Despite the countless times I have visited Epcot's Land pavilion, the Garden Grill Restaurant was one of the few Epcot dining locations to which I have never been. Many a time, when walking past to go ride Soarin' or Living with the Land, I have commented on how this was a restaurant that I really wanted to try. However, for one reason or another, I continually put it off. This might have been due to the fact that there are so many restaurants at Epcot which I really enjoy or the simple fact that the Garden Grill is only open for dinner and its limited operating hours make reservations a little harder to come by. Whatever the reason, I finally decided to give the Garden Grill a try and I went in not really knowing what to expect. I knew that the dining room rotated, dinner was served family-style, and that it was a character dining experience, but that was about it. After having finally dined there, I can say that the Garden Grill surpassed my expectations and might actually be my new top location when it comes to character dining.
The Land pavilion has always had a restaurant in the current location of the Garden Grill, but it has gone through a series of iterations. When the pavilion opened in 1982, the restaurant was known as The Good Turn and remained that way until 1986. From 1986 through 1993 the restaurant was named The Land Grill Room. Along with the name change, the restaurant has changed in other ways as well. Most noticeably, the restaurant did not always feature characters, meals were not always served family-style, and for a good portion of its history the restaurant was open for both lunch and dinner. One thing that has stayed consistent throughout the restaurant's history, however, is its rotating dining room. In fact, the Garden Grill is the only rotating restaurant in all of Disney World.
As noted above, one of the things that makes the Garden Grill so unique is that it is a rotating restaurant. Throughout the course of your meal, the restaurant slowly moves around in a counter-clockwise motion to allow diners to have a bird's eye view of the Living with the Land boat ride below.
Passing by the rainforest scene, there is not much to see as the lush vegetation dominates most of the view. If you look closely, you might be able to catch a glimse of the waterfall through the foliage.
However, the plants and trees give way as the dining room rotates towards the desert and the American prairie, passing by a series of large rock formations.
The view then opens up to reveal the open grasslands below, complete with a family of buffalo animatronics.
Next comes the classic American farmhouse, which even allows diners to catch a glimpse through the windows into the house's second floor. Overall, it provides a unique perspective of Living with the Land, especially for someone who has ridden the ride many times.
The dining room is split into lower and upper levels to offer all Guests a good view as they rotate. The lower level is comprised of semi-circular booths that face outward.
Meanwhile, the upper level is composed of tables and chairs positioned high enough so that their view is not inhibited by those Guests sitting on the lower level.
Of the two, I would give the edge to the tables on the lower level in terms of having the better view, but anyone is more than welcome to go and stand along the railing to look down on the boat ride below as the restaurant passes by.
Of course, not all of the entire circuit the dining room makes overlooks the boat ride and at these points the walls are adorned with detailed painted murals depicting lush plants, trees, ferns, and flowers. If you look carefully, you might even be able to spot a very well-hidden Mickey.
Another major component of the Garden Grill is its characters. Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale are all present and leisurely make their way around to each of the tables. This is an area where I felt the Garden Grill really excelled when compared with other character dining experiences. I felt as though we had some really good character interactions during our meal and they offered us plenty of time to take pictures and play around with them. Each one of the characters also came to our table multiple times throughout the course of our meal. This is quite a contrast to other character dining where the characters seem very rushed and briefly stop by your table for a quick picture before moving on. If you are dining with children who really love meeting Disney characters, the Garden Grill is a fantastic option. It also allows you to see Mickey in his farmer outfit, which you cannot find him in anywhere else.
Overall, the Garden Grill provides a casual and relaxing setting. Its atmosphere relies more on the sights of the boat ride below rather than anything in the actual dining room to help set the feel and the restaurant's characters adds an additional level of whimsy and fun to the dining experience. With the sounds coming from the boat ride below, it is not really a quiet restaurant but this is also not exactly the type of place you would go if looking for an intimate and romantic night out. The Garden Grill is a restaurant that definitely appeals to families, but even bigger kids will enjoy the scenic views and fun character interactions they have during their meal.
The Garden Grill features a pre-fixe menu offering an appetizer, entrée, and dessert all served family-style. The meal begins with a fresh Farmer's Salad. The salad included an assortment of vegetables such as onions, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes along with hard boiled eggs and bacon bits. It is referenced on the menu as a "Harvest-Inspired" salad, which means that its contents can change depending upon what is in season. It is a very light and healthy way to start the meal and a good reminder of the fresh produce being grown in the greenhouses at the Land pavilion.
