I am not, as they say, a “Disney Person.” The waits that rival Soviet-era bread lines, the Malthusian crowds … such things give me the heebie-jeebies. I swore in college I would never go again unless I could afford to rent the whole place out and throw a giant acid party.
Then I had a kid.
Much in the way a citizen can’t fight City Hall, a parent cannot fight Disney. This cultural juggernaut exerts a gravitational pull like a mouse ear-bedecked collapsed star. I eventually had to accept the possibility of visiting Disney World when I told my daughter we would think about it. “Pinky promise?” she said, and I knew I was trapped.
As someone who values his privacy, I was frightened of Disney from the get-go. I’d long suspected that they were more interested in my personal data than my money, and I was only half right. They took both. But what, you might ask, does this have to do with Food & Dining? About as much as a lobster roll has to do with Bavaria. Let me explain.
Episode 1: The Lobster Roll
Our first lunch, after we learned the hard way that roller coasters terrified our daughter, was at the Ye Olde Happy Hamster Sparkle Café, or something like that. Perhaps it was German, because the staff wore Lederhosen. Whatever its feigned ethnicity, I made the horrible, fateful decision to order the lobster roll.
‘What were you thinking?’ one might ask, and with good reason. Poor old landlocked Bavaria is not known for its crustaceans. It is known for the Gummi Bears that inhabit its Black Forest. Yet nevertheless, order the lobster roll I did. And if God spared me for any purpose, I can only assume it was so I could pass along the message that you should never, ever eat this thing.
“It costs as much as a lobster roll, so it must be made from real lobster,” I told myself when the $18 Hoagie of Horror arrived on a plastic tray borne by Fraulein Misty, but even before I put it in my mouth I knew this was a lie. Because real lobster doesn’t need to be shredded into slaw, inked with red dye and tossed in a mayonnaise-like food substitute with more sugar than a bucket of crème brulée. At least it was substantive, with a good sixteen ounces of aquatic mystery creature atop my corporate bun. I steeled myself and took a bite. The mayo was sweeter than Häagen-Dazs but with the taste of surimi, the fake crab sticks you get in California rolls. I shuddered, but continued. I was hungry and I knew I’d not get another chance to eat until dinner. My wife watched me with a mixture of fascination and horror as she picked at her Bavarian Falafel Platter. “You’re really going to eat that? Wow,” she said, impressed.
I made it about halfway through before I called uncle. Then I trotted out into the noonday Florida sun to wait in line for Ariel’s Enchanted Grotto. I was just strapped into the ride and rattling through its doors when the shooting pains in my stomach began. There in the little buggy that spun around and wobbled I was menaced by a pantheon of gruesome, animatronic sea creatures who seemed to punish me for having just consumed one of their own. It occurred to me at the end I’d gotten my acid trip, but it was a bad one.
Episode 2: Cinderella’s Castle
From our daughter’s perspective, the culinary highlight of the trip was Lunch at Cinderella’s Castle, a reservations-only chi-chi affair held at the iconic palace. Among the 6-year-old set, scoring a rez here is akin to my getting a table at The French Laundry. The main difference is the food, as the price is roughly comparable. The feel of its main dining room is cathedral-esque, with the atmospheric contributions of the various pews and stained glass details marred by the presence of garish exit signs, one of which we were promptly seated under. I am one of those pain-in-the-ass diners who cares where his table is and felt somewhat jilted that they stuck me in Siberia. This was mollified somewhat by the steady parade of princesses that came by to chat with my daughter and provide her with autographs.
From a park perspective, this meal was decent. It is a prix-fixe kind of thing, no a la carte, so I went for the braised short rib. Short rib is a cut I think that is often overlooked, especially for those dining in cavernous convention centers or princess castles. Like Mickey Rourke, the braised short rib is a dish that only gets better the more you abuse it. It can pretty much stand up to anything and ask for more salt. So the short rib was okay.
Episode 3: The California Grill
“This is the best restaurant on the grounds,” my sister assured me. “At $55 for an entrée, it frikken’ better be,” I wanted to say. The only other places I could see getting away with charging these prices for chicken nuggets would be outer space or Cowboys Stadium.
We went into the Contemporary hotel and, from a private, members-only elevator, ascended to the penthouse of the resort. I noticed with some relief that here at least people were not wearing flip-flops, but the clientele swung so far the other way it was more like Third World dictators and dot-com billionaires. I think I saw Kim Jong-un eating a lobster roll at the bar and swilling Hennessy X.O from a jeweled goblet. And we even got a nice table — one that overlooked the park at sunset and washed the world below in rose and pink. And while prices were on par with Per Se, at least the food rose to a level of high respectability bordering on excellent with the desserts. I guess for that price you are paying for the view and we had to shamelessly stall to stay seated for the fireworks, but as those explosions bloomed over the park in time with the piped-in music, I understood what Disney World was like. To do it right, you have to go fancy. Next time, however, we’re going to the one in France. Pinky promise. F&D