Review: Garden View Lounge: Afternoon Tea
The first page of Henry James’ novel, Portrait of a Lady, begins “Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” After you have experienced high tea at the Garden View Lounge, you too will smile knowingly at this line. Afternoon tea at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa instantly immerses you in this graceful Victorian-era tradition.
Now in truth, I have been enjoying tea at the Garden View Lounge with my mother ever since the hotel opened in 1988. When the Grand Floridian began serving afternoon tea, it immediately became a special activity for us—an occasion to not only indulge in our love of delicate tea sandwiches and pastries, but also a moment to connect with each other. We are not the only people to have made Disney tea time a special treat like this. Afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian is a much loved tradition among the locals and those guests who visit Disney World year after year. In fact, it’s a very common sight to see women hosting small bridal or baby showers, girlfriends catching up over birthday celebrations, and mothers and daughters bonding over the details of their lives.
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It helps to be a tea lover to fully appreciate the elegance of the Garden View Lounge’s tea service, which is only available between 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Unlike coffee, tea is not meant to be rushed. It is a beverage that needs to steep to open up its flavors and it is best enjoyed sipped from a tea cup rather than gulped from a big coffee mug. The Garden View Lounge serves more than 15 varieties of teas, including oolong, white, black, and green teas; herbal infusions, and seasonal mixes. The tea menu even has two custom blends made exclusively for this Disney restaurant that are definitely worth a try—the Garden View Blend and the Princess Breakfast Tea. Although the teas selection is plentiful, if you have a particular favorite not listed, ask your server if they have some available in the back. That’s how my mother got her cherished lemon verbena on this visit we had together.
Tea selections are $6.29 per person when ordered ala cart, or included as part of the Traditional Afternoon Tea menu items. Loose tea is fresh brewed, as is traditional, meaning you won’t find tea bags here. For many years, tea arrived steeping in individual Royal Dalton china teapots, covered with tea cozies, to be poured when ready into matching china tea cups. Now, French presses are used to serve some of the small leaf varieties, tea cozies aren’t often used, and, sadly, the Royal Dalton china is being replaced with something more sturdy for industrial dish washers. These changes won’t affect the enjoyment of afternoon tea for first time guests, but I don’t like to see my traditions messed with.
If you are not a tea lover, your choices are more limited, but you’ll still find a beverage to enjoy. Hot cocoa, coffee, cappuccino, espresso, chocolate milk, soft drinks, and apple and orange juice are available as is a small “selections from our bar” menu featuring sparkling wine, port, and beer.
Afternoon tea is as much about food as it is about tea, and the Traditional Afternoon Tea selections with their multiple courses are the most popular way to go. There are four different complete tea services you can choose from along with the Mrs. Potts Tea “for the younger ‘tea lover’ in your party.” I ordered the newest menu item, the Princess Kate Tea ($38.00), since it offered a contemporary spin on the tea service I’ve come to love. In addition to a pot of tea, the Princess Kate includes a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne. My mother enjoyed the classic Buckingham Tea ($23.00), a long time menu item.
Even if the members of your party choose different tea services or order off the ala cart menu, you most likely will enjoy a few of the same courses. The Princess Kate begins with potted shrimp or tuna poke. I chose the tuna poke, which is a lightly miso and sesame marinated raw tuna dish served with a wasabi drizzle and black & white sesame seeds on thin crackers. While I liked it, the dish was very mildly flavored for something with wasabi and could have used more salt. It was also not the most tender tuna I’ve had in this preparation.
For the next course, my mother and I enjoyed a mixed plate of savory options. The Buckingham begins with a traditional selection of tea sandwiches. The plate makes the pretty presentation you’d expect with its dainty triangle sandwiches minus their crusts. As much as I always think I can make these sandwiches at home, I never seem to get my bread as thin and sturdy as Disney does. You get five assorted sandwiches made with house-baked breads—egg salad on potato bread; cucumber, watercress and butter on seeded whole grain; pear and gorgonzola on pumpernickel; curried chicken salad on marbled rye; and a bite-sized caramelized onion tart. My mother’s comment was that it was just the right amount of food without filling her up. The Princess Kate continues with a cheese and fruit plate served with cheddar cheese biscuits featuring English stilton, a five-county cheddar, mushroom brie, a bite of fig cake, whole almonds, and assorted fruit. The cheeses and cheddar biscuits were delicious but I didn’t care for the dense and sweet fig cake (well made, just not to my liking). While this course offered me a lot to nibble on, I didn’t feel like it was a well-harmonized dish. I was just a lot of things on the plate.
Third course was the same for both of us—a strawberry jam tart and a currant scone served with Devonshire cream and preserves. Snacking on these while sipping on our tea is the heart of tea time for me and mom. After this came dessert. The Buckingham allows you the choice of two small pastries from a selection that varies. Mom chose a bite-size fruit tart and a pastry swan filled with a delicious hazelnut buttercream. The Princess Kate comes with the chef’s choice of sweets. I loved the almond cake topped with almond butter and berries, and enjoyed the Boston crème cake with its cute Mickey chocolate.
We lingered over tea for two hours and more than one pot of tea. I felt fairly full given the extra course the Princess Kate offers, but I caution against thinking that the Garden View Lounge’s afternoon tea is going to satisfy heartier (aka male) appetites. If you do plan on afternoon tea as part of your vacation, I don’t recommend making an early dinner reservation that day.
Food – Close your eyes and imagine a Victorian afternoon tea. That’s exactly what you’ll see on the plate before you, from finger sandwiches and scones, to tiny pastries and English Trifle. Take note that “Tea at the Grand” can be more pricy than you’d expect.
Atmosphere – A crisp, comfortable sitting parlor filled with natural light and pretty views of the hotel’s gardens. The fresh flowers on the tables are a nice touch.
Service – Extremely attentive and considerate. Many of these cast members have been serving tea here for years. Substitutions for allergy restrictions and special requests are readily fulfilled with a smile.
Tips – Making a reservation is a must! Tea is served only from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. This is one of the more popular dining experiences at Walt Disney World and space fills up, especially around any holiday.
The DisDining Mama Says – Enjoy yourself! I choose one of two options: either have tea with my adult friends or bring my daughter and enjoy her little girl company in a big girl setting. Both experiences are rewarding and build great memories, but I find it works best when you choose one audience over the other instead of trying to serve both in the same sitting