California Grill is often regarded as one of the best restaurants in all of the Walt Disney World Resort. Listed as a signature dining experience, this high-end eatery at the top of the Contemporary Resort is one of the most coveted reservations on all of Disney property. Featuring beautiful, fresh American cuisine, the chefs at California Grill truly create a memorable dining experience. During a recent trip to Disney Parks, our family had the opportunity to dine at California Grill and experience the fantastic perks of the restaurant.
In addition to the spectacular dishes, another reason this restaurant is so popular is the location. From the top of the Contemporary Resort, diners at California Grill get to see some of the most amazing views in all of the parks. The view of Bay Lake and the Magic Kingdom is simply beautiful anytime of day, but the view of the nightly fireworks from the Magic Kingdom is what truly sets this dining experience apart. Not only is the view beautiful, but they pipe in the music from the fireworks show to the restaurant, so the viewing experience is even more magical.
California Grill: The Reservation
Reservations at the California Grill are notoriously hard to get. As one of Disney World’s most popular dining spots, reservations fill up as soon as they become available. WDW Restaurant reservations are available to all visitors, regardless if they are staying on property or not. Reservations can be made 180 days before the the date of your visit to the restaurant. Guests of Walt Disney World Resorts are allowed to book reservations 180 days in advance of their check-in date, for the length of their stay. This means WDW guests have an advantage, since they can technically book reservations a little sooner than other visitors.
For our visit, we missed the 180 day window. We didn’t book our trip until about 90 days out, so we had some scrambling to do. Thankfully, we were about to score the most coveted reservation available, a table by the window during the Magic Kingdom Fireworks, using a great Reservation Finder system. You can read all about how we found it in my post HERE.
We were able to snag a 7:05 p.m. reservation in late February, when the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom were scheduled to start at 8:00 p.m. This worked out to be perfect timing.
California Grill: Parking and Checking In
While restaurant guests are allowed to park at the resort for their reservation, they only have a window of two hours. If you plan on visiting the Magic Kingdom or Epcot before or after your reservation, I recommend parking at the Ticket and Transportation Center and taking the Monorail to the Contemporary on the Resort Loop. It’s a really cool experience, since the Monorail runs right through the middle of the hotel.
Check-in for this Disney World restaurant is a bit different than your average eatery. Guests don’t go directly up to the top of the Contemporary to check-in. Instead, they proceed to a desk on the second floor of the resort. If you’re coming into the resort on the monorail, the monorail stop is on the fifth floor, so you’ll need to go downstairs to get to the check-in desk.
Once you check-in, you’ll be given a pager. Ours went off almost immediately after they gave it to us, and from what other friends have told me, there is rarely a wait for your pager to go off. After turning your pager back in at the check in desk, you’ll be escorted to a special elevator that goes directly up to the restaurant. Once up to the top floor, another check in desk will have a hostess who will escort you to your table.
California Grill is one of the few restaurants in Walt Disney World that has a dress code. While it isn’t too stringent and doesn’t seem to be too strictly enforced (believe me, we pushed the boundaries of casual at our visit!), there is always a possibility that they may enforce it at any time.
The atmosphere of the restaurant, while upscale, was still family friendly. There were plenty of children dining with their parents, and it seemed they were enjoying their meals as much as the adults. The decor was elegant and modern, while still being welcoming and warm. There was a brightness to the dining room that did give off some of that California vibe.
I’m not sure if it was timing or the fact that we had notated that we were celebrating birthdays while we were there, but we lucked out, and were given a table right next to the window, facing the Magic Kingdom. It was perfect seating to view the fireworks.
California Grill: The Food
The California Grill does accept dining plan credits, but because it is a signature dining experience, it is a two credit restaurant. The menu at the California Grill features a wide range of American dishes with a California twist. The menu is always fresh and I can’t imagine anything featured on it that wouldn’t be top notch. You can find a current menu HERE.
During our visit, we ordered three entrees and desserts off the regular menu and one entree and dessert off the child’s menu. My husband ordered the Butter Poached Lobster Tail and Giant Sea Scallop. (He also had the Blackberry Sour, which was amazing!)
He said is was excellent, although it was a little more soup-like than he was expecting. He thoroughly enjoyed the adult beverage, though!
I ordered the Grilled Colorado Bison with Gouda Mac and Cheese.
I had never eaten bison before this meal, but it was outstanding. Very steak like, and not gamey at all. The Gouda Mac and Cheese was very rich and had a bit too many panko break crumbs for my taste, but still excellent.
My son ordered the Oak Fired Filet of Beef with Parmesan Risotto and Squash.
He is a bit of a steak connoisseur, and he loved this steak! He’d never eaten risotto before, but really like it as well.
My daughter ordered from the children’s menu and had the Grilled Chicken.
California Grill: The Fireworks
Just as we finished up our entrees, an announcement came over the intercom in the restaurant that the Magic Kingdom Fireworks would be beginning shortly, and invited guests out the the viewing areas outside. Our table was so perfectly positioned, that my family didn’t feel the need to head outside, but plenty of other patrons did. I went out for a few moments to get some better pictures of the show.
The music from the Magic Kingdom was piped in and was perfectly synchronized to make it a lovely display. This experience was so lovely. My kids were thrilled to watch them from a new vantage point and I enjoyed how relaxing the atmosphere was, without the crowds of the Magic Kingdom.
The view from our table wasn’t too shabby either, but it just didn’t make for good pictures, due to the rain earlier in the day that left the windows a little damp.
California Grill: The Dessert
Shortly after the fireworks ended, our waiter brought our our dessert selections.
Two members of our party ordered the S’mores Bomboloni.
They liked it, but I think the banana flavor was a little more prevalent that they thought it would be in a S’mores inspired dish.
Another member of our party ordered the Strawberry Creme Brulee.
This dessert was the shining star of dessert course. It was a great blend of the light strawberry flavor with the decadent creme brulee. We would DEFINITELY order it again.
The dessert from the kids menu was three old fashioned chocolate chip cookies and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The cookies were fresh and delicious. Any child (and most adults for that matter) would be thrilled with this dessert.
As an extra added surprise, our waiter, who noted our birthday buttons, brought out slices of birthday cake for the three of us who were celebrating that evening. It was a really nice extra touch to the experience.
California Grill: The Bill
When our bill came at the end of the meal, I was extremely thankful that we’d opted to have this experience while we were on the Disney Dining Plan. The total for three adult meals and one child meal (entrees and desserts) with tax and tip at the end of the evening was $390.75. Our dining plan covered the entire cost of this meal, except the tip which we paid out of pocket. While it is a two credit option on the dining plan, we felt like it was more than worth those two credits.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience that I’d recommend to everyone, even without the fireworks. But that fireworks show was just so lovely, that it really was the icing on the cake for this dinner! Trying to score a dinner reservation one hour before the start of the fireworks is the way to go here. If you can snag it, DO IT!!
Earlier in this same day, our family was selected to be the Grand Marshals of the parade in the Magic Kingdom!! Read all about how that went down HERE!
We also splurged on this same trip, and bought tickets to the Disney After Hours Event at the Magic Kingdom! Read my full rundown of this event HERE!