“Why are you going THERE again?” If you get asked this question about your vacations to Disney, you completely understand the frustrations. As veterans to the parks of Walt Disney World, we get asked this about once a year minimum. But, my answer is unequivocally because there is something new to experience every time. Whether it be old standard attractions such as Astro Orbiter (which I will get on one day), or completely new shows or parades that Disney has just introduced, you can never do it all.
We try to make each repeat trip to the World a new adventure. Yes, we have our favorite “must dos” that are a part of every trip we make, such as Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom, a caramel apple oatmeal cookie from the Karamel Kuche in Epcot’s Germany, or a performance of Mulch Sweat n Shears at Hollywood Studios. But we always try to find new Disney magic as well.
For our last trip to Walt Disney World we decided that meeting an Imagineer was high on our priority list, as we had never done it before. Disney has a great program called Dining with an Imagineer. This experience is a lunchtime event. It is a very intimate setting with only 10-12 guests (aged 10 and older) in attendance, plus the Imagineer. It takes place at the Hollywood Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios, and comes with a 4 course meal served in the private Bamboo Room. It is not offered every day; only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Because it is a dining event, you can make reservations for it starting on your 180 day window if you have a resort stay booked.
Needless to say, the morning that our 180 day window opened we were on the computer trying to secure our reservations for the elusive event. Since opportunities and number of seats for this dining event are limited, this was the first priority of that morning. Pixie dust was on our side, and we scored two seats for the day we wanted. Now the long wait began until our trip and this new experience.
The time slowly dragged on until our trip finally arrived. On the morning of our Dining with an Imagineer reservations we made our way to Hollywood Studios. The event begins at noon, so at about 11:40am we arrived at the Brown Derby and checked ourselves in at the desk. We were given nametags to identify us as part of the Dining with an Imagineer event. After attaching those to our shirts, we explored the lobby area of the Brown Derby. This was our first time there, so we were taking it all in. The decor is beautiful, with high ceilings, pictures of historic Hollywood all around, and the coziest chairs to relax in.
Precisely at noon, our group was gathered and we headed to the Bamboo Room. If you have never been there, I cannot describe it better than….. well, bamboo. The ceiling, walls, trim, and even the placemats on the table were all of bamboo design. It was sophisticated looking. I was impressed so far. We were seated at a long table, with the Imagineer taking the head chair. Promptly our designated waiter brought each of us our personalized menu, and took drink orders. As we looked over the menu, there were rolls and salted butter to help ourselves to. The Imagineer welcomed us all and introduced himself.
Now, I know you are all asking, because we had hoped for it ourselves, but NO, the Imagineer was not Joe Rhode. However, we felt very blessed to have Dan Flynn, a Senior Show Design and Production Manager, be our host. Mr. Flynn was intriguing and entertaining to listen to. He described his beginnings with the company, and also his roles and contributions to the Disney parks, such as his work on Mission Space, Journey into Imagination with Figment, Expedition Everest, and even his heavy involvement with Disney’s Aulani resort. In pure Disney professionalism, he kept the topics to what was relevant and did not venture into any talk of rumors or the like. Mr. Flynn spoke pretty much non-stop throughout the meal and even gave us time to ask questions. I felt sorry that he didn’t have time to enjoy the meal himself.
As I already mentioned, lunch came with rolls and butter. We also had a choice of coffee, tea, or non-alcoholic beverage. The first course that was served to us was a Butternut Squash Bisque with Duck Confit, Sour cherry Compote, and a Spiced Crème Fraiche. After reading the description, I knew this was something my husband was not going to even try, let alone enjoy. Shockingly, he did try it and both of us agreed it was the best part of the meal. The soup was creamy and delicious. The flavors blended together perfectly.
The next course was the famous Cobb Salad. I had heard many of my Disney friends rave about the salad at the Brown Derby. Most of them just go there to make it their entire meal. The salad is the signature item of the restaurant, and it was created at the original Hollywood Brown Derby. It is finely chopped greens, turkey breast, bacon, egg, tomatoes, crumbled bleu cheese, avocado, and cob salad dressing. Sounds amazing. However, and I think my husband and I were the odd men out here, we didn’t like it. I think it was a texture issue for us. Everything was so finely chopped that neither of us were sure we were eating a salad.
Next was the entrée. We had a choice of three offerings: Charred-glazed Filet of Beef, Noodle Bowl with Grilled Breast of Chicken, or Pan-seared Black Grouper. My husband, the carnivore, chose the filet of beef, while I opted for the noodle bowl as I love Asian cuisine. The plate/bowl presentation of each was lovely. His beef came with wild forest mushroom mashed potatoes and sautéed haricot verts (Translation: green beans). The beef was very tender and savory. However, he didn’t find anything special about the mashed potatoes or green beans.
My noodle bowl was somewhat intimidating. It was served with chopsticks, which I knew I wouldn’t use, lest I completely embarrass myself. The curry broth was a lot spicier than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed the chicken. The portion size was quite large, and I left most of it because my lips were on fire.
Lastly came dessert, which was three mini desserts presented on one plate. It contained the Brown Derby original grapefruit cake, double vanilla bean crème brulee, and a chocolate sphere with hazelnut praline chocolate and orange-white chocolate mousse. Being a huge fan of anything hazelnut, I dug right in to that first. For me, the orange-white chocolate mousse overpowered the hazelnut and I was disappointed leaving the rest. Next I tried the grapefruit cake. As with the cobb salad before, this was another menu item that so many of my friends raved about. Yeah, I was not a fan of it either. I saved the crème brulee for last, and was glad I did. It was perfection. My husband did not enjoy the mini desserts either, leaving most of his on the plate. But, again, I think we were the only ones in the room who did not find the desserts blissful. Everyone else practically licked their plates clean.
Although the meal as a whole was not something we particularly enjoyed, we certainly did not leave hungry. And what, for us anyways, it lacked in food, the experience completely made up for it. We got to meet and shake hands with an actual Disney Imagineer, something we could not have done otherwise. And at the end of it all, we got a couple great keepsakes to come home with. The personalized menus are very nice in themselves, but the gem of the Dining with an Imagineer experience is the autographed plate that each of us got.
In summary, would we do it again? Definitely. The food may have not been our cup of tea, but the experience was well worth the price of $63.99 per person plus 18% gratuity ($160 total for two). And who knows, maybe someday I can get that plate autographed by Joe Rhode! Until then I’ll just keep adding to my collection.