Our Wedding Anniversary at the California Grill in Disney World

It so happened that our family vacation this summer with Justin’s parents, siblings, and our niece and nephew fell over our one year wedding anniversary. I was so excited to do something really special and we quickly settled on California Grill in the Contemporary Resort. This place is classy, with an absolutely epic view of Magic Kingdom from the dining room, and amazing reviews of watching the fireworks from the balcony. I researched the menu because I am notorious for always choosing the wrong thing, and we ended up having one of my all time favorite dates we have ever been on! It was truly magical.

We took a Minnie Van (which are Disney’s on property Lyft vehicles, powered by the Lyft app but driven by Disney Cast Members) and had the most wonderful driver! He suggested menu items to try, pointed out hidden Mickey’s on our drive, and took a photo of us when we got there. Driving in a Minnie Van was the perfect way to start the evening because it felt like our own magical carriage, instead of taking a random Lyft/Uber or dealing with the parks transportation.

Once there, you check-in downstairs before you’re escorted to the top floor where the restaurant is. At check-in I let them know that it was our anniversary, and asked if we could wait for a table with a good view if possible. The Cast Members are pretty good about meeting requests when possible, and so it never hurts to ask! We only waited around 5 minutes before being taken upstairs, and less than 5 minutes from being taken upstairs our table was ready. We got a table with an almost perfect view, and a wonderful server!

They also left us adorable little Mickey confetti on our table since they knew it was a celebration, and congratulated us on our anniversary. πŸ™‚

We started with drinks and while we are almost always beer people, I got this amazing spicy Margarita that perfectly hit the spot for cocktail hour after a hot day, and because cocktails feel more fancy for the occasion. Justin and I both tried a few different beers too while we were there and while there was an alright selection, California Grill is decisively a wine spot, and so if you are into wines they have a massive selection of wines from the reasonably priced to thousands per bottle.

We ordered the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli as an appetizer because *literally* every single person we talked to about California Grill told us to. We also ordered the Strawberry and Golden Kiss Melon Salad which had a wonderful portion of burrata and these pistachio crumbles…. so good. One of my highlights of the night! The Goat Cheese Ravioli was one massive ravioli in this super rich and delicious broth – so good!

I ordered the Oak-fired Beef Filet which had these amazing truffle mashed potatoes which were too magical to even finish, asparagus with some sort of miso glaze, and a tamarind barbecue sauce. While I was SUPER happy with my meal, Justin (per usual) ordered even better than me and had an amazing Seared Yellowfin Tuna with rice noodles, a crispy tuna roll, and pickled vegetables. His flavors were distinctly Asian and delicious. It was such a wide variety of food and flavors on the menu and we finished our meal too stuffed to order dessert!

We had been told by our server that we could go outside to the balcony to watch the fireworks, even if we were done with our meal, and we took the opportunity to step outside. This part can be a little tricky. You see, California Grill also has a lounge area with a dinner menu and a bar, and lounges require no reservations. So people storm the lounge at 9pm just as they open the outdoor balcony, and all the sudden the balcony was quite crowded even though the restaurant was a full but calm and classy escape from the crowds. I can’t say I blame people for tricking the system this way, but it was a little jarring and all the sudden we felt like we had to rush outside to snag a spot.

We were pleasantly surprised when we got outside, however, and although the balcony was kind of an odd shape, there was plenty of space, and the view of the fireworks was surely spectacular. I didn’t get a photo of the actual fireworks, but you can see where they were from the remaining smoke in this photo. (PSA: don’t take photos during fireworks shows. The person behind you gets to only see your screen and your iPhone just picks up crappy pixels of lights that you’ll never post online anyway. Don’t do it!)

You were able to take your drinks out to the patio and the BEST PART was that the actual fireworks show music was played through the speakers on the balcony! Since the audio is such an important part of the fireworks shows, it really did help you enjoy the show.

