Epcot's longest running character meal is nestled in the heart of The Land Pavilion, located in Future World West at Epcot. Garden Grill, originally known as The Good Turn Restaurant, was renamed in 1993 to Garden Grill. At some point after that, it became a character meal establishment with Chip & Dale featured as well as Mickey and Pluto. Up until a couple of years ago, only dinner was served here, but now it is open for all three meals of the day. It is a restaurant I have no doubt you've all passed by dozens of times en route to Soarin' Around the World. Slowly rotating at the very center of the pavilion and offering views of the opening-day attraction, Living with the Land. After many years of passing it and wondering if it was a worthy character meal, I recently took the plunge and enjoyed both breakfast, and a couple of weeks later dinner, to give it a shot.
Right off the bat I will say that my breakfast experience here involved a very early reservation at 9:10am. Epcot was scheduled to open at 9am that day, and had no Extra Magic Hours that morning. As I approached the turnstiles, I noticed some big crowds already patiently waiting to the enter the park. In fact, the crowds bottlenecked so much, Cast Members began allowing guest to pass the turnstiles to be held behind another rope right in front of Spaceship Earth. This was clearly to alleviate the crowds at both the turnstiles and security check point. It was before I passed the turnstiles that I noticed a separate entrance being used specifically for breakfast reservations. It's here that I want to highlight that Garden Grill is usually open at 8am, a full hour before Epcot's normal opening time. Even though I didn't fully take advantage of it on this particular occasion, it dawned on me that Garden Grill is an excellent choice for a character meal if you're hoping to get an extra head start on a day at Epcot. Even in front of the hardcore rope drop guests.
Once inside the Land Pavilion, and before herds of people filled the pavilion, we checked in for breakfast with a Cast Member. We were given a typical buzzer and asked to sit at the nearby benches to await our table. About 3 minutes later, the plastic buzzer was blinking bright red and it was time to sit. If you're already wondering, yes the restaurant does indeed spin. You'll notice this as soon as a host or hostess escorts you into the dining room and gives a small warning to watch your step. The spinning is extremely slow and subtle, you'll probably only get one full rotation throughout the duration of your meal. And this unique layout and movement over the boat ride makes Garden Grill an exceptionally calm restaurant in the morning hours. If you want to get a slightly better view of the different show scenes in the attraction, request to sit at a booth. It's on the lower level of the dining room and faces outward, so every once in a while you can get up and take a small peak at the ride down below.
As we approached our table, I was stunned to see a massive, absolutely delicious looking cinnamon roll inside a cast iron skillet; also known as Chip's Sticky Bun Cake. This is Disney after all, and dessert up front is perfectly acceptable, and it was HUGE! I swear that the cinnamon skillet was bigger than my face and could easily feed at least four people. So even before meeting our waiter, we were two for two. Garden Grill provides early access to Epcot and promises that you'll be absolutely full when you depart. But I had to resist the temptation of devouring that mouthwatering cinnamon roll, and be a sensible adult and try the savory items first.
As with some character meals, our waiter informed us that everything is served family style and that he'll simply take our drink orders. He also mentioned that after the food arrives, we can ask for seconds on all or specific items. Included in the price with your breakfast you can enjoy coffee, tea and a juice blend that includes orange, passion fruit and guava. If you've dined at Ohana before, you'll love this juice mix. Adults can order alcoholic beverages such as a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa. Since I was in for more alcohol later in the day at Epcot, I stuck with coffee and juice. The mason jar cups used for the juice blend are made of plastic and a cute touch to stick with the theme of the pavilion.
As we awaited our food, I sampled only a small bite or two of that sticky bun, and some characters paid us a visit at the table. As I mentioned earlier, you'll always meet four characters at this restaurant at all meals of the day; Chip & Dale, Pluto and Mickey in a cute farmer's outfit. What's interesting about this restaurant's layout is that the characters pop out from the center of the dining room, which doesn't spin obviously. And since the dining room is curved, you won't really see them across the way before they arrive at your table. I find this helpful with toddlers who get easily excited and you want to make sure they eat. This was perhaps the best character meal when it comes to hiding characters before they arrive. Our interactions with the characters here were fantastic. They took their time with us, especially with our niece, posed for pictures and signed our autograph book. This layout seems to pace the interactions well, and characters will really focus their time with you without being rushed to the next table.
