Minnie's Holiday Dine at Hollywood and Vine is a new dinner event concept for the popular Hollywood Studios buffet. For most of 2016, the food items along with the characters' themed costumes will vary with each seasonal period.
The "Holidays" is the first of these seasons, and the concept here is that Minnie is hosting a holiday dinner party for the "fab five" and you are invited! This is a classic Disney-style overlay, and it fits the nature of Hollywood and Vine quite well. The culinary, character, and serving staff has always seemed to be very capable at Hollywood and Vine, and so I don't think the quick-change from season to season is going to cause any sort of problems. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I think it's a great idea (for this restaurant anyway) and I'm looking forward to seeing and tasting our next season.
Getting back to Minnie's Holiday Dine… much of what I've written about Hollywood & Vine's previous lunch and dinner periods still hold true… starting with the wait outside the restaurant. It doesn't matter if you are early, on-time, or late for your reservation… there will be a 15 minute wait outside the building after you check in. If you've gotten into the main dining area in less time, consider yourself lucky!
I don't think it's anyone's fault per say… it seems to be the nature of the location. Once inside, people linger a bit more than they do at other buffet locations, which speaks well for the food and the character interactions… and in turn… causes a bit of a delay here and there.
With the new seasonal dining events, your party will get a photo-op with a seasonally dressed character (and a Photopass Photographer), as soon as you enter the restaurant. While very cool, it does create a "second line" of sorts outside… as guests cue up to meet with the character of the day. For Minnie's Holiday Dine (at least on the day that I attended) Santa Goofy was on-hand for the main photo-op, along with a great looking backdrop.
The "main" character here could change from day-to-day, but so far, it's been Santa Goofy for much of the time. It's important to note that the character you get to meet here at the main entrance will not be roaming the room and meeting guest table-side. So this may be your only chance to grab a photo.
Everyone is given a holiday card after the photo, (which is basically a small 3x5 pre-printed card) with the Holiday Dine logo on one side, and all of the character's signatures on the other. The characters will not be signing autograph books at any point during the dinner period, so this card is your "signature" souvenir for the evening.
The Staff and Environment As I have mentioned before, the entire staff at Hollywood and Vine seem to be quite capable, and they've always taken great care of me on my visits to the restaurant. I really like that the managers still make a point of meeting with each table and introducing themselves, and asking how the meal is going. The characters (and their caretakers) make sure that you get to meet with everyone during your visit. The culinary staff "behind the glass" in the giant on-stage kitchen have always answered any questions that I've had about the food. What more could you ask for from a character buffet?
As for the environment, it really depends on where you are sitting. There are two (more or less) duplicate sides at Hollywood and Vine… the left side and the right side are very similar. It's the "front" (near the windows) and the "back" (nearest to the open-kitchen area)… that are a bit different.
The seating in the front of the restaurant is tight. With Donald's big old tail being what it is, chances are, you're going to get feather whacked at some point during your meal. Add in children that want to jump up to knee-hug the characters, and their parents wanting to get photos of said knee-hugging... chances are you're going to get whacked by a child or parent before the night is over as well.
The seating in the "back" of the restaurant (nearest to the kitchen, or what looks more like the center of the building) is actually a bit more spacious. Some of the tables offer "half-booth" type seating, and there are no support columns in between the other tables. It may only be inches-per-table larger, but the extra real-estate makes dining in this area, a bit more relaxed (as relaxed as a character buffet dinner can be anyway).
I was sitting in this somewhat cramped "front" area, which accounts for
my somewhat lackluster score in that area… which is really too bad. The
charters and theming of the dining event were great! I did feel like I
was constantly in someone's way though, which shouldn't happen when
you're in the $45 per-adult range. If I were in the more spacious area
of the restaurant, I would have given a rating one notch higher.
do have to mention my amazing table neighbors for the evening (hello
ladies), who seemed to be taking a weekend break from the real world,
and enjoying a little holiday magic at Disney. In the "front" of the
restaurant, you will get to know the people around you… like it or not.
This cramped seating has not always worked out well for me (i.e. at
Epcot's Biergarten for example ), but I couldn't have asked for better
conversation throughout the evening and am always pleased to find other
guests enjoying the foodie-based experiences that the parks offer, as
much as I do!
There are a few seasonal touches around, a silver holiday tree and some gift boxes, but the main decoration in the dining areas are vinyl column wraps that display the Holiday Dine logo along with a little snowflake or wreath. There's really not room to do much more decorating.
The Characters For Minnie's Holiday Dine, you get the fab five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy) dressed in their holiday party attire. Everyone looks quite festive, and unless you are eating crazy fast, the characters will make their way to your table a couple of times over the course of a typical meal. They will usually spend more time with you on their first visit, so have your cameras ready! As I mentioned before, the characters at Minnie's Holiday Dine will not be signing autographs, so it's just a meet and greet and photos with your camera.
The Food A real surprise for a buffet dinner, Minnie's Holiday Dine started with an amuse-bouche in the form of a tiny cup of spiced warm drinking chocolate! Okay, it's not much as far as amuse-bouche's go… but come on… it's a character buffet! I have to give it to Minnie, she knows how to host a dinner party. The drinking chocolate was well spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg for sure, possibly a bit of cardamom (I would add a tiny bit of chili powder, but that's just me)… the cinnamon for sure was the standout flavor. The unexpected treat here was that it was actually thick and smooth… not at all like the brown water that passes for cocoa at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The tiny cup of chocolate was so good... I asked for, (and received) a proper sized cup of the stuff, to pair with my desserts later that evening.
The food at Hollywood and Vine could be described as American Standard and is usually very good for a buffet. You are not going to find anything that goes more than a couple layers deep from a culinary standpoint, but what you will find, is really solid basics that don't fall short on the quality scale.
There was a Roasted Butternut Squash Soup that is now attached to the "Holiday Dine" (although I have had it here before) it's a great soup, that not as sweet as some Butternut Squash Soups that I've had recently. It is supposed to be a bit savory after all. Next to the soup station, there are dinner rolls, and fortunately, the Pretzel Bread is still making an appearance. It's one of those items that you've come to expect at Hollywood and Vine so I hope they don't go anywhere. A Cranberry Butter has been added to the station as a "holiday butter" I suppose. It doesn't make up for the loss of the Apple Butter though, which was nowhere to be found.
At the salad station, you could still build your own, with a few options (very few actually), but the Winter Kale and Cabbage Salad with Pumpkin Seeds and Dried Craisins® seems like it was the star dish in this area. It's a great salad, (Kale is a very solid, dark green lettuce, and it's quite good for you... often being found in "power" salads) along with with a properly punchy vinaigrette. You have to do a little digging around to make sure you get all the bits on your plate though. Pumpkin seeds sink to the bottom it seems. Also in the salads area were a Quinoa Salad with Dried Fruit and Craisins® Broccoli Salad.
I'm not sure if the Insalata Caprese is here to stay, or if it's a red "holiday" treat, but if you like caprese… it's an okay take on Italian dish (again, for a buffet… it'll never stack up against home-made Caprese at the end of spring). The Balsamic (if you can even call it that), didn't add much... so I would change that… but good Balsamic is expensive. Shrimp and Cocktail Sauce and the New Zealand Green Mussels are still on the buffet, and probably will be for all of the seasonal dines. The feature dish here was a very festive looking Pear and Pomegranate Salad with Shaved Fennel and Arugula. The pomegranate seeds look like tiny holiday lights on the green arugula… a very clever and tasty dish.
The biggest change from the normal menu can be found in the hot item section of the buffet. Traditional holiday favorites can be found here, such as Green Bean Casserole, Brussels Sprouts, Corn Bread Stuffing, and Sweet Potato Casserole. There's also a few new takes on autumn flavors like the unique Pumpkin Ravioli and Apricot Roasted Pork. A combo of carved meats round out the holiday items which include a Cherry Port Ham and Honey Bourbon Turkey. There are two sauces available, the familiar Cranberry Sauce is supposed to pair with the Turkey and a Cherry Port Sauce for the Ham… however, the Cherry Port Sauce seemed to work better on the Turkey, and the Cranberry Sauce didn't really go with anything. But that's just me.
Long-standing guest favorites have not been removed from the hot items section, and are still available… from the Verlasso Salmon and Marinated Flank Steak to the Barbecued Meatballs (if you haven't tried one… please do… they are guest favorites for good reason), Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Asiago Ranch Chicken, and yes… the Shrimp and Lobster Mac and Cheese is still there!
All in all, most changes to the menu were welcome alterations. The only item that I was sad to see missing was the Corn Spoon Bread. Obviously the Corn Bread Stuffing was supposed to fill the void, but where the Spoon Bread was a unique dish that had multiple textures and flavors, the Corn Bread Stuffing seemed mostly forgettable.
The Dessert Station Pretty much everything except for the soft-serve ice cream received a holiday makeover, and this one area where it seems the most logical to go all out holiday style. From Chocoalte Peppermint Bark (which could have been a bit more chocolatey and pepperminty) to Minnie's Eggnog Cheesecakes and cute Gingerbread Cupcake, all of the desserts were well themed, and small enough so that you could sample one of everything.
As I mentioned at the top of the article, I also asked for another cup of that amazing spiced drinking chocolate, and it was brought to me in a giant coffee cup! While it might all be a bit too sweet for some, it was almost as if I had a mini-dessert party built right into the end of my buffet dinner!
After the meal was over, a printed paper wreath was brought to the table along with some stickers of various ornaments that I could decorate my wreath with. A cute addition to a great meal.
Value-Wise None of the character meals at Disney are particularly inexpensive and the cost here is bound to increase a bit now that the "holiday" season is kicking in. Hollywood and Vine is no exception to that rule. You do seem to get a higher quality "hot line item" area here, along with a staff that can handle high volume traffic with ease. Plus, it is really the only way you can see Minnie and her pals dressed in their holiday outfits, yet alone get a photo with them. Santa Goofy does meet with guests in the Osborne Lights area, but lines there… can be long to say the least. At Minnie's Holiday Dine, you're almost guaranteed to have a photo-op with the fab five.
All in all, I enjoyed my holiday time at Minnie's Holiday and Dine, and so this new holiday dining event gets a solid recommendation from me… as long as you are going to take the time to enjoy the character interactions and truly experience some of the different dishes that the chefs have prepared for the meal. If you're looking to get in and out quick… this might not be the experience that you're looking for.
I can't wait to see what the next seasonal period brings, and I'm looking forward to discovering just how many of the dishes will change from season to season. If I'm not mistaken the next "themed" dinner that Minnie will be hosting has something to do with the glamour of Hollywood (i.e. it's "movie award show season")… which sounds like it will be a lot of fun!
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