Monday, June 12, 2006
All Princesses, All the Time
I’m not blind to the fact that, whether they appreciate it or not, kids accompany their parents to Epcot. It’s understandable, then, that Disney would want to make the park engaging for them.
But why on earth did Disney feel the need to destroy the ambience, charm and cultural discovery of a truly rare dining experience by making Norway’s Restaurant Akershus into an all-princesses-all-the-time character-dining location?
First, The Garden Grill became a lunch- and dinner-time home to Mickey and the gang. What had been a relaxing, unique restaurant became a place for 4-year-olds to run, shout, scream, cry, laugh, hoot and holler, and essentially turned into a restaurant that few childless adults would want to patronize.
Fine. I get it. Give the kids someplace to go where they can all be kids together. The Garden Grill was only a little bit of a loss.
But on my last visit to Epcot, I was chagrined to discover that my favorite restaurant had been given over to the 6-year-old set. Restaurant Akershus has been taken over by the Disney princesses. Not just at breakfast, not just at dinner – but all the time.
Look, I realize that Disney Princesses are big business. I get that parents need someplace that’s kid-friendly. Really, I do. I also recognize that after 15 years of trying, Disney had never really been able to figure out a way to market Norwegian dining to the masses.
Nonetheless, Restaurant Akershus was a marvelous dining experience. Norwegian food, it turned out, was interesting, a little adventurous, a little familiar and darn good. The cast members at Restaurant Akershus were routinely among the nicest and friendliest of all the restaurants.
Taking friends and family to Restaurant Akershus became a tradition. “What’s Norwegian food?” they’d ask. “You’ll find out,” I’d reply, and invariably (this may have been part of the problem) there were walk-up tables available. And, equally invariably, we’d enjoy two hours or more of eating, enjoying every bite and getting one of the best bargains (due to the smorgasbord style of serving) at Epcot.
Now, I daren’t set foot inside Restaurant Akershus lest it be stepped on by a screaming Snow White or a belligerent Belle running around at waist height. Perhaps I’m stereotyping young guests a bit too much – but after a couple of dozen visits to Epcot during all times of the year, I think I’m being kind.
Sorry, I digress. Back to the point: Restaurant Akershus was one of those elements that made Epcot unique and wonderful. It would be fine if Disney wanted to make the restaurant into a character experience at, say, breakfast and lunch … or even breakfast and dinner.
But as a guest who wants to experience cultures and cuisines in something at least resembling an authentic way, can’t I have the chance to savor the dining treats of Norway without having to run into princesses who aren’t even Norwegian in the first place? (Come to think of it, France or Germany would be more logical locations for a princess dining experience.)
I’d love Disney to figure out a way to find a balance, to give little girls a chance to dine with their favorite princesses ... while giving us grown-ups who aren’t, um, blessed with children the chance to appreciate Epcot without being overrun by ballgowns and tiaras.