Review: California Grill Restaurant

Review: California Grill restaurant in the Contemporary Resort

Jeff Berlinicke

There’s nothing like sitting on the top of the world, especially when it’s Walt Disney World and you’ve saved up a lot of money to show your family the Greatest View in the Entire World.

If you are coming from out of town, and most of you are, or just a local Orlando guy looking to take your girl out on a romantic date that will blow her away, the California Grill is as good as it gets.

Make sure you bring lots of plastic because it will cost an awful lot, but it is arguably the second-best dining experience in all of Walt Disney World, and as fun as it gets. The food and wine selections are excellent, but they don’t even compare to the walk out to the roof of the Contemporary Resort. Here’s a great tip guys: try to remember your anniversary date and book a reservation in advance. It will likely be months in advance, because reservations are normally required at California Grill, but call WDW once you remember that special date and find out what time the late night fireworks go off at the Magic Kingdom that night (they vary depending upon the season). Remember, it is vital that you make reservations for that time of night, but it’s worth the advance preparation. Romance will be in the air and you will both get chills watching Tinker Bell flying across the sky during the coolest part of the fireworks display.

Okay, it is going to cost you, and if you bring along the kids and want to splurge for a night, you might be better off booking – way in advance – a table at Cinderella’s Royal Table at Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom. California Grill has a dress code that the kids might not be crazy about, not to mention adults who have spent the day walking around the park in Florida’s heat. It might be best to talk about what is not allowed, such has hats, swimwear, T-shirts with any graphics, or anything else that might not be acceptable at a country club. Collared shirts, khakis, Capri’s and similar clothing will work just fine. It really works to just book a room at the Contemporary Resort and avoid the hassle.

As for the food, it is second only to Victoria & Albert’s over at the Grand Floridian (if you just hit the lottery, try both and make comparisons).

On a recent trip, my wife and I started at the sushi bar, which is as good as it gets. It is crowded and can be a little bit loud, but I had the Dragon Roll, with spicy tuna, salmon, hamachi, snapper, and wasabi oil and it doesn’t get any better than that. My wife doesn’t like sushi at all, but she even tried it. There’s also a complete selection of beers, which is my game. I had a few Coronas and, after a day of walking around the Magic Kingdom, which doesn’t sell beer, it tasted really great. Our host tried to convince us to try a glass of wine, but we passed.

Next came the main course. Service is very friendly, just like almost everything else at WDW, but it takes a little bit of time. Once the food makes it to the table, with the typical Disney enthusiasm, it’s worth the wait.

After the sushi, I really wanted the first course, the Sonoma goat cheese ravioli, but decided to go with the main course. I went with the seared diver scallops that came with southern sweet corn risotto, spiced tomato broth ( I wasn’t crazy about that but, then again, I don’t like tomatoes), and micro popcorn shoots. My wife ordered the oak-fired filet of beef with Tillamook potatoes, Blue Lake beans, bacon vinaigrette, and teriyaki barbecue. Usually we sample each other’s dinner, but it was tough  getting a bite out of her’s.

There wasn’t a lot of room for desert, but,, hey sometimes you just go for it. Plus, there was about an hour until Tink Time, so we split some Key lime cheesecake that was maybe the best part of the night. As a sportswriter, I get plenty of perks when it comes to food, but this was the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.

California Grill is not just a dinner; it’s an experience. It’s costly, but worth it. Having a Corona outside on the deck, looking down on the fireworks as night sets over the Magic Kingdom, and having your spouse at you side is worth every penny.


Food: It is as good as it gets at WDW. After spending a day walking wound the Kingdom trying to decide between pizza, burgers, or a smoked turkey leg, the menu at California Grill is exotic and a great change of pace from typical Disney dining. If it weren’t for the fact that you were actually dining at Disney you would think you were at a five-star Orlando restaurant. It is that good.

Atmosphere: There isn’t a view in all of Walt Disney World that tops the California Grill, and that is not only when the fireworks are going off. The view is spectacular even in the afternoon with views of the castle, and the Seven Sees Lagoon,. It might be a bit loud, but it’s hard to be quiet with so much excitement going on.

Service: There isn’t a place at WDW that doesn’t offer excellent service and the California Grill is no exception. It can be slow at night, but there are plenty of apologies and the servers and hosts are more than happy to answer any question whatsoever. We had no reason to return any food, but I am willing to bet that any request would be handled with no questions asked.

Tips: Make sure, absolutely sure, that you make reservations in advance. You have to reserve with a credit card and cancellations must be made 24 hours in advance to avoid a fee. Very important tip: California Grill is undergoing a massive refurbishment starting on Jan. 6, 2013, and won’t reopen until late summer, so get there while you can.

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About Jeff Berlinicke