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Showing posts with label Disney World Vacation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disney World Vacation. Show all posts


On our latest trip Christian and I spent our final night at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. We rented someone's Disney Vacation Club points and spent $255 on the night for a Preferred room, through Disney it would have been $620. Yowza! 




 

On check-in day we decided to take a walk over to Disney Springs for a late dinner and snack. The following day, check-out day, I headed to Animal Kingdom for the first half of the day while Christian worked from the hotel. After I finished with the park I hung out with Christian in the dining area until it was time to head to the airport for our flight.


Transportation

Buses

The main form of transportation besides driving yourself or using rideshare is buses. Because the resort is so big there is an internal bus loop as well as buses to the parks. The bus stops to the parks are as follows:

  • The Grandstand
  • The Carousel
  • The Paddock
  • Congress Park 
  • The Springs 


Boat

Heading to Disney Springs? There's a boat dock by the hospitality building that will take you over to the Marketplace entrance of Disney Springs via the Sassagoula River Cruise. I would only do this if I had a lot of time to kill or you can't walk for a mile. Since you can walk from the resort it's a waste of time taking the boat because you first have to wait up to 20 minutes for a boat and then ride the boat to Disney Springs.

 

Walking

It is possible to walk to Disney Springs from the resort. There is a nice path along the water that lets you in at the Marketplace entrance of the Springs, the same spot as the boat. When the weather is nice we much prefer walking over other forms of transportation. It's less full of people and often way faster because you aren't waiting on a bus or boat.



 

Dining

Since we only stayed one night we didn't really have time to enjoy the food at the resort. We did check out the quick service location to see what offerings they had but since we were so close to Disney Springs we opted for that for dinner. Next time we will probably try one of the table service options.


The Turf Club Bar and Grill

Turf Club is the resorts table service restaurant. They serve up steaks and seasonal dishes in horse-racing club themed dining area. The Turf Club also has a Lounge where you can grab cocktails and beer.  We weren't able to find a last minute dining reservation here so we'll hit it next time we're at the resort!




 

The Artist’s Palette

This is the resort's quick service location where you can find groceries, grab a to-go snack or sit down for a meal. We noticed a lot of fun desserts when we perused the offerings. If I hadn't brought us back a snack from Animal Kingdom on check-out day we would have tried one of their themed desserts.




Pool Bars

The Paddock Grill, On The Rocks, and the Backstretch Pool Bar serve up alcoholic beverages and light snacks! The Paddock Grill also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner because it's on the opposite side of the resort/the quick service dining there.


Recreation

Pools

We did not take advantage of any pools on our trip, but there are five scattered throughout the resort. There are three "leisure" pools at the Treehouse Villas, Congress Park and The Grandstand sections. There are also two larger pools - High Rock Spring Pool and The Paddock Pool.



Activities


As with other Disney hotels there are various activities to take part in. Campfires with s'mores, movies under the stars and much more! Be sure to check at the lobby to see what types of fun they are hosting while you're there. All the activities available at the resort can be found on the recreation page.




You can also rent a 2 or 4-person Surrey Bike to ride around the resort. Saratoga Springs Resort also has normal bike rentals you can take advantage of (they come with helmets so you don't have to bring one!)




The Lake Buena Vista golf course is part of this resort. More information including how to book a tee time can be found on the Disney website


Saratoga Springs also has a Community Hall where you can find everything from complimentary ping-pong, foosball, arts and crafts, video games, DVDs, board games and more. They had a whole craft room where children (and adults) can paint ceramics, canvas, color a button and much more (for a fee!)




 

Rooms

We stayed in a Preferred Deluxe Studio, meaning we were in a room closer to amenities. We were in The Springs building, which was right across from The Carriage House. The Carriage House is where the lobby and main restaurants are.  It was the perfect spot for our quick stay, we didn't have to worry about navigating all over the resort and I was easily able to bring all our bags to Bell Services the  morning we checked out so I could head to the park and Christian could start working in the main building after he had to leave the room at 11am.

