Continuing on with the next in my Disney series, how about we move on to restaurants? I guess I need to give a brief restaurant overview like I did for resorts (yeah, right...like I do anything brief!).
Disney eateries are divided into three different categories:
- Snack service: Typically food carts (but can resemble counter service), this is where you get "snack-type" foods like Mickey ice cream bars, turkey legs, dole whips, etc. During Epcot's Food & Wine Festival, snacks reign supreme with multiple booths from many different countries serving snack-sized portions of their native food and drink.
- Counter service: Similar to a McDonald's-type situation, you will typically go to a window at a booth or to a counter in a restaurant-type atmosphere and order food that is typically of the burgers, pizza, and chicken variety (although the counter service restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase are themed to their host countries, like fish and chips in UK's Yorkshire County Fish Shop or nachos at Cantina de San Angel across from the Mexico pavilion). Just because it's counter service doesn't necessarily mean it's lesser quality, there are several counter service restaurants that are far better to me than a lot of table service restaurants or a counter service counterpart to a sit-down that offers similar or smaller portions of the same items on the sit-down menu.
- Table service: I'm bad about referring to Table Service as a sit-down restaurant (it's the Southern in me), but that's precisely what it is. It can range from moderately priced to extremely expensive and be hit or miss in the food quantity and quality. Table service restaurants are typically strongly themed (like the resorts) and the food types are as varied as food can be. Menu items are limited to an average of 4 to 7 entrees, appetizers, desserts, etc (you are not going to find a multi-page menu like you would at your local Outback or Chili's). Sometimes they change seasonally, sometimes they only change with a new chef, and certain menu items never change (thank goodness for pretzel bread and cheddar cheese soup at LeCellier!).
Disney has a Dining Plan (well, multiple different tiers of dining plans actually, depending on how much or how little you want to eat and pay). It is extremely worth it, especially if you plan on hitting at least one table service restaurant per night (which we typically do). We usually do the basic plan which includes one snack, one counter service (entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic drink), and one table service (an entree, a dessert, and a non-alcoholic drink) credit per each night of your stay (so if you're there six nights and seven days, you are only gonna get six credits) and, as of now, it's $60.64 per person per night. That may sound like a lot, but by the time you add up a $5 pastry and $2 Coke Zero for breakfast, $15-$20 worth of counter service for lunch, and approximately $50 to $100 for a good sit-down restaurant dinner, it's more than saved you a ton! Granted, the basic plan doesn't cover appetizers (even though it used to and I wish they would give you a choice of either an appetizer or dessert, especially since we're not dessert people), alcoholic beverages (unless you get the top of the line plan), or tips, but it's still quite helpful financially, especially when you don't have to budget for food on a daily basis and you are not limited to eating by what you can afford (and Disney has ALWAYS been a definite foodie-type place!). If lobster is on the menu at a dining plan restaurant, then it's typically not excluded from the plan (although some multi-person dinners are, you know the type...seafood for two, etc).
Oh, and the dining plan also now comes with a free refillable mug. You can get unlimited beverage refills at your resort food court (and only at your resort) for your entire length of stay (although they are now microchipped and you can only refill every 15 minutes). When they were first offered, they were good for forever, but, alas, those are no more. You used to have to buy them (they were up to $18 bucks by the end). I have one from every trip (all but one because the food court was closed at that resort that year). They make great collectors items (especially the ones from the old days that had the actual resort logos on them instead of being generic like they are now). Disney has always been very lax about the drinking stations in the past (I've literally seen a woman filling a Wonder Bread bag with soda), but now that the cups are microchipped, that doesn't happen (although I've seen people trying it).
Back to the dining plan, you are not restricted to using one of each credit per day. We often save all of our snack credits and load up on Minnie's Bake Shop Cookies or Mickey head rice crispy treats on our last day. And, there is, as with anything Disney, a caveat...some of the best restaurants are "Signature" restaurants, which means they use two dining credits instead of one. So we might do a Signature restaurant and have two counter service restaurants the next day (which is why I like to go during the Food & Wine Festival, you can fill up on the samples at the booths and skip a restaurant all-together. Most of the F&W booths use snack credits).
There is another caveat to Disney dining as well...the 180 rule. Disney is not the kind of place that you can walk up to a table service restaurant while you're in the park and say, "I'd like a table please". You will probably get laughed at by everyone sitting around you (and possibly even by the cast members). Restaurant reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your trip. If you book a Disney package, then you can add 10 additional days to that so that you can book your entire stays worth of restaurants at one time instead of going online or calling at the butt-crack of dawn every single morning when the 180 day window opens up. But, even if you manage to be the first one online and jump to the hardest ressies to get first, there is still no guarantee you're gonna get in.
