Here we are this past Monday, September 19th. Headed in to Epcot around 4pm.
One of my favorite games to play in Epcot is called, “Is it open?” at Spaceship Earth.
It always is open though so I’m not sure how fun the game really is.
I like to visit the Art of Disney Store in Future World on my way into Epcot. It’s on the right side of Spaceship Earth, right across from the doors to the “Project of Tomorrow.” Here’s some of what’s available:
Now I’m a sucker for anything that comes in “mint green,” but I like the look of this coffee mug.
The 40th Anniversary merchandise is still widely available:
Just what we all need. More stuff.
Four people in line for Sum of All Thrills around 4:15pm.
Whoever coined the phrase, “It’s always sunny in Florida” or named Florida the “sunshine state” is lying to you. I’m from Seattle, so I know a little bit about rain. But it rains more in Florida than Seattle and you don’t see me calling Washington the sunshine state, do you? That’s because I would never lie to you. We’re friends.
With Garden Grill on the menu for dinner, Living with the Land seems an appropriate way to set the mood.
You don’t want to be at Epcot when this queue is full. Luckily, there were all of eight people in line in front of me, if that.
Living with the Land is one of the most pleasant attractions in any Disney theme park. We’re descending from the darkness into one of the greenhouses.
A little MacGyver action here with the jury rigging of the boats. Happily, there is a lower risk of death on Living with the Land than say, Primeval Whirl.
These people have no idea that they’re coming up on a huge Splash-Mountain-style drop. Okay, there isn’t really a drop. But you might want to promise one to get the kids on this thing. Or promise them there isn’t a drop. Whatever works.
If you learn anything on Living with the Land, it will be that everything grows better hanging upside down. Everything.
Back to darkness.
Soarin’ sitting at 35 minutes just before 5pm. Not bad, but it’s the reason we head here first thing in the morning or use FASTPASS. You’ll very rarely see a posted wait time less than 20 minutes at Soarin’ after 10am. And really, anything longer than 20 minutes is too long in my book.
Garden Grill is located on the top floor of the Land Pavilion. It’s only open for dinner and is a surprisingly difficult reservation to get, especially during the Free Dining promotion. They almost always turn away all walk-ups from 5pm – 7:30pm.
Garden Grill is a “family style buffet” featuring Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. It’s also unique in that the restaurant rotates. Yes, rotates. You’ll (very slowly) rotate in a circle around the Land Pavilion and have the opportunity to see the backsides of some of the sets from Living with the Land. Pricing is in line with other Disney buffets – a minimum of $34.99 for adults and $16.99 for kids. Prices go up a couple of dollars during busier times of year.
“Harvest inspired” – whatever that means. This was a nice way to begin the meal. Green beans, egg, tomatoes, bacon bits, and lettuce with just the right amount of salad dressing.
The maple butter was divine and the rolls were fresh and fluffy. At this price point, we’re filling up on beef though.
As previously mentioned, food is served “family style” at Garden Grill. It’s sort of an odd way of doing it. The tables are on the small side and there’s just barely enough room for all of the food that will be coming out, especially with a separate platter for the kids. I didn’t think the initial portion size was particularly generous either. They’ll bring you more (and more) of everything, but initially there’s just enough food for each person to take a little slice of beef, cut off a small hunk of fish, and take one of the small slices of turkey. It does give everyone an opportunity to try everything and then “order” more of whatever is liked most, which is probably the point.
The turkey was my second favorite of the entrees. Moist and the smashed potatoes accompanied it well.
The beef was excellent – cooked perfectly. I’m sure they have it down to a science in the kitchen. I guess the “garden fresh vegetables” are underneath. Sort of a sad addition, but the carrots and corn do add a bit of color. I enjoyed this much more than the flank steak, which was served the last time I dined here.
A special thank you to my dining companions for this shot of the fish with rice pilaf underneath. I thought the fish lacked “character” and was ultimately rather boring. When the waitress asked if we wanted more of anything, this was the only item that didn’t immediately receive a “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” More of a, “………Yes…….”
This is the kids’ plate – macaroni and cheese, baked chicken drumsticks, broccoli (certain to be a favorite of every child!), and sweet potato fries. Kids are welcome to eat anything off the “adult” platter and parents are welcome to nibble on fries or whatever else if they are so inclined. I had a few sweet potato fries – they were the same recipe as you’ll get at Restaurantosaurus at Animal Kingdom and a few other locations.
The “Harvest Fruit Crisp” with fruit that was not entirely discernible. Apples? Peaches? Strawberries? It’s hard to say for sure. The crumble on top accompanied it well and the vanilla bean cream was a special treat.
The “Mickey Mousse (clever, right?) is presented to children. We all thought it was ice cream. The kids weren’t too into it so we all had a taste. It’s nothing to write home about, but the presentation is fun and you do have some Oreo ears going on.
Overall, I was impressed with the food. Other than the fish, everything was better than the last time I visited. And other than the initial platter, there’s definitely plenty of it.
Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip, and Dale are on hand. We enjoyed great interaction. We saw each character twice over the course of the meal and each one took time with the kids, posed for photos, signed autographs, and hung around until it was clear we had acquired everything we desired. Pluto is slightly themed and Chip/Dale are in their usual “outfit.”
Mickey in his “harvest best.”
Garden Grill’s dining room is nondescript, but that has its advantages. If you’ve ever been to Crystal Palace or Chef Mickey’s, you know that most character buffets are loud and kids are running around everywhere. Garden Grill is quieter and the circular walkways don’t behest a lot of movement. We didn’t see any free-roaming children. The fact that you have limited vision of other tables also means kids won’t be running across the room to meet Mickey ahead of their turn.
While the restaurant does rotate, it’s very slow. In fact, one of my dining companions commented that she didn’t think we were actually moving. We were, but nothing you see is particularly exciting. We’ve got the back of a house here and you’ll see a mural, a couple other scenes, and the second floor of the Land Pavilion. That’s about it.
Relaxed or slow? I’m never in much of a hurry and it’s not every day you get to have dinner with Mickey Mouse and an economist that works with (against?) congress. We were seated for a good 90+ minutes after initially waiting about ten for our table to become available. It seemed like the waitress was letting us set the pace though and I imagine she would have hurried things up had we asked. Overall, it was nice having plenty of time with the characters and food so I won’t complain.
This was one of the better character meals I’ve been to in recent memory. I like what they’ve done with the menu and everything was prepared very well. With the family style buffet format, you don’t have as many options as most other traditional buffets or the flexibility in ordering off of a more robust menu. However, I think the quality is high enough that it makes up for the lack of variety and there are some good choices within the items that are served.
Remind me to update the “Best Epcot Restaurants” article.
And the wait times on our way out at 7:20pm:
Looks good to me. FASTPASSes still available at Test Track at 7:15pm along with basically no wait at Spaceship Earth or Mission Space.