The Springs building at Saratoga Springs Resort


Saratoga Springs Resort Deluxe Studio Room; Preferred

The murphy bed/sofa

Taking my luggage to bell services before heading to Animal Kingdom

View from our room

The back part of The Springs building (your can see our balcony from here, the top one on the right of the pink section)



 

 

Talk to almost any Disney foodie and they will say dining at Victoria & Albert's is a bucket list experience. Christian and I have been talking about going here for years and slowly saved up. After becoming annual passholders again last year I tried every trip to get us a reservation. I finally managed to snag reservations for our most recent trip when our 60 day booking window opened on February 27th! 

 

Before I get into our experience, let me provide some background information on the restaurant.
 


What is Victoria & Albert's?

 

Victoria & Albert's opened at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World in 1988 and has consistently earned AAA Five Diamond (since 2000) and Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star (since 2018) awards. Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it boasts a legacy of excellence in dining. Back in the day servers used to refer to themselves Victoria & Albert. Diners must be at least 10 years of age and the dress code is strictly formal/semi-formal.


On April 18th, 2024 Victoria & Albert's earned it's first Michelin Star! Additionally, maître d’hotel and Sommelier Israel Perez received the MICHELIN Guide Florida 2024 Service Award. When Michelin first launched it's Florida Michelin Guide in June of 2022, Victoria & Albert's was still closed due to the pandemic. The restaurant reopened on July 28, 2022 and after undergoing multiple (anonymous) reviews, clinched that coveted star!


Michelin's description of the restaurant, which sums it up perfectly, is as follows:

 

Nestled within Disney's crown jewel, the Grand Floridian Resort, this restaurant is by no means an easy reservation, but the reward is a kind of magic rarely seen these days. The setting is intimate, and the pacing is that of a leisurely, three-hour waltz orchestrated by a gracious brigade of veteran servers. Chef Matthew Sowers cooks with contemporary verve and draws on influences spanning from Asia to the Nordics. Think delicate tarts set with New Zealand langoustine, striking “sandwiches” made with venison carpaccio and red cabbage, and bold sauces like cherry-cola bordelaise. Other details like water lists, an ornate coffee and tea service, and a serious wine program further impress.

 


What are the Victoria & Albert's Dining Options? 


Victoria and Albert's features three rooms: the Dining Room, Queen Victoria's Room and the Chef's Table. We ate in The Dining Room where there are about 12 tables. The Queen Victoria's room can seat four couples and the Chef's Table can sit up to six people right in the kitchen. In 2018 the Disney blog said it could seat eight, but the photos I see usually show a table big enough for 6, so that may have changed.


How much does Victoria and Albert's Cost?

 

Following its reopening in 2022, there was a significant price increase. The 7-course meal, previously priced at $185, now costs $295. Similarly, the 10-course option rose from $235 to $375, and the Chef's Table increased from $350 to $425.  Optional wine or zero-proof pairings are also available. While we were disappointed by the additional expense, we found it well worth the investment. Our meal came to $628.35, not including tip.

 

Can I use my Annual Passholder discount?

 

Unfortunately, Victoria & Albert's does not offer a passholder discount.

 

Does Vicotria and Albert's accept Disney Gift Cards

 

Yes, you can absolutely use a Disney gift card! Prior to our trip, we snagged $1000 worth of Disney gift cards from BJ's at a discounted price of $949.98. While the savings might seem modest, every bit counts! It's worth noting that tipping is still necessary. Just treat it like any other credit card transaction—write down your tip amount as usual, and it's sorted.



How do I book a table at Victoria & Albert's?


Booking a table, while straightforward, can be challenging due to its popularity. For guests not staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, reservations open exactly 60 days in advance. Simply visit the Dining Room or Queen Victoria Room pages on the Disney World website and click the "Check Available Dates" button, and select your desired date to check for table availability. If you wish to eat at the Chef's Table, reservations can be made by calling (407) WDW-DVNA beginning at 10am.