Watching the fireworks with a beer in hand after a romantic and delicious dinner from the rooftop of the Contemporary Hotel was seriously the perfect end to a wonderful anniversary! I would recommend the California Grill to anyone celebrating a special occasion, and we will definitely be back to the lounge area for drinks and views on future trips.

Another little piece of magic from our night was that after the fireworks the elevator lines were VERY long from all the people who rushed the balcony just for the fireworks, and so we stopped in at the bar for a night cap, and met another wonderful cast member who has worked the bar in the California Grill since it opened in 1995. He talked to us about growing up in New Jersey, what surfing is like on the East Coast, beaches in Florida, and working at the California Grill bar, all while he prepped to close down his bar for the night. He was so friendly and fun, and it was just a reminder of what a special place Disney parks are.

Although our California Grill experience ended there, I still had not been on Space Mountain on this trip, so we walked across the path to Magic Kingdom, took some castle photos and rode Space Mountain before heading back to the hotel. It felt extra magical to ride my favorite roller coaster all dressed up from dinner, and was the perfect *us* way to end the very special day.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion at any Disney park, I would definitely recommend checking out the restaurants in the park or area you are in, and make a special reservation! There are some really amazing and specialty places with very classy and high end meals, with no characters in sight. It can be a great escape from park food and a great date night on a trip otherwise spent with the whole family. It wasn’t cheap, so we can’t do it every time, but I surely wish we could! ❀

What to Do if You Have 1 Day – Disney World

If life takes you to Orlando and you have the time to sneak one day in at the parks, what do you do?! A friend recently asked me this question and I’ve seriously been thinking about what to recommend, because this is a tough one. There are weeks worth of things to do at Disney World! But I landed on the following few recommendations.

Go to Animal Kingdom, not Magic Kingdom

Alright alright, this one has to come with a few qualifiers. If you have never been to Disney World, or Magic Kingdom, go there with your one day! It is absolutely magical and worth seeing! However, if you’ve gone once or twice OR if you go to Disneyland often, I wouldn’t prioritize it. I will write more later about how I love Disneyland SO much more than Magic Kingdom, but in short if you can go to Disneyland often, you don’t need to see Magic Kingdom on your one and only day in Disney World. πŸ˜‰

Animal Kingdom is truly unique and there is so much to do! It is Disney magic of a different type, and for this west coaster it is so different than anything I’d ever experienced at a Disney park. In fact, we often spend the most time in this park when we are there for extended vacations. Animal Kingdom used to have a reputation as a “half-day” park but after the addition of Pandora, the extension of the Animal Kingdom hours to night, and addition of the night show Rivers of Light there is plenty to do all day long.

Keep in mind that Animal Kingdom is the least “Mickey” of the parks, if you have kiddos who really want that typical Disney experience, but there are some epic Character Meet and Greets so you can still grab those autograph books and cameras! Here are my Fast Pass rec’s! (Keeping in mind you can only get one Pandora (Avatar) Fast Pass at a time, so you’re going to have to mix and match these.)

1. Flight of Passage (if you can get it)
It is no secret that this attraction is insanely popular, but for good reason. In my opinion it is the most immersive and advanced attraction Disney has ever created. It is not overly intense but it does reflect a feeling of flying. If you have the opportunity, do. it.

2. Expedition Everest
This is MY FAVORITE roller coaster in Disney World (sorry, Rock n Roller Coaster, you’re a close second). This ride is just a FUN coaster, and I really love the entire theming of the Asia land in the back, and don’t miss my top pick to grab a beer in all of Disney World right next to this attraction! πŸ˜‰

3. Na’vi River Journey
This is the second attraction in Pandora and it is VERY family friendly. Think something like the most gorgeous Small World you’ve ever imagined, with less repetitive music. This line still can be quite long, so a Fast Pass, while not AS exciting as a Flight of Passage Fast Pass is still definitely worth it!

