June 20, 2024

Controversial Opinion: Disney World’s New Character Dinner is Now Our #1 Buffet

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Walt Disney World debuted a new wave of character dining a few years ago, beginning with Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno and continuing with Story Book Dining Dinner with Snow White at Artist Point.




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Walt Disney World debuted a new wave of character dining a few years ago, beginning with Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno and continuing with Story Book Dining Dinner with Snow White at Artist Point. These two meals arrived at restaurants with kitchens capable of producing high-quality cuisine, and delivered on that.

Then came Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends at Topolino’s Terrace — Flavors of the Riviera. That name is itself a mouthful, but it debuted at the Signature Restaurant on the rooftop of Disney’s Riviera Resort. With its sophisticated setting, breathtaking views, stunning character costumes and good food, Breakfast à la Art formed a trio with the other restaurants as the best ‘elevated’ character dining experiences at the Walt Disney World resort hotels. There’s a reason those rank at the top of our list of the Best Character Meals at Walt Disney World.

Although there were other differences between these and regular character meals, the most obvious were a quality over quantity approach and greater attention to detail. Notably, they all offered a la carte menus as opposed to buffets. While we enjoy pigging out at a buffet on vacation from time-to-time, we far preferred these more methodical meals for a number of reasons. None of the character buffets offered the same caliber of start to finish experience as those restaurants. Until now.

Before we dig into why dinner at 1900 Park Fare is so good, let’s cover need to know basics. 1900 Park Fare is a character meal at Walt Disney World’s flagship hotel, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which is located within walking, monorail, or boat distance of Magic Kingdom. It’s very easy to do dinner at 1900 Park Fare as a break during your Magic Kingdom park day.

1900 Park Fare participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit table service meal. Dinner is one of the absolute best options if you’re trying to maximize your value on the Disney Dining Plan, especially if you order a specialty drink. We paid out of pocket for our meal at 1900 Park Fare, so we’ll be judging it on a cash basis.

Advance Dining Reservations aren’t abundant for 1900 Park Fare. Although it’s gotten easier to book since reopening, you’ll still need to make reservations early or luck-out last minute. See our Guide to Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) at Walt Disney World for tips & tricks to score elusive ADRs, info about the 60+10 rule, and more.

The good news is that dinner is typically slightly easier than breakfast, likely due to the latter being more expensive. (People also just like to start their day with character meals before heading to the parks.) Our expectation is that this will change once Free Dining ‘season’ rolls around; as noted above, dinner is the better value on the Disney Dining Plan. Regardless, if you’re planning a trip, we highly recommend having 1900 Park Fare on your radar as soon as your ADR window opens.

We’ll now turn to the interior design and atmosphere of 1900 Park Fare, which has changed dramatically with the reopening of the restaurant. We already discussed this in our Review of Wish Makers Enchanted Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, so we’ll try to cover new ground in the dinner review.

The issue with 1900 Park Fare is that it’s tucked away into a window-less space on the ground floor of the Grand Floridian. Previously, we always felt that it was shoehorned into here; that perhaps the space was never intended to be a restaurant but was carved out of a storage area of convention area and turned into 1900 Park Fare.

I’ve since learned that this is not the case–1900 Park Fare opened with Grand Floridian Resort in 1988. Well, that makes sense, as the pre-closure appearance of the restaurant looked like it was designed in the late 1980s. The previous look was visually chaotic, with a discordance of designs and hodgepodge of patterns.

There was a lot going on at the lower level and then a ton of dead space at the top of the room (as you can see from these photos, 1900 Park Fare has a high ceiling). The visually busy but off-kilter design coupled with the lack of windows and the noise from the characters made 1900 Park Fare feel very claustrophobic.

The old interior wasn’t immersive Victorian themed design, and its only redeeming qualities were Big Bertha (an antique organ) and carousel critters that dotted the seating area. Some fans might’ve loved it, but that was due primarily to familiarity and nostalgia.

The new-look 1900 Park Fare still lacks windows and natural light, but the refresh goes a long way to make it feel more posh and inviting. A big part of this is the addition of mirrors, dialing down design elements, and introducing calming colors and fabrics. It now feels much more mellow and upscale, and our meals here (both breakfast and dinner) were quieter as a result.