Nine times out of ten, when someone complains about Disney, it's because they didn't do their research and book their dining ressies ahead of time and had to eat all counter service. And I've seen more than one person make a complete ass out of themselves throwing temper tantrums at not being allowed into restaurants without a reservation, "I've paid thousands of dollars to be here, I should be able to eat where and when I want!"...nope, not gonna happen. Then there are the people who say, "I can't book dining reservations that far in advance because I don't know what I want to eat that day!". Disney doesn't work that way. I look at it more as, "Today is our LeCellier day!" and it gives me something to look forward to. Which (finally) leads me to my restaurant review!
LeCellier, located in the Canada Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, has always been my absolute favorite restaurant on property! I don't necessarily go every year, but that just makes it that more special when I do the next year. It has only become a Signature restaurant in the last couple of years, partly because of it's immense popularity and small dining room size. This is definitely one of those "you'd better get online ASAP and snag it" restaurants because it books up super quick!
Canada is the first pavilion in World Showcase if you enter on the right:
you get amazing views of "Victoria Gardens" on your way through to the queue:
It even has it's own queue line like a ride!
It's themed like a wine cellar and is, overall, a steak house. There are different seating areas (although it's hard to tell by looking) and each one is themed to the different provinces of Canada. The cast members who serve you (and all that work in the Canada Pavilion) are Canadian (and each World Showcase country is filled with cast members from their particular country) and most are on a student exchange program. They start by telling you about their area of Canada, what life is like for them or important monuments or achievements from their region the moment you sit down. I've managed to sit in pretty much every single area of the restaurant (although I haven't taken pictures of it every single time...I didn't start foodie pictures until 2005).
Only food shots that year
Didn't eat at any table service that solo trip
Again, only food shots
I'm not a big fan of varying my Disney menu from year to year, typically, when I find something I like, that's what I order every single trip (only sides, drinks, and appetizers change). So instead of posting every single meal I've ever had (since 2005 that is), I'll just post a sampling of shots:
Infamous pretzel bread and cheddar cheese soup:
Then the steak (with varying sides)
One can NEVER forget about the ice wine:
or variations there of, such as the blueberry ice wine martini from last year:
and Chocolate Mousse Moose dessert:
LeCellier's ice wine and cheddar cheese soup (sometimes even pretzel bread) are all served at the Canadian F&W booth during the festival and I've managed to get this every F&W trip as well (notice my handy-dandy trash can table below):
Funny story (I've told it before, but since it directly relates to LeCellier, it's appropo again). 1981 was the first trip we took to Disney World. I was 10 years old. I swore after that trip, because of my step-dad's behavior, that I would NEVER go on another family trip again and I didn't. I stayed home or went with my aunt on vacation when my family went places. In 2004 we decided, that since we're all adults now, that we could handle a family trip again. Now THAT was my last ever family trip! My step-dad was just as horrible (if not worse) than he was in 1981. I was put in charge of all the planning (since I was the one that pitched the idea...made charts and printouts and everything). LeCellier was the first Disney restaurant we hit that year. My step-dad complained about the drinks, he complained about the salad (they only had Ceasar and he wanted regular with Italian dressing, so once they brought it, he just pushed it away), they didn't have his steak sauce, he couldn't get fries with his steak, and the list goes on and on. On top of it all, he had previously agreed to pay for my meals, but, because he didn't like the restaurant, he didn't pay for a single meal for me (and since I didn't budget for it, I would have been screwed except for my sister and her husband stepping in and covering me). In the middle of dinner, I started crying, but Amber wouldn't let me and made me go to the bathroom before my step-dad saw (because, ultimately, that was his goal, to prove I was an idiot who didn't know what she was doing).
Well, when Am and I went back in 2005 (and enough time had passed that we could laugh about it), we recreated our infamous 2004 LeCellier meal:
This is still one of my favorite pictures of Amber in Disney World ever!
We are not doing LeCellier this year because there are rumors the chef has changed (along with the menu - although none of my items have been touched). Since it is a Signature now (and uses two dining credits), I thought it best to do something else with those two credits. It will be the Food & Wine Festival, so cheddar cheese soup and ice wine are still doable, so I'm not missing out entirely. But I have the feeling I will back again next trip because you can never stay away from a Disney favorite! But another good thing about Disney is that you can either ask for the recipe at LeCellier for the soup or you can buy the F&W Cookbook they publish every year and it's typically in that. I've never made it myself because it calls for ingredients I can't get here (and it's extremely difficult), but one day I might. Until then, I'll just look forward to my once a year excursion into the culinary world of Canada!
Luckily, the next restaurant review (as well as the next resort review) won't be NEARLY as long because there will be no need for a prequel. I probably should have done those in separate posts, but c'est la vie!