California Grill is a signature dining restaurant at Disney's Contemporary Resort. The Contemporary can be accessed by a resort bus to Magic Kingdom then taking the resort monorail or the walkway to the right-hand side of bag check. Alternatively, a similar route can be taken from the Ticket and Transportation Centre.
Check in for California Grill is located on the middle floor of the Contemporary, one level down from the monorail. You will see the above sign behind a desk where you can check in.
California Grill serves brunch and dinner and prices range from $35 per person for brunch and over $60 for dinner. This is not inclusive of any sales tax or gratuity. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, California Grill is 2 table service credits.
We arrived early for our meal so had a good nose around the shops before we headed in. When your reservation is ready, you will go up to the restaurant in a dedicated elevator which often has a Cast Member to do the button pressing for you - fancy starts at the lift!
You then arrive directly inside the restaurant and may have to wait a little for your table. You can wait in the bar or the smaller seating area. I took the liberty to have a wander round and was completely in love with the view.
California Grill overlooks Magic Kingdom, Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom resort area. The far right side of the restaurant has a direct view into Magic Kingdom and the further left of the restaurant has a view over Seven Seas Lagoon towards the Grand Floridian.
We were seated on the right of the restaurant towards the middle bank of tables. We had a reservation at around 20:00 so we could watch Happily Ever After, and it was fairly busy. If I had a choice, I would have requested a window seat and waited, but given the late time of our reservation and the fact we were all starving, we didn't bother.
One thing to note about California Grill is that there is a dress code. It is more relaxed than I thought. Men are expected to be in khakis or dress shorts with a collard shirts and women are expected to wear skirts, dresses or dress shorts as a minimum. Obviously, you can dress up fancier if you want!
We were then seated at our table, which was beautifully set, and offered a selection of water that had been filtered probably around 100 times and each came with a description from the dedicated water server. This server continued to top up your water throughout your entire meal, which was great because I drink a lot of water! We were also brought some sourdough bread and a sun dried tomato balsamic oil dip. Me being me, dove straight in to the bread and didn't bother with the oil.
This is the menu of August 2018 which changes on a seasonal basis. There are a few staple items that remain the same with smaller detail changes.
At this time, our server said that she would be taking our order but we would not receive it until after Happily Ever After had finished. This was so that we had time to enjoy the fireworks, didn't feel rushed and also that the kitchen does not cook during the time Happily Ever After is on so all noise is reduced. These are the smaller details that I thoroughly appreciate about a dining location and it did make a lot of difference to the pace of our meal, we didn't feel rushed and that we could take as much time as we wanted.
About 5-10 minutes before Happily Ever After is scheduled to begin, a server removes the red rope from the balcony door and you are free to explore. The balcony is extremely high up, so anyone with a fear of heights might not find this enjoyable. For those who do not wish to go outside, or if it is raining, the lights are dimmed inside the restaurant and the music is piped in so you can watch the fireworks from the comfort of your chair. If can get very windy outside so keep that in mind.
The view into Magic Kingdom is phenomenal and, for me, was worth the price of the meal on its own. The best spot is where you are looking slightly side on to Cinderella Castle (as the photo above shows) as the fireworks are launched in the Space Mountain area.
The balcony is very long and has space for everyone. In this photo, I am only around half way down the balcony. If you have time before the fireworks and are one of the first out onto the balcony, on the side that looks away from Disney you can see all the way down to the Orlando Eye.
The view of Happily Ever After is probably one of my favourite spots; you can see the projections clearly, the fireworks are almost right in front of you and the music is piped in via speakers on the ledge of the balcony.
Once the fireworks are over, everyone files back in to the restaurant but you can spend a few more minutes watching the parks if you have some time. Within 10 minutes of sitting back down, our food was out.
I ordered the oak fired filet of beef which came with potatoes, romano beans, grilled onion and a BBQ sauce. Now, I have never been a big steak person and this changed it for me. This was a large fillet and cut incredibly easily. The beans and onion were charred perfectly and the flavours complimented my steak very well. It was a big enough portion that I was full but didn't feel like I needed to be wheeled out of the restaurant.
For dessert, I ordered the chocolate cake which came with vanilla bean ice cream, a chocolate mousse and chocolate swirl. This cake was so good; it was molten in the middle and had nuts in. The chocolate mousse was light and airy and I could have eaten a whole bowl of that and the ice cream felt extremely high quality and was very creamy.
Time for the million dollar question: how much was it? To give you an idea, my steak on its own was $51, so this is not a meal if you need to save the pennies. For six of us with entrees, desserts and drinks (including alcohol) it came to over $600. Not a cheap meal by any means. Luckily for us, and also the only reason we chose to come here, we were on the Dining Plan so only had to foot the gratuity.
Personally, I really enjoyed my meal and would definitely go back to California Grill again. The food and service were very good, but what made it for me was the view of the fireworks. It is, of course, a lot of money and I would definitely say to use the Dining Plan if you can.