The dining room certainly isn’t the pinnacle of themed design, and it’s perhaps a relatively simple style for Walt Disney World’s flagship resort, leaning a lot on contemporary style, furniture, and fixtures. However, it’s all tastefully done and there are just enough thematic flourishes as well as higher-end finishings to make 1900 Park Fare feel at once sophisticated, stylish, and Disney. 

In particular, I love the dozen impressionist-style character portraits lining the wall. These take what was previously dead space and give it visual interest while also leading towards Big Bertha, the pièce de résistance of 1900 Park Fare. The visuals of the restaurant coalesce really well, giving it a nice sense of place. It’s a huge improvement over what was here before.

The seating area is also arranged differently, with a column of banquette seating in the middle(ish) of the room dividing up the space, more booth-style seats along the wall, and tables in the middle. And as mentioned above, the addition of mirrors–both at Bertha and guest level–do some heavy-lifting in making the dining room feel less like a chilling chamber with no windows.

Beyond Big Bertha, there’s another small dining room with a mix of 6 and 4-person tables.

This room is fine, and has been redone similarly to the main area with carousel schematics and a couple pieces of impressionistic artwork. It’s definitely more intimate and probably calmer than the main room, but I’m glad we weren’t seated here. For a meal with this price tag, I want a bit more atmosphere–this is too muted for my tastes.

Backtracking a bit, the waiting room of 1900 Park Fare has also been redone and makes a strong first impression with plush new sofas, pretty carpet, and artwork featuring designs for Big Bertha and other carousel stuff.

I was also surprised that this check-in area wasn’t overflowing with people, spilling out into the little lobby between 1900 Park Fare and Grand Floridian Cafe. That was often the case before, and still is with many/most other character meals.

For both of our meals, we were able to easily snag seats, appreciate the artwork, and relax a bit before our names were called. (Perhaps we just got lucky.) This little room is charming and well-appointed, setting the tone for the meal to come.

I’m not going to suggest that the atmosphere of 1900 Park Fare is on par with Topolino’s Terrace or Artist Point. The former is a rooftop restaurant at one of the tallest resorts offering big views of Walt Disney World; that dining room is elegant and sophisticated and the sweeping vistas from the large windows are fantastic. Artist Point is styled after a grand National Parks lodge dining room and has been further stylized with forest decor; like everything else in Wilderness Lodge, it’s an exemplar of themed design.

While 1900 Park Fare is not on par with these settings, it used to be the antithesis of them. Now, it at least belongs in the same conversation. I could see some guests even preferring 1900 Park Fare for its cozy seating, pleasing palate, and charming character portraits. We aren’t those guests, but we see much more appeal in 1900 Park Fare now.

The vibe is right, finally. There’s now a certain grandiosity to the atmosphere at 1900 Park Fare that is befitting of the character meal at the Grand Floridian. The whole meal has pomp and circumstance to it, which is exactly what you’d expect when booking a pricey character dining experience at Walt Disney World’s flagship resort.

Speaking of which, let’s turn to the character component of the meal…

As noted in Why Disney’s Changes to 1900 Park Fare Are Controversial Among Fans, the characters have changed as this has been reimagined into Wish Makers Enchanted Dining at 1900 Park Fare. Gone are the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast (featuring Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Tigger, and Winnie the Pooh) and Happily Ever After Dinner (featuring Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella).

In this refreshed character dining experience at 1900 Park Fare, guests are greeted by 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.

In doing a bit of research about 1900 Park Fare, one thing I found interesting is that it has had many concepts over the years, including Mary Poppins meals a few times. In between those, it has hosted a Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers meal, Mickey & Friends, and a Disney Villains dinner. All of those sound awesome, but even as a kid who grew up on Disney Afternoon, that one does strike me as kinda odd for the flagship resort.

As with breakfast, all of the character interactions at 1900 Park Fare during dinner were fantastic.

Prince Ali is the odd man out (literally), but I ended up appreciating his presence. The character costume is much better (and obviously more lavish) than the normal Aladdin street rat garb, and he’s a perfect candidate to talk about the power of wishes. He also had a lot more to say about monkeys, genies, and other topics of interest.

All of them were very on-brand, with portrayals of their respective characters that are exactly what fans would expect. Mirabel was quirky and fun and a bit odd (in a good way!), buoyantly bouncing through the dining room. Tiana talked of her travels and other exploits. Cinderella was perfectly princessy.

