June 15, 2024

Why Disney World’s Changes to 1900 Park Fare Are Controversial Among Fans

0

To paraphrase the lead actor of the American Adventure, nothing is certain in life except death, taxes and fan controversy surrounding every change made by Walt Disney World. It could be the replacement of Primeval

To paraphrase the lead actor of the American Adventure, nothing is certain in life except death, taxes and fan controversy surrounding every change made by Walt Disney World. It could be the replacement of Primeval Whirl or Electric Umbrella and you’re still going to find a certain subset of fans who are upset. Nostalgia is a helluva drug!

Accordingly, we note from time to time when certain decisions are polarizing, but tend not to focus much on it unless it’s a large contingent–or even a majority of fans–and not just a vocal minority who are upset. There’s a reason why entries on the Top 10 Guest Complaints About Walt Disney World focus on bigger picture changes that impact everyone and, for the most part, are cutbacks or ways the guest experience has been eroded, rather than subjective or taste-specific tweaks.

With all of that said, we have to admit that we were somewhat surprised by the response to Walt Disney World’s announcement of the 1900 Park Fare reopening date and details. This is the character dining experience at the Grand Floridian, Walt Disney World’s flagship resort, that has been closed since March 2020. When will 1900 Park Fare reopen? had become such a common question among its fans that we wrote a post specifically speculating about it. So we were slightly surprised that, instead of joy about its triumphant return, the top reaction was more: No! Not like that!

In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a huge shock. If that many people were asking, it’s because 1900 Park Fare enjoyed a fervent fan following. The same passion that gave rise to the question itself would make them protective of the character dining experience and their memories of and nostalgia for it. So that checks out.

However, there’s more to the story than WDW diehards being upset about inconsequential changes after 4 years. This isn’t just a matter of little tweaks; it’s fundamentally overhauling the nature of the character meals, even if it’s keeping the same restaurant name and some of the same foods. This is far more material than, for example, the ‘Ohana “noodlegate” from a few years back. And that unpopular change was rolled back!

Anway, Walt Disney World announced that 1900 Park Fare is reopening on April 10, 2024. (Advance Dining Reservations for 1900 Park Fare open on March 5, 2024.) This iconic restaurant will feature returning guest favorites along with a newly refurbished dining room and other special touches.

This character dining experience at 1900 Park Fare features new royalty: Aladdin in his Prince Ali attire, Cinderella, Mirabel and Tiana in her new costume for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, as they all “celebrate the power of a wish.”

An enchanting buffet will be served for breakfast and dinner at 1900 Park Fare, featuring returning food (including the fan-favorite strawberry soup) along with new menu offerings to pay tribute to some of the characters and stories you’ll encounter throughout the restaurant. Big Bertha, an antique organ that has called the resort home since 1988, also returns to the main dining room as its grand centerpiece.

So in the “not changing” column, we have Big Bertha and the strawberry soup (so at least they’ve averted a noodlegate scenario), and in the changing column, there’s all of the characters and who knows what else.

For reference, 1900 Park Fare previously served up the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast in the morning. This was a fabulously festive, all-you-care-to-enjoy breakfast buffet! “Popp in” for custom-made omelets, fluffy mini pancakes, Mickey-shaped waffles, carved ham and more.

Disney characters at 1900 Park Fare for the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast included Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Tigger, and Winnie the Pooh. It was quite the eclectic crew. (It was also subject to change–but that was more or less who you’d get each morning.)

In the evening, the character dining experience at 1900 Park Fare transformed into Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner, an enchanting buffet dinner hosted by Cinderella and Prince Charming. The Princess’ storybook friends joined in the festivities as guests had a ball dining on delectable seafood, salad, pasta and beef specialties. The culinary selections are representative of several “kingdoms” from around the globe and include such kid-friendly fare as chicken, cheese pizza, and macaroni & cheese.

Characters for Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner were typically Cinderella (obviously), Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella. This meal had a much more logical cast of characters–all from Walt Disney’s 1950 animated feature film, Cinderella.

As you could probably guess, the core of the controversy comes from the character changes.

When it comes to dinner, some fans are sad to see the cohesive Cinderella meal gone. That makes sense, as they were all from that one movie, and it was also a well-rounded slate of characters: princess, prince, and lovable villains. Even though Prince Charming is about as bland of a royal character as conceivably possible, it wasn’t “too princessy” or anything like that. It was a good option, so long as you liked the animated movie Cinderella. And who doesn’t?!