Then it was time for food. Our waiter brought us a huge skillet that involved the typical Disney breakfast lineup; bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, tater tots, Mickey waffles and a side bowl of fruit. Everything was served nice and hot and was good, as to be expected. It was at this meal that I realized that I truly prefer these character meals where your food is brought to you and served family style. I mentioned this recently in my Cape May Cafe breakfast review. I know that it limits the range, but I like to sit and relax and not feel rushed to plate up and return back to my table in time for the characters. Oh and did I mention that sticky bun? It was as delicious as it looked. Soft, warm and perhaps one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had. No exaggeration.
But let's travel forward in time to a couple of weeks later, when I returned to the restaurant to try out an early dinner. On this occasion, I was traveling solo with just my husband. No kids involved, which felt a bit strange to do at a character meal. But for the sake of thoroughness I wanted to examine the food. Instead of an overwhelming dessert awaiting us at our table, a nice bowl of mixed salad greeted us this time. The salad features an incredibly extra fresh taste to it. Apparently because the greens are grown in the pavilion itself and hydroponic, which means they never touch soil. I was told that ingredients in the salad will change seasonally, depending on the time of year. This time around it included a nice sprinkle of olives, tomatoes and nicely drizzled with a cranberry dressing. There's also a nice accompaniment of bread rolls with a delicious maple butter spread that is to die for.
Our skillet this time featured a huge array of classic American comfort foods. In terms of meats you get three different types; pot roast, sliced turkey breast topped with turkey gravy and carved pork with apple chutney. The pot roast was my favorite of the three. It was nice and juicy, full of flavor and was perfectly braised and tender. The sliced turkey was just okay, it could've been warmer and I always feel that sliced turkey at Disney doesn't quite measure up to the Thanksgiving version I serve up at home. Then we got some classic side dishes such as buttermilk mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. In this case we got green beans that were nicely cooked and still crips with a squash medley. Then on top of that, we got some french fries and classic Disney mac and cheese. They added some cheddar gold fish crackers on top of the mac and cheese making it extra cheesy, and actually a little too much for me.
As if all of that wasn't enough, dinner was topped off with a decadently over-the-top berry short cake with whipped cream. This instantly reminded me of the strawberry shortcake I had at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue over at Fort Wilderness a couple of years ago. I had sugar PTSD! This shortcake is extra sweet, I swear it's covered in a sprinkle of extra sugar giving it a crunchy sweet taste. But, I do love that this version is topped with a mixture of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. It certainly has an extra tart flavor to it. It was delicious and I wanted to enjoy it all with my husband, but it was too much. I was told that this is the same serving size a family of four would receive so I didn't feel guilty being defeated by it. (In fact I was relieved I couldn't eat it all, that would kill my diet!)
In terms of price, this is a middle of the road character meal. Breakfast on this occasion was priced at $38 for adults and $23 for kids 3 to 9. The same exact price as breakfast at Cape May Cafe at Disney's Beach Club, and almost a good $15 cheaper than breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. Dinner at Garden Grill was priced at $52 for adults and $31 for kids, the same pricing applies at lunchtime. If you're Annual Passholder you do get at 10% discount here, and DVC and Table in Wonderland members also get discounts. In terms of the Disney Dining Plan, all three meals count as 1 table service meal credit.
But I want to highlight Epcot dining packages here. As you've probably seen in my various Epcot event videos, dining packages are usually offered in conjunction with whatever concert is taking place at Epcot during one of the four festivals. Garden Grill is almost always offered, and breakfast is usually the cheapest dining package of them all. If you're looking to score reserved seating at Candlelight Processional during Festival of the Holidays and don't want to break the bank, I highly recommend this option. It's worth the up-charge given that Candlelight Processional is the most popular and crowded show at the American Gardens Theatre for the year.
All in all, both times I left this restaurant I felt that I had to be rolled out because I was so full. I will say that I had a slight preference to breakfast. I like this notion of filling up at breakfast and possibly skipping lunch altogether to either sample food all day at an Epcot festival or save myself for a more outlandish dinner in World Showcase. An early breakfast here could also be nicely coupled with Soarin' or a relaxing ride on Living with the Land if you're little one is still too short to ride Soarin'. Dinner was good, but I think best for someone who wants something familiar and traditional. I am all about exotic flavors and trying something new, so dinner didn't excite me too much. However I will say that if you can't score a reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern on Thanksgiving Day and still want to celebrate, go for this restaurant, it will do the job. If variety is not a priority for you and you simply want the best bang for your buck and guarantee happy bellies, Garden Grill Restaurant is an excellent character meal at Epcot.