There are several character dining options at WDW, and picking one to be my first was difficult. There are some that seem to have better reputations than others…however, I already booked Chef Mickey’s, Crystal Palace, and 1900 Park Faire for my birthday, so those were eliminated right away. Next, I eliminated Cinderella’s Royal Table because I didn’t want to prepay the $60. The next place I considered was Hollywood & Vine. I’d passed it several times while at DHS, and always thought it smelled good. Then, I considered the characters. At H&V they have Playhouse Disney characters, which means that the meal is probably aimed at preschoolers. Now, I know Malcolm isn’t a preschooler, but I figured H&V would be more prepared to handle a younger crowd, and therefore, make my first character dining experience easier. Perfect, I found a time (1:45pm) and made an ADR.
After my completely ludicrous experience at Liberty Tree, I allotted tons of extra time to get to our lunch at Hollywood Studios. There was only one factor that I forgot to consider. That factor is something I like to call “pregnancy brain.”
For those of you who have never been pregnant or had someone close to you be pregnant, I’m going to let you in on some little known scientific knowledge. As the fetus grows it actually siphons off the mother’s brain cells to begin building it’s own brain. The bigger it gets, the more brain cells it takes, and mom gets progressively more forgetful and stupid. IQ literally drops about 60 points during the third trimester alone. I have particularly seen these symptoms in myself lately. I have gone out several times without taking Malcolm’s diaper bag (he always picks these times to have massive diaper blow-outs), I went grocery shopping 4 times in the past month and didn’t realize until check-out that I had left my wallet at home, and I can’t even count how many good iced tea’s I have lost due to driving off while they are still sitting on top of the car (where I set them while I load up Malcolm).
Anyway, basically due to my pregnancy brain, I forgot to account for pregnancy brain.
When I started the car to head to DHS, the first thing I noticed was that my gas light was on. How could my tank be on empty? Didn’t I just fill up yesterday in anticipation of my trip today? Or was that when we went down to DTD a few days ago? I couldn’t remember. I have enough of a problem keeping our frequent trips down to WDW without being pregnant, so I didn’t find this too disconcerting. I stopped at the station by my house and filled up. No big deal, it maybe took a total of fifteen minutes off of the extra time I had…I still had plenty of time.
Things went smoothly for the next 30 minutes or so, until, I suddenly realized that none of the scenery I was passing looked “right.” When did they start doing so much construction this far north on the Florida Turnpike? I usually don’t have to deal with the bad construction areas because I exit before I reach them? Why does this look so much like what’s going on further south near I-4? Seriously, this is the conversation I was having in my head for a good 5 minutes before I realized I had missed my exit. First of all, it’s completely ridiculous that I missed the turn I take several times a week, every week. It is also ridiculous that I kept up a running commentary in my head about how unfamiliar everything was (again, on the drive I make SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK) and still didn’t realize I was going the wrong way.
So, we turn around, get back on track, and I start calculating how much time we’ve lost. I figure that we just took out another 30 minutes away from our extra time. No problem, we still have extra time (I learned my Liberty Tree lesson well). By the time we get on to Disney World property, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I’m trying to figure out how to use all the extra time we have when we get to DHS early. I know I want to get Malcolm an autograph book, so I decide we’ll stroll around the shops and cool off before heading to the restaurant.
We pull up to the gate at the parking lot where I’m supposed to show my Annual Pass for parking, I open my wallet…and my pass isn’t there. I can’t believe it…I can so vividly remember taking it out of my pocket and putting it away after our last visit to WDW…or maybe I’m remembering the time before? Hmmm. A quick search of my bag is all it takes for me to realize I have lost my pass.
I find this disturbing for two reasons. The first is that I am super paranoid about losing important things like tickets and ID’s. Every time I take a trip, I will check my wallet every 2 minutes all the way to the airport because I am convinced that my ID wants nothing more than to climb out of my purse and run away. Because of this idiosyncrasy I can’t believe that I am losing something as important as an annual pass. However, the second reason I am so disturbed? I just did this same thing 2 weeks ago. Yeah. I have now lost my AP twice in less than a month. I have seriously lost my mind.
