FOOD REVIEW: Minnie's Springtime Dine at Hollywood & Vine

Summer is approaching but inside Hollywood & Vine at Disney's Hollywood Studios, spring is still in full bloom. Minnie's Springtime Dine is part of the rotating dinner character meal offered inside the Echo Lake table service restaurant. It is located just off of the park's main thoroughfare, Hollywood Blvd, and a few steps away from the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. With every season comes a new themed meal with a change up in the menu offerings, especially for dessert, and some of the Fab Five in different outfits. This is a restaurant that I have been very apprehensive about trying out. Hollywood & Vine doesn't have the best reputation, so I went in with low expectations. On this particular trip I was utilizing the Disney Dining Plan. That's one of the main reasons I gave this restaurant a shot, because character meals at dinner is an especially good use of the plan. I figured if I didn't like it, I least I got my money's worth out of Disney's dining package.

I arrived at Hollywood & Vine on a Wednesday night for my 7:05pm reservation. It was on a half day spent in the park and after riding all the big thrill rides like Rock 'n Roller Coaster. But I made this reservation specifically to get out early enough to score a prime viewing spot for the park's evening entertainment on the Chinese Theatre, which was starting at 9:05pm on this particular night. As the sun was setting on Echo Lake, I walked up to the restaurant, took a moment to appreciate the subtle nod to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? above the restaurant's marquee, and checked in with a hostess.

Since I was dining solo, I waited no time at all to be seated. Smaller parties will always find they only have to wait a couple of minutes between check-in and being seated at most Disney restaurants. As soon as I entered the restaurant, I was immediately hit with a photo-opt with Daisy Duck. Any time you dine at this restaurant, you'll meet one character before being escorted to your table, and that character will always change. Sometimes you may get Minnie, while other times you may get Mickey. The point is, whoever is stationed at this entry photo-opt will remain there for the entire meal and not come to your table. Daisy was particularly on point on this occasion. She's always so sassy!

I was then taken to my table by my hostess, just a few steps away from the dessert station of the buffet. Immediately I noticed that this buffet restaurant has a smart layout. The buffet itself lines almost the entire back wall of the space. It's divided in two and on each side is the same exact lineup of food. When the two opposite ends slowly meet in the middle, you'll find the kids' food options and the dessert station just across it at the center of the room. In fact that dessert station is right on the opposite side of the photo-opt at the entrance, therefore this buffet really divides the whole room in half. Making this restaurant feel like two semi-intimate establishments but in reality a pretty big restaurant. However, the place was very empty on the night I attending and the hostesses at the check-in podium were even saying that they were taking walk-ins. That's a rare sight to see at a character meal with Disney's most iconic characters. A bad sign perhaps?

The decor is somewhat similar to other long-time dining establishments at Hollywood Studios. It feels like a giant 1950s diner, without feeling like a greasy spoon. It compliments 50s Prime Time which is directly next door. On each end of the restaurant you'll find giant murals depicting Hollywood landmarks. The space is nice. It is not as heavily themed or unique like other character restaurants I've experienced, but it does match the theming of this area of the park. Before I could meet characters and hit the buffet, my lovely waitress came over to take my drink menu. If you dine at a character meal on the Disney Dining Plan, you can really maximize the use of a table service credit. All character meals come with a non-alcoholic beverage included in the price. You can have soft drinks or even coffee and tea if you enjoying breakfast. On the dining plan, you are also entitled to an additional alcoholic beverage, which would cost extra for those paying out of pocket. There are four different cocktails offered, which you'll find almost everywhere in Walt Disney World. There is also a collection of both white and red wine, four options for each, and almost a dozen different beers from draft to bottles and cans.

In between trips to the buffet, I was greeted by each of the remaining characters. This restaurant offers the same lineup of characters every day at lunch and dinner. I met Mickey of course, Goofy, Donald and Minnie. Each where dressed in pastel colored dresses and suits that matched the mid-century theming of the park. I really like Donald's hat the most. Since I was dining solo and without a kid, I think the characters spent an appropriate amount of time with me. They were happy to pose for pictures and both Goofy and Donald both came around a second time since the restaurant was so empty. I noted that almost all the tables with families and kids got to spend an ample amount of time with each character without being rushed. This is a great lineup of all the classics and one of the very few where Daisy Duck makes appearances. The only other restaurants I can think of to offer her is Tusker House at Animal Kingdom and Cape May Cafe at Beach Club. However, Tusker doesn't feature Minnie Mouse and Cape May doesn't offer Mickey. So this could be the only place to get this exact lineup of characters.

