Review: California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner

California Grill is serving a new Celebration Menu for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. This reviews the prix fixe meal at the Contemporary Resort’s rooftop Signature Restaurant for the World’s Most Magical Celebration, with fireworks & food photos, recommendations, whether it’s worth the high prices, and more.

With the new Celebration Menu, California Grill is offering a limited-time three-course menu with dishes inspired by past favorites as well as new market-fresh creations. The meal includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert; the cost is $89 per adult or $39 per child, with Annual Pass and Disney Vacation Club discounts offered.

According to Walt Disney World, the California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner is part of the World’s Most Magical Celebration–another new way to honor 50 years of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Disney is also likely doing this because there’s a new fireworks show and many tables would otherwise fill for the next year with people only ordering an appetizer or dessert as a way to take advantage of the unique view.

As a reminder, California Grill has a dress code, just like all Signature Restaurants. At minimum, men must wear khakis, slacks or dress shorts and collared shirts. Jeans may be worn if in good condition. Sport coats are optional.

Women must wear capri pants, skirts, dresses or dress shorts. Jeans may be worn if in good condition. Not permitted are tank tops, flip-flops, swimsuits, swimsuit cover-ups, hats for gentlemen, cut-offs, torn clothing, and t-shirts with offensive language and/or graphics. In practice, the dress code is probably a bit more lax than Disney’s website suggests, but we have seen guests stopped recently and asked to remove their hats.

Upon entering California Grill, you’re greeted by a display of historical photos from bygone eras of the restaurant.

It’s cool to see old images of Top of the World, and hard to believe the “Broadway at the Top” dinner show was once held in this location. It would’ve been cool to have that brought back.

The vibe at California Grill was definitely celebratory, with lots of parties dressed up and excitement about Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. (Not reflected in the above photo, which was deliberately taken at an emptier time so as to not be rude.)

Since many readers have asked about it, there were a decent number of children at California Grill. As far as Signature Restaurants go, we’ve found this to be the most kid-friendly. That’s probably due to the fireworks view and proximity to Magic Kingdom. I’d have no hesitation in bringing well-behaved kids to California Grill; several tables around us had children and they were all perfectly fine. If your children do join, definitely order them that Stardust Sipper–it looks awesome!

While there’s a digital version you can view on your phone, California Grill’s 50th Anniversary Celebration prix fixe menu is given to guests as a keepsake.

It’s well presented and the paper stock and finishing is high quality. Probably not why most of you will choose to dine at California Grill, but it’s a nice touch for the ephemera fans out there. We kept both of ours for some reason–always good to have a backup! 

Above is a version of that you can actually read.

When it was first released, I joked that we’d have no choice but to order the 35 ounce Beef Ribeye Tomahawk Steak for Two if there was ‘popular demand’ among readers. It wasn’t really a joke, but I’m going to claim it was now after seeing the $80 (!!!) add-on price for the ribeye. We’ve been eating at Walt Disney World a lot in the last few weeks/months, and that add-on just was not in the budget. Sorry. (I don’t think anyone really cares…except me. I had my heart set on that ribeye, and it looked absolutely glorious as one passed our table!)

Fortunately, I was able to drown my sorrows in the comforting carbohydrates of bread.

As always, dinner at California Grill begins with complimentary bread service. We were served a house-made Focaccia, which is different from the roll we had when last dining here not too long ago. It’s also served with a rich dipping oil loaded with from tomato conserva, chives, and spices. This was a fantastic start to the meal, and we ended up having two rounds of bread.

Next up, the “Market Inspirations” or appetizer course.

Sarah chose the House-made Artisanal-style Duck À L’Orange Pizza: Duck Prosciutto and Confit, Pickled Shallots, Orange-Black Mission Fig Jam, Aged Blue Cheese, Arugula.

This was fantastic.

The richness of the duck was complemented by the sweetness of the fig jam, and the blue cheese gave it a slight sharpness that offset both well. The crust was high-quality and cooked to perfection. Arugula was…present. Highly recommended.

For my appetizer, I ordered the California Grill Sushi Classics Trio: Blue Crab California Roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll, Spicy Kazan Roll.

While we’ve had a lot of sushi, we’re not snobs about it. Heck, we’ve purchased more sushi from Japanese grocery stores than anywhere else.

With that in mind, I’ve never found myself blown away by California Grill’s sushi. The fish used is mostly just fine, with the restaurant typically doing a better job with the more elaborate rolls that mask the natural fish flavor more.

That was our general impression here, too. The best of the trio was the Shrimp Tempura Roll, with the other two impressing us less.

Last time at California Grill, I ordered the Cascade Roll: Tuna, Salmon and Hamachi Poke, Jicama, Cucumber, Yuzu-Avocado Purée, Masago Arare, Soy Gel.

This was much better, but still a bit on the milder side–even for these fish. The tuna was tasty, but I prefer a rich and fatty salmon. The accompaniments were likewise good. We’d recommend the Cascade Roll over the California Grill Sushi Classics Trio.

Another “last time” appetizer was the Braised Beef Short Rib Wontons: Doenjang Miso-Cola-Onion Sauce, Crispy Garlic-Chili Oil, Radish, Pickled Lotus Root.

This was absolutely fantastic, with the perfectly-prepared wontons being loaded with tender and flavorful braised beef. Highly recommended. (That’s the only other “last time” item–everything else on the menu changed before I got a chance to post that review. Whoops!)

For her entree, Sarah ordered the Oak-fired Filet of Beef: Black Truffle-Brown Butter Château Potatoes, Golden Raisins Vinaigrette, Cauliflower, Roasted Tomato Butter.

