During the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons at Walt Disney World, Biergarten is a popular restaurant. Not just because the meal is reminiscent of a traditional holiday feast, but thanks to the atmosphere and entertainment, as well. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s included in Epcot’s Candlelight Processional dining packages, and is the least-expensive dinner for that.
This post is part review, part ‘Christmas feast report’ from our recent experience of doing lunch at Biergarten during the holiday season. If you want something slightly more succinct or applicable to times of year other than November and December, refer to our normal Biergarten Review. This post is more a look at the experience of Biergarten during the holidays: as a Thanksgiving dinner, atmospheric Christmas-time meal, or Candlelight Processional dining package option.
In our Candlelight Processional Tips & Info post, we’ve noted Biergarten is our top pick for value for a while. (That’s true if you’re paying out of pocket–if you’re using Disney Dining Plan credits, go for the pricier options.) This is simply because it’s one of the cheapest options for the Candlelight Processional dining package, relatively speaking. We’d add that Biergarten also has the highest level of yuletide cheer (it’s official–we measured) of any restaurant at Epcot–and maybe in all of Walt Disney World…
My fixation on Biergarten at Christmas is actually part of a deeper obsession with European-style Christmas markets. I’ve mentioned this before on the blog a handful of times, most specifically with regard to Disney Cruise Line’s sailings to Quebec City. I think this infatuation is justified: just look at these photos of Christkindlmarkt in Germany. Simply magical.
Obviously, Biergarten is not a Christmas market. That’s fine, as my fixation is more about the sense of ambiance than buying…I dunno, whatever it is that Christmas markets sell. (Novelty nutcrackers? Cuckoo Clock ornaments? Pickles?) We’ve visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and my mental image is basically of a place like that, but in December and with the streets filled with Christmas-time joviality. Bonus points for snow, food, and Christmas music.
My suspicion was that Biergarten would check all of those boxes, save for the snow. That’s a very specific set of expectations, which is the kind of thing that often leads to disappointment. The good news is that Biergarten at Christmas-time mostly delivered.
In terms of theme and ambiance, Biergarten was nearly perfect. This is true year-round, so it should come as no surprise that it’s the case during the holiday season. Biergarten is classic EPCOT Center: a highly-themed environment where you step inside the restaurant…only to be immersed in the town square of the aforementioned Rothenburg, Germany at night.
Per the seminal Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center book from the park’s opening: “Three stories high, with tables placed around a tiered semi-circle, the indoor garden miraculously conveys the feeling of an outdoor courtyard. In one corner is a tree, in another a full-sized, functioning waterwheel. On the opposite side of the garden is a meticulous re-creation of the best of sixteenth-century Rothenburg, complete with its residences.”
While that book suggests that Biergarten is an amalgamation of sixteenth-century Rothenburg, it’s also pretty accurate to present-day Rothenburg. The design of World Showcase never ceases to amaze me, and I am still noticing new details (or, just as likely, ones I’ve forgotten). Truly the peak of Imagineering.
It’s always interesting to us when people knock World Showcase as being idealized and unrealistic. Of course Disney cherrypicks the highlights of each country. That much should be common sense, or at least obvious from the presence of the word “showcase” in the name. Does it really surprise anyone that the American Adventure is modeled after a Colonial mansion rather than an impoverished area of the Ozarks?
Obviously, each of the countries featured are more than their idyllic facades. However, what World Showcase romanticizes does, for the most part, still actually exist in all of these places. Disney does present a purified form of that, but World Showcase architecture is largely accurate to reality. But I digress.
Suffice to say, Biergarten always scores serious points for theme. It is incredibly transportive, and even though you know you aren’t spending an evening outside in a Bavarian village’s town square, the design’s execution is enough to suspend disbelief.
At Christmas-time, the themed environment coupled with the amount of decorations and Christmas lights is sufficient to create the impression that you’ve been transported to that same place for the holidays. This was pretty much exactly what I wanted out of our holiday feast there, so I was satisfied by this.
As for the food at Biergarten, it was very good. In general, I think traditional German food is very approachable and mostly-straightforward. German cuisine is rich and hearty, with mild herbs present.
About the only potential ‘surprises’ come in the form of fermented salads and meats marinated in vinegar. Even that’s hardly exotic. Biergarten is the kind of place to go with picky eaters who enjoy meats and potatoes. Biergarten’s buffet has an embarrassment of riches for carnivores.