Other fans were specifically disappointed about the loss of the Tremaines. This trio wasn’t just lovable villains, they also provided great comedic relief and were excellent at improv. In the comments to our post sharing the announcement details, a lot of 1900 Park Fare fans shared specific memorable interactions they had with the Tremaines over the years.

This checks out. The Tremaines are occasionally free-roaming characters in Fantasyland, and they are fantastic at heckling guests in a way that is both pointed and lighthearted. It honestly takes tremendous talent to thread that needle, making sharp comments aimed at guests that won’t hurt feelings and cause complaints. I’ll admit there have been more than a few times when Anastasia or Drizella said something that left me stuttering and thinking “ouch, sick burn” in a non-ironic way–but one that also left me laughing. I’m not a fan of face characters for the most part, but I love them.

Finally, other fans were disappointed about the loss of Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, and (to a lesser extent) Alice in Wonderland from breakfast. I don’t think anyone from Pooh’s Posse spoke up about him being gone, but in fairness, he and the gang have their own restaurant in Magic Kingdom.

The sentiment, at least with regard to Mad Hatter and Alice in Wonderland was fairly similar to the loss of the Tremaines. That these two were great for interactions and spontaneous hijinks. I would definitely agree with regard to Mad Hatter, who was always a source of zaniness. Our experiences with Alice over the years weren’t as great; memorable, but in more weird ways. (Consistent with the character, though.) That’s not to say others didn’t have great experiences with her over the years–I know interactions can vary and often, you get out as much as you put in. Perhaps it was a skills issue on our part!

Then there’s the loss of Mary Poppins, which has the added angle of being an odd decision after basically redoing the outer buildings of the Grand Floridian to be Victorian meets modern meets Mary Poppins motifs. We’ve been critical of changes at the resort over the years–but not these. The new guest rooms (see Grand New Rooms at Walt Disney World’s Flagship Resort for a look inside) are a night-and-day improvement over the old mid-tier Marriott-inspired guest rooms they replaced. The lobbies and hallways also look nice and fresh, using ‘Enchanted Gardens’ and motifs from Mary Poppins as the unifying visual identity of the resort.

We agree with the 1900 Park Fare fans on all of these points. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner did have a lot going for it, and once you were in the door, the character component really offered something for everyone.

As for breakfast, even though it was more of a grabbag of characters, it was fun and fairly well-rounded. I don’t think many (reasonable) 1900 Park Fare fans would’ve been upset by a few tweaks. Perhaps swapping out Pooh for Bert, or even a penguin or two if they didn’t want more face characters.

With all of that said, I can also understand why Walt Disney World made these changes. It doesn’t mean I personally like them, but I still “get it.” First of all, I don’t recall 1900 Park Fare ever being that competitive of an ADR. In looking back through our posts over the years, it always seemed relatively easy to book. This isn’t to say it was unpopular–like all character meals, it didn’t have trouble filling tables (at least, in our experience).

Here’s where I think there’s possibly a disconnect between diehard Walt Disney World fans and regular ole tourists, who make up a disproportionate number of the guests at a restaurant like 1900 Park Fare on any given day.

While a majority of lifelong Walt Disney World fans probably also love Cinderella or the zany antics and interactions of the Tremaines, Mad Hatter, etc., the average guest may feel differently. If you look at streaming data, you’ll see a bunch of Disney movies from the last decade top the list–and not Cinderella.

Of course, first-timers could be won over if they booked 1900 Park Fare and got to experience those memorable interactions, as that’s exactly the type of thing that forges lifelong fans! But that’s also the difficulty–getting them to book in the first place. This would explain why Walt Disney World is moving to a more well-rounded roster of princesses. It’s less reliant on a guest or family being a fan of a single movie, and every character at the meal has at least some “drawing power.” (With that said, Story Book Dining at Artist Point is the perfect counterpoint to this.)

When it comes to characters like the Tremaines and their offbeat antics, I can’t help of thinking about my beloved Country Bears. There’s a reason why characters like this are “allowed” to be free-roaming in the parks and have looser character integrity rules when it comes to interactions: the stakes are lower because they’re less popular. (It’s also more in-character, but popularity plays a part.) I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a guest have a great interaction with the Country Bears, despite having no clue who they were.

This works in the parks because there’s no barrier to entry, but I cannot imagine how unpopular a Country Bear character meal would be, even if it’d also be the best thing ever. Bloggers and diehards like me would rave about it, and the restaurant would be booked solid for 3 whole weeks. After that, crickets–there aren’t enough of us to sustain the concept for 365 days, year after year.

