Ariel’s Grotto at Disney California Adventure – Dining Review

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On our recent trip out to California, it was a given that we would need to find a way for my little princess to interact with the princesses of Disney. Being a good Touring Plans devotee, that meant finding some way to skip lines and meet the princesses that we wanted without waiting in line all day long at the Princess Fantasy Faire. Since we had the PhotoPass Plus, it made sense for us to book dinner at Ariel’s Grotto in Disney California Adventure.

My wife and I had dined at Ariel’s several years ago, but I had not been there in many years. Therefore, going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than getting a visit at our table from several princesses. After a lazy day at our hotel pool and a quick run into the parks to ride a few rides, we arrived at dinner fresh and ready for the evening. Check in for Ariel’s Grotto is right at the boardwalk entrance to Paradise Pier, on the way towards California Screamin’. We checked in and waited no more than 5 minutes for our 5:15 reservation to be called.

Start your dining experience by meeting Ariel. I hope she's in a better mood for you than she was for me.

Upon entering, we were escorted down the spiral staircase to meet Ariel herself. It was a nice way to begin the meal for the littlest member of our party, who was extremely excited to see her favorite princess first. We were able to get a picture and say hello quickly, almost too quickly. Ariel was a little…grumpy, shall we say, and the time spent with her was quick compared to how the other characters had treated us the morning prior at Goofy’s Kitchen. It was nothing like the princess interactions we would have elsewhere on our trip, such as Merida or Rapunzel.

That aside, we were quickly shown to our seats, and shown the menu options. The basics are that there is a set appetizer and dessert course to share among the table, while each person gets to choose his or her own entree. The appetizer plate was set before us quickly, and let me say that this was the absolute best part of the meal. The tower of appetizers is placed in the middle of the table, and features a mixed green salad with vinaigrette, a fruit gelatin salad, an assortment of coldcuts and string cheeses as well as some exotic cheeses, seasonal fruit and some marinated olives, tomatoes, red peppers and other items. All of that in addition to a sourdough pull apart flower, which is a fancy way of saying a piece of sourdough bread that is easy to pull apart and complements the other appetizers very well.

Pull apart sourdough flower. Know it. Love it.

Then, as we were getting ready to place our order, the princess ceremony began. Unlike other character dining restaurants, Ariel’s Grotto takes the time to announce each princess as she arrives. That’s why there are phases of seating, as opposed to simply coming and going. If they are in between seatings, they will not take you downstairs. A page, dressed in his royal purple finest, comes out to announce that Ariel has visitors this evening. Then, one by one, the princesses are announced. In our seating, we had Belle, Cinderella, Aurora and Snow White. All the princesses were nice, but the interaction was short and rushed. They walked up, took a picture and walked away. Typically, I’ve experienced a little more personality and conversation when dining with princesses in Walt Disney World.

Belle tried to talk to my little girl. The other princesses rushed a little more.

Soon enough, though, our entrees arrived. I ordered the cioppino, thinking seafood would be the way to go. In case you’re not familiar with cioppino, it’s a variety of seafoods mixed in a tomato broth, in this case mixed with some chorizo sausage. The other members of my party got the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip, which was strips of steak over some cheddar & herb mashed potatoes; the Filet of Redfish which was served with seasonal vegetables and rice pilaf and the Mafalde Pasta with Italian Sausage. We did not get a chance to try the Spinach and Ricotta Angolotti or the Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast that were also on the menu. My daughter got the Meatball Lollipops, which was a cute way to present spaghetti and meatballs, with the ground turkey meatballs on top of the noodles and marinara sauce.

My favorite princesses. And Aurora.

All the entrees were decent, but nothing really stood out. My cioppino was rather bland, even with the spicy broth and chorizo. I tried a bite of the Filet of Redfish, and it was tasty, although not as good as the fish we had earlier on the trip at Carthay Circle. In short, none of us finished our entrees, not because we were full, but because we weren’t all that interested in them. They were good, but not memorable.

Dessert was once again a shared platter. This brought some favorites, like M&M cookies, a chocolate lava cake, four mini cupcakes and a white chocolate seashell with fresh berries. Again, all of this was good stuff, but there was nothing here different from what you would find at many other Disney restaurants. There was nothing here that stood out, but we did indeed finish it all. What can I say, we found the desserts more interesting than the meal.

The dessert platter. Nothing special, but we still ate it all.

