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While some may disagree, there is little doubt that the intent of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is for it to be the premiere resort experience on Walt Disney World property. With its grandiose stylized Victorian architecture modeled after the old look of what is today known as the Boca Raton Resort & Club, and placement on the Seven Seas Lagoon, it is a site to behold. It’s just one Monorail stop away from the Magic Kingdom on the resort line, and a great place to watch Wishes should you not be there.
The Grand Floridian is also well known for its dining. After all, taking a cue from its Victorian look, there is Victoria & Albert’s which is perhaps the finest dining anywhere in Walt Disney World. You also can have great dining experiences at both Narcoossee’s or Citricos, or perhaps a more casual dining experience at the Grand Floridian Café. If afternoon tea is your thing you could try the Garden View Tea Room, or perhaps just drop your children off for the Wonderland Tea Party at 1900 Park Fare. Or if you’ve got a healthy appetite you can tackle a breakfast or dinner buffet also at 1900 Park Fare.
However, tucked away in there is something else. Seldom crowded because many people who stay at the Grand Floridian don’t even know it exists. And yet there it is, a counter service restaurant, Gasparilla Grill & Games. Now, unless you’re in the know, you’re probably thinking that’s a pretty odd name for a restaurant. Then you remember you’re only standing a few hundred feet from a place named Narcoossee‘s and you probably shrug it off. But what if I told you this restaurant was tied to pirates?
Oh yes it’s true. Pull up a chair, matey, it’s time for a bit of pirate lore and a piece of Florida’s rich history. It’s time to learn about the “last of the buccaneers”, José Gaspar. He was a born in Spain in 1756 to an aristocratic family. But he was also a troublemaker who made a deal with the courts to get out of a jail sentence by joining the Spanish Navy. He served aboard a ship known as the Floridablanca for a number of years. However it was a jilted lover who framed him for stealing the Spanish Crown Jewels, that ultimately drove him to a life of piracy.
He commandeered the Floridablanca as his own, swore revenge against Spain through piracy, and renamed himself Gasparilla. For close to 40 years he patrolled the coast of a then Spanish controlled Florida. Every ship that came his way he ransacked and his pirate booty grew. This treasure he stowed within his base on the island that today bears his name, Gasparilla Island tucked away in Charlotte Harbor.
However, in 1821 when the United States purchased Florida from Spain Gasparilla decided it was time to retire. After all, the US was determined to rid its water of pirates by any means necessary. The plan was divide up the treasure among his crew and then each would go their separate ways. On that day the crew spotted a British ship and they were determined to get one last score. However, to their surprise and dismay they had fallen into a trap that was realized when the ship lowered the its British flag and raised an American flag. This ship was the USS Enterprise.
The battle was fierce, and American cannonballs tore the Floridablanca apart. Not willing to face surrender and a trial, Gasparilla took the chain of his ship’s anchor and tied it around his waist. He then ran to the highest remaining point of his ship and shouted, “Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!” After which he leaped into the water never to be seen again.
Admittedly the pirate related theming is very minimal, but it is there. Starting with the restaurant being named after Gasparilla the pirate, there is also a picture of the Floridablanca on the restaurant sign above the entrance. You’ll additionally find some framed pirate related artwork above the highest wall mouldings in the dining portion of the restaurant. A globe, a mast, and maps are depicted along with others.
The restaurant itself offers many of the standard “grab and go” items you find in resort counter service restaurants all over Walt Disney World. You can find pastries, bagels, muffins, cookies, and cakes all in the $2 to $3 price range. As well as the ever popular Mickey shaped rice crispy treats and ice cream. Juice, water, soda, wine, and beer can all be found in the cooler along with salads, yogurts, and parfaits. Not all “grab and go” items are available throughout the day, some are on a first come first serve basis – when they’re gone for the day they’re gone. Others are based on the time of day.
Gasparilla Grill is opened 24 hours a day, and its menu shifts 4 times throughout the day between Breakfast (6:30am – 11am), Lunch (11am – 5pm), Dinner (5pm – 11:30pm), and “Late Night” (11:30pm – 6:30am).
Breakfast offerings are also fairly typical to those found elsewhere at Walt Disney World. Oatmeal and Grits will run you $2.49 as the least expensive item, while the Bounty Platter consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, a waffle, a pancake, and a biscuit will run you $8.29 as the most expensive item. They also offer egg sandwiches, Mickey waffles, and pancakes, as well as having child versions of each dish for $4.39.
The “Late Night” menu offers flatbreads, only a few sandwiches, salads, and a pizza that will cost you $13.99 plus toppings. “Grab and go” items are still available during this time.
Lunch and Dinner seem to share the same menu. They offer the following items (keep in mind that some of the menu items rotate from time to time):
Roast Beef Sandwich – $9.29
Floridian Turkey Club – $9.29
Cobb Salad with Lobster – $9.99
Freshly Tossed Roasted Chicken Salad – $9.59
Tabbouleh Pita – $8.89
Italian Sandwich – $8.59
Shrimp Stir-fry – $8.49
Vegetable Lasagna – $6.99
Mac & Cheese w/ Lobster – $9.99
Barbecued Pork Flatbread – $8.19
Pepperoni Flatbread – $7.39
1/3 lb Angus Bacon Cheeseburger – $8.79
Grilled Chicken Sandwich – $8.79
Chicken Breast Nuggets (8 pieces) – $7.89
Hot Dog – $6.69
Reuben Hot Dog – $8.09 (means “with sauerkraut”)
Kids Picks – For Guests Ages 9 and Under: Hot Dog, Hamburger, or Chicken Nuggets – $4.99
* all sandwiches are served with a Cucumber or Tomato Salad as well as home made potato chips (yummy!!!)
With the current menu I’ve only tried a few items: the Roast Beef Sandwich (no cheese), the Freshly Tossed Roasted Chicken Salad, and the Tabbouleh Pita Sandwich. The pita is my favorite. It has these delicious fried garbanzo beans sprinkled on top of the tabbouleh and mixed in as well. The pita also has tzatziki and cucumbers as well. Very yummy.
One of the primary reasons we go here is for my wife, Cheryl, who has several food issues and therefore chooses to eat primarily vegan when we’re not at home. And lets face it, there’s only so much Babycakes you can eat. (I mean you… not me. I can eat a lot of Babycakes – you not eating means more for me.) The great thing is that Gasparilla Grill shares a kitchen with 1900 Park Fare. This means they also share a head chef. So special orders for this counter service restaurant, as with many found at the resorts, can be extremely customized as opposed to the limited modifications allowed at a counter service inside a park. And they can even provide Tofutti for dessert.
To keep the kids occupied while you enjoy your meal there is a small contingent of arcade games. Even though there are only a few they range tend to range from old to very modern, and some are simple while others are challenging. They all take tokens which are provided by a token machine near the soda machines.
Overall I really enjoy this restaurant. It’s small and generally not too crowded, and it’s a great little place to go eat if you’ve been in Magic Kingdom all day and aren’t too interested in the counter services in the park. I think there’s enough choices here to cover everyone, with many freshly made items available. It is a hidden bit of pirate treasure for sure.
What about you? Have you been to Gasparilla Grill? If not, would you go now? If so, did you like it? Are you hungry? Do you like pirates? Did you know about the Gasparilla Pirate Festival that occurs each year in Tampa? Shiver my timbers!