07/19/2024

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I go to Walt Disney World often. And, it’s a known fact that food and drinks are more expensive at WDW hotels, but over the years I’ve learned which meals are worth splurging on and which are not.

I usually avoid the pre-fixed menus offered at WDW because I find it more fun to sample my way around Magic Kingdom Park or Epcot and eat on the side, but California Grill’s special 50th anniversary menu piqued my interest for more than one reason.


On the one hand, it’s a limited-time offer. As part of the world’s most magical celebration of WDW’s 18 months celebrating its 50th anniversary, the special menu takes guests back to 1971, when the Top of the World restaurant opened on the highest floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Today, the place is known as the California Grill – known for its views of Magic Kingdom Park and the Seven Seas Lagoon – serving sushi, steaks and a great spot to watch the evening fireworks. For the limited-time menu, the chefs are offering two new creations, such as wild Alaskan halibut with charred avocado and mole Verde, and anniversary selections served in the 1970s, such as Florida blue crab bisque. The celebration continues through March 2023, and then this special menu comes to an end.


California Grill is also already on my list of restaurants worth splurging on. The food is great, the wine selection is impressive, and there’s nothing better than the view from the top. While I usually spend about $75 for a meal there, I was more than willing to take on this higher-priced menu out of culinary curiosity, as I’ve been looking for an excuse to take those modern elevators to the 15th floor.

California Grill’s 50th anniversary menu costs $89 per person. It includes an appetizer menu, an entree and a dessert. However, there are wine pairings. For $39 per person, you’ll be offered a “signature” wine selection, and for $69, you can upgrade to the “deluxe” level. The wines range from rich Cabernet Sauvignon to delicate dessert wines, all paired specifically with each course. They’re perfect.


We reserved a table at California Grill for 7:30 p.m., purposely choosing that time so that we could be seated during the Magic Kingdom fireworks display. As we watched the sun go down over the lagoon, we enjoyed prosciutto and cream cheese on toasted bread. Next came the bread service, where we dipped warm herb rolls into a mixture of olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes. We hadn’t even gotten our appetizers yet, and our stomachs were happy.

The 50th anniversary menu kept my longtime favorite on the menu: braised beef rib ravioli with pickled lotus root and radish. I couldn’t pass it up, so I ordered it along with the sushi my husband and friend ordered. The verdict? Everything about the course was perfect, with each dish paired separately with Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Darkness finally began to envelop WDW as our entrees were served, so we alternated between commenting on how delicious our food was and how enchanting the lights became as Disney World began to come alive. My husband ordered the Florida black grouper with cashew chutney and cabbage with paneer. It was hard for my friends and I to pass up a good steak, so we ordered the oak-roasted beef carpaccio with perfectly cooked buttered potatoes and asparagus.

The filet was almost as bright as the fireworks at night, which began to light up the sky over Cinderella’s Castle midway through the meal. The biggest challenge? Trying to decide if we should watch the fireworks through the window from our table or forgo our delicious meal and go outside to watch from our designated deck. After a few more sneaky bites of fully cooked steak, we snuck outside at the end of the show.


We re-entered the restaurant for dessert. The most popular were the five amazing snacks, five bite-sized desserts, each representing a California BBQ chef’s favorite. From a small piece of carrot cake to a mini lemon mousse, explore so many vibrant flavors in one dessert for a delightful time. Ever faithful to the crème brûlée, I chose one with pineapple-mango preserves, toasted coconut and rainbow sugar topping.

There’s also an impressive plant-based menu, which has been a priority for WDW in recent years. While we didn’t try the vegetable dumplings, spring pea and carrot risotto or peanut and banana cake, I have no doubt they would have satisfied our taste buds as well.


Two and a half hours later, we had our fill, finished our meal and headed to the elevator to return to the ground. Days later, my group of friends were still texting about how good those steaks were and how we wished our waiter Jay was still pouring our drinks and explaining each delicious dish as it was served.

All in all, our check was nearly $700. Our Disney World annual pass did provide us with a 10% discount on food, but not wine.


Would I visit again? Yes. In fact, I’m sure I’ll be back on the contemporary rooftop before the special celebration is over. Next time, I’ll probably try the duck à l’orange pizza or the lavender donut.

But who am I kidding? I’m a ravioli, filet mignon and crème brûlée kind of girl. Throw in the Disney fireworks and it’s a perfect night for $700 or not.

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