In the end, we came out of the meal satisfied and full, not stuffed. The worst part was the bill. Since we were there in peak season, the cost was $37.99 per adult and $21.00 for my daughter. Since my 10 year old son is a “Disney adult” and we ordered some alcoholic beverages, the price ended up at $213.00 plus tip, even after my 15% Annual Passholder discount. Frankly, that’s just way too much.  The night before, we had paid $195.00 including tip at Carthay Circle, which included a bottle of wine, appetizers, entrees and desserts all around and reserved seats for World of Color. The food had been better at Carthay, as had the service.

I can’t honestly recommend that you go to Ariel’s Grotto after our experience there. That’s not to say that it is bad, it’s just not exceptional. If I had paid about half what I did, it would’ve been great.  Even a little less than $150 would have been okay. But at the prices they charge, the characters, food and service need to be memorable, and they were not. Save your money and go to Carthay Circle or even better, Napa Rose.

What about you? Any of you have better experiences at Ariel’s Grotto? Or worse?

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Posted on September 10, 2012

10 Responses to “Ariel’s Grotto at Disney California Adventure – Dining Review”

  • by Andrew Drummond on September 10, 2012, at 3:00 pm EDT

    To establish a point of comparison, can I ask how you feel about the WDW princess dining experiences (CRT and Akerhaus)?

    I can’t say I have ever heard a princess called “grumpy” before, but I’ve only done the restaurants above once each so I have a pretty small sample size.

    At least at WDW I have never had a princess be anything less than lovely and always as engaging with my family as my family wanted to be with her.

    • You absolutely can. The Ariel’s Grotto experience is much more like the Cinderella’s Royal Table experience in terms of food and princess interaction. Obviously, CRT is in Cinderella Castle and has a much nicer ambience. Like you, I’ve never experienced a bad princess there. The price is about $10-15 higher than Ariel’s Grotto, but to me, if I am there with my little girl, it might be worth it. Between meeting Cinderella, dining in the castle, the interaction with the princesses, it’s a VERY expensive meal that is worth doing once.

      Akershus is more on the other side. It’s about the same price as Ariel’s Grotto, and the food was about the same. Good, not great. Bland in many places. The princesses there are the best I have experienced in any Disney park, however. They really took the time to interact with my daughter and have a good time. That said, the price is very expensive for not being in Cinderella Castle and for the quality of food.

      Bottom line – if it’s REALLY important for your little darling to see the princesses, I’d go all the way and go to Cinderella’s Royal Table.

    • I did both the breakfast buffet at Akershus and the Dinner at Ariel’s Grotto. Personally I enjoyed the Princesses and atmosphere more in DCA but the food was way better in Epcot. It’s hard to compare price, because breakfast food is much cheaper to make, in general, but you’re basically paying for princess access anyway.

      I’d recommend it to friends only if they think the princess time is worth the price, because the food is not.

      • Oh yes…I forgot about breakfast at Akershus. THAT is where I would spend the money. The food was pretty good (standard Disney breakfast fare) and it’s cheaper. But comparing dinners, I liked the food in DCA a little better than Akershus, but neither was anything special.

  • I totally agree with Ryan’s review. We visited Ariel’s Grotto in 2006 to create a special memory to commemorate our family’s first visit to Disneyland. Disney Dining messed up our reservation by scheduling us at a time the park was closed, so we had to reschedule for another day/time. (We learned it is always best to call the day of your reservation to confirm time.) When we arrived the next day for our new dinner time, they escorted us to a booth in the corner and informed us that the Princesses might not make it to our table. My husband and I just looked at each other and thought, “Well this was a waste of money.” We were estatic and grateful when each Princess not only came to our table, but took time to sign our autograph books and even pose for a picture with our star struck group. Even our 6 year old son was into the Princess visits. We ended up having a great experience, but were disappointed in the quality of the food. We expected more gourmet flavors for the cost of the dinner. If you have Princess star struck kids like we did and want to create a special memory then I say go for the Dinner at Ariel’s Grotto. It’s definitely a bucket list opportunity.

  • I also agree with your review and we had the same experience in April. The attitude started with the hostess. When I made the reservation I was told first available lunch time was 11:30. I wrote it down in the notebook I was keeping with all the trip info. I called back before our trip to verify all our dining times and once again was told 11:30. We walk in and tell the hostess our name and time and she snaps “Well that’s impossible because the first time is 11:50″ and tells us to go sit down and wait. She was rude to every single other family that came to check in or inquire about eating there. We were the first ones to be paged to go downstairs and we were met by a frowning Ariel who snapped a quick picture and didn’t say one word to or even look at our daughters. The next family was shoving us out of the way before the picture was even snapped.

