Grand Floridian Cafe, a delicious oasis of calmby Donna Fesel, contributing writer
I've got two great tips to share with you, both of which can lead you to one delicious destination.
The first is that on an action-packed Magic Kingdom theme park day at Walt Disney World, taking a mid-day break at one of the Disney Monorail resorts for a bite of lunch may be just what the doctor ordered. One minute you are shoulder to shoulder being jostled around in Tomorrowland, ten minutes later you are aboard a nearly empty mid-day Monorail headed for a serene and flavorful lunch in air-conditioned surroundings. A scant hour and a half later, you can have a full belly, and be rested and ready to take on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (again).
My second tip is one for folks who are members in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC, Disney's timeshare program). Called "pool hopping," it is a way for DVC members to enjoy many of the pools on WDW property and take advantage of the host resort's amenities. There are various exceptions to pool hopping, including peak periods and certain very busy WDW feature pools, but we've found as DVC members that there is no better way to beat the heat on a non-theme park day while checking out lots of great new things to do at the many diverse WDW resorts.
On one of our very first family trips as DVC members, we (husband, son, and I) decided to pool hop to Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (or the Grand Flo as it is lovingly called) on one of our non-theme park days.This was way before WDW had a DVC location at the Grand Flo and we had never visited the resort. Upon investigation, I discovered that the Grand Flo's Beach Pool had a waterfall and waterslide, plus a poolside bar for snacks and drinks (Beaches Pool Bar & Grill). The Beach Pool also features a view of Seven Seas Lagoon, a white sand relaxation area, and a zero entry area.
We decided to make lunch reservations at the Grand Floridian Café based on fabulous photos and enticing reviews; it seemed like the perfect pre-pool meal. The Beach Pool at the Grand Flo was (and is) a blast, but it was the Grand Floridian Café that stole our hearts on that first visit. We had marvelous food in an atmosphere that was pretty but not too fussy, along with tremendous service. On our very next WDW trip, when we needed a break from Magic Kingdom, we made a monorail beeline for the Grand Floridian Café and it was again a wonderful haven from our bustling vacation. On our most recent WDW trip, we had the pleasure of staying at the new Villas at the Grand Flo and dined at the Grand Floridian Café again. I am thrilled to share our love for this WDW dining gem with all of you.
As I was preparing to write this article, I was surprised to learn that the Grand Floridian Café serves three meals a day—breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. I must confess I've only ever eaten lunch at the Grand Floridian Café, although the breakfast and dinner selections look pretty great and I see myself visiting for one of those dining experiences very soon.
The Grand Floridian Café is in the Grand Flo's main building (where the front desk, and the large lobby are located). A gracious hostess greeted us upon arrival and we were promptly ushered into the Grand Floridian Café's familiar and lovely surroundings. The place is full of Victorian charm, and the gorgeous floral arrangements, tropical plants, blonde wood furniture, and floral wallpaper always make me feel like I am in a picturesque old time drawing room.
There are tasteful drapes bracketing large picture windows. Depending on where you are seated, you can see rose gardens or the picturesque Grand Flo Courtyard Pool. The chairs are upholstered in a faint sage green that matches the green walls and subdued carpeting. The room is large, but feels cozy due to a center gazebo rotunda area used for seating, and upholstered banquettes. The countryside theming is set off by a series of quirky weather vanes. In researching this article, I learned that weather vanes of all shapes and sizes are a bit of a signature design element at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Poke around online, there are loads of really interesting weather vanes all over both destinations that I've been overlooking for years.
We arrived for a later lunch so the Café was emptying out, but even when we've visited during peak times, the carpet keeps the volume at nearby tables very manageable. Our server Jeffrey introduced himself and was so friendly and warm, we felt right at home. Confession: we were taking so many pictures of the almost empty restaurant, that when he asked, we had to tell Jeffrey I was writing about the Café. He told us that he had been a longtime Disney fan before getting a job as a cast member, and pointed out all of his favorites on the Café menu. By sharing a little bit about himself, Jeffrey made a great dining experience even better. Thanks again, Jeffrey.
We were on the Deluxe Dining Plan (the Grand Floridian Café is 1 Table Service Credit), so we buckled in for a very full meal. We began with drinks—root beer for my son, a dirty martini (up with vodka and olive juice) for me, and sparkling water for my husband (who also stole some martini). My martini was perfect: ice cold with just the right amount of olive brine.
Next up? Appetizers. My husband enjoyed one of his favorites, a traditional onion soup with a perfectly crunchy, cheesy crouton on top. I snuck some soup; the onions were expertly caramelized and mouth-meltingly tender. I enjoyed a seasonal special, a seafood bisque with a bit of basil oil on top. It was full of shrimp flavor and luxurious without feeling heavy. We also shared a plate of poached local shrimp with Florida avocado, tomato, and micro greens. The avocado and tomato were perfectly ripe, and the shrimp was so flavorful (thank you Florida for your plethora of amazing produce and seafood).
For an entrée, I had what I always have, the Grand Café sandwich, which in my personal opinion is a meal and a half, and heaven on a plate, all at once. It's an open-faced sandwich served warm on crunchy bread. The turkey, ham, bacon, and tomato sandwich comes with the best Boursin (an herb cheese) sauce ever for slathering. Plop on some Dijon mustard for a kick, and I'm a happy girl. It also happens to be served with some onion straws for a little extra flavor. It was amazing as always.
My son, who loves to get his falafel on, had the falafel fritters. The falafel (savory chick pea meatballs served in an adorable mini fry basket) comes with pita bread and a selection of sauces for dipping. It features a chipotle hummus, tzatziki yogurt sauce, and a verde sauce (a vinegary green spread), along with tomato and cucumber salad. My son loved it, proclaiming it a vacation favorite. My husband is obsessed with Cobb salad and the Grand Floridian Café's chopped treat is one he always enjoys. It features turkey, bacon, avocado, eggs, blue cheese, chives, tomatoes, and lettuce, all chopped to perfection. He orders it and raves every time.
In true Deluxe Dining Plan fashion, we were pretty full by dessert, but decided to soldier on. We copped out by only ordering two desserts instead of three, but did order one dessert intended for two—the Grand Floridian dessert sampler, a favorite of ours. Offerings shift on this Grand Floridian Café standard, but the sampler always features a tiny chocolate Mickey statue. It feels a little sacrilegious to bite his ears off, but it is so gosh darn delicious. On our recent visit, the sampler featured a slice of tart with fresh berries, a tiny flourless chocolate treat, a New York-style cheesecake bit and a small bit of coffee mousse. Each little bite was tasty and perfect for sharing.
The Grand Floridian Café remains a peaceful, lovely retreat during an otherwise hectic WDW stay. It consistently features expert and friendly staff and tempting food. It has become a place I recommend regularly to friends and strangers alike who tell me a WDW trip is in the works. Whether you are pool hopping, popping out of Magic Kingdom, lucky to be staying at the Grand Flo or just in the area, give the Café a try, I think you'll be glad you did.
One bit of additional information: discounts abound at the Café—10% for DVC members and annual passholders and 20% for Tables in Wonderland cardholders (TIW is the Disney dining program available for purchase by DVC members, annual passholders and Florida residents).