What’s So Special about Disney’s California Grill?

What’s So Special about Disney’s California Grill?

When people talk about great restaurants at Walt Disney World, there are a few that always float to the top. And Disney’s California Grill is one of them. Cheaper than Victoria and Alberts, and easier to get to than Toledo, the California Grill is a rooftop restaurant at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Known for its 3-course dinner, hard-to-get dining reservations, extensive wine list, and Magic Kingdom views, we’re here to share our best restaurant review so you can decide if California Grill is worth it. 

Disney's Contemporary Resort at Magic Kingdom

Disney’s California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

When people think of a fancy, high-end, restaurant at Walt Disney World, they usually think of California Grill. Known for fine wines, and excellent food, this restaurant tops the list for Disney couples, Disney rehearsal dinners, engagements, and Disney girl’s nights out. Whether you’re heading to the lounge, or breaking the bank with an extravagant dinner, here are all the things to consider. 

California Grill Location

The California Grill Restaurant is located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. By far one of the most confusing resorts to get around due to the strange elevator situation, you can head to the California Grill Restaurant main desk on the second floor. The second floor is accessible from the lobby escalators. From here, the desk attendant will show you the “special” elevator, reserved only for California Grill guests, that brings you straight to the top floor to dine. 

California Grill Hours

Serving Dinner from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM, California Grill previously offered a brunch option that is only intermittently available. It’s also home to special dining events on New Year’s at Walt Disney World and is often a fan favorite for wedding parties. 

California Grill Dress Code

California Grill does have a dress code, so you won’t simply be able to wander in with shorts and flip-flops. As a Disney signature Dining experience, guests are expected to dress up in some fashion. A nice polo and pants or a dress is always acceptable. And the gift shop on the 4th floor often has clothes for sale that would be adequate, if not pricey. Disney’s Dress Code for California Grill explicitly states no swimwear, and clothes in neat and clean condition. 

This restaurant is a Disney Signature Dining experience offering fine dining with a distinctly magical flair. Guests are expected to dress accordingly in attire that respects the restaurant’s sophisticated and upscale aesthetic. 

California Grill Reservations

Reservations are required for California Grill, and it’s recommended that you book as close as you can to the 60 days before your trip reservation mark. The earlier times are usually more available as a main draw of booking this restaurant for a later dinner time, which means you’ll have the chance to see the Fireworks at Magic Kingdom from the balcony. As such, reservations for the 8- 9 PM tend to book up fast. 

Disney’s California Grill Atmosphere

The California Grill restaurant is an upscale dining experience at Disney World, offering a lounge bar, and a variety of booths and tables strewn across the 15th floor of the Contemporary resort. Floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the lagoon and Magic Kingdom nearby, offering the best evening vistas of the park. 

In the past year or so California Grill’s elegance has simmered a bit, almost to the point of less fancy and more casual. Mind you, it’s still pretty fancy, but if you visited a few years back, you may be surprised to see that the atmosphere at California Grill is less intimidating than it once was. 

Watching Fireworks from California Grill

In addition to the great views of Magic Kingdom from the restaurant, guests are also allowed to go out onto the balcony, to get a closer look, and photos. We love this extra perk, and the views from the restaurant are some of the best. Most notable is that when the Fireworks at Magic Kingdom begin, the lights inside the restaurant dim, and the music from the show is piped into the restaurant. The Magic Kingdom Fireworks time sometimes changes depending on evening events. As a result, we recommend checking the time of the fireworks show before booking your reservation if this is an experience you want to have. 

Is California Grill Good For Kids?

One of the biggest questions we get regarding California Grill is whether or not it’s good for kids. And frankly, we would say no. Much like anywhere, there is a kid’s menu. And if dining here is more about you than your child, then we say, bring the kids- they’ll be just fine. At $39 per child, you’re technically just getting elevated versions of mac and cheese, steak, and salmon. There is a chicken on the menu, but it’s citrus glazed. Will your child want that? Is it worth the cost? We could hardly justify a $40 mac and cheese for a child, but on the other hand, if you have your heart set on a three-course meal for yourself, and can’t leave the kids elsewhere, then it’s just the price you’ll have to pay.

That said, if you’re trying to have family meals together, California Grill would not be the first choice. Simply because there are so many other restaurants at Disney World that are better for kids. Trattoria al Forno on the Disney Boardwalk offers an elegant atmosphere with a great kid’s menu, that is super budget-friendly. The Grand Floridian Cafe offers more kid-friendly meals as well without compromising an adult atmosphere. Tweens and teens may find the atmosphere and food at California Grill pretty cool, but it’s a little pricey for “cool” given that the child age stops at 9 years old, and you’d be paying around $90 for your tween or teen to eat. So, completely your call of course. 

california grill wine

Disney’s California Grill Menu

Offering a 3-course dinner, Disney’s California Grill Menu sometimes switches out main options as local cuisine offerings change. Featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients, it’s best to check out the California Grill Menu prior to your visit to make sure the offerings will be something you actually want to eat. So, what’s included in a 3-course meal at California Grill?

