A "Welcome to our Friendship Day Celebration" banner hangs from two pillars on near the room's centerpiece atrium.
For me, there's really three parts to eating at the Crystal Palace… First, it is "character dining" and one of the few places to meet (most of) the gang from Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie, Tiger, Piglet, and Eeyore make their rounds and visit guests table-side throughout the night.
All four walk-around characters at the Crystal Palace Restaurant! From left to right, it's Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger.
Second, it is a buffet. While I've read things like "You don't come here for the food" in other reviews… my take on "buffets" in general is a little different. I use them as "small plate pairing" opportunities rather than "pile a bunch of food on your plate" events. I think there's a lot of really great food here, but not everything on the buffet, should end up on the same plate.
The English Cucumber and Red Onion Salad is so garden green looking! On the top of the plate is some of the Crystal Palace's Mediterranean Pasta Salad.
So I work my way through every buffet using small starter plates, and I only plate two or three food items that I think would taste great together at a time. It's a fun way to make it through a buffet, and find some of those really standout dishes of the night.
Third, (and this is probably just me), but I think the architecture and interior design choices at the Crystal Palace are really great. I purposely visit at the very beginning or the very end of any dining period just so I can see a little more of the room.
The decore in both dining areas is very similar. This eastern dining area is a little smaller than the west side though.
The Crystal Palace has been designed to look like a turn of the century (early 1900's) conservatory of gardens and flowers. There's two main dining areas that are (almost) shaped like octagons, to give the feel of a greenhouse.
The dining area in the west side of the Crystal Palace is slightly larger than the dining area on the east side, mostly thanks to the tables pictured here on the right. On the east side, this area is actually an outdoor patio for guests waiting to get into the restaurant.
The floors are carpeted with a dark maroon floral pattern carpet that looks a little bit like fallen leaves, while the ceiling areas have been painted a very light blue, to resemble the sky, if the "greenhouse" were to have a glass roof. (A glass roof in Florida would be very impractical, from a heat standpoint, which is why it's painted blue).
There are small atrium features in both the east and west dining areas. The centerpiece of the room serves three purposes... it's part planter, part air condition system, and part booth seating for tables positioned around it.
Together with the atrium piece in the center of the dining areas and hanging planters from many of the room's columns — it really is just an amazing, ornate look back at what a conservatory of flowers might have looked like in early 1900's.
As I mentioned, there are some roaming characters at the Crystal Palace — and fittingly, it's Winnie-the-Pooh, Tiger, Piglet, and Eeyore. Which are in the minds of most guests, are garden-centric turn of the century characters.
From a meet and greet standpoint, space is a little tight in the Crystal Palace but really, this is one of the best places to meet "Winnie-the-Pooh" and the gang. There has been another meet and greet location over by "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" attraction from time to time — but it is outdoors, and in an area that doesn't usually get much of a breeze. At Crystal Palace, you've got air-conditioning, and the characters come to your table. That's enough for me to give it two thumbs up!
Interestingly, the Crystal Palace didn't start out as a buffet or a character dining experience at all. Up until 1996, the location had been (more or less) a cafeteria.
Another great opportunity to grab a photo of Pooh and the gang, is in topiary form! There's a very large atrium feature that separates the left and right side dining areas located just as you walk into the restaurant. In addition to being full of plants, you'll find each of the walk around characters in flower-based topiary form! (Okay, they're made with plastic flowers, but still very cool and photogenic.)
Directly below the center atrium at the Crystal Palace, there's a very larger planter garden, with topiary versions of popular Winnie the Pooh characters. Pictured here are Eeyore and Winnie the Pooh.
I've never found the buffet lines to be too long at the Crystal Palace, but again, I try and go at "off peak" hours. I think the fact that there's two "sides" to the buffet (that both offer the same food items) and two dining rooms, helps keeps lines from getting too backed up at any one station.
Ooooo... I bet Rabbit would like some of these! Honey Glazed Carrots on the Crystal Palace Buffet line.
The buffet area itself also has some amazing design and detail elements. All the truss, column, and wall add-ons are probably often missed by most guests, but there really is a ton of quaint detailing around all the different areas.
This is probably one of my favorite photos of the buffet area at the Crystal Palace. The dessert tables are in the center of the photo, but this really is a picture of the entire buffet area. Because the area is usually so full of guests, it's easy to miss some of the amazing details in the floor, walls, and ceiling. A great, light hearted take on Art Nouveau styling from the late 19th century.
The food could probably be best described as "Americana" cuisine, created to appeal to the masses. There are six distinct "tables" or paddocks on the buffet line…. a children's table (which is a little closer to the ground, so children can take part in the buffet experience themselves), a prepared salads and bread area (that sometimes features soups as well), the hot side items and prepared main items share a longer stretch of the buffet line, but are logically ordered, a carving station in the middle of the two areas that usually has two different meats that are carved to order, and a dessert buffet table that is a standalone table just behind the main buffet lines. The dessert buffet area is also split into a right and left side.
Here's a great shot of the main center carving station at the Crystal Palace. The ornate detailing on the walls and ceiling trusses throughout the restaurant is amazing.
I'd like to say there's a "standout, must-try" item at the Crystal Palace, but over the past few years, it seems like the menu changes on a fairly regular basis, so there's no "one item" that's on the menu for too long.
On the night our party dined at the Crystal Palace, one of the standout items for me was an Herb-crusted Tilapia Served with Tomato Olive Relish.
At the front of this plate is an Herb-crusted Tilapia served with Tomato Olive Relish which paired nicely with the Sautéed Green Beans on the back of the plate!
The carved turkey and flank steaks were both great, the turkey probably wins that battle by a little bit.
Ahhhh... some items from the carving station in the center of the Crystal Palace buffet line. From the top, clockwise... Honey Glazed Carrots, Grilled Flank Steak (a Demi-glaze and Horseradish Whip were available), and Roasted Turkey (Turkey Gravy and Cranberry Sauce were available).
I was pleasantly surprised to find some Jambalaya on the buffet line, complete with andouille sausage, that was quite good.
As was the Sun Dried Tomato Cream Pasta and the Honey Soy-glazed Salmon.
The Sun Dried Tomato Cream Pasta was really great. It was kind of a light cheese version of Mac and Cheese, but with Sun Dried Tomatoes and some herbs.
Dessert-wise, you can never go wrong with soft serve ice cream and a toppings bar!
There's always room for ice cream!!! Especially when it's soft serve and there's a fun toppings bar too!
But these little Honey Pot Tarts get the "cutest dessert award" for the night.
Those Toffee Molten Brownie Bites weren't bad either… especially if you covered them with some soft serve ice cream and more hot chocolate sauce.
All in all, I really like the Crystal Palace dining experience. I'm not sure it's a "must do every trip" kind of place, but it is a special location that has a long standing place in Magic Kingdom history. If you'd like to save a couple of dollars, the Crystal Palace Breakfast (while having totally different food), offers the same characters, and you get to see some of that amazing interior design work in the daylight, for a couple dollars less.
For those looking for an "extraordinary culinary experience", Crystal Palace may leave you a little disappointed… it is, after all, a buffet. But, if you know that going in — I think you'll find the food to be on-par with other buffets on Disney property.
If you're not on a strict schedule… I'd even recommend going a little earlier or a little past "typical" lunch and dinner hours. The characters tend to be a little more playful if they have the time and space to move around a bit more, and you'll get a chance to look up and around at some of the amazing details that the Crystal Palace has to offer.