This one might throw y'all for a loop...I actually do prefer to have sit-down table service meals solo while at Disney World! Yep, you read that right! But, and here comes the caveat, I don't do it anymore, not because it was hard for me to eat alone, but because the other guests couldn't leave me alone! Every single meal I had, at least one (and in one case, two) families felt the need to "end my loneliness and invite me to join them". Logically, I know they were just being polite, but, as far as my issues are concerned, it doesn't matter much.
Sitting at a table alone in Disney World, eating a really good meal in my favorite restaurant, is comparable to riding a ride solo...I'm in my own head, enjoying the atmosphere, and no one else exists but me and Disney. Imagine riding your favorite ride and suddenly it stops. The lights come on, some stranger jumps in your car, says, "hi, noticed you were by yourself and thought I'd join you to keep you company", and precedes to talk for the rest of the ride, while the entire building of riders are suddenly focused completely on you. That is what it is like when I get asked to join another family. My quiet solo bubble is busted and I'm exposed for all the world to see.
The one instance that stands out the most was the very first "invite". It was at Nine Dragons, which is in the China pavillion at World Showcase in Epcot and, it was so bad, I haven't eaten there since. I'm one of the few people on the planet that actually likes that restaurant...which typically makes for a good meal since there are barely any other guests there. In 2006, I managed to get seated in a section with nobody else!
I ordered my favorite dishes, managed to get halfway through the meal:
And then the barrage of other guests started arriving around me. Not a problem because I was already in my "zone" and wasn't paying too close attention to them, I wasn't even tuned in to their chit-chat, which is usually pretty hard for me to block out. My spidey-sense usually picks up when someone looks my way, let alone is talking about me amongst themselves!
Never in my lifetime have I felt the need to invite a complete stranger to sit with me at a restaurant! I'm there eating a meal, not noticing what others are doing, and I would hope they would do the same for me. They are in their world, I'm in mine. Nuff said!
I'm sitting eating and I start to hear this very soft female voice to the left of me, "hon...hon...sweetie". At first, I didn't even acknowledge it. Surely, some stranger wasn't talking to me, right? Next I hear, "go over and get her attention Jake" (I have never forgotten that kid's name to this very day), immediately followed by a little boy's voice saying, "I don't want to mommy" and then a stern male voice saying, "let her be, maybe she doesn't want to be bothered". I still didn't believe they were talking to me, but I glanced over anyway. Ugh...biggest mistake EVER! The second I made eye contact, that sweet little female voice becomes booming throughout the entire restaurant, "Hey hon! We saw you were sitting by yourself and thought you'd want to come join us!". "No ma'am, I'm fine, but thank you", a pretty good response I thought. "No sweetie, it's OK, we really don't mind and it would be so much better than being all by yourself! Come on over! Jake, move over for the lady.", followed by another, "I don't want to mommy". "Seriously, thank you very much, but I'm perfectly fine...and", yes, in the middle of my sentence I notice that everyone around us are now all looking and the waitress has arrived, initially to fill my drink, but now is preparing to move my plates to their table! How do I get off this crazy train???
It took quite a while to convince her I was fine and was happy eating alone. Dad was giving her stink-eye, Jake was giving me stink-eye. Had there of been a tablecloth, I would have crawled under the table and waiting for everyone to leave! For the rest of the meal (which was pretty damn short, I can tell you), she would holler across the table, asking me where I was from, why I was by myself, if I was having a good time, and even little Jake got in on the action eventually, asking me my favorite rides, favorite characters, etc. I would have been better off just sitting with them in the first place!
I wouldn't have even ordered dessert if it wasn't free on the dining plan, but this is all I managed to eat of it, I just had to get out of there!
As if that wasn't bad enough, my waitress was at the checkout counter was speaking Chinese to the girl at the cash register (in case you didn't know, all the employees in the different World Showcase countries are actually students from those countries). I didn't think anything of them talking, I just wanted out, until cash register girl says, in very bad English, "so sorry", and "please wait". She speaks Chinese to the waitress again, who runs off. I'm thinking, "great, more embarrassment, my card's been declined", but no! Waitress comes back moments later with a replacement for my uneaten dessert! Whatever nauseous look I may have had on my face at the time of arriving at the cash register, had to be mild compared to the sheer terror on my face when she handed me that carry-out box. I really thought I was going to pass out! There was no nearby bathroom to go hide in, no place to run...I was stuck! I knew exactly what they meant by replacing my dessert...they knew I was uncomfortable by loud lady, dad, and little Jake and that I rushed out on my dessert, so they got me one for later! One of the nicest Disney gestures ever, and quite possibly the worst! Bad enough all the surrounding tables were discussing me and the invader family, but apparently even the restaurant staff were too!
