One of the most extravagant and highly immersive attractions of New Fantasyland isn’t a ride or a show, but rather a restaurant that transports its visitors inside a classic Disney animated film. Walt Disney World recently opened the Be Our Guest restaurant, bringing to life some of the most memorable settings from 1991′s “Beauty and the Beast.” Guests can now dine inside a few famous locations, placing themselves inside the film’s story, while putting Disney’s service “to the test.”
The Be Our Guest experience begins outside, forcing visitors to cross a stone bridge and approach an ominous entrance, tucked within sharp, rocky hills featuring the Beast’s castle perched high overhead. From nearby gargoyles and cold textures, it’s clear the film’s infamous curse has not been lifted, at least not yet. Disney’s Imagineers felt this was the appropriate time and place to begin the story. “That’s really when we would like to travel to the castle and we want our guests to go there,” explained Imagineer Chris Beatty.
Beatty is the Disney’s creative director for not only the Be Our Guest restaurant but all of the New Fantasyland expansion, the Magic Kingdom’s largest ever. To discuss the design, decor, dining at the new restaurant, I recently sat down with him as well as Chef Michael Deardorff inside its Rose Gallery. I’ve already shared some of their thoughts and insight on the creation of this new establishment both on Show 399 as well as in an article for Fox News.
But today we take a closer look at all the details that went into creating Be Our Guest, beginning with the video tour of the restaurant below, guided by Beatty’s descriptions.
Be Our Guest restaurant full tour with Walt Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty
Story Through Design
Outside the Be Our Guest restaurant and continuing into its foyer, there is a distinct feeling of coldness, decorated with hard stone, metal, and desaturated tones. Beautiful scenery is juxtaposed with crumbling architecture, hinting that things aren’t quite right around this cursed castle.
(Check out our previous preview article and the photo slideshow at the bottom of this post for a more in-depth look at the entrance, bridge, and surrounding scenery.)
Continuing through the restaurant, guests pass through a hallway lined with suits of armor, where wood and tapestries make an appearance, lightening the mood slightly, though magical whispers emanating from behind those shiny helmets leave guests on edge.
But the mood, and the story, takes a distinct turn as guests round a corner into the castle’s study, warm and inviting with a fire roaring in the fireplace and soft wood finishes combine with colorful wallpaper and lush upholstery.
As a surprise, guests dining at the Be Our Guest restaurant on its official preview opening night on Nov. 19, those who fought for first-day reservations, were delighted to find the Beast himself making special appearances within. The restaurant is not character dining, but this castle master will make himself available for pictures nightly during dinner service, tucked away in his study.
This ballroom is the largest of three dining rooms of the Be Our Guest restaurant, with two wings off to the sides, each representing “different time zones,” as Beatty called them. It’s here that the curse appears to be lifted, not placing guests inside a frightening, cobweb-lined hall but instead a gorgeous one that captures one of the most famous Disney animated sequences in history. With snow falling in the giant picture windows across a rich mountainous landscape, guests are quickly transported to somewhere other than balmy Orlando, Florida, enveloped in hues of gold and sparkling marble in a regal dining environment that’s relaxing and cozy, but also huge and impressive.
The Beast’s ominous West Wing serves as the smallest, containing only a handful of tables in a dimly-lit environment. It’s Beatty’s own favorite of the three, offering a glimpse into the darker moments from the film. Through special effects, the movie’s iconic rose drips pedals as time passes, with a lightning-and-thunder storm rolling in, periodically loudly crashing outside the room’s windows. And a nearby portrait of the Beast as a young prince flashes to its more menacing form with each lightning strike. It’s a truly unique dining environment that’s not intended for everyone. “I think that’s why it’s really the smallest of the three rooms,” explained Beatty. “There might just be a select group of people that want to dine in a place that sort of feels like, ‘Oh my gosh, any minute the Beast could bust in the door and roar at us and throw us out.”
And Beast does occasionally make an appearance in the West Wing over dinner, as well as in the rest of the restaurant, not roaring but waving politely before retiring to the study for a meet-and-greet.
