Guests staying at the Walt Disney World resorts in 1987 might have found this flier waiting in their room. It touts one of the benefits of staying on-property – reserved dining at the resort’s exclusive restaurants!
I love the sense of classiness the flier’s graphics imply. The tuxedoed waiter serves wine over candlelight; the silhouetted man wears a suit while his ladyfriend, 80s perm and all, no doubt sports impressive shoulderpads. A far cry from sweaty tourists in unflattering t-shirts, trying to corral their loads of screaming children.
The flip side of the flier, listing all the full service restaurants on property, seems astounding these days. So few restaurants! Of course, having only four resort properties at the time certainly cut down on the options. What few restaurants are listed have changed mightily since then. Note how the restaurants’ old names try to evoke an air of the exotic; at the Contemporary there was the southwest-inspired Pueblo Room and Gulf Coast Room instead of the poseur-moderne “The Wave” or the blandly literal “Concourse Steakhouse.”
Then, of course, was the Empress Lilly, whose stately elegance presided over the then-calm waters by the Walt Disney World Village.
Below are the descriptions of these now-closed resort restaurants from the 1988 Birnbaum guide to Walt Disney World.
Gulf Coast Room – One of the most elegant of Walt Disney World’s continental restaurants, with a subdued, relaxed atmosphere that seems worlds away from the bustling Grand Canyon Concourse and the congestion of the elevator lobbies. Roast lab chops Orloff, beef meunière, seafood brochette, and veal piccata are specialties of the house. There are delicious flambéed coffees for après. Carlos, the strolling guitarist, plays just about any song a guest may request. Children who don’t delight in the leisurely pace of the service can be dispatched to the Fiesta Fun Center Snack Bar. Jackets are required. Reservations are suggested; phone 824-3684. (The Gulf Coast Room closed in 1988 to make way for added convention space)
Pueblo Room – On the Grand Canyon Concourse, the spot is quieter than other Grand Canyon Concourse eating spots. The menu features Italian dishes including lasagna, pizza, chicken Torino, special Italian coffees, and homemade desserts. There’s a special children’s menu. Reservations accepted but not required. (The space formerly occupied by the Pueblo Room is now part of Chef Mickey’s)
Polynesian Village Resort
Papeete Bay Verandah – Serves Minnie’s Menehune character buffet breakfasts every morning, sit-down dinners daily, lunch Mondays through Saturdays, and brunch on Sundays. The breakfast buffet features all sorts of fresh fruit, French toast, eggs, and grits. The hot-and-cold lunch buffet is a favorite; one highlight is the coconut-spiked rice pudding for dessert. The prime ribs and red snapper are the best choices for dinner, but more adventurous diners may be tempted by some of the Polynesian-style offerings. Among the appetizers are scallops marinated in coconut milk with a touch of horseradish and sour cream; shrimp, kingfish, spinach, and cabbage steamed in ti leaves; and thin salted salmon fillets seasoned with lemon, scallions, and tomatoes. Main courses include Pua’a (sauteed pork tenderloin and oriental vegetables served in a pepper half over saffron rice) and chicken pago-pago (a marinated chicken breast glazed with a honeyed sesame sauce and served in a pineapple half). For dessert, the menu offers poached pear marinated in apricot brandy and served with a strawberry cream sauce, and the macadamia nut pie with passion fruit ice cream. The room itself is large and open and offers fine views across the Seven Seas Lagoon all the way to Cinderella’s Castle. After dark, Polynesian dancers and a small combo entertain quietly. Reservations are requested for dinner and Minnie’s Menehune breakfast; phone 824-1391. (The Papeete Bay Verandah became ‘Ohana in 1995)
Tangaroa Terrace – This sprawling establishment, on the eastern edge of the property near the Oahu longhouse, serves that delicious banana-stuffed French toast made with sourdough bread (eggs and other more usual breakfast selections also are available), plus dinners of prime ribs, steak, and fresh seafood, including blackened grouper. (Tangaroa Terrace closed in 1996 and has sat empty ever since)
Walt Disney World Village
Empress Room – The most amazing thing about this restaurant (located amidships on the Promenade Deck) is not its food (though the menu is one of WDW’s most ambitious), but the combination of service and atmosphere. The Louis XV decor includes painted-wood paneling, damask wallpaper, a shallow-domed ceiling with an Italian brass chandelier glittering with crystal droplets, and, between the tables-for-four along the wall, dividers fitted out with paneling and etched glass. Parts of the elaborate moldings are covered with real gold leaf (worth $8,000 when the Empress was constructed in 1977).