I explain to the parking attendant my problem, and he (very nicely) lets me in without paying (you get free parking with an AP). I have done this before, so I know that I just need to go pay a visit to the ticket booth. We park (very far away, of course, it always works out that way for me when I have plans) and head in to DHS. There is no line at any of the windows, so we walk right up. I hand the ticket cast member my ID, tell her I lost my AP, and apologize for being a moron. The CM was actually very sweet and made me feel much better about my forgetfulness. She told me that people lose AP’s more than anyone probably realizes and they replace them all the time, often for the same people over and over. I also found out that it is always free to get your pass replaced, even if you need it done everyday. Sadly, the reason that put me at ease is the fact that I’m sure, in the next 8 weeks, I will lose my pass at least once more.
By this point, I have used up all the extra time I had scheduled. I had planned to check in at Hollywood & Vine at 1:30 (for our 1:45 ADR time). We checked in at exactly 1:45. Although, I wasn’t getting to check in early like I’d wanted, and I hadn’t had time to stop to buy an autograph book, I was really proud of myself for managing to get through several unexpected events and still make it on time and without crying!
We only waited about 5 minutes before we were seated. H&V wasn’t crowded at all, and they were even taking walk-ups. I was glad it wasn’t crowded, because I had heard that the noise in the dining room can get unbearable, and now I know why. The restaurant is set up in a 50’s diner meets cafeteria theme, and everything is linoleum and metal and other materials that allow sound to bounce around and amplify without ever escaping. Although, this is horrible acoustics-wise, it is kind of a neat theme. They also have Hollywood inspired murals painted on the walls, and old black and white photos of Hollywood landmarks and old-time celebrities. We were seated at a table in a back corner that I thought would hinder our experience with the characters; however, I eventually learned that actually the opposite was true.
Our waiter, Mike, came by and took our drink order, and I learned something that made me super happy. I thought that since I wasn’t paying for Malcolm to eat (at buffet’s, children under 3 are free), either he wouldn’t get a drink, or I would have to pay extra for it. That’s not true! He gets to drink for free too! I realize now that probably should have been obvious, but I was really excited and made sure he got plenty of apple juice and even took some to go when we left. When I got my iced tea, I drank the whole thing almost instantly, and it took a while for me to get a refill. I totally thought that meant I was going to be miserable with an empty glass all through lunch, but Mike was a very fast learner and began bringing me 2 more glasses of tea every time he came by the table to check on us (which I thought totally earned him his 20% TiW automated tip).
Before I get into talking about the buffet and the food, I want to say that I have an especially high “buffet tolerance.” I know many people can’t stand buffet’s and consider the food nearly inedible. However, I love buffets. I think they are awesome and tasty and fantastic. All of them…Golden Corral, Hometown Buffet, Luby’s…basically, anywhere that your grandma goes for dinner at 4pm, I LOVE!!
When I first saw the Hollywood & Vine buffet, I was impressed with the selection. They had salads, sandwiches, fruits, vegetables, pastas, several chicken dishes, beef dishes, rice, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, rolls, a dessert bar…lots of options. As I got closer and actually began to put food on my plate, I noticed that it was all very beige. The food seemed to almost all be the same color, and the food that was colorful looked wilted, sad, and unappetizing. I put a little bit of several options on my plate (as well as a big scoop of mac and cheese and some chicken nuggets for Malcolm), and figured I would try a little of everything.
Sadly, the food tasted worse than it looked. Everything was horribly over-salted (and I really like a lot of salt usually), the meats were dry, the sandwiches were soggy, and the fruit was over-ripe. Malcolm wouldn’t even eat the macaroni and cheese (and he will ALWAYS eat mac and cheese).
There were a few edible things. The baked chicken that they had on the children’s buffet was quite tasty, as well as a rice dish that they served that had white and brown rice, and little bits of carrot, celery, and other goodies mixed in. Beyond that, we filled up on corn and rolls. The dessert wasn’t too bad either. The cookies, chocolate mousse, and strawberry shortcake were still just average though, and really, you can’t mess up soft serve.
I didn’t like the fact that I was spending so much money on bad food, and really hoped that the character interaction would be better. Having never done character dining before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I found out in advance that the characters circulate around the dining room visiting tables while people eat. This sounded alright, but I had this horrible fear that every time a character came up I would have just taken a giant bite of food and my mouth would be full and I wouldn’t be able to talk and it would be super awkward.
