This post may contains affiliate links for your convenience. If you make a purchase after clicking a link we may earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more! Read our full disclosure policy here.
When you hear “Grand Gathering” what comes to mind? I know that Disney wants you to have a fairy tale image of happiness and laughing and everyone getting along. Young and old and in between, everyone is thrilled to be together, sharing in the magic of the “happiest place on Earth!” (Right. Have you ever seen my family?) I have those thoughts, all the time as a matter of fact. That is why I continue to plan grand gathering types of trips, because we do have those moments where it seems that everything is right with the world and I never, ever want to go home again. Leading up to those wonderful days takes a lot of planning, mostly on my part, but every now and then I venture out and ask the opinions of my family members. It is their vacation too and since they are pumping thousands of dollars into the trip, I feel obligated to seek their thoughts for some things. Mostly this happens when I am trying to choose our evening meals. We have been fans of the basic Dining Plan since it’s early days when it included tips and appetizers. Through all the changes we have remained supporters of the plan, the number one reason being that it makes the trip have that all-inclusive feel and I don’t have to feel like I am constantly plucking out the charge card. So how do I go about choosing those table service locations?
First let me tell you about my family, the “Grand Gathering,” coming to a park near you in early June 2011. The cast includes Grandpa(60) and Grandma(61), myself(35), my DH(33), DD(8), DS(5), and DS(2), then there is my sister(33), her DH(34), their DS(3), and then 2 cousins who are sisters (35 and 11, yes you are seeing that correctly, 35 and 11.) To make things easy, Grandma and Grandpa just love to go on the trips, watch the kids have a good time, and occasionally buy random souvenirs saving the rest of us a little bit of money.
For our June trip I need to select eight table service locations that include some character meals, some menu, and some buffet/family style. We have all been to Disney World before so we have developed a few favorites that have to be included, plus the standing requirement that we try at least one new place each trip. My DD loves the Princess Storybook dinner at Akershus in Norway at Epcot so that is always at the top of the list. DD gets to see her princesses and the rest of us enjoy the food. While the menu may read a little exotic I have found the food to be more “American-ized” than the Norwegians are used to, I am sure. Plus they have the salad bar for starters that includes smoked fish, cheeses, and fruit. This location fulfills two of the above requirements by including characters AND has a menu to choose from! It is also a great use of a dining credit and the price includes a picture package with Belle!
We will spend two days at Epcot so I need one more table service location. For this trip I have chosen Biergarten. The last time we ate here was about 5 years ago. The food is decent and the live band will be good entertainment for the kids, always a plus! This location is a buffet, which has good and bad points. I like it because I can feed the hungry kids immediately instead of waiting for the food to be prepared, but I do not enjoy the multiple trips back and forth to the serving counter. However the Biergarten is dark and cool on a hot evening and it serves ice cold beer! The DH’s will appreciate that option, I am sure.
Next choice is the Whispering Canyon Café on our Animal Kingdom day. This was our new location pick from our last trip and it has become a new favorite. I feel like it fits in with the theme of the day and the entertainment that the waitstaff provides keeps the kids occupied while waiting for our food. This is a menu table service location, but it has a barbeque all-you-can-eat skillet option for those hard to fill-up people. Additionally there is a steak option, a fish, a pasta, and a few other choices that are sure to appeal to everyone in the group.
My nephew and 11 year old cousin are fans of Chef Mickey’s so on our day off from the parks I will be planning on a late brunch with our favorite mouse and his gang. By brunch I mean that I will attempt to get the latest seating of the morning for their breakfast, which is usually about 10:50am. That way we can all sleep in and not have to wake up at the crack of dawn for at least one morning of the vacation. This is one of the best breakfast buffets that I have ever been to. I am not a huge fan of eating breakfast out, most of the time I am perfectly content to grab something to fill the empty spot and go. Chef Mickey’s is the exception. If you try this place, please try Goofy’s Vegetable Lasagna! Don’t be turned off by the appearance or the fact that it is a bit of a stretch to include it in the breakfast offerings. It is one of the best things on any of the buffets at Disney World!
Hollywood Studios has always presented an issue with choosing a table service location for our group. I don’t feel the need to have homestyle food on vacation or be reprimanded by my least favorite aunt while I eat, so the 50’s Prime Time Café is out (on a side note, my DH has this weird aversion to 50’s décor so he would be put off by that immediately). I have heard great things about this place though, so don’t make up your mind based off of my choice. Brown Derby is two credits, Sci-Fi is a poor use of one credit for table service, and Hollywood and Vine appears to be just an ordinary buffet, nothing stands out about it so I have never tried it. That leaves us with… subpar counter service locations and not much else. My solution to this problem is that we leave the park for dinner. We have small children in the group who would never make it late enough into the evening to enjoy the nighttime entertainment so we leave the park for dinner around 5:30pm. Grandpa enjoyed the Cape May Clam Bake at the Beach Club Resort on our last trip so I think we will use his pick again this trip. It was good food, there is a wide variety for everyone to be happy and the atmosphere is relaxed and not rushed which is nice after a day in the park.
If you are counting credits that leaves us with two more dinners to plan and I still haven’t chosen a new pick for this trip. On our Magic Kingdom days I used to pick the Crystal Palace and Liberty Tree Tavern (back when it was a character meal), and while both are good choices, we have “been there, done that” and we are expanding our horizons… right out of the park. I like the character dinner at 1900 Park Fare which includes Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Step-mother, Anastasia, and Drizilla. The sisters were hilarious on our last trip and DD even had the opportunity to dance a little waltz with Price Charming, which was darling to say the least. So 1900 Park Fare is my pick, but what about our required new pick? I have gone through almost every menu on property, studied them and matched up park days with restaurants to minimize running around. I have old favorites and new favorites, buffets and menus, a good balance of character and non-character. This makes the choice a little bit hard because nothing is standing out. However there is one place that I have wanted to try and lucky for me it is convenient to Magic Kingdom, Kona Café. I have a few friends who have eaten there in the past year and due to their recommendations, I think this will be our new pick for this trip. I am excited to try something new and it doesn’t hurt that there is a few steak options and an awesome sounding dessert, the Kona Cone.
Our 180 days doesn’t open until mid- December but when planning a trip for 12 people, it helps to have these types of things decided in advance so the last minute indecisions of many doesn’t make the trip planner (me) crazy! I think that the choices will please everyone, if not every night, then at least overall. I will be sure to write in and let you all know how it goes!