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Dining Around The World, 1987

Walt Disney World Dining Brochure (T094 1187), 1987   Walt Disney World Dining Brochure (T094 1187), 1987

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.

Contemporary Resort

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 Lilly

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!)

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11 comments to Dining Around The World, 1987

  • butter

    Man do I miss the days of laid back atomsphere at Walt Disney World.

    I could not agree more about the poseur-moderne comment!

    Walt Disney World has become a WHITE TRASH paradise without one ounce of sophistication!

  • GTTalley

    “Walt Disney World has become a WHITE TRASH paradise without one ounce of sophistication!”

    Sadly, to fill 4 theme parks, 2 water parks and 20,000 guest rooms you have to appeal to everyone. Sometimes that lowers the bar. There are still some very nice quiet corners of sophistication at WDW. You have to just look harder to find them.

  • While I agree in principle, it’s a really complicated issue and it’s less about how Disney has changed (although it has, and considerably) and more about how our society in general has changed. While I love the air of elegance that these descriptions and images invoke, I’ll admit that I’m as guilty as anyone of embracing the privilege of being able to wear shorts to a nice dinner. I was watching some old Disneyland footage last night, and nearly everyone was in suits and nice dresses. I think that’s brilliant, but I would have a heat stroke if I had to wear a suit and tie to WDW.

    Nor do I mind the fact that Disney wants to appeal to a wide range of tastes; it’s only reasonable, after all. And I eat far more hamburgers on an annual basis than I do filets or shrimp brochettes or whatnot. But I miss having the *option* to seek these things out. Sure, there’s V&A’s, but one can only mortgage their house so many times. Reading down the list of restaurants in this story shows that there were many options available to someone who wanted a nice night out, and each was unique in its own way.

    The emphasis also seems to be on the singular experience of the meal; quiet, relaxing dining experiences far removed from today’s trend towards the get-them-in-and-out-ASAP buffets that dot the property. It also didn’t hurt back then that Disney was happy to market their properties as experiences for adults; so much of the advertising focus back in the early days was about how Disney was a safe place for kids to have fun while the parents were able to take some time for dinner or a show. Now, more often than not, you’ll have parents wheeling in their quadruple-decker megastrollers to a sit-down restaurant; the wailing of discontented children precludes the chance to hear those strolling guitarists of yore.

    One more thing that disappoints me today is the widespread homogenization of the dining experience. Read those descriptions again – it seems like every restaurant had some far-out signature dish that you couldn’t get anywhere else. Some of these sound amazing – I still hear people bemoan the loss of the fried ice cream in a hollowed-out peach. There are still some iconic dishes in the WDW restaurants, but they just don’t seem as far-out as in the olden days. Remember, a few years ago, when all the restaurants seemed to spontaneously start serving bread pudding?

    All is not lost, though. The actual dining experiences in the theme parks have really improved over the years, and with some exceptions even in recent years. Homogenization is still a problem, and diversity is still the first thing to go in a budget pinch, but *overall* the situation in the parks is far better than in 1971.

    The resorts are hit-and-miss. Most are still really good, if not particularly unique or aspiring to something greater like the “olden days”. And there are some truly great restaurants, too. Overall there’s a pretty high level of quality, although the prices are debatable, but I’d still like to see a greater effort to really set some experiences apart. In the end, the problem today is less about the quality (which, as I said, is usually high) and variety of the food but about all the intricate details and extra “Disney” touches that were long ago lost to the budgeteers’ knives. It’s the difference between those lovely descriptions about the Empress Lilly and the modern Fulton’s, which just tries to cram in as many people as possible. In my research I found that guests who hosted banquets at the Gulf Coast Room found personalized matchbooks waiting at their tables. Now that’s swanky!

    And I want the Empress Lilly back! The current lease agreement expires in 2015 – dare we dream?

  • Another Voice

    No, the problem is the way in which Disney is filling all those rooms.

    A trip to WDW used to be a once-in-a-childhood event. It was special, people saved for years for the trip. It was A Big Event.

    But with the overdevelopment at WDW, Disney decided to focus on closing the gap between visits. Now a huge percentage of visitors go to WDW every year or several times a year. DVC, annual passes, econo motel rooms – that’s all part of the strategy.

    WDW has gone from a Grand Resort to the Jersey Shore.

    People going on a “trip to remember” want to eat in fancy restaurants, hang out in swanky places and shop unique merchandise. A family spending 10 days at the place (like they spent ten days at WDW last year) is more interested in spreading out their cash. They’ve already seen that, done this…what’s the big deal.

    Then of course there is the whole “Disney as a lifestyle brand” issue, but that’s for another time.

  • Another Voice

    Once again our messages cross in the ether.

    I find today’s facilities a drastic step down from what WDW offered in the early in the 1990s. Each restaurant offered an extenisve menu, each had it’s own personality and its own atmosphere. They actually tried to be good restaurants, not good theme park restaurants. There was even adventure – Cajun ‘gator served at the Grand Floridian, the subdubbed gentle setting of the Coral Reef.

    Today it seems like Disney is selling a faux upscale experience to people who don’t know any better. The prices at Disney establishments are at or above the high end of the scale – yet the food quality and choice is at the level of Denny’s. The menus are hacked down to four choices, the same items appear on scores of menus (next trip my goal is to see how many “upscale” restaurants all offer the same Reuben sandwich).

    And may the gods take pity on any adult that wishes to dine without being interruptted by a prancing community-college actress in a polyester princess costume.

  • Your comment about it becoming the Jersey Shore cracked up me because my brother and I have made many, many Jersey Shore jokes down there in recent years.

    I guess I was just thinking in my response that there are still a few diamonds in the rough, although there are fewer diamonds these days and more rough. The paring down of unique menu items has indeed been a critical problem. Once cut, these things rarely make a reappearance. I’m imagining those massive menus of yore – the “four choices” model doesn’t allow for much experimentation like we see in those old Disney recipe books.

    Your comment of selling the faux upscale experience rings so true and goes to what I said about poseur-moderne. It’s the ultimate legacy of Eisner’s obsession with being seen as trendy, “hip”, and “edgy”. Disney back in the day didn’t really care about how it was being perceived as long as it was offering a quality experience. Nowadays the perception is far more important than the actual experience. This, of course, also speaks to Disney’s underlying lack of faith in their own product, which we were just talking about with the Marvel purchase.

  • butter

    I cringe every time I see the Fulton herpes sore…I mean…sign atop of the Empress Lily.

    Disgusting!

    Michael Eisner was glorified white trash with money….and a lot of the money was ours…..

  • Aaron

    “The Garden Gallery remains open but off-limits to civilians”

    According to the operator at Shades of Green a few months back, this is not true.

    Without military/DoD ID, you can’t stay there, buy tickets, make purchases in the gift shops, and ride the shuttle to/from the TTC, but you can eat at the buffet.

  • philphoggs

    A great opening description of the patrons on the flier, a target class we generally loved to hate back then. It seems so colloquial now, but in retrospect one can’t help but get sucked into the fantasy.

  • Aaron – thanks for the info! I had tried to find confirmation when I wrote that, but I guess the people I saw were only speculating. That’s really good to know… I’ll have to remember to check it out next time I’m there. I’d love to see inside the old Disney Inn.

  • [...] came across a Progress City USA post from 2009 that shows us what dining was like at early WDW. Anyone remember the Pueblo [...]

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