 

Guests staying at a Disney hotel have the advantage of booking for their entire trip starting 60 days from their check-in day, for up to 10 days. This allows hotel guests to secure reservations for dates not yet available to the general public. A helpful tip if you aren't looking for a specific day: prioritize reservations towards the end of your trip for better availability.

 

Note: Victoria & Albert's is currently closed on Sundays and Mondays. If your booking window opens on either of those days, it's advisable to call first thing on Tuesday morning for the Chef's Table or make reservations through the website for other dining areas.

 

What if I have allergies?

 

The staff at Victoria & Albert's will reach out about a week before your reservation to ask about any allergies or dietary restrictions. You can also call or email ahead of time if you wish. This will allow them time to customize a menu just for you! However, they note that "some menu components may not be able to be adjusted based on preferences." Victoria and Albert's does require 24 hours notice for any preferences.


I'm a picky eater, will I be able to eat here?


Coming from a fellow picky eater, YES! While I'm not as picky as I was when I was growing up there are still quite a few foods I will not touch. A little over a week before my reservation I emailed the team at Victoria & Alberts with some of my dining preferences. I let them know that they were strong aversions rather than allergies.  They replied asking for a couple clarifications and that was all it took!


Can I cancel my reservation?

 

A $100-per-person cancellation fee applies for cancellations made within 5 days of the reservation. For no-shows or cancellations within 24 hours of the reservation, the full price is charged. This deviation from Disney's typical cancellation policy, which permits cancellations up to 2 hours before, is due to the extensive preparation required for crafting the meal.

 

What is the Dress Code at Victoria & Albert's?

 

Victoria and Alberts enforces a strict dress code. Guests are expected to dress in semi-formal/formal attire that "respects the restaurant’s elegant and opulent aesthetic." Christian wore a sleek charcoal grey suit, light purple dress shirt and dark purple striped tie with burnished cognac brown Oxford shoes

 

I wore a Needle & Thread Mirage tiered embellished tulle dress cut from lilac-colored tulle and embellished with floral beaded and sequined clusters. Inspired by Victorian silhouettes, it has pretty butterfly sleeves and a ruffle-trimmed neckline. I complemented the dress with Nicholas Kirkwood Lola embellished pearl sandals (similar) and Marc by Marc Jacobs "perfect purse" in pink ostrich (faux) with gold chain link strap. For jewelry I paired my grandmother's topaz and diamond necklace with matching Aurate Birthstone Baguette Studs in London Blue Topaz and Aurate Vintage Emerald Cut Ring in London Blue Topaz.

 





 

 

Our Dining Experience at Victoria & Albert's

Time for the good part, recapping our evening with you! On the day of our reservation, we enjoyed a leisurely morning at Magic Kingdom, taking advantage of Early Entry hours at 7:30am. We rode Winnie the Pooh, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, TRON, Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World all before having an 11am lunch at Columbia Harbor House. Next we went on Carousel of Progress and The Peoplemover before heading back to our resort at 1pm. With the afternoon to unwind, we prepared ourselves for the magical evening ahead.

 

Dressed in our finest attire (I even re-wore my exact wedding outfit) we took an Uber to the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa around 5:20. We arrived just before 5:45 and headed up to the second floor at the Grand Floridian to a small area where you can take photos with Cinderella's Glass Slipper. The Cast Member knew exactly where we were going when we asked for photos, confirmation that we dressed the part! After our photoshoot we walked over to the sitting area between Citrico's and Victoria & Albert's to wait for our reservation at 6:30. 



 

At precisely 6:13 (I took a video, haha!) we were ushered into the restaurant. Our host led us to our table, where a waiter graciously assisted me into my chair, ensuring my comfort for the evening.  With a napkin draped over his arm, he delicately placed it on my lap with a subtle flourish, marking the commencement of our royal dining experience. To accommodate my adorable Marc Jacobs handbag, a small pouf was provided. This little guy has been with me for almost 15 years.




Shortly after, Israel Perez graced our table, extending a warm welcome to the restaurant and presenting a delightful pre-dinner cocktail. A non-alcoholic aperitif, it consisted of a refreshing blend of soda water, fresh spring fruit juices, a hint of mint, and adorned with delicate, edible flowers. With a charming smile, he explained how the menu was an ode to the blossoming of Spring, having recently transitioned from its Winter iteration.


 

Following his introduction, one of our two waiters approached, offering to enhance our dining experience with either a curated wine or zero-proof pairing. Opting for a simpler indulgence, we decided to accompany our meal with the restaurant's thrice-filtered tap water. We also could have had soda but we figured that would interfere with the nuanced flavors of the dishes. Speaking of our water, our waiters, along with the other restaurant staff, ensured that our glasses never dipped below half-full.



 

Our first course consisted of three amuse-bouche presented on beautiful round platters and meticulously arranged in front of us. Due to my aversion to cheese, a different middle option was provided for me. The first, our favorite of the trio, featured Lomo Ibérico (pork tenderloin), tamarind and shallot served in a small tart-like shell with balsamic vinegar pearls. My next bite was panisse shiso tempura - a chickpea fritter wrapped in a shiso leaf and tempura-ed with a bit of pickled shallot. Christian's was a shell filled with english pea, white chocolate with cheese, and mint. The final bite was an Aebleskiver filled with kingfish, purple potato and capers, topped with some prosciutto (or another type of ham). Following these delectable bites, warm towels were provided to cleanse our hands, as these were meant to be enjoyed with "natural utensils."


Left: english pea, white chocolate with cheese, and mint; Right: panisse shiso tempura

Left: Lomo Ibérico, tamarind and shallot; Right: Aebleskiver with kingfish, purple potato & capers


Onto the second course, where we again had different dishes because I requested no caviar (or cheese.) Grilled white asparagus, served with Marcona almonds, fava beans, and edible flowers, graced my plate, while Christian savored Royal Belgian Caviar with parsnip & bone marrow puree, accompanied by salt & vinegar "chips." Our waiter instructed him to first try the caviar on it's own and then eat it with the chips for the perfect pairing. 



 

Next in line was the first of three bread services mini French baguettes served with the most amazing butter from Normandy sprinkled with Maldon salt. The bread can be called épis de blé because the cut on top mimics the shape of wheat. This butter may have been the best I have had in my life. So rich and creamy with just the right amount of salt.


 

Our third course featured crab prepared in two distinct ways. Both versions featured Norwegian King Crab with kohlrabi and lemon verbena. The first was served cold with the kohlrabi thinly shaved and draped over the top. The warm crab had grilled kohlrabi rubbed in lemon oil and served in a bowl of hollandaise sauce with black lime and honey. Mine were served with the sauce on the side and I opted skip adding them. I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed both dishes, especially the cold version. It was very crisp and fresh thanks to the kohlrabi.




Moving on to the fourth course—pasta! Christian really enjoyed his dish - Rabbit Cappelletti served with sugar snaps and saffron in a rabbit broth. He was really wowed with this dish and said "it's just insane!" Meanwhile, I enjoyed handmade Garganelli pasta with sugar snaps, kale, and saffron in a brown butter beurre blanc sauce.




After the pasta, we were treated to a second bread course—thyme focaccia paired with first-of-the-season pressed olive oil from Kalamata, Greece. I looooove focaccia and olive oil so I was in heaven eating this. I also ate it with some of the butter from the first bread AND olive oil. An amazing combo!




Course five was a Koji-aged quail breast in a delicious glaze paired with sunflower "risotto" and crispy sunchoke chips with thinly sliced black truffle laid on top. Our server explained that the sunflower seeds were pressure cooked so they would be the perfect risotto-like texture. Christian's sunflower risotto had Parmesan cheese in the sauce but mine did not.  I really enjoyed this dish, especially the crunch the sunchokes gave to the risotto.