The culinary offerings include hot and curried spinach and oyster soup or chilled avocado soup, Bibb lettuce and fresh mushroom salads, country pâté, smoked duck with creamed horseradish, crabmeat sautéed in butter with brandy, Dover sole stuffed with salmon mousse and mushrooms and doused with a vermouth sauce, stuffed breast of pheasant, venison, and more. The quality of the food preparation can be erratic, but this is among the most elegant eating places in the World. The restaurant seats guests from 6 P.M. to 9:30 P.M., and a 20 percent surcharge is added to each check for service. Not all the fish here is fresh; if this matters to you, be sure to get a status report before ordering. Jackets are required for men, and reservations are a must; they are available up to 30 days in advance (828-3900).
Fisherman’s Deck – This seafood spot on the forward Promenade Deck has a huge curved expanse of window – 180 degrees’ worth – and in the afternoon, the sunlight that washes the pale cream-colored tongue-in-groove paneled walls and the blue tufted Victorian side chairs is as remarkable as the food. At lunch, the chefs offer shrimp with pasta; crab meat, and avocado salads; fresh fruit salads; sandwiches made with grilled crabmeat, cheddar, tomato, and bacon; and fresh seafood daily. At dinner, shrimp cocktail, oysters raw or fried, snapper, prawns en brochette, and Maine lobster (seasonal) are the specialties; the Empress Delight includes a bit of everything – pompano, oysters and bacon en brochette, and crabmeat-stuffed lobster. At both lunch and dinner, there are also limited offerings for meat eaters. No reservations are accepted; give your name to the hostess and then wait over drinks in the always-lively Baton Rouge Lounge, on the forward main deck.
Steerman’s Quarters – This ornate main deck salon, full of heavy red upholstery and turned mahogany spindles and paneling, is named for the steering gear that would have occupied this area in one of the original stern-wheelers. Meat is the big deal – ground steak in puff pastry, strip steak, beef tenderloin – though oysters on the half shell and shrimp cocktail are available, along with fresh seafood and specialty crepes stuffed with seafood in white-wine sauce. At dinner, you can order prime ribs, buffalo steak, or half-a-dozen grilled meats. While you’re waiting for your food, you can sit by a big glass window that seems only inches away from the paddle wheel’s gleaming white arms and watch it turn. No reservations are accepted; give your name to the hostess and wait in the Baton Rouge Lounge. (The three Empress Lilly restaurants were all closed in 1995 to make way for the garish Fulton’s Crab House)
Lake Buena Vista Club – This former country club-like establishment is now a family-oriented restaurant complete with a new menu and new decor. Prime ribs, chicken, New York strip steaks, and filet mignon are offered. A children’s menu features 6-ounce prime ribs, fried fish, hamburgers, and grilled cheese. The dessert specialty is a layered Italian ice cream loaf. A new lighter cream-colored decor complements the natural wood tones. Ceiling fans and fern-filled planters add to the Southern feeling of the dining room. The dress is now casual and men no longer need to wear jackets. Reservations suggested; phone 828-3735. (The Club, which has just changed its name from the Pompano Grill, was closed in 1994 to make way for the ill-fated Disney Institute)
Village Restaurant – This unassuming dining room is one of the most pleasant restaurants in Walt Disney World – and there’s no waiting since reservations are accepted (828-3723). there are fine views of Buena Vista Lagoon, and the sunshine that streams through the windows keeps a whole garden’s worth of house plants robust and green all year. Fresh fish is usually available here. The restaurant serves “bruncheon” from 9:30 A.M. to 3 P.M. and dinner from 5 P.M. to 10 P.M. The menu features shellfish salads, eggs Benedict, quiche, and an interesting omelet stuffed with crab and artichoke hearts, as well as a selection of terrific sandwiches and homemade soups. Adjoining the Village Restaurant is the living-room like Village Lounge. Fitted out with comfortable low sofas and club chairs, it features pop musicians. A great spot for after-dinner drinks. Valet parking is available. (The Village Restaurant became Chef Mickey’s in 1990, and when that restaurant moved to the Contemporary in 1996 the building was buried under a giant volcano and turned into the Rainforest Cafe)
The Disney Inn
The Garden Gallery – The former Trophy Room as been completely renovated and redecorated and now offers an open, airy atmosphere with skylights and plants. This is the resort’s only full-service restaurant, and it ranks among the most pleasant spots in the World for a meal. Many Disney executives come here for lunch. The restaurant offers a pleasant away-from-it-all feel. At breakfast there is an immense all-you-can-eat buffet or you can opt for a continental breakfast. Lunch features tasty entrées and a fresh and varied salad bar. At dinner, fresh seafood prepared in a variety of light sauces is the specialty. There are also beef, veal, and fowl selections daily. French-fried ice cream, served on a peach half with vanilla sauce, is offered both at lunch (on the à la carte menu) and at dinner; it’s truly scrumptious. A delicious old-fashioned strawberry shortcake is also worth a taste. (The Garden Gallery remains open but off-limits to civilians after the United States military began their lease of the Disney Inn (renamed Shades of Green) in 1993. UPDATE: According to Aaron in the comments below, I was wrong about this. Looks like we can all still eat at the Gallery!)