Honorable mentions, or rides to stand-by:

– Kilamanjaro Safari
I actually prefer this to Na’vi River, but I bumped Na’vi for the new-ness factor. Kilamanjaro is a literal Safari! Live animals are simply roaming the grounds, while you are driven through in a open windowed vehicle. I’ve actually been stopped on this ride for about 10 minutes because a rhino stopped in the middle of the road where the ride vehicles drive, and so the ride vehicles were stopped until the Rhino safely moved away. This ride is also worth riding both at night and during the day because at night the animals are so much more active after sunset, and listening to lions roar while they roam mere feet from you is AWESOME.

-Festival of the Lion King
Think Lion King on Broadway brought to a small stage and presented in 30 minutes. This outstanding performance is not only truly amazing, but is also a great way to get into a cool air conditioned room for a while, which is very important.

– Primeval Whirl

– Dinosaur

– Meet Disney Pals at Safari Outpost (your way to see SAFARI Mickey and Minnie, so cute!)

– Rivers of Light (the nighttime water show. It’s so gorgeous!) *Quick note about Rivers of Light, I have never Fast Passed this show, and usually just show up about 20-30 mins before and have always gotten a great seat. Don’t use a Fast Pass on Rivers of Light. πŸ˜‰

While in the parks, EAT the following:

  • Satuli Canteen
  • Flame Tree BBQ (get the BBQ Cheese Fries!)
  • Get a Hawke’s Grog Ale in Pandora OR a Safari Amber throughout the park, my two fave beers around!

Lastly, if you only have ONE day in Disney World, I kinda suggest to not park hop, because it takes 30-60 minutes to get somewhere else on the park busses.

Animal Kingdom is more than enough! BUT – if you get the itch to park hop and head somewhere else, I would do one of the following…

-Disney Springs!

I LOVE Disney Springs! GREAT food, fun night life, all the shopping (both Disney and non-Disney) you could want, and just a great way to spend the night. Bonus: its open pretty late on weekends (think 1am).

-Hollywood Studios

Another fun night spot! Hollywood Studios is the home of Fantasmic and the Star Wars Fireworks, two amazing night time options! Plus the home of Base Line Tap House, which is a top 5 fave spot for me to grab a beer in Disney World.

ALRIGHT there it is! My ONE DAY ONLY recommendation! (this is not, I will say, what I would do personally with one day- so keep an eye out for that! short answer: Epcot.)

Do you have more questions? Do you disagree? Comment or send me a note on the contact page up top, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts!

5 Best Beer Stops in Walt Disney World

If you visit Disney World as an adult who drinks alcohol, you’re going to want some drinks. It’s like 90+ degrees, very humid, lots of people, you’ve been up since 5 am to rope drop Flight of Passage, so when the heat rolls in and you’re craving a cold beer, where do you go? Disney World has serious variety for alcohol in general, but if you’re a beer person like myself and Justin, I simply cannot have you guys drinking the Heineken or Bud Light they stick at the front of the parks! Don’t do it! Instead, walk a little further and try these spots.

  • Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks, Animal Kindgom

Ok, I do not take the #1 spot on my list lightly. This has been our favorite drink spot since our very first trip to Disney World. Full disclosure: they always have the Golden Monkey by Victory Brewing Company on tap… and it is 9.5%! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Usually this stop has a few excellent beers on tap though, and is always a must do for us! If you’re about to hop in to see River’s of Light or stand in line for Expedition Everest, grab a brew at this stop first! My favorite is the Old Elephant Foot IPA if I’m not going all in with the Golden Monkey. This is also one of the only full bars you’ll find as a walk-up stop, so take advantage of this amazing stop even if you’re not drinking beer.

