kids would enjoy the fun and games at lunch versus the usual character buffet experience at dinner.
Chef Mickey’s dinner at the Contemporary is the same price as Hollywood & Vine though guests there will meet Pluto instead of Daisy. Tusker House dinner is the same price as Hollywood & Vine lunch, so about $5/adult and $3/child cheaper than the Seasonal Dine. Food quality there has come down significantly in recent memory, which perhaps blurs the line between which is a “better value.” Tusker House offers more interactivity during dinner and a more open buffet concept. It’s also typically less crowded during the early dinner hours.
So I wouldn’t be so quick to judge Hollywood & Vine harshly. Or at a minimum, the experience should be as good or better, on average, than any of the other character meals offered at the theme parks or resorts. If anything, H & V is working harder to overcome their poor reputation versus something like Tusker House, which is coasting off of it. And personally, I would go back to a Seasonal Dine before any of the other character buffets that I’ve been to over the last year or two. With seasonal food and costume changes, the experience should be fresher as well.
It’s something to consider.