Dining with An Imagineer

Dining with An Imagineer

On each of our trips to Walt Disney World I try to throw something new and different into the mix.  We’ve done a variety of guided tours, Youth Education Series Classes, boat rentals, fireworks cruises, etc.  One thing that I wanted to try for a while was Lunch with an Imagineer, but the ages of my children weren’t quite right yet.  Well, this year my oldest son turned 13, and one of the career paths he wants to explore is becoming an Imagineer.  Perfect!  For his birthday I gave him an Imagineering t-shirt I purchased on eBay, along with a voucher to join me for Lunch with an Imagineer at The Hollywood Brown Derby on our upcoming trip.  We were both very excited.

I was a little concerned that this dining experience was not going to happen for us.  The space is very limited; at the time I was booking it was only offered at lunch time for the Brown Derby location, and only three days a week.  The experience itself is limited to 10 participants.  Reservations open at the 180 day mark, but I didn’t decide to try to get one until about five months out.  At first I had no luck for the entire week of our stay, but I kept checking the online reservation system, rather obsessively.  It paid off, and I was able to snag a reservation for two on our preferred day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The menu for this experience is Prix Fixe with four courses and beverage included.  For adults ages 10 and up the price is $60.99 plus tax and gratuities.  For children ages 3-9 the price is $34.99 plus tax and gratuities.  Unless you have an extremely attentive, well-mannered and interested 3-9 year old I would not recommend this experience for children.  The entire lunch lasts at least three hours.

Having secured our reservation we only had to look forward to our experience.  I was contacted by the manager of the restaurant prior to our departure to arrange a detail of the experience that I will leave a surprise for you here in this review—you will have to book it for yourself to find out!

We checked in ahead of time around 11:15 for our 11:30 lunch.  The restaurant was not open yet, and two of the members of our Imagineer group were selected to open the restaurant wearing a top hat and a boa, complete with paparazzi following them.  Our entire group was escorted together to the private Bamboo Room for our lunch.  Our group of ten consisted of two young couples, a middle aged man who left his family at the resort to swim, another mother and son, along with my son and me.  The “paparazzi” hung around and took a couple of pictures of our group for another surprise.

Our Imagineer was Alex Carruthers.  He is the Art Director at the Studios, and prior to that he was Art Director at Magic Kingdom.  He’s been an Imagineer for somewhere around 20 years.  The three hours flew by in great conversation and storytelling by Alex.  He did a good job leading the conversation, involving everyone, answering questions and telling us interesting little tidbits.  With his experience at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, he knew a lot about many different things.  He had some interesting stories about Hidden Mickeys, testing thrill rides before they open to the public, and Disney trash cans.

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Alex was also the person in charge of the Pirates League as far as the design and furnishings.  It was pretty interesting to hear him talk about how they developed the storyline there, procured the furnishings, and took various things into consideration like time period and what would be historically accurate, along with guest comfort.

The experience alone was well worth the price of admission, even if we were served heavy hors d’oeuvres.  But, we had a full four course meal which made it even better!

Our first course was the soup course.  At the time we did this experience the soup was an Asparagus Soup.  Now you are served a Maine Lobster and Sweet Corn Bisque.  My son was able to substitute the Chicken Noodle soup as a request.  The Asparagus Soup was not my favorite, but others seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.  My son said the Chicken Noodle Soup was very good.

The next course was the famous Cobb Salad (Finely Chopped Greens, Turkey Breast, Bacon, Egg, Tomatoes, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Avocado, Chives, and Cobb Dressing).  Our server, who did a fantastic job through the meal, took a few moments to tell us the history of the Cobb Salad at the original Brown Derby in Hollywood.  This was a nice touch to the meal and gave more of that sense of Disney’s attention to detail in their restaurants.  The portion was smaller than you would receive in the regular dining room, but it was still more than I could finish.  It was very fresh and very good—a nice blend of flavors.

For our entrees we could select from three choices.  Again, one of the selections has changed since I dined here.  An overwhelming majority of our group selected the Beef Filet served over Mashed Potatoes with a Red Wine Reduction.  It was delicious.  Mine was perfectly prepared, and cut like butter.  I was very happy with this selection.  Now the Filet is offered with Boniato Mash, Crisp Peppered Onions and Chimichurri Aioli and Rich Cabernet Reduction.  The other two selections are the same now as what we had, a Thai Noodle Bowl with Barbecue Breast of Chicken, Sugar Peas, Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms in a Red Curry Broth, or Pan-Fired Grouper over Roasted Asparagus, Citrus Plugra Butter Sauce topped with a Sweet Onion Marmalade.  The Vegetarian in our group ordered the Thai Noodle Bowl and substituted Tofu for the chicken.

I made certain to leave room for dessert.  We were offered a choice of crème brulee or the famous Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake (light Layers of Yellow Cake with fresh Grapefruit-Cream Cheese Icing).  The current menus online do not show a choice being offered now, but I would ask about the Grapefruit Cake.  It was light and delightful, the perfect ending to the meal.  Here again, our server gave us a history of the Grapefruit Cake at the original restaurant.

At the end of our meal we were presented with another surprise that I will reveal to you.  We each received a keepsake plate commemorating our experience that Alex personally signed.  Our waiter also gave us recipe cards for the Grapefruit Cake and the Cobb Salad.

Not only was this a fantastic dining experience, it was a wonderful Disney experience for fans like my son and me.  Between the quality and quantity of the food, the entertainment from the Imagineer, and the service of our waiter, the price per person is a tremendous value.  I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the design, operation, history or behind the scenes of the parks.  You never know who you are going to get for your Imagineer or what their specialty might be, but they are all well trained in Disney’s art of storytelling to entertain you throughout your meal.  My 13 year old thoroughly enjoyed his time in the restaurant; not once did he think about the fact that he could be riding Star Tours or Tower of Terror.  As a Mom, I am very thankful for the memorable experience I was able to have with my newly turned teenage son at the Hollywood Brown Derby for Lunch with an Imagineer.

About Sarah Chapman

I am a long time Disney fan since I was hooked on Walt Disney World with my first trip in 1987. Since that time I’ve tried experiencing everything I can in the parks, with a total of 30 visits and counting (I’m always planning my next trip) to Walt Disney World—not to mention Disney Cruise Line and even (shhh!) Universal Orlando and Sea World. I’ve turned my Disney obsession into a profession helping others plan their magical vacations as a Dream Vacation Maker at LBAC Travel. I am a work at home mom to three wonderful boys, and each one has been properly indoctrinated with all things Disney. Walt Disney World is definitely our “Laughing Place.” Look for me on Facebook at Facebook.com/SarahLBAC for updates, discount announcements, tips, tricks and planning advice for your next vacation. You can also find me on Instagram (sarahdreamvacationmaker) and Pinterest (sarahlbactravel).