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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?