    We sat down at our table which barely had room for the 6 of us (we had Grandma and Grandpa with us). The server rushed us through ordering and we felt like we were in a race to eat the food, which wasn’t all that great for the price. The princesses all seemed friendly but they were in such a hurry that it felt like they were a blur. It was the most disappointing part of the whole trip. My 3-year is princess crazy which is why she spent the money eat there and none of the princesses could even talk to her for a second. It was just sign the book, snap the picture, move on. We will never do it again. We had a better experience waiting 90 minutes to meet Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. They spent time with my girls and made them feel special. When I’m going to pay that much for a character meal I expect better. Can’t beat the breakfast at the Plaza Inn, talk about wonderful characters experiences!

  • We just ate there September third (and fourth!).

    We got there a bit early for our 11:30 appt. and were given a beeper and asked to be wait until paged. At about 11:35, the pager went off and we went downstairs to meet Ariel. Just a bit of interaction here and a picture taken then we were off to our table.

    We got the aforementioned (and very good) appetizer plate and the princesses started to come out. What we didn’t get was lunch! We were informed that there was “trouble in the kitchen”, which lead me to believe we’d get lunch, just a bit later. Not so. The princesses did all come out and I was happy with the level of interaction with my 4 year old daughter. Some princesses were better than others, but I expected that. However, after the one announcement of Kitchen trouble, I had to specifically ask if lunch was ever going to show up. The answer was “only if we waited until the next seating (which would be at least an hour). Communication was not what it should have been.

    However, since we were never served lunch, we still had our vouchers, and frankly I wanted the meal that was attached to the experience. So I went to front and set up another reservation for the following day. The lady there seemed a little put out that I’d want to actually get the meal I paid for. She probably didn’t know we had pre-paid vouchers and did not get a freebie as some others doubtless did that day.

    So the next day we did it all over again. But this time, things worked out well, with the princesses showing up again (and my daughter thankfully not noting that some of them had… changed from the day before.) Food came on time and at least 2-3 of the princesses made a real effort to engage my daughter and spend a bit of quality time with her. My wife enjoyed her redfish and I thought the tri-tip was tasty. The appetizer “tower” and dessert plate were more memorable than the main course though. My daughter loved the edible ariel chocolate and the white chocolate conch shell.

    We probably got a bit of a break on the price as we didn’t purchase anything extra and our voucher (costco) was likely a bit discounted (and included taxes/gratuity). So while it was expensive, I’d say I found the dining experience of value because the food was acceptable (or a bit more than that) and my daughter really loved meeting the princesses. And I have to factor in the convenience of not losing a precious hour in the park queuing up to see the princesses. So while they screwed up the first try, the second try was fine and a decent if not great value.

  • I totally agree with this review. We were just there on Sunday. The character interactions were incredibly brief, nothing like what we’ve experienced at Goofy’s kitchen. The food was as about as mediocre as it could get. Not bad, but nothing special at all.

  • I am completely shocked by this review! I sort of feel that it is obvious what you are getting yourself into, although I do have to say as an avid Disneylander that the degree of conversation changes on time of year and how busy it is. I also feel that I should throw in here that I have met this particular Ariel several times across the Disneyland Resort, and she has never been anything short of exceptional, even when time is pressing (which leads me to believe that maybeyou were there at a busy time?). Regardless, there are specific times that you can make a reservation, and the princesses are allotted a specific amount of time to see the guests. It’s very structured, unlike Goofy’s Kitchen.
    It is unfortunate that your experience did not live up to what you hoped, though I do recommend giving it a second chance! I think it’s a fun experince to throw into your trip!

  • Hi! I am looking for some advice for our trip to Disneyland that is less than 3 weeks away…..We want the reserved seating for World of Color so I made reservations for Ariel’s Grotto….we are a mom, dad, 13 year old son, 10 year old son, and nine year old daughter….We are doing the dinner that is not considered character dining which is fine with all of us….anyway, should we switch from Ariel’s Grotto to Carthay Circle? I’m thinking that with the required purchase of an appetizer/entree or entree/dessert, we may end up paying about the same amount of money….My concern was the dress code…we will be in traditional park attire (shorts ( t-shirts)…I was intimidated going to Carthay thinking that would feel out of place or underdressed….any advice would be appreciated….don’t want to mess this up since it may be the only time we get to California in the near future…Thanks!