After the salad comes the main course platter that includes an assortment of the three entrees of turkey, fish, and beef, each of which come with their own accompaniments. The turkey is served with a lemon-caper sauce, which we chose to have served on the side. I was very intrigued by this sauce and was surprised by how well it paired with the turkey. The turkey itself was juicy and tender, but the flavor of the lemon and capers really added a light and refreshing flavor that was a nice departure from your typical gravy. Along with the turkey was an artisan bread pudding, which was basically your traditional-style stuffing. There was nothing really noteworthy about this side dish, but you can't go wrong pairing turkey with stuffing.
Next was the sustainable fish of the day, which in this case was Mahi Mahi that came topped with a roasted tomato and pepper compote. Mahi Mahi is a very mild-flavored fish and I found this preparation of it to be just a little on the dry side. However, the tomato and pepper compote provided a tremendous amount of flavor and just the right amount of spiciness to give the fish a much-needed kick. The fish was served atop fresh garden vegetables that included a mixture of zucchini and squash.
The last entrée item on the platter was a char-grilled filet of beef that came topped with a red wine butter. For me, this was the part of the main entrée that really stole the show. The beef was so moist and tender with hardly any fat and the red wine butter provided even more rich flavor that complimented the beef extremely well. While the first portion of beef we received was a little more on the rare side, one of the members of our party requested some that was cooked well-done and this was quickly brought out to her. Along with the beef came a generous portion of buttermilk mashed potatoes which were just the perfect consistency, smooth and fluffy.
Of course, since this family-style meal is all-you-care-to-eat, there is no shortage as to the amount of food you can get. Rather than bringing you out an entirely new platter, however, the server will simply ask you what you would like more of and then bring out additional plates with those items.
After all this food, there was still dessert to be had. The dessert was a freshly baked harvest fruit cobbler that came topped with vanilla bean whipped cream. The types of berries included in the cobbler can change depending on what is in season, but this one was blueberry. The dessert came served piping hot, the ooey-gooeyness of the berries and the light, fluffy cake combining perfectly with one another. The only thing I wish was that this dessert had been topped with vanilla ice cream. Despite this, the whipped cream served on top was so smooth and provided a nice refreshing flavor to the dessert.
Overall, the entire meal is one which is very much inspired by the Land pavilion, its greenhouses, and the boat ride that passes just below the restaurant.
Sometimes at restaurants where the meals are served family-style there is a tendency for each course to be brought out in rapid succession, making your meal feel very rushed. I was glad to see that this was not the case at the Garden Grill and the meal progressed at a calm and relaxing pace. I also found the service to be very attentive. Our server was constantly checking in with our table to see if there was anything that we needed and whether she could bring us any more food. In addition, when we were having trouble locating the hidden Mickey on the dining room's mural she got out a laser pointer to show us exactly where it was.
I would also include all the characters as a part of the service. While at other character dining locations you sometimes feel as though the characters are rushing from one table to another, at the Garden Grill we were able to have some great interactions with Mickey and the gang. Each character spent a good amount of time at our table and we were able to get multiple pictures with each of them. This in particular is one element of the Garden Grill that really helps to separate it from other character dining locations.
Dining on a Budget:
This is one thing that is a little difficult to do at the Garden Grill. Combining the all-you-care-to-eat nature of the menu along with the restaurant's characters makes this dining experience a little pricey. The price for adults can range anywhere between $37 and $41 depending on whether it is off season or peak season while the children's price ranges between $18 and $20. At the same time, however, these prices are comparable to a character dining experience like dinner at the Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom and less expensive than Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary. But, like as previously stated, the character interactions that you will have here are better than these other locations. If you have children that really enjoy meeting the Disney characters, then the Garden Grill is definitely worth the price and that's on top of the high quality food as well.
The Garden Grill is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit, making it a really good value for your money. The restaurant also participates in Tables in Wonderland, allowing members to receive their 20% discount. However, there are no additional discounts for Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club Members.
The Overall Experience:
This was my first time dining at the Garden Grill and the restaurant exceeded my expectations in every way. I am not usually one who does character dining experiences, but I really enjoyed the interactions I had and great photos I got with Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. In addition, the unique aspect of the dining room rotating and offering great views of the Living with the Land boat ride below help to make the dining experience even more memorable. On top of all this, the food features a wide assortment that offers a little something for everyone; served family style and all-you-care-to-eat, you will definitely not leave this restaurant hungry. While it might be a little on the more expensive side, I felt as though I completely got my money's worth when dining here between the restaurant's unique atmosphere and quality food offerings. If you are looking for a fun dining experience for the entire family then the Garden Grill is definitely worth a try.
See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.
Check out Reader Reviews of the Garden Grill and post your own too!
The previous post in this blog was Disney Vacation Club Member Magic at Splitsville.
The next post in this blog is Jim’s Attic: The Story of Beacon Joe.