I have been a Disney fan for as long as I can remember. I have so many happy memories of watching Disney movies with my sisters, my first trip to Disneyland as a kid and our first trip as a family to Disneyland with our own kids. One thing I remember clearly from my first trip to Disneyland was standing in line to get the autographs and pictures of the different characters all over the park. My sisters and I loved this almost as much as the rides because it made the experience so much more real to us. So when we were booking our trip to Orlando at the Swan and Dolphin Resort and I found out they had a character dining experience, I knew I wanted to go.
After a long day of walking around Hollywood Studios, my husband and I were starving. We took the short walk back to our hotel where we picked up our luggage from the bell hop and checked into our room for our final night. (Read more about our stay at the hotel HERE.) We deposited our stuff, freshened up and walked downstairs to the Garden Grove Restaurant. Our plan was to show up soon after the restaurant opened at 5pm so we didn’t have to wait in any long lines. This worked to our advantage and we were one of the first people seated. (You can find more information on menus and reservations by clicking HERE.)
In the middle of the dining area, there is a large 25′ oak tree that is stunning. The entire atmosphere of the restaurant is set up so that you feel as though you’ve stepped into Central Park. The tree itself is covered in lights and lanterns that add a special ambiance. All the tables in the restaurant surround the tree and it’s visible from every table. At night the lights are dimmed in the restaurant and the tree is lit up.
The Garden Grove is set up as a buffet style restaurant and they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They do the character dining experience in the evenings all week, and at breakfast on Saturday and Sunday only. I had checked out the menu ahead of time and everything looked amazing. When we were seated, our waiter, Gaven, informed us that because it was Friday night, the menu was their seafood buffet.
As soon as he said that, my mouth literally started to water. I absolutely LOVE seafood, but living in Utah I don’t get to enjoy much of it that is really fresh. When he left, I scooted on over to the buffet and piled it on. I did try to balance things out by getting some mashed potatoes, salad and a slice of prime rib, but let’s be honest: I really just at the seafood, especially the crab. Oh. my. goodness. Steaming, freshly cooked crab dipped in melted butter is absolutely in my top 5 favorite foods in this entire world. I was in heaven. My husband was laughing at me until he tried some too and then he couldn’t get enough either!
We hadn’t been there for long before the characters started showing up. Goofy stopped by our table first and after we’d gotten a picture with him, he tried to walk off with me. It made everyone around laugh and then he let me get back to my food.
Next up was Pluto who begged for scraps and was his usual doggy self. He actually stopped by our table a couple of times since the restaurant wasn’t overly crowded so we got some fun pictures with him.
After that, Chip and Dale came out together. They kept making kissing noises at me and they were just like how they are in the cartoons. It was also fun to see the characters interact with the other guests there, especially the ones with kids. It made me miss our kids and wish they could experience the dinner with us. They would have loved it so much!
After I’d stuffed myself silly with crab, I had to check out their dessert table. Our waiter had told us that there was a chocolate bomb that was amazing and I wanted to try it out. I grabbed one of those, as well as a chocolate tart, a mini carrot cake cupcake and a pots de creme (pronounced: po de krehm) with a raspberry sauce on top. I started with the cupcake and it was delicious. It had a cream cheese filling and a marshmallow texture type frosting with a fancy disk of white chocolate on top. Next up was the chocolate tart. The filling was rich and decadent, the crust was flaky and there was a dollop of cream on top.
After that, I tried the pots de creme. Oh my word. It had a vanilla bean custard on the bottom that was so creamy and smooth it literally made me groan. Add the raspberry sauce on top and it was a match made in heaven. Finally, I had reached the final dessert: the chocolate bomb. It had a chocolate disk on the bottom with a piece of cake on top and then chocolate mousse, all covered in dark chocolate and topped with a small bit of edible gold leaf. I seriously felt like I was on an episode of some dessert baking competition on Food Network after eating these desserts. They were SO good.
I absolutely think that the character dining experience was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Orlando. It brought some of that unique Disney magic right to our table and created some fun memories. I liked that the characters took the time to visit each table and it didn’t feel rushed at all, which I really appreciated. Our experience at Garden Grove was amazing and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Have you ever done a character dining experience?