  • BaseLine Tap House, Disney’s Hollywood Studios

This spot genuinely raised my experience in Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. Hollywood Studio’s has had a slow few years while it undergoes construction for both Toy Story Land (which opened June 30!) and Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) at the same time. However, this spring came with the opening of BaseLine Tap House and… it’s based on California beers! Of course these San Diegans would love it! We got a 22oz pour of a favorite local beer, the Stone Delicious IPA, and hung out on the gorgeous patio. There is plenty of seating inside and out, with lots of shade. They offer a few light snacks like a charcuterie board or a giant pretzel, which are on our list for next time! And while some of the beers were really mainstream (I see you Sierra Nevada) and took away from the craft goal of the place, overall we really loved this stop, and will absolutely be back next time we are in Hollywood Studios.

  • Pongu Pongu in Pandora, Animal Kingdom

This stop is amazing since they have exclusive beers for Pandora! There is the Mo’ara High Country Ale, which is an ok hoppy amber, but the real star here is the Hawkes Grog Ale. It’s an American Wheat Pale Ale, 5.3%, lots of Apricot flavors and not too wheaty, and it is GREEN! It really adds to the mystery and intrigue of Pandora, and is a flavorful, fruity, light beer that is the *perfect* compliment to a hot Orlando day. There are also some frozen cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks at this spot that are tasty (I’d recommend the Mo’ara Margarita myself, popping balls!) and overall, it is a must do in Animal Kingdom.

  • Refreshment Outpost, Epcot

It is no secret that Epcot has a beautiful variety of food and drinks from around the world, and even has several seasonal festivals dedicated to even *more* food and drinks from around the world! However, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you could be hard pressed to find a good beer specifically. So much so, that even I generally default to other drinks while I’m in this park. However, the Refreshment Outpost (basically the sad excuse for any major African influence in World Showcase) has two excellent beers on tap. The Safari Amber (generally exclusive to Animal Kingdom) and the Old Elephant IPA, which already made it on this list!

As far as beer goes, Germany has a few favorites but none of them are really the style beer I personally prefer. You’ll find some Weisbeer, Beck’s Pilsner, and a very low ABV Stiegl Radler Grapefruit, tasty but 2.5% alcohol! 2.5%! Don’t spend $8 on that please! Mexico has your typical Mexican Lagers, Pacifico etc, and England leads me to the last spot on the list!

  • Rose and Crown Pub, Epcot

This is a place I didn’t actually know existed until my favorite Disney blogger, Disney Food Blog, let me know! Rose and Crown is the table service restaurant in the England pavilion in World Showcase, but what I didn’t know was that there is a Pub that you do not need reservations to enjoy, and it absolutely has a pub feel! Every time I’ve been inside there has been standing room only, a lively crowd, and outstanding bartenders! Here you can get a huge variety of English pours, including mixed beers like Black & Tans or Goldens. You can still take your beer to go, however, and can walk World Showcase with your brew. Another tip about this stop is that they serve full 16oz pours, while other stops in Epcot only serve 12oz beers.

I hope this helps you scope out the best brew! Do you have someplace that isn’t on my list? I would love to know where it is! ❀

Welcome to Kaitlin at the Castle

I am Kaitlin and I am a San Diego based Disney girl with a love for local beer, exploring Southern California, and I’m always counting down to my next trip.

I am always on my way to Disneyland, and also have trips planned to Palm Springs, Disney World, and hopefully Paris! This blog is fully dedicated to all my adventures, my passion for Disney style, and my endless search for pink flowers and pretty walls. Is there something you want my opinion on, or think I should write about? Click my “Contact” page up top, and let me know!

I was struck recently by a short Instagram conversation I had with someone I haven’t met before, who was inspired by my love for all things Disney and how in her circles it seems immature or odd to love Disney as an adult with no kids. I’m big on the phrase “let people enjoy things” and so my message is truly that if you love something like Disney or comics or video games or make-up tutorials or anything else as an adult, love them all the way! The things you love make you special! I’m always so inspired by the Disney community, and the creativity and love shared in this magical space. The stories and environments that Disney creates has really more deeply affected my life in my adult years, and I find so much joy, optimism, understanding, and inspiration in the Disney universe. I hope I can help share a little magic and love from my own corner of the castle, and can help you have your best day ever in the parks too. ❀