Lastly, the Rose Gallery offers a complete contrast to the West Wing. In need of a third room to seat patrons, Imagineers watched “Beauty and the Beast” repeatedly and talked about the restaurant with some of the film’s animators before deciding on representing the rest of the film’s “enchanted objects” like Chip and Mrs. Potts through tapestries lining the walls. The room’s centerpiece is a glorious music box featuring a rotating sculpture of Belle and the Beast in their famous ballroom dance. Music unites this relatively simple room with the far grander ballroom, as the ballroom’s bold orchestration of the “Beauty and the Beast” score is duplicated in sync with a dainty rendition recorded on a music box player for the Rose Gallery. Guests passing between the spaces will notice a seamless transition from one musical version to the other.
In total, the restaurant can seat up to nearly 550 guests, immersing them into instantly recognizable places from the classic animated movie, across differing moments in time. Beatty summarized, “We picked moments within the film that we felt all of our guests would enjoy going to – would expect to go to.”
Story Through Cuisine
The food ties directly in with the “Beauty and the Beast” story. Chef Michael Deardorff, a 25-year Disney veteran, and a team of culinary experts utilized the restaurant’s design to aid in the development of its cuisine. “When the menu was originally handed to us,” explained Deardorff, “we took the layout of this place and the artwork and tried to incorporate how does this menu actually fit in this theme.”
The food served in Be Our Guest is unlike anything else in the Magic Kingdom. “The general public now is much more sophisticated when it comes to food, obviously with the food channels and all the media out there surrounding food,” admitted Deardorff. “And of course this is a tough business because when it comes to food, everyone’s and expert.” French-inspired cuisine dominates a dinner menu, served via traditional table service, while a separate quick-service lunch menu offers faster options, ordered via kiosks but still served table side.
During lunch service, no reservations are required, whereas they are recommended for dinner. The lunch ordering process begins in the aforementioned suit of armor hallway and the study, placing orders via touch screen kiosks. From there, each party is handed a plastic rose and instructed to select a table – any table – throughout all three rooms of the restaurant. By placing that rose on the table, Chef Deardorff’s team receives a “table association,” linking that party’s order to that particular location via embedded computer systems. Then while patrons get up to get their drinks and silverware, servers bring food to the table. It’s a pleasant departure from standing around a counter waiting for food. More simply, as Deardorff put it, “You just want a seat and then it’s nice to be waited on.”
There’s a simple French onion soup featuring onions with a thyme infusion and a beef-free broth, topped with a generous portion of Gruyere cheese. The tuna nicoise salad contains a poached egg and seared rare tuna. So far in its preview days, the steak sandwich hasn’t been much of a success with many patrons disliking its rather tough meat, but the soup and tuna salad have received mostly high praise. Chef Deardorff claims the menu’s turkey meatloaf intended for children is “one of the best meat loafs I’ve ever had,” containing 30% grain and vegetables. It’s one of several healthier alternatives available for children, but is certainly also enjoyed by adults.
Over dinner, shiny white plates with little garnish let the dishes stand on their own merits, for better or for worse. Among the best appetizers is the platter of assorted cured meats and sausages, a mixture of thinly-sliced cured meats that are salty in the best possible way, smooth and creamy flavored pâté, and sweet chicken sausages, all served bold cornichons and pickled onions. French onion soup from lunch returns from lunchtime, with the melty cheese on top superior to the too-hot-to-eat broth underneath. Potato leak soup provides a creamy alternative filled with flavor and far calmer in temperature. Amongst the salad offerings, the simple garden salad with a champagne vinaigrette proves to be less complex but superior in taste to the seasonal salad trio sporting a sectioned mixture of beets, raisins, tomatoes, shallots, green beans, watermelon, and other ingredients that are refreshing but lacking originality.