Following the quail was our main course - Wild Boar served with a rhubarb jam-like sauce and grilled broccolini. There was a second sauce made with poblano peppers. The broccolini was garnished with some mint leaves and flower petals. While Christian's dish featured an additional version of wild boar—sausage with cheese on a bed of cheesy sauce. I tried a small piece of the sausage and it was delicious but I appreciate them leaving it off my plate.



Served alongside the boar was our final bread course—a nine-grain sourdough bread served with the same base butter as our initial bread, infused with smoked sea salt for a truly unique flavor. I'm not a sourdough fan but this was Christian's favorite bread of the night. I appreciated the nine-grains and how crispy it was, but the tang of the dough is a bit much for me.



Next was the cheese course. While Christian indulged in Brillat Tradition Briarde cheese served with Florida guava and a salted and fermented strawberry sauce, garnished with edible flower petals and a blue cheese "cracker," my dessert took the form of a "Mint Julep" palette cleanser—a sorbet of mango, passion fruit, and tropical flavors, adorned with lime foam and edible flower petals, accompanied by a honey drizzle. The lime foam was a bit strong for me but I loved the sorbet. For Disney fans, this was basically POG juice in sorbet form. Christian was instructed to try his dish without the cracker first and then enjoy them both together. This was the one dish of the evening he wasn't a huge fan of.





Moving on to dessert, Christian delighted in an ice cream cone filled with candied carrot and cream cheese ice cream, accompanied by hazelnut praline, cocoa soil, and green cake "moss," topped with a chocolate stick embellished with 24k gold leaf.  I tried the soil and some of the ice cream but I could definitely taste that cream cheese so I was glad I had a different dish. Unfortunately the kitchen made a mistake and used one of the ingredients I strongly dislike in my dessert. It was an "Egg" served in an adorable glass egg shell. Our server said the "yolk" was a mango sorbet with some other flavors and at first said "banana" but corrected himself to say there was no banana. A light coconut cream mimiced the egg white. I enjoyed the coconut cream but the banana overpowered the sorbet so I had to leave it untouched. 


(I think what happened was the egg is usually an allergy friendly dish and they were supposed to swap out the banana in mine but somehow it got mixed up. I felt too awkward to tell them so I just left it uneaten. The only plate thus far that I didn't devour.)



 

After this we were served a mango pavlova. The meringue was piped into six small rounds and covered in yellow white chocolate infused with mango. Christian's were topped with a Serrano pepper mousse, Chantilly cream and cheese mousse. The kitchen doubled up my pepper and Chantilly so I could avoid the cheese. Finally the dessert was adorned with mango slices, edible petals and yellow white chocolate. I had never had a pavlova before but I love meringue so I knew I would enjoy it. At this point I was beginning to feel full so I left two of my Serrano pepper rounds uneaten so I'd have room for our final course.



The final course was a callback to the start of our meal. We started with three small bites and that is how the chef wanted us to end our culinary journey. Four bite-sized desserts were served on various platters ready for us to dig in. There was a chocolate Opéra Gâteau, Lemon Ganache Square served over coarse sugar, a Blueberry Macaron and finally a Chartreuse Baba. 





 

Our second waiter came over before we started to let us know that the baba had alcohol in it (the Chartreuse) and warned us it was strong. At the beginning of the meal we let her know we weren't alcohol drinkers so we appreciated the warning. I tried half of mine and it was VERY strong and I could really feel the alcoholic burn, which is why I don't drink. When she came back to the table she told us that when they first made this dish it had even more alcohol in it and she asked the chef to tone it down. Pretty funny that this was the toned down version and was still super strong.


If we were coffee or tea drinkers we could have had those brewed for us table-side during the dessert courses.