  • One appetizer- Market Inspirations
  • One entrée- Chef’s Journey
  • One dessert- Sweet Creations

Each course includes everything you would expect from an appetizer, entree, and dessert. A selection of extravagant appetizers, meats, pasta, and luscious desserts means that you’re getting some of the best food on the property. Locally harvested and changing with the seasons, you’ll have unique options here, that may only happen once. So, we can share the foods we had during our dinner experience, but keep in mind this menu always changes, depending on what’s locally available. But, you may not find these options when you visit. 

First Course Appetizers – Market Inspiration

Almost immediately after being seated, you are served Bread Service,  complete with artisanal bread and dipping oils. This is included in the price and doesn’t count as any of your courses. So, you can consider this bread “for free.”

As part of the appetizer selections, California Grill has artisanal pizzas, sushis, and some fancy-as-heck salads. Each offers a unique set of flavors and favors quality over quantity. In Disney terms, this just means that the serving sizes are smaller portions than you may expect at a “normal” Disney restaurant. Since pizza is a favorite of ours, we grabbed the Rapini Pizza which is about the size of a little tortilla, and included Broccoli Rapini, Candied Bacon, Piquillo, and Pepper Coulis. This is very good, and a great way to start the meal if you’re looking for something you know you’ll love. 

The Sonoma Goat Cheese Raviolo includes Basil-Saffron Pasta, Tomato Broth, Mushroom Ragoût, Fennel and as you can see from the picture, one (1) ravioli. The flavors here are spectacular, but the portion makes it a true appetizer to be sure. Other options for the appetizer course included Pomegranate and Apple Salad, and a a variety of Sushi Rolls

Second Course Entrees- Chef’s Journey

For the main meal, there is a variety of options to choose from, but only one plant-based dish and it’s more ravioli. Don’t get us wrong, we love ravioli, but if we’re paying the $90 for a 3-course meal, it would be nice to have a few more vegetable or grain-based options for vegetarians and vegans. Entrees include Wagyu Strip Loin, Fire Roasted Venison, Pork Tenderloin, Grouper, Chicken, and Snapper

The Oak Grilled Filet of Beef is probably the most popular choice and includes Roasted Onion Cream, Potato Pavé, Charred Caulilini, Cabernet Veal Jus. The Pumpkin Ravioli was very good, including Boniato-Cashew Cream, Braised Baby Leeks, Cranberry Gel, and Crispy Baby Brussels Sprouts.Another good choice is the Pan-seared All-Natural Chicken with Celeriac Purée, Roasted Beets, Baby Parsnips, and Madeira Wine Jus. It’s always tough to find enough vegetables at Disney and this dish offered a nice array of fresh garden options. 

Things to note about the entrees at California Grill. Some of the portions are just bigger than others. The Wagyu Strip Loin, for instance, was huge, and took up a nice size board they serve it to you on. The steak was itty bitty, and we’d rather head to head Steakhouse 71 at this same resort for something bigger and more budget-friendly if the steak was our aim. Also, be aware that there are certain things on the menu that are not included in the cost of your meal. Be sure to check the menu for the items showing an additional cost. 

Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake california grill disney

Third Course Desserts  – Sweet Creations

By far our favorite part of any meal, the dessert course should be worth writing home about. But, we weren’t that thrilled with it! Sadly. The showstoppers on this dessert menu at California Grill are the White Chocolate Cherry Creme Brulee, and the Peanut and Banana Torte. 

Sort of a disappointment, the Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Torte should have been fantastic. Including a Dolcey Ganache, Passion Fruit Gel, Whipped Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, Passion Fruit Sponge Cake, and Honey Tuille there was just a lot happening in this dessert, and it would have been so much better if it was a tad simpler. 

The White Chocolate Cherry Crème Brûlée is good, for those that like Creme Brulee. It includes an Almond Chiffon, Dark Chocolate Crémeux, Almond Crunch, Morello Cherry Gel, and Blood Orange Segments. Again, quite a lot of flavors happening here, but it was the dessert people raved about most. The Peanut and Banana Torte is plant-based and includes a Shortbread, Peanut Ganache, Miso Caramel, Nut Crumble, and Caramelized Bananas. Truthfully ti’s the bananas that make this dish, so if you like them, you should try it. 

Disney’s California Grill Drinks

As part of the 3-course Prix Fixe Menu at California Grill, drinks are included, which is so nice, because there are some lovely teas on the menu that you can order. In addition to tea, you can get water, fountain beverages, juice, and coffee included with your meal. 