But now it's time to tuck into the food. This is where I stumbled a bit and now understand why this restaurant has mixed reviews. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the food quality itself was very good and in line with any other character meal I've experienced. I was worried with a semi-empty restaurant that food would be sat at the buffet getting cold. However, the chefs did a good job of pacing the dishes out and not presenting too much at once to not let it just sit there. At the start you have two bread options, pretzel rolls and a classic parker house dinner rolls. Then there a few basic salad options next, but nothing too interesting or unique. I was surprised to see New Zealand green mussels with a shallot vinaigrette and peel-n-eat shrimp. I am not a seafood fan so I had to skip over these, but they did look good. So far, the offerings are basic but good. But then the entrées are all over the place.

There are easy, go-to comfort food items like beef meatballs, mashed potatoes and green beans. Then things get a little more off-the-beaten path with lamb stew, Mexican corn casserole and a shrimp macaroni and cheese with lobster Alfredo sauce. The final section of main dishes was compromised of pork loin covered in a mustard sauce, plantains, mushroom farro risotto, sliced salmon and some stir-fry yakisoba noddles with vegetables. Of course there was also a carving station at the very end with both pork and sliced beef. It is truly an odd lineup of options. I feel that Disney is trying to cater to those who want something more exotic but still include classic comfort foods to be safe and provide a backup. But in trying to multi-task, some dishes fall short.

I did enjoy the meatballs, however it was covered in ketchup and really a ball version of meatloaf. It didn't taste bad but it was a bit boring for me. The shrimp mac 'n cheese was way to strong in fish flavors for me. I sincerely did not like it. However, I did enjoy the fried shrimp instead. They were perfectly crisp and a nice side dish. The three dishes I really enjoyed and stuck with where the pork loin, the risotto and yakisoba noddles. The mustard sauce added a nice twist to traditional sliced pork loin. The risotto was good because it had a nice deep and earthy flavor to it, thanks to the mushrooms. The stir-fry noodles where just a nice change of pace. There was no meat inside, but a decent vegetarian option. While I did find my dishes I liked, nothing knocked my socks off. The kids' offerings were just as simple and uneventful with corn dog nuggets, chicken tenders, mac 'n cheese, tater tots and corn. A sea of tan fried foods.

However, as per usual with Disney restaurants, dessert made up for things. Since this was the Springtime Dine, most of the desserts where bright and colorful and had some fruity flavors to it. There is a soft-serve ice cream machine for those who want something traditional, but otherwise dessert is a huge collection of mini-tarts and verrines with light flavors. My favorites included the the strawberry and chocolate cupcake which is covered in a bright green buttercream frosting. The lemon and blueberry verrine which was excellent. At the base you get a nice creamy lemon-flavored custard and then topped with crispy chocolate pearls and a trio of blueberries for an extra burst of fruit flavors. But the absolute best was the almond orange blondies. Simply to die for and the one winner of the whole meal.

In the end, I came out a bit better than I expected. Like I said, the food quality itself is good and my service was excellent. For some odd reason, I was expecting something far worse. But I must say that of all the character meals I've tried so far, and I am getting pretty close to trying all of them, this was the least memorable. Part of it could be because I came off of dining at Tusker House the night before, which could be the best dinner option for me when it comes to character meals. Hollywood & Vine tries to offer a few exotic dishes but once you try Tusker House, I can't help but feel that this restaurant severely falls short in that arena. At the same time, it's not a sure bet for those picky eaters who want something very recognizable like lunch or dinner at Garden Grill. The character meal inside The Land includes a very basic menu. However, I know that if a picky group just wants to fill their bellies with food and meet some characters along the way, it's a great safe bet. But again, Hollywood & Vine still doesn't measure up for that type of crowd. In trying to please two very different groups of diners, many may come up feeling disappointed. Like I said, I enjoyed the food once I found my smart choices and left feeling very full. However, I was extremely thankful I did this on the dining plan because out of pocket, this meal with a glass of wine was in the region of $75 for one adult once you include tax and tip. Too much in my humble opinion for what it is. I left feeling confident that there are much better character meals to be enjoyed around Walt Disney World.

Minnie's Seasonal Dine at Hollywood Studios is priced at $52 plus tax for adults and $31 for kids 3-9 and is offered at lunch and dinner only. Breakfast is an entirely different lineup of characters including Disney Junior favorites like Vampirina and Doc McStuffins and at a different price point. If you're on one of the Disney Dining Plans, Minnie's Seasonal Dine is eligible for 1 table service meal credit. However, I sincerely would only recommend this to a family on the dining plan, desperate to enjoy a meal with this lineup of characters who waited too long to book other favorites like Chef Mickey's or Tusker House. It truly is a last resort and this experience reinforced my feeling that character meals are best enjoyed and most satisfying when done at breakfast time. I wonder if the Disney Junior Play 'n Dine breakfast is any better? Specifically if you're traveling with toddlers. Well that will have to be a review for another day.