Czarina's Royal Table: Tea with the Czarina
by The Czarina
AllEars® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the May 14, 2002 Issue #138 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.
(EXPLANATION OF SORTS: The Czarina is a Real Person who eats -- a lot -- at Disney World. She takes sole responsibility for all opinions stated below, de gustibus non disputandum and chacun a son gout. Do let us know what you think about this column at email@example.com.)
Beloved Tea-Drinking, Cucumber-Sandwich-Nibbling Public:The Czarina has just come out of mourning for that wonderful and quintessential Royal Brit, the Queen Mum. If you will permit a personal anecdote (and a true one), the Czarina and her mother, the Grand Czarina, had a small encounter with Her Majesty once. We happened to be in London on the occasion of her 90th birthday. It was celebrated with a long parade, which included entire nursery schools carrying Queen Mum balloons, and a Scottish regiment holding up a sign that read: "Here's To Ye, Ma'am, Wha's Like Ye?" Very touching.
Anyhow, the Q.M.'s coach turned out of Clarence House, and we were standing right on the corner. Waving hankies, we both shouted in unison, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOUR MAJESTY!" Of course, 50,000 other people were doing the same thing, but, somehow, she seemed to hear us. She turned to us with a look of well-feigned surprise and delight, waved and mouthed, "Thank you!" Talk about graciousness. Talk about charm.
That being the case, now seems a good time to recommend Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian. This fine tradition has been offered for many years with great success, and the Czarina and her chums have partaken frequently. We hope you will do the same. We have found there is nothing so refreshing as a strong cup of afternoon tea and a few crustless sandwiches (oh, all right, and some pastry swans). Besides, it makes a great alternative to dinner if you are planning an evening at the Magic Kingdom, watching fireworks and such.
Tea is served in the Garden View Lounge in the lobby of the Grand Floridian daily from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Priority Seating is advisable, especially since large groups of (primarily) ladies tend to congregate here for wedding showers, booking up several tables. The setting is airy and relaxing, dotted with small sofas and tables set with snow-white cloths and English china with roses all over it. Sweet ladies in long skirts and aprons are your servers.
DRESS CODE: Many people seem worried or confused as to what to wear to Afternoon Tea. Rest assured, you may come in your shorts and t-shirt if you wish. However, it is fun to dress up just a bit; the Czarina usually wears long pants and a dressy shirt. It is even more fun, if you are in a group, to do something slightly silly. For example, our friend Mary recently had the brilliant idea of holding a Red Hat Tea. We gathered enough red hats (which included French berets, vintage "church" hats and folding sunbonnets) and passed them out to all the ladies in our party. It made for some good laughs and a great portfolio of pictures.
THE MENU: Your first choice will be what flavor of tea you would like. There are many wonderful selections, including Traditional (such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey), Flavored (like Hot Cinnamon Spiced or Black Currant), or Herbal and Caffeine-Free (Chamomile, Lemon Verbena). The Czarina's recommendations are Earl Grey and Hot Cinnamon Spiced, although the Peppermint has won high praise from non-caffeine drinkers. Your tea will come in a pot, properly brewed from loose leaves, with a little strainer to put over your cup when you pour.
You will then choose your food selections. If you want to go all out, and will definitely not be having dinner, perhaps the Grand Tea is the way to go. This will include tea sandwiches, scones and jam tarts, a choice of freshly baked pastries or English trifle, and a glass of sparkling wine ($24.50). This does not add up to a dainty meal; you will leave stuffed.
If you are part of a duet, choose the Tea For Two, which includes tea sandwiches, scones, jam tarts, and pastries ($35 for two).
Or you might want the Czarina's favorite, Buckingham Palace ($17.50), which adds strawberries and cream and subtracts the pastries (but not the scones and jam tarts, of course).
We would just like to say that the strawberries are superb and the cream irresistible. The sandwiches also are lovely, and usually include watercress and cream cheese, and excellent crab or tuna salad.
We once experimented with the Prince Edward's Tea, an attempt to attract male clientele. This unusual tea excludes most of the sweet stuff, and adds various pates and potted crab on little toasts, along with a glass of Sandeman's Port. It was interesting, but not a favorite of ours.
For little ones, there's Mrs. Potts' Tea with peanut butter and jelly (and other) sandwiches, "dark tea" (chocolate milk) and pastries, $8.50.
Should you be overwhelmed by the idea of a "set tea", you may also order a la carte, simply sandwiches or scones and cream, etc.
And yes, you may have iced tea or coffee if you wish.
One of the good things about afternoon tea is that it invites sipping and conversation; so it is quite possible to have a long, civilized, quiet afternoon while others are lining up for Dumbo, if you wish. It can be a peaceful interlude in the middle of a high-stress vacation.
One warning: if you set up a "children's table", as the Czarina and friends once did, keep an eye on the kids. At one point, we turned around to find three giggling little girls, posing with embroidered tea cosies on their heads. The photos we took will embarrass these children for the rest of their lives.
CZARINA'S TOP TIPS: If you run out of tea in your personal pot, ask the server to refill it with hot water. Also, remember that it isn't realistic to schedule Afternoon Tea when you have a full dinner at a fancy restaurant planned (unless you have very early tea and very late dinner).
THE BOTTOM LINE: From the windows of the Garden View Lounge, you will see strange sights: swimmers frolicking in the pool, bright sunlight, and the occasional large well-dressed mouse passing by. These are hallucinations: you are in a garden somewhere in Devonshire.