This has been a California Grill menu mainstay since as long as we’ve been visiting Walt Disney World. We’ve ordered it probably a half-dozen times over the years, and couldn’t resist getting it once again.

This was the best version of the Oak-fired Filet we’ve ever had at California Grill.

The exterior had a nice char, the meat was incredibly tender, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious with an exceptional smoky flavor.

There were two types of butter here–tomato and truffle. The latter took the meat’s richness to umami levels of ridiculous goodness, but it wasn’t even necessary.

Not that we’re ever going to pass on truffle butter–we mostly used it for the potatoes, which was likely the intent given the menu description.

I ordered the Cast Iron-grilled Pork Tenderloin: Goat Cheese Polenta, Trumpet Mushrooms, Heirloom Apple-lacquered Pork Belly, Black Mission Figs, Zinfandel Glaze.

There have been variations of the pork tenderloin on and off the California Grill menu for a while, but nothing like this.

The (very good) pork belly was the weakest part of this entree, which is simply unheard of. It’s pork belly!!! That’s like assembling a dream team so good it snubs Shaq!

The tenderloin was absurdly good–one of the best entrees I’ve had at Walt Disney World in recent memory, and we have had many. Sarah said it was the best pork she’s ever had. Everything else was tremendous in supporting roles–especially the trumpet mushrooms and that rich goat cheese polenta. I’d actually recommend the Cast Iron-grilled Pork Tenderloin over the Oak-fired Filet, but both were exceptional.

After our main courses, we stepped out onto the California Grill observation deck for the Electrical Water Pageant and Disney Enchantment fireworks at Magic Kingdom.

One of these viewing decks is reserved for the new “Celebration at the Top: 50th Flavors & Fireworks at Disney’s Contemporary Resort” cocktail and dessert party. While all of these observation areas are good, that party gets the “least good” of the bunch.

California Grill’s main dining room had ample space on its observation decks, with everyone able to have a “front row” spot for Disney Enchantment.

Many other guests at California Grill were vocally enthusiastic about Disney Enchantment. Totally unrelated, but wine pairings are available, as are specialty cocktails, as part of the California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Menu.

To answer a question several readers have had, I think the optimal time for a California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner ADR is 7 pm, or two hours before Disney Enchantment (show times can vary on hard ticket event nights, so consult the calendar first). That should provide sufficient time to eat and then head out to the observation platform after your meal wraps up.

With that said, Advance Dining Reservations are very difficult to come by for this celebratory prix fixe meal, so you may not have an option. About half the restaurant gets up to watch the fireworks during their meal, so that’s to be expected. Just let your server know ahead of time so your order can be cooked accordingly. Also, if you have an earlier seating, you can show your receipt at the elevator to return later for fireworks–but that’s not very convenient.

Our desserts arrived shortly after we returned to California Grill’s main dining room.

I’ll preface this next session by conceding that we made an unforced error–ordering our desserts with our appetizers and main courses. The smarter move would’ve been to order dessert right before the fireworks, especially since the souffle takes ~20 minutes.

In any case, I ordered the EARidescent Grand Marnier Soufflé: Creamsicle Ice Cream, Macerated Florida Citrus.

We’ve had California Grill’s souffle many, many times (including the Pistachio-Cherry Soufflé one recently) and they have all been fantastic. There’s a reason this is another California Grill menu mainstay–it’s one of the best desserts at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time, as this souffle “deflated” much more than normal, but I suspect that’s our own fault. Still good, but not knock-your-socks off amazing.

Sarah ordered the Five Magical Bites 50 Years in the Making: Honey, Lemon, Carrot, Strawberry, Chocolate.

This featured bite-sized desserts picked from the Top of the World/California Grill menus of each decade. The sampler was fun, but not fantastic. The honey, lemon, and carrot cakes were pretty good (as was the raspberry under the chocolate “50”), but nothing truly wowed. More like ‘elevated’ buffet picks.

Ultimately, this may not read like a rave review for the California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner, BUT IT IS A RAVE REVIEW. Despite a few iffy items, this was an exceptional meal and experience. Most of the meal was phenomenal, especially where it counted. Beyond that, two of the less-than-stellar items were our own fault. We’ve never been overly impressed by California Grill sushi (so we probably shouldn’t have ordered it) and the souffle probably sat under a heat lamp waiting for us (since we ordered it so early).

Anyone who likes California Grill’s sushi won’t have the first issue–and those who don’t should get the Braised Beef Short Rib Wontons, which are exceptional. Even though our souffle was only okay, I would absolutely order it again and have no hesitation in recommending it despite our experience, as literally every past souffle we’ve had at California Grill has been exceptional. We’re a little more torn on the Five Magical Bites 50 Years in the Making–it’s fun and unique for the 50th Anniversary, but there are more inventive, ambitious, and delicious desserts on the menu.

All in all, you can’t go wrong with the California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner. Our total out the door after tax, discount, and tip was ~$205, which is not bad by California Grill standards. We would’ve paid more out of pocket from the la carte menu. While your mileage may vary there depending upon what you order–and it’s understandable that many people won’t want that much food–but we felt it was well worth the cost given the cuisine and celebratory atmosphere. Right now, this is one of the best dinners at Walt Disney World. It made a strong case for once again updating our Top 10 Table Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World, and moving California Grill up a slot…or three.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Have you done the California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner? Which menu items at California Grill would you recommend (or not recommend)? Will you be attempting to book this Advance Dining Reservation? Disappointed by the pricing or that it’s prix fixe? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

29 Responses to “Review: California Grill 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner”
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