After we sat for a little while longer to chat, accompanied by the enchanting melodies of the harpist, we rose from our seats to depart. Our waitress escorted us to the front of the dining room, where she kindly offered to capture a few photographs of our memorable evening. I made sure the Michelin star adorned the frame, and before we left she asked if I would like to hold it. Pretty cool! As we made our way out, we expressed our gratitude to the harpist for her exquisite musical accompaniment.

 

More on the Harpist

The harpist's enchanting performance truly elevated our dining experience, adding a delightful ambiance to the evening. Her repertoire spanned a wide variety of songs, including selections from the Disney catalog, which further enhanced the magical atmosphere of the occasion. While diners had the opportunity to make song requests, we found ourselves torn between Christian's suggestion of "Concerning Hobbits" and my own inclination toward Sting's "Fields of Gold." However, to our pleasant surprise, the harpist treated us to another tune that had crossed my mind— "Storybook Love" from The Princess Bride.

 

Other songs heard throughout the evening included the Star Wars and Game of Thrones theme songs, Shiny (from Moana,) Love Story by Taylor Swift, Rainbow Connection, So This Is Love (from Cinderella,) The Rains of Castamere, Vienna by Billy Joel and many more! She even played a deep cut from one of our favorite shows - Merlin! Our waitress let us know that in her off time she is an instructor and teaches young students to play the harp. She has a large collection of harps that she loans out to students to spare parents the burden of transporting these instruments to and from lessons.


Our Menus

Here's a look at the two menus for our visit. Click the images to open in a new window to read.

Victoria & Albert's Chef's Dégustation Menu (my modified menu on left)

Victoria and Albert's Dining Room Menu (my modified menu on left)


Is Victoria & Albert's worth it? / Would we go back?

 

YES! While some may balk at the price, Victoria & Albert's offers more than just food—it's an immersive experience, akin to other exclusive Disney offerings like the Wild Africa Trek (my review) or the Keys to the Kingdom Tour. The cost encompasses not only delicious cuisine but also an opportunity to explore flavors, engage in meaningful conversations, and savor an elegant evening. With your table reserved for the entire night, you can dine at your leisure, fully immersing yourself in the ambiance. After our meal, we lingered for about 30 minutes, enchanted by the harpist's melodies.

 

Looking ahead, we're considering trying the 10-course meal on our next visit. I may even opt for the zero-proof pairing! Additionally, Christian has expressed interest in experiencing the Chef's Table with a group, though we'll see if that plan comes to fruition. I'll also be tempted to explore their tea offerings to conclude our meal.



Christian's Thoughts

I asked Christian to summarize his thoughts on the evening because he is far better at articulating the amazing experience than I am.

 

It's important to remember that if you're interested in forking over the amount of money it takes to experience something like this, you need to understand that this isn't like you're going to one of your favorite restaurants and multiplying it's flavor by the difference in cost. I learned a valuable lesson from our time dining at California Grill atop the Contemporary that you can spend a large amount of money to get just about the best "food" experience of all the flavors you typically love. While that experience is all about familiar flavors at their peak, Victoria and Albert's is all about a journey into the unknown. You're not paying the lofty price tag for taste alone, as you're embarking across a narrative of different bites that are supposed to tell a story. This story summarized an essence of Spring I had not yet known. You'll potentially hear about sauces that have been converted into foam, vegetables blended with ingredients you never thought would work, exotic ingredients that have even a slight difference just because there was someone experienced enough to tell the difference. Atop all of that, it's a level of service that some would mostly chuckle at, but it gives you an appreciation that this is more of a craft than it is a job for everyone involved. They didn't receive awards and recognition just because their food was tasty. There's a skilled chef in the back giving you the only seating for that table that night, and you're going to be brought into a world of food you didn't think existed. Treat it as an adventure. Not a meal. Plus, that Rabbit broth was seriously one of the best things I've ever eaten.


If you have any questions I didn't answer here, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer as best I can!


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