Q&A: Where to spend a special meal and tips on Old Key West

Question: We have just booked a studio at Disney’s Old Key West for our silver wedding anniversary June 2012 and get the dining plan for free. We have been to Florida many times before about 13 I think but this is the first time we have stayed on Disney property. Can anyone suggest where it would be extra special to eat on our anniversary there are conflicting reports on the California Grill. Does anyone have any hints and tips about the resort or staying on property in general.

Answer:

Firstly – a special place to eat. I really think Disney excels in this area, so you have a few spots to choose from. California Grill, located on top of the Contemporary Resort, I have to admit, can be a bit hit and miss. We’ve had really quite a poor meal there but we’ve also had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten there and a truly magical evening. The view is amazing (if you can get a window seat) and watching Wishes over the castle, even if they’re from the platform rather than the restaurant, is really lovely. If you do fancy eating here, there are a few things you can do to optimise your visit. If you want a window seat, get there well before your ADR time and request one when you check in at the podium – you may have to wait for it, but I think its worth it. And secondly, make good choices on your meal – your waiter will make recommendations and they’re usually spot on. The ravioli appetiser has got to be one of the best things I have ever eaten, it is seriously yummy. I’m not a sushi fan, but my husband had the sushi instead of an appetiser and again, said it was the best he’d ever tasted. If you like the sound of California Grill, I wouldn’t be put off by bad reviews – but I would try and do these little things to make sure I had the best time.

But you do have other options. If it were me and I wanted to use dining plan credits, I think I’d go to Narcoossee’s. This is a seafood restaurant at the Grand Floridian and is a signature restaurant, so like California Grill, it uses two credits. I’m not usually one for seafood but we tried it as my hubby is, and I fell in love with the place. We’ve never had a bad meal here – although we have always had to wait past our ADR time to be seated, that would be my only criticism. If you do try here, I would recommend the Whole Maine Lobster as an entree. It is very delicious. Again, if you are lucky enough to get a window seat and happen to still be seated during Wishes, you can see the fireworks over the castle, across the water. There is also a balcony around the restaurant from which you can view it, or we quite like taking the pathway around the lake to the Polynesian and sitting on the beach to watch it from there. Very romantic.

A third popular restaurant is Jiko, the Cooking Place, at Animal Kingdom Lodge. You don’t get the advantage of being near the fireworks here, but I always think the Lodge itself has a really nice and relaxed feel to it and there is something special about seeing the animals – if you go out to the viewing stations after dark, there is often a Guide there with night vision goggles and that’s a lovely way to see the animals with a different view. The restaurant itself usually gets rave views – it is African themed with African style meals – but as a Brit, we tend to be far more used to Indian meals and the spices and style, e.g. the curries, I find are quite similar. I’ve personally been twice. The first time moved Jiko up to the top as my number one restaurant – the service was top notch and the meal was really tasty. Unfortunately, our second trip here was well below standard and I actually think we should have complained – but I have to say our waitress was shockingly bad and I don’t think I personally made the right meal choices. I would definitely give Jiko another go ourselves – and the vast majority of reviews are highly complimentary and much more akin to our first experience of the place therefore I think we may have got unlucky. Again Jiko is a 2 dining plan credit restaurant.

For a really special meal however, if you’re prepared to go off-dining plan and pay out of pocket, Victoria and Albert’s has to be the best option. This is a AAA 5 diamond restaurant (one of only 2 in Florida), located in the Grand Floridian. It is very expensive and I’ve not tried it myself as I think to justify the cost for us, it would have to be an extremely special meal – but a silver wedding anniversary classes as that! It is a 5 course meal with a set price menu of $125 – however we worked out that with drinks and tips, for two of us, we’d be spending around £300. You can also go pricier at $200 per person in the Queen Victoria’s room or at the chef’s table. If it’s not out of your budget, then I would look into that.

Whichever you decide on, if it is important to you that you get a specific restaurant and time, make sure you book it as soon as you can. Restaurants become available 180 days ahead, but as you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can book 180+10 – so essentially 180 days ahead of your first night, you can book restaurants for the first 10 nights. Slightly annoying for the last 4 nights, but it still gives you the edge! And if the last 4 nights are important, you can book these over the next 4 days, so you can be one of the first to get your request in.

So, moving onto hints and tips for staying on property. These would be my top three:

  • Extra Magic Hours are a well advertised perk of staying at a Disney hotel, where one park opens early or stays open late. But they’re only worthwhile if you take full advantage of them. If you’re early risers then use the morning EMH but only if  you will be getting there for when the parks open. If you wont be there until half way though the first hour, then avoid this park. Similarly, if you’re not planning to attend them, avoid the park that has EMH that day. Due to the extra guests in the morning, this will almost always be the busiest park out of the 4 that day. We are early risers so we often hit the EMH first thing, stay until about 11am and then park hop to somewhere different for the afternoon.
  • Are you planning on renting a car? Everyone has different opinions on whether this is necessary or not. My personal opinion is that if you will be splitting your time between Disney and the other parks (Universal, Sea World etc) then a car would be helpful and save money on transfers and cabs. If you’re mainly visiting Disney, then the Disney transport is more than adequate (in our opinion also preferable to driving). Either way, my main tip for this is that whether you have  car or not, when you visit Magic Kingdom, take advantage of the Disney resort buses to get there. The buses that pick you up from the resort will take you directly to Magic Kingdom – i.e. not the transport and ticket centre – so you definitely save time as you don’t have to take the ferry or monorail over.
  • We’ve stayed in a studio at Old Key West and really enjoyed it. Its a lovely resort with a really laid back, home from home, feel to it. My tip for here is a bit trivial, but would be to take a sharp knife with you – e.g. one of those little black handled type. Disney provide most things for your little kitchenette – but the plates and bowls are paper and the knives, forks and spoons are plastic. I don’t think it is really geared up for eating meals – more for preparing breakfasts and snacks. But a sharper knife can come in really handy for cutting up fruit etc and if you plan to eat here regularly, perhaps even some cutlery. Spreading butter on your toast with a plastic knife everyday might get annoying!

Congratulations on your Silver Wedding Anniversary and have an amazing time at Disney World! Good luck making your choice for your special meal.

BRiTMiCK

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