The entrees are an assortment of standards. There’s dishes featuring pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options, none of which particularly stand out as anything spectacular. Indeed they are all far superior to any other food served within the Magic Kingdom, but across the grand scope of Walt Disney World dining, there are many better choices for the price. Most expensive is the grilled strip steak, paired with pommes frites. The well-seasoned meat seems to be hit or miss, with some patrons finding it tender while others chewy. And the French name for French fries shouldn’t fool anyone, as they’re nothing more. The thyme-scented pork rack chop is juicy, brined overnight in chardonnay, but ultimately quite salty. It’s served with a complex mac-and-cheese that diners of all ages can thoroughly enjoy. Seafood choices include pan-seared salmon on leek fondue, which is well prepared but nothing extraordinary. The layered ratatouille stands out as one of the most flavorful of the bunch, with each vegetarian component shining on its own.
The standout of the Be Our Guest menu is dessert, wheeled to each table under a glass case showcasing six decadent French sweets, three cupcakes and three cream puffs. There is no wrong choice here, as they are all equally rich and delightful. The unbelievably moist cupcake flavors are strawberry cream cheese, triple chocolate, and lemon meringue, all of which taste exactly like their names suggest, in perfect form. The cream puffs are equally fulfilling, with the flavors of chocolate, passion fruit, and lemon topped with a raspberry. No one should leave Be Our Guest without having dessert, as it far surpasses both the appetizer and entree courses in taste, presentation, and originality.
But all fans of “Beauty and the Beast” have been shouting “Where’s the Grey Stuff?” since Disney first unveiled the restaurant’s menus several months ago. It stunned the chefs. “The blogs lit up about the Grey Stuff and it was like, that thing took on a life of it’s own,” told Chef Deardorff. “We all look at each other like, ‘What the heck is the grey stuff?’ Because you’re thinking food and there is no grey – unless you’re talking licorice – there’s not a lot of grey food.” Going back and watching the film, Deardorff heard the lyrics, “Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious. Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!” and shortly thereafter, a sweet mousse-like concoction was developed to satiate fans’ desires, though its specific flavor remains a secret. It’s sweet, somewhat thick, but subtle enough to be an enjoyable after-dinner bite, but not much more.
But not every Be Our Guest patron gets to try it. The Grey Stuff is reserved for those celebrating special occasions, such as a birthday or anniversary. Everyone wonders if it is indeed “delicious.” Those who don’t have a chance to sample it shouldn’t get too disappointed, as it’s definitely not a highlight of the Be Our Guest dining experience.
An additional change to dining at the Magic Kingdom for the Be Our Guest restaurant has also been met with much concern by traditionalist Disney fans when it was announced that alcoholic beverages were to be served there. But Disney has kept it classy with a solid wine and beer list as well as pairing recommendations on the food menu. And such drinks cannot leave the premises, leaving them to be enjoyed solely and appropriately over dinner.
Orlando locals and monthly Walt Disney World visitors Desiree Moss and Timothy Juckett enjoyed their first evening at the Be Our Guest restaurant, but weren’t blown away. “I don’t think it was extremely special but still really good,” said Juckett. “The overall experience was the best part, more than anything else.” But despite the food not quite living up to expectations and being outshines by the elaborate decor, Moss will return “more the atmosphere.” She concludes, “I would want to try one of the other dining rooms.”
Guests visiting the New Fantasyland expansion of the Magic Kingdom will surely expect nothing short of top notch entertainment that Disney’s theme parks have become famous for and the Be Our Guest restaurant delivers on creating an incredibly well decorated environment that convincingly immerses visitors into the world of “Beauty and the Beast.”
While its cuisine isn’t perfect, it is far better than any other offerings in the park. Though Walt Disney World’s other parks and hotel restaurants do offer better choices for food, none come anywhere near rivaling the full experience of dining within Be Our Guest, a restaurant that shows off a perfectly executed design plan that will draw excited fans regardless of the food.
The Be Our Guest restaurant and New Fantasyland expansion will have their official grand openings on December 6, 2012, but are already open to all guests of the Magic Kingdom.
More photos from the Be Our Guest restaurant in New Fantasyland: