Gasparilla Island Grill Review
Gasparilla Island Grill is a restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a hotel known for its fine dining but, until early 2017, pretty underwhelming on the counter service front. In this review, we’ll take a look at Gasparilla Island Grill’s new menu, with food photos, and our recommendations on what to order.
In the last several years, it seems like Gasparilla Island Grill has undergone multiple refurbishments, each time promising something more, but only half-delivering. During our stay at the Grand Floridian a couple of years ago, the restaurant was closed for a “big overhaul,” one that ultimately removed the arcade from its shared premises, but did little to revitalize the tired menu of burgers and pizza.
We have managed to dine at Gasparilla Island Grill a handful of times over the years, and its menu has always struck me as out of place. It served pretty ordinary fast food fare–is this really what guests of the Grand Floridian wanted? Perhaps it was counter-programming to the fancier restaurants, offering something for families. Still, just because guests wanted a quick meal does not mean they want low quality. Fortunately, all of that changed with the refurbishment that was completed in early 2017…
Now, we’re happy to report that Gasparilla Island Grill is a counter service restaurant worthy of the Grand Floridian. Before we get to that, let’s cover the restaurant’s ambiance. This is something that was “fixed” during the prior refurbishment, and to my eye, looks like it was untouched during the 2017 refurb.
The decor and vibe at Gasparilla Island Grill is a bit plain as far as Walt Disney World restaurants go. This is an accusation that could be leveled at Narcoossee’s or Citricos, too, but at least in those cases the style is elevated to something that seems more sophisticated. Here, the look is generic and simple.
You could spin this to say it’s a Floridian style, I suppose. The restaurant is light and airy, with creamy colors and pale greens, all of which could be representative of sunlight and palms.
Personally, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Fortunately, there’s also outdoor seating at Gasparilla Island Grill, so you can enjoy the outdoor ambiance of the Grand Floridian marina (our recommendation).
Now, we feast! Normally, the food section of the review would make a natural progression through the meal, but I cannot resist starting with the desserts. They were the highlight of an extraordinary meal…and we ate them first since the dessert station is self-serve whereas the entrees are made to order.
This is the German Chocolate Cupcake. It was a really good, and well-balanced cupcake with a moist center and delicious toppings. Normally, this is the kind of dessert about which I’d rave as the star of the meal. This was not a normal meal…
That’s because the Coconut Pot de Creme is the best counter service dessert I’ve ever had. It’s also better than a majority of table service desserts. The custard was rich, perfectly garnished with whipped cream and some texture from the coconut shavings on top. The quality of the creme and crust were exceptional; much better than what I’d expect of a counter service dessert.
In my favorite episode of Frasier, Martin makes “barbecue pudding chips” and encourages Niles to taste them with a quote that I’m not entirely sure is appropriate for a Disney blog. That quote is how I’d like to describe this dessert. (At this point, maybe 1 or 2 of you laughed out loud, and the rest found this an odd amount of exposition for a “joke” that didn’t connect. Still worth it.)
For entrees, almost everything has changed at Gasparilla Island Grill. About the only thing I’ll miss from the old menu is the Grand Gaspy Burger, but it sounds like the new burger is somewhat similar (minus the fried onions and pulled pork…okay, so not remotely similar).
Now, there is a hot sandwich & pizza ordering area, or a sandwich bar. The sandwich bar had a case with sandwiches on display, something like you might see at a delicatessen. These looked high-quality, but not nearly as interesting or unique as the hot sandwiches and pizzas.
We ordered the Mahi Mahi Reuben and Sausage and Mozzarella Pizza. Obviously, the pizza is pictured above… 😉
This Reuben was unbelievable. I ordered this because I figured it’d be the ultimate challenge of the items listed on the menu. Honestly, I was fully expecting it to disappoint–I mean, a counter service Mahi sandwich?
It exceeded all expectations. The fish was flaky and flavorful (it wouldn’t have needed the “crutch” of the sandwich and slaw–it would’ve been good on its own), and the slightly acidic slaw and fresh bread made for a wonderful entree, that I’d put among the top 5 counter service meals I’ve had at Walt Disney World.
My only complaint about this is that it’s served with regular ole fries. I have nothing against these things, and they’re perfect when you’re hiding in a corner shamefully indulging in a Cosmic Ray’s burger, but they have no place with a dish of this quality.
Likewise, the Sausage and Mozzarella Pizza was excellent. Disney touts this pizza as prepared with dough made in-house daily by Chef Erich’s team at the Grand Floridian Bakery and being cooked for 90 seconds at 840 degrees.
The quality difference is obvious, and this was like a (larger version of) the handmade pizzas served at Pizzafari in Animal Kingdom. Not the most inventive entree ever, but a formidable option, nonetheless.
It’s pretty remarkable what a difference a menu change can make. Just a month ago, in our Poly v. Grand Floridian post, we noted that Grand Floridian was weak on counter service dining. Now, it’s one of the best counter service options at Walt Disney World. Our experience at Gasparilla Island Grill was so good that we were scheming for ways to try more (we actually waited around for the sunset, hoping we’d be hungry after) of the menu. For now, we’d rank this as a top 5 option in all of WDW. Perhaps #2 overall, with its only weaknesses being menu diversity (Contempo Cafe easily bests it in this department) and ambiance. Yes, it’s that good.
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What do you think about Gasparilla Island Grill? Have you dined here since the refurbishment? Were you similarly impressed? Any entree or dessert recommendations of your own to add? Share any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments!
I am looking for a good place to see Magic Kingdom Fireworks, outside of the parks during the Christmas season without paying the prices of the California Grill or Narcoossee’s. We want to do Ohana for breakfast so don’t really want to go there either. Can we see the fireworks at Gasparilla?