With each meal we’ve had there, I leave Biergarten with an even more favorable impression. It is absolutely not somewhere you go for exotic, culinary envelope-pushing cuisine. It’s a place for straight-forward but delicious comfort foods, and this meal did not disappoint in that regard.
Perhaps Biergarten is improving, but I think it’s just as likely that we dined here at the peak of Candlelight Processional dining package time, and the restaurant was absolutely packed. This meant the buffet food was cycling through very quickly, so everything was pretty fresh.
We’ve done Biergarten in the past on uncrowded days when dishes had clearly been sitting around a while: the sausage was lukewarm and rubbery, pot roast had developed a film, and the heat lamp was starting to dry out the salmon.
Not so today. Pretty much everything was freshly-stocked and quickly depleted. The meats were all hot and had a nice snap to them, the pot roast was out of this world, and the salmon was fresh and shockingly good.
None of the food disappointed. It’s difficult to choose a favorite because it was such a glorious (and gluttonous!) holiday feast, but I’d say the Breaded Pork Schnitzel and Sauerbraten (I believe this is normally only served at dinner, but it was out for lunch–possibly because of the price surcharge during Candlelight Processional ‘season’?) were my favorites. Just about everything was delicious, though.
The restaurant being busier wasn’t without downsides, though. The buffet was constantly churning through items, which led to short pauses when things were gone. (Most notoriously, with the Schnitzel, which was gone almost as quickly as was set down.)
This led to congestion in the buffet lines, as some guests lingered, waiting for items to reappear. This was compounded by the fact that the restaurant was really busy, so lines were already naturally bad. Each trip to the buffet was met with a ~5 minute wait in line. With that said, I will gladly take lines at the buffet in exchange for fresh and delicious food.
Entertainment-wise, Biergarten is always a hoot. The Bavarian-style oompah band adds a lot to the dining experience, and there’s a solid amount of variety–from traditional folk music to bells to the alphorn.
This was the one area of disappointment for the meal, and perhaps this is entirely on me–a matter of my expectations inevitably leading to letdown. What I had expected was a ~20 minute set with about a fifty-fifty mix of Bavarian folk music and traditional Christmas songs. What we got was <15 minute sets with only one Christmas song in each.
Perhaps my memory is betraying me, but I could’ve sworn the regular performances used to be around 20 minutes long.
While I had never seen the Christmas version of the set, this video shot at Biergarten lunch from a few years ago suggests it used to contain more holiday music. (We’ve heard there’s a bit more Christmas music in the dinner set.)
Finally, more on Biergarten as a Candlelight Processional dining package option. On the day we dined here, there was day-of Candlelight Processional dining package availability for Biergarten, which is noteworthy because this was an evening when Neil Patrick Harris was narrating. When we entered the restaurant for lunch, the standby line for Candlelight Processional was long and had numerous switchbacks.
When we left Biergarten (mind you, this was at lunch), the dining package line extended through Morocco. All of those people are guaranteed seats, so the point isn’t that they’d be waiting a while so much that there were a lot of them. We don’t know what the fate of the standby line was, but I’m guessing the odds of anyone who didn’t wait 2-3 hours was not good. This has been the trend for several years, and it’s more and more difficult to get a seat at Candlelight Processional without the dining package.
It stinks that Walt Disney World is essentially putting a price on seeing Candlelight Processional, but you’re either paying one way or another–in dollars or time.
Personally, I would rather spend the $11/person surcharge for the Candlelight Processional dining package (which is the price difference at Biergarten) than spend 2+ hours in line and still not be guaranteed a seat. If you’re a tourist, vacation is finite, and your time is worth more than that.
Ultimately, Biergarten during the holidays is joyous. The entertainment not comporting with my expectations was a minor disappointment, and probably my ‘fault’ anyway. Even with that in mind, our Christmas lunch at Biergarten was a fabulous experience.
The atmosphere was exceptional, the buffet food is exactly what I’d expect out of a traditional holiday feast, and the entertainment added to the jollity of the experience even if it wasn’t expressly ‘Christmas.’ If you’re looking for a strong seasonal option for Candlelight Processional dining packages, look no further. Biergarten also instantly jumps to the top of our list of the best festive meals at Walt Disney World, and would be perfect for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
Have you done Biergarten for Thanksgiving or at Christmas-time? Did you find the meal had plenty of yuletide cheer? What was your experience with Christmas music during the performance? Would you recommend Biergarten as a Candlelight Processional dining package option? If you’ve yet to do Biergarten, is it a restaurant that interests you? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!