Free Dining, Pt 1: A Flashback To The 50’s

Those of you who read my column regularly may have noticed that I do not care much for the Magic Your Way Dining Plan and believe that it will soon be the downfall of civilization as we know it. Well, OK, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but it certainly has caused dining at Disney’s table service restaurants to become difficult at best and a completely unpleasant experience at worst. Reservations are hard to get and walk-ups are virtually impossible these days. Tables are packed in too close for comfort. Service has declined in some eateries to the point where it’s almost non-existent, and worst of all, food quality and selection has dropped to college cafeteria levels. I’ve found myself going off-campus more and more lately just to avoid the hassle.

With all that known, you would probably be surprised to hear that I used the Dining Plan once again on my last trip in mid-September, and actually had some good experiences. I had an opportunity to try out the free dining program that is offered during the very slow times of year (making them not so slow anymore!) so who was I to turn it down? Free food? I’m there!

We were staying for three nights and four days, so my friend Flo and I decided we wanted to dine at one old favorite table service restaurant (50’s Primetime Cafe) and one new-to-us Signature restaurant (Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge) to use up each of our three allotted TS credits. (Signature restaurants and some dinner shows require two TS credits for those of you who have never used the Dining Plan.)

About two months before our arrival, Flo called Disney Dining and made our Advance Dining Reservations. Once again, I realize I sound like a broken CD, but I really dislike having to decide what I want to eat months before I eat it. I like spontaneity in my trips, and the dining plan rips that right out of my touring plans. But free food is free food, and besides, it was all in the name of research, right?

50s Prime Time Sign

We arrived for our ADR for 50’s Primetime about 15 minutes early. Actually, we arrived twice–The first time we were an entire hour early because someone writing this blog got her times confused, but hey, better to arrive really really early than late, correct? So, anyway, the second time when we arrived at the correct time, we had to wait in the very very crowded lobby, but only for about 20 minutes. After we were seated, I was surprised to see several empty tables when the lobby was so crowded and the hostess was turning walk-ups away. It’s my understanding that many WDW eateries are quite understaffed at the moment, so that explains the empty tables…I think.

We had a friendly and efficient server named Carole. She took good care of us, answered all of our menu questions, and didn’t hesitate to ask the kitchen about a sugar free milkshake for me. Our tea and water glasses were kept filled, our food was served promptly and dishes were quickly removed when we were finished.You can’t ask for more that that.

50's Prime Time Sign

Flo ordered an adult beverage from the bar, “Grandma’s Picnic Punch” made with peach schnapps. I was driving, so I shared a sip or two (or three…) of her drink. Yum yum yummy! Tasty and refreshing! Next time, I’m ordering that and somebody else can do the driving. It came with a glow cube, which we had entirely too much fun playing with at the table.

For our appetizers, I ordered the shrimp cocktail, and Flo ordered the fried herb cheese. I never met a shrimp I didn’t like (well, maybe once at Captain Jack’s,) but I wasn’t enamored of these. The “jumbo” shrimp weren’t, and they were obviously thawed out after living at the bottom of the freezer for a couple of months. They just drooped forlornly over the side of the serving dish which also included a bed of limp lettuce.They were as flavorless as they were limp. It wasn’t the appetizer I was dreaming of. Flo’s fried herb cheese was tasty, but was nothing you couldn’t easily make at home. After the disappointing appetizers, we were hoping it would get better, and it did!

For our entrees, we both ordered the Old Fashioned Pot Roast, which turned out to be delicious. It was fresh and hot, with just enough gravy. Our only complaint was that it came with julienne-style vegetables and there weren’t enough of them. There was plenty of meat, however! So much that it got me into trouble. Our served asked the entire dining room to make airplane noises as she made me eat some more of my meat. Even my protests that I had eaten ALL of my veggies went unheeded.

The last couple of times I’ve eaten here, the servers weren’t really into their roles, so this was a fun moment for me! The increase in the meat portion was a pleasant surprise for me, as the last time I had dined here in the summer of 2006, the plate held a tiny bit of meat and a plateful of gigantic chunky vegetables. Now, if they could only combine the new meat with the old veggies, it would be heavenly.

For dessert, we ordered chocolate milkshakes to go. Mine was made with sugar-free vanilla ice cream and not enough chocolate syrup. I think the chef was trying to err on the side of being sugar-free, and it ended up fairly tasteless. It was also quite frozen, so I almost turned my face inside out trying to get it to come up the straw. I finally gave up after 30 minutes and tossed it away. I had to give the chef points for attempting a sugar-free milkshake, even if the finished product was only so-so. Flo had the regular chocolate milkshake, which was delicious as usual. Over all, the meal earned a B+ for food, and an A for service. Better than my last experience there, but not as good as the “good old days” BDP (Before Dining Plan.)

Related Links:
Anita Does the Dining Plan Part 1
Anita Does the Dining Plan Part 2

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