The first character that came to visit us was Jojo (from Jojo’s Circus). Apparently, characters aware of people’s fears about having a mouth full of food, because Jojo walked fairly slowly to our table, and made it very clear that she was coming over for a visit. I had ample time to swallow, take a drink of tea, and prepare my camera. She came and sat down at one of our empty chairs, Malcolm glanced at her, and then went back to playing with his dried out chicken nuggets. He did not think that she was interesting at all. Jojo could obviously tell that Malcolm was uninterested, and after just a couple of quick pictures she left. When she came back around subsequent times, she always just stopped briefly, waved, and then moved on. I was really impressed with the way she didn’t try to log a certain length of time at our table, but took Malcolm’s feelings into account and adjusted her time with us accordingly. If she had tried to force herself on us, it would have just been uncomfortable for everyone, and her time was better used elsewhere.
The next character to visit us, Leo (from the Little Einstein’s), did the same thing, but in the opposite way. Malcolm adored Leo! He grabbed his nose and tried to take off his glasses and laughed at everything he did. Therefore, Leo spent extra time at our table tickling Malcolm and playing peek-a-boo, and even seemed to come by when it wasn’t our turn in the rotation. This is when I became really appreciative of our out-of-the-way table. When Leo came to see us, it was almost like a private meeting. We couldn’t see most of the restaurant, and there weren’t children from other tables yelling and tugging at Leo while he was with us like we witnessed happening at other tables. Being sort of cut off from everything really enhanced our one-on-one time with the characters, which I loved. I was also really glad that Malcolm was so happy playing with Leo. I would have been really irritated if, not only was the food crap, but Malcolm hated the characters.
The next character to visit us was June (also from the Little Einsteins). While Malcolm thought she was neat, he didn’t think she was nearly as cool as Leo (and somehow, I took no pictures of her). While she was with us a child from another table approached her and tried to get her attention. Once again, I was super impressed with the character’s non-verbal communication skills. She just briefly turned to the boy and put up a finger indicating that she would be with him in a moment, and then went back to focusing on us. Sure, it was a simple gesture, but it was clear and effective without being rude (either to us, or the little boy).
The final character who came to visit us was Handy Manny. I have no idea what Malcolm thought about Handy Manny when he approached the table, I guess he liked him fine, I honestly wasn’t paying too much to what Malcolm was doing at this point. Okay, major mommy confession time: I have a HUGE crush on Handy Manny. I mean, come one, he’s bilingual, he can fix things, he’s popular, he’s sweet to old people…he’s my perfect man. Like, I literally have naughty thoughts about Handy Manny (that’s what happens when you are a stay-at-home-mom who spends too much time watching cartoons). So, Handy Manny came by, and I split my time taking pictures of him and Malcolm with trying to get his attention myself. Shameful? Probably. But if I’m going to pay a bunch of money for a disgusting meal, I’m for damn sure going to flirt shamelessly with sexy Latino cartoon characters. That’s just how it is.
I also want to give a little shout-out to the character attendants. They never really seemed to be too visible when we were actually with the characters, but I know they were always around. Also, different attendants came by several times to ensure that we had seen everyone and were pleased with the amount of time we got. I realize that maybe when it’s crowded you may not see the same characters 3 or 4 times like we did, but I honestly would have settled for once each (well, except for Handy Manny of course). The extra times were just a fun bonus.
In between visiting tables, every 15 minutes or so the characters, along with some other singing, dancing cast members, sang songs and did little routines from our favorite Playhouse Disney cartoons. They also invited the kids to join in the fun and had conga lines and did all kinds of cool interactive things. Overall, I really enjoyed all of the character interaction and activities at H&V. I also liked the decor, and the themeing. It was just really unfortunate that the food was so terrible.
I have to admit, I’m now a little nervous about future character dining meals. I’m hoping that Disney doesn’t think that food quality doesn’t matter when you dine with characters, and that this was just one bad restaurant (or maybe even just one bad day). Either way, I’m going to do them all anyway, so we’ll see how it goes.
My next meal is on Monday morning at Kona Cafe, and I know there will be some special friends along for this one! I can’t wait…I’ve been dying to try Tonga Toast!
If anyone else wants to join me for a meal sometime, I always love hanging out with new people. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), contact me on twitter @scarlettashley1, friend me on Facebook under the name Scarlett Ashley, or you can comment on the blog.