What struck me most about all of the characters is how well they orchestrated interactions. It was immediately clear to them that we were interested in them interacting with Baby Bricker, who cannot talk (not real words anyone else can understand, at least). This made for a one-way dialogue, which they navigated wonderfully.

It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t experienced this, but suffice to say, they were all really, really great at getting our daughter to “light up” and it felt like an actual interaction. The attention they gave her was just fantastic–I cannot praise these princesses (and Aladdin) enough.

It’s not evident from these photos of her mostly looking away from them and the camera (by design), but Baby Bricker was in awe of the princesses. At least, Cinderella and Tiana. She got wide-eyed starting squeaking and flailing her arms and legs about as they interacted with her. She was so precious and adorable, and the whole scene made time freeze just for a brief moment.

It’s impossible to articulate and I don’t really have great photos of these interactions–because I was living them–but they’re indelibly seared into my memory. Naturally, when it came time for the posed photos, Baby Bricker had other ideas…

For the lengthy and quality interactions alone, 1900 Park Fare would be worth what it cost to us. (An important asterisk–even as a new parent who now is much more emotionally invested in these experiences, I can still separate my feelings from objective quality.) Thankfully, the food also delivered.

Speaking of which, here’s a look at the dinner buffet spread at 1900 Park Fare:

Also not evident from the photos is just how good and high-quality the dinner spread was at 1900 Park Fare. To the contrary, I’m finding myself looking at the images now and thinking, that’s it? I’ve gotta have better shots of them!

How about a few plate photos:

Although the photos don’t do them justice, the dinner spread at 1900 Park Fare is a veritable highlight reel. The Curry-roasted Chicken was flavorful, with fantastic seasoning and a fantastic tasting curry to enhance the meat’s juiciness. When we managed to snag cuts from a freshly-made tray, the Baked Salmon with Saffron-Lemon Butter was table service entree caliber. I know you’re not going to believe it based on the photos here, but the salmon was juicy, fall-apart tender, flavorful, and fantastic.

The Roasted Garlic Sausage was another unexpected winner, with a quality far better than you’d expect of usually basic buffet sausage. Adjacent to the sausage on the buffet–the spread for adults–was ‘grown-up’ Mac & Cheese. Also good, and I’m a sucker for the stuff, but I didn’t allocate too much stomach space to it given everything else on this spread. Speaking of things for which I’m a sucker, the Mashed Potatoes were also next-level, creamy and buttery unlike the typical buffet potatoes.

One of the ‘higher-dollar’ options on the buffet is the Peel-n-Eat Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce. Very sizable, nicely-seasoned, and tasty. I am personally not a fan of this much “work” accompanying my meal, but I appreciated both the flavor and the quality of the shrimp offering. It’s another dish that visibly demonstrates that the spread is worth the priciness.

One of the new (supposed) highlights of the 1900 Park Fare dinner spread is Tiana’s Famous Gumbo with Spicy Andouille Sausage. This wasn’t bad (or even mediocre), but frankly wasn’t a star of the spread. I do appreciate that they tried to tie in the menu with the characters and theme, but I prefer the (very different) version of Tiana’s Gumbo over at Tiana’s Palace in Disneyland.

Turning back to things I loved from the buffet, other highlights included the Loaded Baked Potato Salad and Focaccia with Sun-dried Tomato and Herbs. I didn’t eat too much of either because both are inexpensive filler (that’s how they try to get ya!), and this buffet wasn’t my first rodeo. Sarah also remarked that the salads featuring kale and couscous were fantastic. I took her word for it.

These are just a few examples of dishes on the buffet at 1900 Park Fare that were elevated beyond buffet basics or staples. It seemed like nearly every dish we tried–and note that we skipped all of the kids stuff or anything that presumably was mundane–had a level of quality or unexpected nuance to the flavor or preparation. This was not your average buffet food in terms of quality. (And we dined here long after reopening, so it’s not like they were pulling out all the stops to make a strong first impression.)

Where I focused most of my stomach space during the 1900 Park Fare dinner was the carving station. Like with a good bartender, it’s crucial to develop a rapport with the meat carver–the most important person at the buffet. While they won’t always ask how you’d like the meat cooked (e.g. rare, medium rare, etc.), you can absolutely special that and anything else you’d like in your cut.