Wine Pairings at California Grill

Alcoholic beverages are extra, and in addition to being offered a la carte, can also be added as a wine package to your meal. Signature Wine Pairing is an additional $41 and the Deluxe Wine Pairing is an additional $72. 

Signature Cocktails 

For an additional cost, you can order specialty cocktails only available at California Grill. Priced between $17- $138 each, you can order a variety of spirits. The Newgroni includes Monkey 47 Gin, Stirrings Pomegranate Liqueur, Aperol Liqueur, Yuzu, and Mint offering a unique spin on the traditional Negroni.  The California Grill Sour is a fun drink featuring Widow Jane Small Batch Whiskey, DISARONNO Originale Liqueur, Sweet-and-Sour Splash, and Dow’s 2016 Porto.

We also liked the San Francisco Mai Tai featuring a Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Orgeat (Almond), Orange and Pineapple Juices, and float of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. You can also grab any alcoholic beverages you can think of from the full bar at the restaurant. 

Disney’s California Grill Lounge Bar

We love Lounges at Disney World, but the California Grill Lounge is more like just a bar counter that flanks the main dining room. Unlike other lounges, there are no special lounge-like spaces, and it instead acts as a place for those waiting for their ADR time, or table to be ready. Seating about 15 people inside the restaurant the bar is open the same hours as the restaurant. From 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM, the California Grill Lounge is first come, first serve, and offers an extensive list of spirits, wines, beers, and other alcoholic specialties. You can also order appetizers here, which is fantastic because they are some of the best things on the California Grill Menu.

While not offering everything on the menu, if you choose to eat at the lounge, you don’t need a reservation and can order things a la carte. Such a bonus, if you’re looking for something light in an elegant atmosphere. 

Disney’s California Grill Cost

At about $40 per child ( 3-9) and $90 per adult ( 10 and up), California Grill beats out both Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest in the Prix Fixe Dinner Cost arena, but not by much. As part of the Disney Dining Plan, this restaurant counts as 2 Dining Credits, which is always tough to swallow, but at this price not unexpected.

However, if you consider that the meal includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert, generally at the 12, 40, and 14 dollar markers for table service restaurants, plus beverages another 5 dollars it equals out to a little over $70 for dinner. That said, if you consider that the extra $20 here is for the atmosphere, then California Grill may not be as expensive as you think. 

  • Adult: $89 per person (ages 10 and up), plus tax and gratuity
  • Child: $39 per child (ages 3 to 9), plus tax and gratuity

Does California Grill Take Discounts? 

Yes. Luckily, California Grill does take discounts. It accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount or the Disney Annual Pass/Disney Vacation Club membership for a 10% discount.

Is California Grill Worth 2 Dining Credits?

So after some discussion, we decided that California Grill is not worth 2 dining credits. Much like Cinderella’s Royal Table, while California Grill was a nice dinner, it didn’t necessarily meet our qualifications for a 2 dining credit meal. With proper portion sizes, you actually get less food. The basics, like steak and chicken, are comparable to other restaurant options on the property. And since you’re not getting a character experience or show, your perk is a balcony view. While awesome, did not warrant missing out on another dinner one evening to make up for the second credit here. 

Is California Grill Worth the Price?

For us, when we consider if California Grill is worth the price, there are several Pros and Cons that we take into consideration here. Pros of California Grill include great food, elegant atmosphere, balcony access, and fireworks views. Cons include hard-to-get dining reservations, the prix fixe 3- course restriction, an ever-changing menu, and a dress code. 

At $90 a person, not including wines or cocktails, we felt this price was a bit high for a meal at Disney World. We’ve had equally amazing food at Toledo at Disney’s Coronado Springs, for much less and just as fresh, seasonal foods at Summer House in Disney Springs

Disney’s California Grill Restaurant Review

By the end of the night we decided that we wouldn’t use two dining credits to eat at California Grill. We also probably won’t be paying $90 for a meal here again, but will be back for some fancy appetizers and a glass of wine at the California Grill Lounge. 

Personal Preferences? While not a bad experience it’s void of most Disney things we love. It’s not themed to a fun ride or country. Didn’t offer special themed Disney drinks. And the desserts, though magical, had no sense of “Disney” to them.

California Grill would, however, be a perfect restaurant for couples, a special occasion, or a fancier night out. Or if you’re done with Disney and need to get away, this restaurant can meet that need. Even a business meet-up would do well here. It’s your call! If you’ve read our review of the Grand Floridian, you know our personal preferences lend to more fun than fancy. Hopefully, this review of the California Grill Restaurant has been helpful in your task of deciding whether to eat here or not. 

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Co-Founder and Director at Polka Dot Pixie Co LLC | Website

Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.

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