This has become our late night-ish go to place at Walt Disney World. There is something about the Grand Flo that we just love at night. It’s funny, but during the day it does not do much for us, maybe too much white. But at night its like a shimmering jewel in the darkness. The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego is all white and gingerbready on the outside but inside it has deep wood colors everywhere, maybe its that contrast that is missing. That is the only thing I can think of, and at night the glare is taken off the Grand Flo.
We really enjoy the pizza, we’ve now topped off two different evenings by having a late dinner there and strolling the grounds afterward.
Having been to Disney pretty probably at least 20+ times between GF and Poly while my kids were growing up, I must say that I preferred the original. Back then, they had real pizza rather than flatbread and I miss that. When we went back after the first upgrade, I was shocked at how bright and bare it was. Last Dec we went over and it was closed yet another upgrade. We arrive this Friday and will check it out, but how about dimmers at night? Geez it was bright……my kids miss the ice cream from the “old” days too.
Just got home from a trip to WDW. After reading this wonderful review we decided to try having lunch there on our last day, Saturday. We drove over to the Grand Floridian and wanted to park. We have not had a problem entering the parking lot any other time we were going to a resort restaurant or just going to take a look around. The guard politely told us that unless we were staying at the resort or had a confirmed reservation at a restaurant we would not be able to enter the parking lot. Sadly we drove off without the opportunity to experience the food ourselves. Just wanted to forewarn others of this policy.
You have to take the monorail!
Caution! Not if you don’t like spicy hot! Nothing in the description said this was burn your mouth spicy, I could not even eat half of it and I drank a whole Gatorade trying to cool my mouth down. We are not all fans of mouth burning food, and wish I had warning. It looks beautiful, and another family member loved it, but he likes Tabasco and hot wings too.
Does anyone know if everything on the menu is available 24/7? Or is there a limited menu available after a certain time? Thanks!
My favorite part of Gasparilla’s Grill, even before the renovation, is that it’s (the one restaurant?) open 24 hours. I am much less critical of any pizza I consume at 3 AM, and so for that reason, I’ve always been thankful for this late night establishment.
I wish there were a 24 hour restaurant in all resort areas. This past summer I was staying at the Beach Club and awoke in the middle of the night, too hungry to fall back asleep. I was disappointed to learn that all of the Epcot-area restaurants had closed at 1 AM. I seriously considered grabbing an Uber to Gasparilla’s for some mediocre pizza.
Do they have Coke Freestyle machines now?
Yes! I totally forgot to mention this. A nice little upgrade, as well.
Love the FreeStyle, it’s a nice upgrade to the old fountain systems. I hope they start incorporating them throughout the resorts. Just an FYI, the guy that invented the Segway (Dean Kamen) also invented the FreeStyle machine for Coke. It was a joint venture as a way to utilize Coke’s global reach to help him get his water filtration system to places that don’t have access to clean water. If you’re so inclined, watch the documentary Slingshot.
Back to Disney; the family and I are staying at The Poly this year for the first time and we’ll make sure to check out Gasparilla!
Thanks for the recommendation on that documentary–that sounds really fascinating!
I am so happy to read this post. My family is staying at GF in Nov 2017 and I seriously thought we might have to take the monorail to the Contemporary or Poly if we wanted decent quick service. Thank you for this post. 🙂
Best episode of Frasier EVAH. Fridge pants! Dog army! I can scoop around the lucky charms!
I guess that joke was all for you! 😉
HAHA! I love that episode. Have you ever wanted to just go straight? That’s what a giant would do! Everybody should get to be a giant for a day!
Also, I’m glad they redid the menu, I last ate there in 2013 and it was not something I wanted to repeat. The new menu seems really similar to the updated menu at the Wind and Waves Marketplace at Vero Beach (they have a Mahi rueben there too).
Staying here as I write this. The pizzas are great and best at Disney imo…much better than poly flatbreads and you can add chicken to the tomato basil one. The dough is reall amazing.
The burger was great and fresh made for once…though not as standout as the pizza. Salads were ok, nothing amazing but nice to have the option to customize for once.
Don’t forget the fancy soda machine as well!
It is our fav quick service at the 9 resort hotels we have stayed at.
And they have those chips from harbor house which I love for when you have had enough of he disneyworld string fries
Actually i liked the old Gaspy Burger with the pulled pork and onion straws much better. You can get a bacon cheeseburger anywhere. They were getting everyones orders completely confused since the refurb when we were there too.
For those of us not blessed with memories of individual sitcom episodes from over 13 years ago: http://www.kacl780.net/frasier/transcripts/season_11/episode_11/high_holidays.html
(Yes, I had to google the joke. It takes something away from it.)
I don’t know whether memories of sitcoms from 13 years ago are a blessing or a curse. Probably the latter.
Such a timely review for us. We will be staying at the Villas @ GF for the first time and were planning to eat here shortly after check in for a late lunch. This review just cements that decision and heightens the excitement level about 4 notches! Thanks!
Question: if you had to pick between Gasparilla Island Grill and Contempo Cafe as a lunch break/away from the crowds/better food than MK counter service option for a full day at Magic Kingdom, which would you choose?
Does something on this meal appeal to everyone in your party? If so, here. If not, Contempo Cafe has way more variety.
My wife had the lobster roll two nights in a row at the Contempo, she liked it that much.
It’s the perfect place for watching the fireworks whilst drinking hot chocolate or if you can’t sleep it’s great to sit outside in the wee small hours and look at the castle. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Love your blog by the way, keep it up.
Totally agree about the 24/7 nature of the restaurant. Definitely a perk!