The Fairest Trip Report Of All: Fireworks & California Grill 50th Anniversary Dinner Review

California Grill observation deck

It’s trip report time again! Read all posts in this trip report here.

Settle in, kids, because I’m gonna tell you all about what was arguably the best part of the whole trip. Funnily enough, I debated cancelling this reservation, but as it turns out the California Grill 50th Anniversary Dinner is EXCELLENT. Let’s talk through it!

We started our experience by checking into the podium an hour early, where the Cast Member stationed there was able to put in – although not guarantee, of course – our request to be seated earlier than our 9:25pm reservation if at all possible.

She also told us that they’d begin taking people up to the restaurant for the fireworks starting 15 minutes in advance. (For those not in the know, anyone with a reservation can use the observation decks during the fireworks, regardless of reservation time.) However, the bar portion of the restaurant was presently pretty packed, so she instead sent us to the Outer Rim, the bar next to Contempo Cafe and Chef Mickey’s.

Guys, the Outer Rim was SLAMMED. Slammed! If I haven’t said it before, please be nice to the Cast Members; they are clearly way understaffed and doing the work of like eight people each. Luckily we were still able to get drinks in time for the fireworks. (I got the same paloma from the old Wave menu!)

We took our drinks back to the California Grill check-in stand, where we joined the small line to take the elevator up to the restaurant proper. Oddly enough, no one asked us to prove our reservations – not sure if that’s the norm. Maybe they eye you up and confirm everyone from memory.

Anyway, we were let onto the elevator in small groups. As soon as we hit the lobby, we were instructed to hang a right and take up positions on the observation deck on the side closer to the Magic Kingdom. I took a photo for a nice couple, one of whom in turn took a photo for us. I will never get tired of that view!

WDW trip report - California Grill

Then it was time to watch the new anniversary fireworks, Disney Enchantment. I don’t even need to spoil any of the show to tell you that it was… not good. And don’t misunderstand; this isn’t a resistance-to-change thing. I was suspicious when Happily Ever After replaced Wishes and ended up LOVING it.

No such luck with Disney Enchantment. Happily Ever After is superior in every way but one: Angela Bassett’s brief narration. Girl has the very definition of what Lina Lamont’s elocutionist would call Round Tones. The fireworks themselves were fine, I guess, and admittedly from California Grill you can’t really see that projection mapping. But where Disney Enchantment falls hard is in what to me are the two most important elements of any show: music and narrative.

Again, I’m not getting into specifics to avoid spoilers, but really, how much could you really spoil this show? “They play Disney songs to the fireworks and Angela Bassett talks twice.” There, that’s it. That’s the whole show. It’s so dang sterile. How they managed to string together that many Disney songs while stirring no emotions whatsoever is almost impressive, really. There’s no thread or arc, either; the show just kinda chugs along and then stops.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that, for ostensibly a special 50th anniversary show, NOTHING about it connects back to said anniversary. Couldn’t’ve done a medley of attraction themes, could ya, Disney? Too hard? UGH.

Anyway. Did not like that. Hope Happily Ever After returns.

So after those subpar fireworks, we headed back down to Outer Rim to await our table (we weren’t kicked out of the Grill per se, but it was pretty crowded). Finally, around 9pm, we got a text that our time had come! One elevator ride later and we were up in the restaurant trailing a hostess to our seat.

Which. Was. WINDOWSIDE WITH A MAGIC KINGDOM VIEW! Holy smokes was that AMAZING. I could barely believe our luck. We could see Space Mountain and Cinderella Castle and the top of Splash Mountain and the Astro Orbiter spinning and all the lights and UGH!!!! again but in a good way this time. I can’t discount the possibility that 50% or more of my delight with this meal was the view.

WDW trip report - California Grill window view

But that still leaves us with 50% for food and experience, which we’ll dig into now. Our server was I believe named Marc? Mark? And while you could tell that he, too, was a stretched-thin victim of understaffing, he did an excellent job. He was both personable and knowledgeable, and always happy to give suggestions.

After what I’m sure feels like endless, endless paragraphs, we finally get to our California Grill 50th anniversary meal. Follow along with the menu here. (Note that if you’re reading this review a few years down the line, that link will probably eventually revert to their usual a la carte menu.)

California Grill 50th anniversary dinner menu

We were greeted with complimentary focaccia and I thing an onion roll? They came with olive oil and butter and were both just okay. But we weren’t there to simply eat bread.

California Grill bread

Pat started his meal with a whiskey, and after perusing the options I ultimately elected to add the wine pairing package to my meal. This decision helped me make my appetizer selection too, as the cascade roll came with Ichishima sake. That’s a little different than the usual white-wine-with-fish pairing, so I went for it!

The sushi, which included tuna, salmon, and hamachi, was good in the way most sushi is, but the sake was excellent. It had a light sweetness that didn’t overpower, and I was very happy with how the two went together. Meanwhile, Pat ordered the duck pizza, which he said was great but arguably too filling for a first course.

California Grill sushi

We both ordered the same entree – oak-fired filet of beef, which came with truffle butter potatoes, cauliflower, and roasted tomato butter. I ordered mine rare and it arrived a little more on the medium side of medium-rare, but I find that’s often the case with Disney steaks. At any rate it was delicious, with the cauliflower being a surprise hit. Since this is a prix fixe meal, the value is definitely there with the steak, and as such I recommend it.

California Grill steak

My wine pairing was a Nickel & Nickel cabernet; this went well with the steak as most reds would but I don’t remember it astounding me.

On to dessert! Mark told us up front that the Grand Marnier souffle was hit and miss, so we ruled that out. Pat went with the Valrhona chocolate torte, which he thought was good but kinda one-note.

Meanwhile I – very wisely, I think – selected the “5 Magical Bites 50 Year in the Making,” composed of mini dessert-bites representing different sweet selections the restaurant had served over the past five decades. I wholeheartedly recommend this choice, as it gives you a spread of different flavors where no two people will necessarily have the same favorite. My personal favorite was the honey bite, as the honeycomb was fun and the little chocolate bee was adorable.

California Grill 50th Anniversary dinner - dessert

I did not receive straight-ahead wine with this course, but rather a champagne! A Veuve Clicquot brut, no less. I love bubbles!

As if the view in and of itself wasn’t enough, as we were finishing up our meal the Electrical Water Pageant came by, with a special 50th anniversary light show. It was the perfect FIRST topper for an exemplary evening.

Our second topper came later. Thanks to the Merriest After Hours event at the Magic Kingdom, we knew there would be busses running back to our resort late. We headed over to the bus stop and, while waiting, got to see some of the special party fireworks! Obviously we couldn’t view everything, but we saw the tops of the fireworks and heard the soundtrack. Not bad for free.

Eventually a Caribbean Beach bus swung around, and we headed back to our room. We flipped on some hotel TV and did a little bit of preliminary packing before heading to bed. Tomorrow: the last day. 🙁

Don’t forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall and on Instagram @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

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