When I designed this blog, the purpose was to report on and review different experiences so that others could enjoy them with me. One of my favorite experiences is the Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian in the Disney World Resort. The Afternoon Tea is held in a room that looks out to the beautiful flora of Florida, with views that are bright and brilliant. The Grand Floridian is a marvel of Victorian wonder, with a grand piano on the second floor playing after 3pm and a wide open room with various Victorian sofas, chairs, and antique displays. The room where the tea is held has various works of art on display from the era, as well as lovely floral themed dishes and tea cups. The tea is nestled in a burgundy velvet cozy with Grand Floridian embroidered in gold thread.
The offerings are fresh, light, with a touch of sweet. The courses in the premium choice include crackers and spreads, fruit, cheese, sandwiches, and sweet bites for the finish.
Although there are many people dressed in casual resort wear, there are also young ladies and gentlemen in their frocks who have come with their parents to enjoy the pretenses of the storybook elite by experiencing a tea party in a place that holds a magical quality.
I had at one time brought the daughter of a friend for just such an experience, proudly showing her one of the lesser known Disney magical events that had always been bright and beautiful.
The one thing that I try to avoid is comparing one experience with another. I try to have each experience be unique and evaluated on its own merits. I lived in Florida for ten years and would frequently go to the Grand Floridian to enjoy their Afternoon Tea experience. The tea was held in a restaurant that had garden views and let the sunshine spill into the tea room where white linens, burgundy velvet tea cozies, and a Victorian atmosphere made the experience sweet and magical.
Having moved to California I was very excited about the chance to go to the Afternoon Tea at the Disneyland Hotel to experience their version of this magical event.
I wanted to love it – it took me years to finally have all of the right stars align so that I could get to the Disneyland Hotel and enjoy an afternoon of tea and delicious bites.
Unfortunately, I was very disappointed.
I love Disney resorts and experiences, and I was prepared to experience something different from the tea that I was used to in Florida. I wanted to enjoy the afternoon of tea, bites, and sweets, but there were too problems that made it impossible – primarily the atmosphere and the food.
The first problem is the atmosphere. The tea is held in Steakhouse 55, which is located in the Disneyland Hotel. As a steakhouse, the restaurant is beautifully appointed with mahogany wood, deep purple wallpaper and lights, with some of the most elegant chandeliers that I have ever seen in a restaurant. There are large scale black and white photographs of celebrities like Lucille Ball and Rosemary Clooney sitting around tables and enjoying a meal.
The intention of the theme of the event was that it would represent "A very unmerry birthday" from Alice in Wonderland. They change the themes periodically to Disney oriented ideas, which was supposed to be obvious in the presentation. It was clear because I knew, but it was not necessarily clear that the food was made to be symbolic of the film. The blue caterpillar inspired finger did not necessarily inspire me to think Alice, even though the white chocolate clock and white chocolate teacup did give some reminder. Although, I couldn't help but channel Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka while munching on the white confectionery tea cup.
The mid-century vibe is warm and beautiful. If I were to choose an atmosphere for a steakhouse, this would certainly fit the bill.
Unfortunately, I was not there for a steak.
The room, while suitable for a fantastic steak, was not really suited for an elegant afternoon tea. There were no windows, which meant that there was no sense of being in a garden and no afternoon light. That Victorian elegance that demarcates the experience in Florida was not evident in the room where this tea was held. While I loathe it when people try to compare experiences without taking into consideration that difference can be good, in this case, there was nothing that really created any connection between the event of the Afternoon Tea and the atmosphere.
This was clearly a restaurant that was simply serving a tea, and not an experience.
The second problem was the bites that were served. Afternoon tea may not be a meal, but that does not mean that a sense of balance should not be achieved. Too much sweet can lead to a gastronomic failure, which was the experience with the bites that were served. Although the salad was very nice with greens, dried strawberries and blueberries, and nice citrus finish on the vinaigrette, the rest was somewhat unfathomable, and not nearly as enjoyable as I had hoped. However, do note the honey based swirl that topped the salad which certainly represented some clever construction in this lovely salad plate.
The rest of the three courses were served on a tiered set of plates, which was simply elegant. The next course consisted of scones, in which one was lemon lavender and one caramel. Both scones were sweet, which meant that there was already a heavily sweet focus on the bites.
The ‘finger sandwiches’ were – well they were not really ‘finger sandwiches’ except for the idea that two were in the approximate shape of a finger. The four pieces of what was supposed to be the savory portion of the meal consisted of a beet infused deviled egg dusted with 24 carat gold; a blue tinged finger shaped bite with blueberries, pancetta bacon and mushrooms with an herb infused cotton candy puff; a finger shaped piece of bread that had greens, duck prosciutto and marscarpone; in addition to a bocconcini tart. The complaint is not that they were not good, but that they really were not ‘finger sandwiches’ and that they were so very different that they denied any connection to the concept of Afternoon Tea.
The deserts portion of the experience consisted of four, uniquely beautiful desert bites. There was a white chocolate covered strawberry that resembled either tweedle dum or dee, a mini tea-cup made of white chocolate that was filled with a bit of chocolate pot de creme, a banana macaron, and my favorite of the day, a mushroom with a rice crispy base and a soft spongy cake filled with a lovely mascarpone.
However, there was way too much white chocolate, too much mascarpone, and not enough savory to balance out the offerings. I went away feeling a bit under the weather, which I had not felt before going into the tea.
There was no doubt that the service was done very well, and my waitress Emily was friendly and had a lot of information about the experience. I have not a single complaint on the service, and in fact, would say that it was well beyond expectation.
The problem is that I cannot in any way imagine what it would be to take a young girl, dressed in her sweetest dress and expecting a little bit of Disney magic at this strange tea party. I had not dressed in an Afternoon Tea kind of way, and was glad for it. This is not a place to see men and women dressing elegantly for a unique experience.
Unfortunately, this is clearly an attempt to provide a half way done version of the Florida tea room, and it is just not successful.
I hesitated to write this review because I LOVE the Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian, and had expected that I would enjoy the same at the Disneyland Hotel. Unfortunately, that is not the report that I can write. If I had never experienced the tea at the Grand Floridian, I would be confused by the experience at the Disneyland Hotel because there is nothing to connect the concept to its atmosphere.
So, with all due respect to the people who work so well and so hard to provide the tea – the staff, the chefs – the problem is in the atmosphere and the design of the experience.
There are so many wonderful Disney experiences, that I would recommend skipping this one at the Disneyland Hotel. If you go to Disney World, definitely go to the Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian for one of the most delightful afternoons you will experience. However, that will not be your experience in California, so skip it in favor of one of the many other fun and wonderful things to do at the Disneyland Resort.