Needless to say, I didn't stay in Epcot for very much longer that night. I just had to get out. I ended up wandering over to the Boardwalk to look at Christmas decorations (hence my discovery of the Yacht and Beach Club). Everything happens for a reason, and the end result was a very good thing, but why must my happy endings all be marred by bad beginnings?
I'd like to say it only happened once, but I would be lying. Like I said earlier, every single meal, and one meal twice! The twice was at Artist Point inside the Wilderness Lodge (which I have been to since, many times, but never alone). The first was an older, very poshly dressed couple. There was no pre-invite discussion, he just leaned over and asked me to join them. I thought his wife was going to kill him! She whispered to him (not so silently), "leave her alone". I didn't have to respond, he just grimaced and said sorry and they went about their meal. They never acknowledged me again (thankfully). But I couldn't help but feel her jealous daggers swinging my way...it was pretty obvious what she was thinking (which made it easier of a issue for me...I got giggles out of her being jealous!).
But I wasn't off the hook yet. The couple that replaced them did the exact same thing (but this time the female). I just declined politely and, had it not been for a very pushy and talkative waiter, would have bolted just like in Nine Dragons. Seriously? Do I have the look of a sad puppy or something?
By the time I got back to the room, I had a voicemail message from the restaurant manager. In all my Disney years, I have never, before or since, gotten a message like that! He said he hoped I enjoyed my meal, if the pork was to my liking, if I was pleased with the quality of the berries in my cobbler, and if I had any questions about the meal or had any comments, I could call him back. Needless to say, I didn't. I think, because I was by myself, they thought I was a food critic or something! It wasn't the same sort of embarrassment as being handed a replacement dessert, especially since I was in the comfort of my own room listening to a voice message, but it wasn't a happy moment for sure! Glad I stopped at the gift shop first before going back up to my room, I might of actually had to speak to him in person!
The whole experience changed the way I eat out, even to this very day! I only do counter service solo now, which does save on time as you're not waiting to be seated, waiting on different courses to be delivered, etc. There is a much different mentality to counter service...no one wants to talk, they just want you to move so they can have your seat, or in a hurry to get out themselves.
Character meals are the biggest no-no on the planet! There are some restaurants that I loved and/or always wanted to try, but NEVER will, due to the fact that they are now character meals (I really miss Cinderella's Royal Table and eating in the castle!). For those that don't know, character meals are prepaid dinners where Disney Characters come around to each and every table to visit. A normal person would love this sort of thing (especially one that is as big of a Disney freak as I am), but for an Asper, it's a sheer nightmare! Dozens of rambunctious children running every which way. All eyes in the place focused on the characters, and watching their and the people they are visiting's every movement. That's all I need, every single eye in the restaurant focused on me! It's loud, it's wild, it's sensory overload, and it's just UGH! No way in hell!
I am actually debating having one or two sit-down table services during my upcoming solo trip. Simply because there are some restaurants I absolutely love, that I rarely get to experience for one reason or another. One is Mama Melrose's in Disney's Hollywood Studios. We usually eat at Brown Derby (Am loves the Cobb Salad there) and Mama's is a rare treat. It's been quite a while and I've been thinking about Mama's a lot lately. I've also always wanted to eat the Yacht Club. The Yachtsman Steakhouse is out of my league financially, since it is a Signature (which means it's expensive), but I would be willing to give Captain's Grille a shot. I've also wanted to try Cat Cora's place, Kouzzina...a big Am no-no (she hates olives and it's a greek restaurant which means olives galore, and there is even an olive on the sign!). Epcot is covered by the Food and Wine Festival. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom really don't have good sit down's, and I much prefer their counter services anyway. I don't know yet if I can come up with the money for two/three table service meals, so I'm not trying to book any reservations yet. Plus, I will have to get around my table service phobia as well. Time will tell!
I do have moments, if the lines are long for counter services, where I have to step back and wait before eating. Food and Wine booths are the hardest because they always have long lines and the food can be hard to pronounce. Plus, there are not a lot of tables for you to sit on. We've used garbage cans as tables more times than I can count!
Eating off of garbage cans might be gross, but it beats trying to eat and drink while walking and avoiding other people!
The main moral of this story is, if you and your family are at Disney World, and you see someone sitting by themselves, you may feel sorry for them and want to invite them to join you, but think about the fact that you don't know them or their issues, and you could be causing more harm than good!
Next up, Part 6: Shopping!