The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Willkommen and Cheers to Two Epcot Favoritesby Tom Richards, contributing writer
For frequent visitors to the Vacation Kingdom of the World, it is altogether too easy to take all of Walt Disney World's entertainment and dining offerings for granted. Very few entertainment organizations can compete with Disney's ability to make dining experiences part of the themed show, and nowhere is this more evident than in Epcot's World Showcase. Join us as we visit two perennial favorites that opened with the original Epcot Center in 1982: Biergarten Restaurant, and Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room. Both of these locations continue to delight visitors with their culinary fares and lively live interactions with guests.
The German tradition of Oktoberfest can be traced back to 1810 when Ludwig, the Crown Prince of Bavaria, celebrated his marriage to Princess Therese. It is this very tradition that is celebrated on a daily basis in this unique dining venue located in the St. George Platz in World Showcase's Germany Pavilion. Like the original festival, held each autumn in Munich, Epcot's Oktoberfest combines hearty German fare with music and dance in an inviting outdoor setting. The Disney imagineered version of the German celebration is notable for its setting, its entertainment, and its food.
Much like its elaborately themed dining establishments found in Disney parks worldwide, Biergarten is housed in a large show building that re-creates a nighttime, outdoor setting. Unlike Disney's Hollywood Studios' rather sterile Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, Biergarten is more akin to the inviting San Angel Inn in the Mexico Pavilion and to the atmospheric Blue Bayou located inside Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean. Guests enter the German restaurant through large castle-like doors, escaping Florida's heat and entering the coolness of a Bavarian evening in autumn. After walking through a series of impressive arches and quaint covered patios, guests are guided towards tiered rows of large tables arranged in a semi-circle around a dance floor and a small stage.
The entire area is themed to an outdoor festival during autumn in Bavaria. Guests enjoying Munich's Oktoberfest line long tables, mingling with other guests and travellers. Disney wisely kept this tradition intact, and much of the fun of dining here comes from the opportunity to mingle with and toast other guests. On our first visit to this restaurant when I was still in college, I meet a wonderful family from Denmark with whom I continue to correspond. Disney's goal of providing a venue for guests from around the world "connect" was certainly accomplished here!
To the side of the stage, there is a huge oak tree decked out in autumnal splendor; a small stream and a wooden water wheel add to the feeling of being outdoors. Host and hostesses, decked out in traditional Bavarian garb, bustle to and fro delivering drinks to revelers and offering diners suggestions for the inviting nearby buffet. This ample buffet is located in the rear of the establishment, housed beneath archways and terraces constructed to resemble the porches of Bavarian buildings in the Munich area.
Much of the charm of this restaurant lies in its amazing details, from the colorful painted woodwork and walls to the warmth of dark woods and comfortable chairs. From its cobbled walkways to its gabled rooflines, Imagineers piled detail upon detail to capture that old-world charm so characteristic of Rothenberg au Tauber in Bavaria.
Another reason for recommending this particular Epcot eatery is the live German "oompah" band that performs daily. This lively little show includes everything from bell ringers to yodeling to the blowing of the alpenhorn. Additionally, there's hearty German drinking music, polkas, and plenty of humor. This portion of the dining experience is also very interactive; during our most recent visit, a young man proposed to his girlfriend to the delight of the audience. This is a generally brief show, just enough to entertain guests of all ages. Everyone in my diningg party, from grandparents to 5-year-olds, enjoyed this show.
German food is comfort food for my family. We can trace both sides of our family history to, among other countries, Germany. As a result, our enjoyment of the food offerings at the Biergarten might be slightly biased. We found the selection was varied and authentic. That said, the vast majority of the offerings were palatable even to those in our party who weren't necessarily as accustomed to German fare as we. From the cold buffet, our favorites included the gurken salat (a cucumber-dill salad), the tomaten salat mit basilikum (a tomato-basil salad), and especially the kartoffel salat, a warm German potato salad almost as tasty as my Aunt Sue's. The incredible pretzel rolls were favorites as well.
There are almost too many hot items to praise, but the sauerbraten, a marinated pot roast, the potato dumplings (complete with bread crumb butter), the breaded pork schnitzel, the homemade spaetzle noodles, the rotisserie chicken with rosemary and thyme with the incredible roasted herb potatoes were among the highlight. Another surprise was the smooth, creamy, baked macaroni and cheese.
There were many dessert options, many of which rank among our favorites at Epcot. While the Black Forest cake was disappointingly dry and the Floreniner cookies rather bland, the incredible Bavarian cheesecake, light and tasty, and the amazing home-baked warm apple strudel—complete with a sweet vanilla sauce—more than made up for any slight disappointment. The Rote Gruetz, also with vanilla sauce, and the incredible selection of fresh berries offered other incredible options for those of us who love fresh fruit.
Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
This lively establishment, located on the shores of World Showcase Lagoon, dispels two ridiculous generalizations about England: its people are "stuffy" or reserved, and its food is bland. One meal here at Rose & Crown proves that English food is quite tasty, and the hosts and hostesses here are a warm, affable, and good-natured lot.
The building here is quite unique; each of its many sides is modeled after pubs from different time periods. Inside, the pub room is very inviting. High tables and chairs line the walls with windows; grab a pint, take a seat, and people-watch as visitors amble through the United Kingdom Pavilion. There's amble room to belly up to the bar as well, and time spent here is memorable indeed. "Real" English pubs are often neighborhood establishments that are so inviting that they encourage conversation. Epcot's re-creation is no exception. There is often live entertainment, as a piano player is featured here in the evenings.
The dining rooms are cozy places. Each room has its own look and feel: dark paneled walls in one, large airy bay windows in another. Much like the Liberty Tree Inn at the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square, each room here is tastefully decorated with antiques and each has its own fireplace. There is outdoor dining here as well including tables that offer stunning views of the lagoon and Illuminations.
For starters, we enjoyed the "Trio of United Kingdom Cheese" appetizer, which was big enough to share and was more than enough to start our meal (and which also went well with the pints we enjoyed). For dinner, we stuck to the traditional: fish and chips (Rose & Crown's signature dish), shepherd's pie, and bangers and mash. Having lived in London and studied at Cambridge, these traditional dishes brought back happy memories.
The fish was delicious, light and tasty with wonderful homemade tartar sauce. The bangers and mash (English sausage and potatoes) were also very good. The red wine demi-glace was awesome. My personal favorite, shepherd's pie, was especially good. McCall's Irish cheddar was sharp and flavorful, and the mashed potatoes just right. I only wished that the portion of the shepherd's pie had been a bit larger. The food here was very authentic, although it was a bit lighter than I remember food in the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, none of the desserts looked especially appealing. I was hoping for a larger variety of traditional British puddings, but Rose & Crown offers only sticky toffee pudding, pound cake, and tarts. We decided to save dessert for the French bakery later in the evening.
The Walt Disney World Resort offers a wide variety of entertaining dining venues. For both first-time or infrequent visitors, these dining spots help create memorable vacations and shared experiences. While dining out is rarely a priority for my family when we travel—we're much more apt to be on the go—our visits to Biergarten and Rose & Crown provided some much-needed down-time to savor and enjoy each other's company and our truly stunning surroundings. I would encourage frequent guests to revisit old favorites again to discover why they fell in love with the Vacation Kingdom of the World in the first place.