The Prime Rib was next level. I cannot believe how tender and tasty this meat was. You’ll see some pieces on our plates with a bit (too much, arguably) fattiness, but that was perfect ‘for flavor’ given the unlimited nature of the buffet. The house-made horseradish was also fantastic, albeit unnecessary. (I used it anyway–too good to resist!) This prime rib was better than what we’ve had relatively-recently as dedicated entress at Steakhouse 71 and Turf Club. That’s no disrespect aimed at either–both are restaurants we love!

It’s more to underscore just how shockingly good the Prime Rib was at 1900 Park Fare. A lot of fans talk about “what Walt would’ve wanted” to project their own preferences or disappointments in Walt Disney World. Most of it is nonsense, but I’m fairly confident in saying prime rib on the menus of every restaurant is what Walt would’ve wanted. Oh, and canned chili–the only two confirmed foods that Walt loved.)

In addition to the glorious Prime Rib, there was also Spice-Roasted Turkey on the carving station. This was very good if you’re into turkey, but couldn’t hold a candle to the beautiful beef. (Note that the second carving station option rotates: Porchetta, Ham, or Spice-Roasted Turkey.)

When it comes to the dessert spread, one item you’ll spot on our plates repeatedly is the unassumingly-named (and presented) Warm Chocolate Cake. For all intents and purposes, this is essentially Lava Cake, buffet style. It was absolutely fantastic, warm and the perfect texture/consistency/richness combo.

I’ve had versions of this dessert at table service restaurants that aren’t even as good as what’s served at 1900 Park Fare. It has no business being as good as it is. (Pro tip: skip the vanilla sauce and use the Strawberry Soup instead.)

Frankly, that’s the story of pretty much all the desserts at 1900 Park Fare–shocking quality for a dinner buffet. It’s not that surprising, as the Grand Floridian pastry team often prepares desserts that punch way above their weight at unexpected locations. I still remember when Gasparilla Island Grill was reimagined and rejuvenated several years back, with the redo supervised by Chef Scott Hunnel; all of the food was amazing (at first), but especially the desserts. Same story here.

Anyway, same story with the Grand Floridian Financier, Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake, Toasted Coconut Cake, and (to a lesser extent) Fudge Brownie were all similar stories. Then, of course, there’s the Grand Floridian Strawberry Soup that has developed a fan-following for good reason. That was only my fourth-favorite dessert on the spread, which should say something.

I’d pay a decent amount for a dessert-only buffet with items of this caliber. Perhaps they could do it in the afternoon, pair it with tea, and host it in a setting with big views overlooking the resort’s glorious gardens? Sorry, just a random and crazy idea I had. Probably would never work.

Ultimately, the Wish Makers Enchanted Dining at 1900 Park Fare reaches the same high bar as character dining experiences at Topolino’s Terrace and Artist Point, managing to achieve both high quality and high quantity (of food). As far as the food goes, this is easily the best character buffet at Walt Disney World. Tusker House is the only option that’s close, and that’s a very different kind of cuisine. As much as we love Tusker House, 1900 Park Fare is better.

I’d actually take that a step further and argue that dinner at 1900 Park Fare is the best character meal for food at Walt Disney World, surpassing Artist Point, the previous winner. While we love the ‘elevated’ entrees there, the food can also be hit or miss from time to time. That’s probably also true of 1900 Park Fare (I saw some sad looking salmon while waiting for a new tray to materialize), the key difference is the all-you-can-eat nature. Having both high quality and quantity is a game-changer for a character buffet.

With that said, there’s still the question of the overall experience. This was the reason breakfast at 1900 Park Fare had us “truly torn,” because the experience didn’t coalesce into something great despite individual components that were good-to-great. For breakfast, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

For dinner, it does. I still have some of the same quibbles, but there’s a lot that magnificent meats and decadent desserts can cause me to overlook. Honestly, that’s exactly what happened with 1900 Park Fare. Whereas I’m in no rush to revisit breakfast and would rather do the superior overall meals at Artist Point or Topolino’s Terrace, I’d sooner rather return to 1900 Park Fare for dinner than either of those options–even if I do think the settings and complete packages there work just a tad better. Dinner at 1900 Park Fare just has such fantastic food (and a lot of it!), that I can completely justify the higher price tag (it’s an absolute no brainer on the Disney Dining Plan) and am already ready to return!

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

Have you done the Wish Makers Enchanted Dinner at 1900 Park Fare? What did you think of the food? What about the character interactions? Do you agree or disagree with any of our review? Does this character meal look appealing to you? 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!




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