I’m not suggesting the masterpiece that is Cinderella is only as popular as the masterpiece that is Country Bear Jamboree. Just that both present the same issues and aren’t as popular with average families as franchises and characters from more recent releases. Fans who read sites like this one have to realize that what our demographic wants and prefers is often different from or completely at odds with the average one-and-done guest (see also, resort refurbishments).

It’s a somewhat similar story with breakfast. Going all-in or at least “more in” on a Mary Poppins meal seems like it would’ve been smart given the new rooms and other elements of the redesign. But at the same time, the redone Grand Floridian has been all over the place. There’s also a Beauty and the Beast bar, and who knows what’ll happen with the main lobby.

I think there was probably a desire to make it the “royal hotel” at one point (a la Disneyland Hotel in Paris), but there were too many cooks in the kitchen and the end result is more scattershot. Honestly, I don’t mind the result so far (knock on wood), as the more recent efforts with Mary Poppins and the Enchanted Gardens motif have been far better than Enchanted Rose Lounge. Had the redo started in 2020 as planned and followed that “template,” it’d probably be even more all over the place. But I digress.

It’s a similar story because there’s no way Walt Disney World would go all-in on a Mary Poppins meal for the exact same reasons they probably wanted to broaden the appeal of the Cinderella dinner. Yes, I’m a fan of the movie Mary Poppins and would really love a character meal that went all-in on it. I’d also love an all Aristocats character dining experience featuring live music by the Scat Cats. This would be the coolest thing ever and anyone who disagrees has poor taste. But unfortunately, a lot of people would probably disagree (as measured by ADRs).

With all of that said, I do think the new characters for 1900 Park Fare are odd choices even if the concept is an all-princess meal. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was dreamt up back when Wish was expected to be a smash success. But it wasn’t, so someone swapped out Asha for Tiana in her new bayou explorer look.

I also would not be surprised if Tiana is only here temporarily, in anticipation of the popularity of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and wanting to give the character somewhere until her own restaurant is ready, either in Magic Kingdom or at Reflections Lakeside Lodge. One way or another, Tiana’s Palace is happening at Walt Disney World. It’s too obvious not to do.

On a positive note for the characters, 1900 Park Fare not featuring Rapunzel & Flynn Rider from Tangled or Ariel & Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid strongly suggests that the plan is still to bring back Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. Those royal duos are/were incredibly popular, and not having 3 of the 4 at any character meals at Walt Disney World is a glaring omission that you have to figure will be remedied sooner rather than later.

If I’m not mistaken, there’s also no character dining at all that features Moana, Pocahontas, Anna and Elsa. I’m somewhat surprised none of those princesses have a presence anywhere, and think a meal that includes those leading ladies would be quite popular. I get that Walt Disney World probably wants to include a token prince to give it more appeal, but is that really necessary? (Especially without Jasmine?!)

Ultimately, it’s easy to see why the changes to 1900 Park Fare have been controversial with a lot of diehard fans who have nostalgia for the old meals. I share some of that sentiment, especially when it comes to characters who are known for being fun and great for spontaneous interactions. But it’s also hard to “sell” first-timers on that–what does Disney even say? Some of our princes and princesses are kinda boring to meet, trust us, you’ll make more lasting lifelong memories with these oddballs!

I can also understand the desire to broaden the appeal of 1900 Park Fare and make changes that are more marketable to average first-timers or infrequent guests. Personally, I think that Walt Disney World maybe isn’t giving guests enough credit, and a more cohesive character meal would’ve been perfectly popular here. (Again, look at Artist Point! As franchises, Mary Poppins or Cinderella are at least as popular as Snow White, right?!) Even assuming that 1900 Park Fare “needed” to feature a wider range of royal characters and movies, the choices still seem a little odd to me. The end result here just strikes me as jumbled–like there were 3 different ideas for a character meal and management couldn’t agree on one, so they chose all of them. But what do I know?

In the end, we’ll miss some of the hijinks of 1900 Park Fare, but we never had as much sentimentality for it as a lot of WDW fans. So admittedly, the stakes aren’t as high for us. While we’ve enjoyed the cuisine and the interactions, the restaurant (honestly) always kind of reminded us of a random thing thrown together and shoved into an unused space (the interior had convention center vibes). So we’re at least tentatively on board with the changes, even if some of the choices are a tad puzzling. We can see why longtime fans anxiously awaiting its return are disappointed, but the reopening of 1900 Park Fare should still be a win for many families wanting princess dining at Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Thoughts on the character choices at the new 1900 Park Fare? Anyone you’ll really miss? Excited that new meals are debuting, or would you prefer a return of the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast and Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *