Is California Grill The Ultimate Fireworks View In Disney World?

Well, who could have predicted that a bucket list dinner at California Grill during the Magic Kingdom Fireworks would end in tears, fears, and utter embarrassment? Actually, if you’ve been around for a while it might not be much of a surprise. Let me tell you all about it.

California Grill is a signature service restaurant located inside of the Contemporary Hotel at Disney World. It’s famous for it’s unique views of Magic Kingdom, but infamous for it’s menu. This location does not except dining plan credits, and currently offers a prix fix menu.

Spectacular view of Happily Ever After fireworks from the California Grill observation deck at Disney's Contemporary Resort.

Pricing starts at $89 per adult for the 3 course meal, with optional wine pairings for an additional cost. A child’s meal will run you $39 each. The menu invites guest to select one option from each section; Market Inspiration (appetizers), Chef’s Journey (entree), and Sweet Creations (dessert).

Be aware the menu may change, without warning, due to ingredient availability and seasonality. If there’s a specific item that you’re going for, it’s worth calling ahead to make sure it will be available during your visit.

Arrival and Check-In

Guests staying at a Disney World Resort, outside of the Magic Kingdom area, can take one of the complimentary buses to Magic Kingdom then either walk or take the monorail to the Contemporary. Guests staying at a nearby Magic Kingdom resort can simply take the monorail.

For guests driving themselves, the dining reservation and ID will need to be presented at the gate upon arrival. We did indeed drive, and were running more than a bit late – as usual. Having both of these handy helped save a few minutes on our rush to meet the reservation time.

The Contemporary is an absolutely beautiful resort. The art deco design of the exterior extends into the lobby and throughout the full property. It’s always been on my wish list to stay, even for just a night. However, on this night the line for the elevators snaked around the lobby filled with frustrated families.

While I don’t know if that’s normal for the resort or if it was just because we were in a hurry. But, luckily it didn’t matter. Check-in for the California Grill is on the second floor, accessible by either stairs or an escalator.

Arriving on the second floor we saw a desk with 2 cast members and a large sign for the restaurant. Finally!! After checking in we were directed to an elevator used exclusively for access to California Grill (maybe that explains the line).

Reservation Timing

The hype for California Grill is all around the Firework viewing. The food is highly rated (we’ll get there), but the fireworks are what bring people in. So, we were more than a little disappointed to be seated in the back of the restaurant 10 minutes before the show was about to start. Things were going well.

Once our server arrived though, they directed us to the outdoor viewing area and took our appetizer order so it would be ready when we returned.

I’ve since learned that you can enjoy California Grill during any time they are open, and come back later for the fireworks – as long as you keep your receipt. There’s even first come first serve seating at the bar. Next time we eat here, I’ll book dinner during sunset and come back for the fireworks. Twice the ambiance and I won’t be dreaming of desert the whole time.

Feasting on Fireworks

I’m not sure which part of “outdoor rooftop viewing” failed to trigger my guttural feal of heights when I was researching this adventure. But I was quickly reminded once we walked out the dining room doors to the observation deck.

Guests enjoying the Happily Ever After fireworks from the California Grill observation deck, with Cinderella Castle in the background.

Oh! Did I mention I’m wearing heels and a dress? And there was a wind advisory. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get many pictures due to my death grip on the handrail during the entire display.

Between my bouts of absolute terror, however, the view really is magical. Happily Ever After, and all the Magic Kingdom firework shows, are so much bigger than you can see standing in front of Cinderella’s castle. The fireworks extend from Tomorrowland nearly to Frontierland, further than you could ever see from the ground.

Close-up view of Happily Ever After fireworks illuminating the night sky, as seen from California Grill at Disney World

Being nearly level with the show, the intricacies and designs of each firework appear. You don’t realize until you’re up this high that some of them explode in the shape of Maui’s hook, or Mickey’s face.

Growing up my father worked on fourth of July fireworks in our town, so we got to sit real close. I’m talking fearful that the ash would fall on me, close. Nothing can top that memory, but the firework viewing at California Grill came pretty close. It’s amazing how different these beautiful explosions appear depending on where you can see them from.

Prix Fix Food

As the show ended, I pried my hand from the rail and shuffled my (now barefoot) feet back into the dining room as quickly (and intentionally) as possible. Once back on dry land, so to speak, our attentions were firmly situated on the meal to come.


I ordered the Beet Salad to start. Citrus-roasted Beets, Pistachio-Hempseed Brittle, Vanilla Pudding, Fresh Fruit, Sherry Vinaigrette, and Petite Upland Cress. Let me start by saying that I don’t like beets, but it was the only plant based option on the menu and I’m still working on my mission to eat everything plant based in Disney.

Artfully presented Beet Salad appetizer at California Grill, featuring a mix of colorful beets, greens, and decorative elements.

And I was pleasantly surprised! The beets are slow roasted to perfection with a natural sweetness that I would choose over sugary candy any day. The earthy brittle adds a welcomed crispness to the salad, that breaks up the otherwise tender dish. The sherry vinaigrette is tart and tantalizing. At this point it’s the best thing I’ve ever had at Disney – but, that became a trend throughout the evening.

Beautifully plated Spice Kanzan Roll at California Grill, accompanied by wasabi, pickled ginger, and decorative sauce on a stylish plate with chopsticks.

My partner in crime had the Spice Kanzan Roll with Crab, Shrimp, Scallops and Tuna under a Fireball Sauce. It was delectable and fresh, but not the best sushi we’ve had. Both dishes were phenomenal and we’d order again.

Chef’s Journey

For our entrees we ordered the Chicken Ballotine and the Corn and Mushroom Mezzaluna. We were having very different experiences across the table from each other, which became pretty clear at this point.

The online menu did not list the Corn and Mushroom Mezzaluna, instead it had a Pumpkin Ravioli – which I was very much looking forward to. But, once we had the physical menu in hand Mezzaluna was the available plant-based option. When my dish came out I could’ve sworn that it was scallops. Nothing about this plate looked plant-based. I even called over our server to confirm, apparently they get that question a lot.

Corn and Mushroom Mezzaluna dish at California Grill, featuring vibrant vegetables and a creamy sauce on a stylish blue plate.

I was shook. The trumpet mushrooms did not taste like meat, but they certainly tasted meaty. This was a hardy filled pasta dish, decorated with delicately roasted vegetables. But that’s over simplifying what is in arguably the best thing I’ve ever had at Disney World (since the appetizer).

Delicious Chicken Ballotine dish at California Grill, served with a variety of vegetables and a flavorful sauce on an elegant white plate.

The same couldn’t be said for the Chicken Ballotine. While the dressings on the dish were Instagram worthy, the chicken itself was a bit too far out there for us. The flavor was phenomenal. The process to confit intensifies the savory umami flavor to a level we didn’t know existed. But the texture was gelatinous and a bit gooey. Call us boring or traditional, but this wasn’t our cup of tea.

Sweet Creations

At this point, it was starting to get late. If I have one major critique it’s how long this whole experience takes. Between the death defying observation deck and my partner’s lack luster experience so far, we asked to have our desert to go.

We had ordered the Peanut and Banana Torte and the Strawberry and Pistachio Mousse Cake. I should probably mention that we made this reservation to celebrate our anniversary, which our server helped us to celebrate with a complimentary Vanilla Chocolate Ganache Torte. Extra stars awarded for bonus dessert.

As beautiful as The California Grill is, as much as I enjoy the service of a fancy restaurant, and even with the beautiful views of the surrounding area. Absolutely nothing felt better than taking off my shoes, sitting in bed back at our hotel and indulging in dessert (and champagne we grabbed from the Club Lounge) to cap off the night.

Stay tuned for our full review of Club Level at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Of all 3 sweet treats, the Vanilla Chocolate Ganache Torte was the clear winner – we fought over it. In fact, it was the best thing I’ve ever had at Disney World (since the entree). The Peanut and Banana Torte had an overwhelming banana taste that I couldn’t even finish. And the Strawberry and Pistachio Torte was fabulous, but it just couldn’t compare.

Overall Expereince

We loved California Grill at the Contemporary, but we learned a lot. I cannot recommend this experience enough – for a special occasion. It’s a bit pricey for an everyday meal and luxury tends to make me a bit uncomfortable. But on an anniversary, a birthday, a honeymoon, or any type of celebration this is a 5-star choice.

The view of the fireworks is breathtaking. The food is beyond compare, and the staff were superstars. As we walked back down the halls of our hotel we talked about how I hadn’t realized my dress was see-through until that exact moment. Yes, I spent 3 hours in a signature dining restaurant unaware that everywhere there could see what color underwear I was wearing. See – tears, fears, and utter embarrassment.

Oh, but we also talked about how it could have been better. So here’s my top tips if YOU want to go to California Grill on your next trip.

  • Book an earlier time, don’t dine during fireworks
  • Budget for the wine pairings
  • Be flexible with your options, make sure there’s more than 1 thing on the menu you like
  • Don’t wear heels
  • Check the weather for wind advisories
  • Fit check before you leave your house or hotel.

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