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.


Anonymous said...

You are right about the importance of balance. Let me tell you about my balance.

I believe that the original Epcot had 2 fundamental deficiencies that led to the only problem that matters. The problem is attendance. The deficiencies were in attractions that appealed to the under 10 set, or the thrill ride set as I expressed in yesterdays comments. These are huge demographics.

As a father of 2 girls (age 5 and 2) let me tell you, princess are majorly important. Hopefully the powers that be will understand that we go every year because we can do a princess breakfast and Spaceship Earth in one day. The kids have great time on the Mexican boat ride and other attractions not specifically geared towards them; however it's easier to get them juiced up for the park when we can point to the figment ride.

If you want more adult dinning I really do sympathize. When we hear screaming kids we joke that it is "the sound of magic" since it is as ubiquitous as any Disney Magic. I recommend dining late, expensive and exotic as the best way to avoid my family. I'm assuming you won't run into Japanese toddlers at the sushi bar at 8:30 PM.

When my girls grow out of Princesses I'll look forward to maybe a walking tour of The Land with them, and I hope I remember that the tiara girl in Norway is also part of the 9 Million people each year that give an economic reason for The Land and all the other Epcot parts I love to exist.

Matt Arnold said...

epcot82, I feel your pain. Fortunately there are still establishments in which we can expect to have a meal without disruption.

Anonymous said...

Disney should use the Odyssey pavillion for the meet and greet meals. That building is setup for food service and it has no real theme to speak of for the characters to conflict with. Just perfect for an Epcot Family Dining locale.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have princesses of your own, then you don't know how hard it is to get a reservation to eat with the Disney ones. Sorry this does make some sense. Character meals command a premium price and I can assure you the demand is sky high for the princesses.

I can't tell you how many times we have called exactly 90 days from our trip, and still haven't been able to get in. Grandma has spent weeks calling each day after that hoping for a cancellation.

Epcot82 said...

Giving little princesses a place to dine is one thing ... but taking a stellar restaurant with interesting culinary and cultural ambitions and turning into to a "kid attraction" is another thing. That's my objection. Last time I looked, there were lots of character-dining opportunities. I love the suggestion of turning Odyssey into a character experience. Now THAT could be interesting! Turn it into a multi-cultural princess pavilion, with Jasmine from the Middle East; Belle, Aurora and Cinderella from France; Alice from the UK; Shanti ("Jungle Book") from India; Ariel from Denmark, etc., etc.

brkgnews said...

Part of me feels we are getting far too heavy into character dining. I enjoyed eating lunch in the castle, but now (I believe) that, too, is a character affair. But then part of me says that Norway being princess central means less kids running around at San Angel Inn and Biergarten (though admittedly Oktoberfest is not the place to go for a quiet meal!) As for Akershus, the waitresses were always nice (not to mention cute!), and the food was, indeed, good. The process was a bit confusing for the first-timer, though -- when you walked in and saw the cold-bar buffet, you were left wondering "is that all they have? A few cold meats, cheeses, and salads?" You could order an entree off the menu, but it was a bit difficult to understand that the menu was also part of the buffet. It took me a few minutes to figure that out, but after that, it was smooth sailing (and good chicken and sausages).

stacey abshire said...

I kind of figured you were an old fuddy-duddy from other posts.. then I saw the headline, and I was intrigued as to what you would write... didn't dissapoint. You sorely miss that the main income for Disney comes from Families with little ones. I have two. A 6 year old girl, and a 3 year old boy. And yes they love Disney, and the princesses. And yes, it is one main reason we love Disney so much. They cater to my little ones. But not only them, but me as well. If you don't like the loud kids, you need to get over it. Disney is a family experience, and whether you like it or not, that includes kids. Relegating them to one small corner just to satisy a small group that hordes the experience by tying tables up for 2 hours or more is not in Disney's best financial interest.

You miss the boatt on so many things. You enjoy standing in long lines to get the atmosphere. Not me. I'd rather enjoy the attraction multiple times using my trusty Fast Pass. And no, I don't miss the little things. I notice quite a few of them. I enjoy looking for the little touches that make it special. Things that disney does that no one else does. But does that mean I want to stand in line for an hour in the sweltering heat when I don't have to... no way!

But I digress. The princesses are huge, and they a re big draw for Disney. I do want to correct you though... The princesses are not at Akerhaus at lunch. Just so you know! At least they were't last week.

Epcot82 said...

Wow. I don't think I'm an "old fuddy-duddy."

Where we digress is that the main income for Disney is actually not families with kids, or at least, it hasn't traditionally been. That's the big point to understand. Look around you at Walt Disney World -- carefully -- and you're going to see something pretty surprising. Adults without children. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. Young adults. Senior citizens. Newlyweds.

Why, Disney used to be so aware of this phenomenon that it used to have this event every year called the "Disneyana Convention," where grown-ups would spend thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) to come in to Florida to do nothing but hear Disney speakers, buy Disney products and go to the Disney parks.

Disney is absolutely a family experience ... but for the whole family. That's what used to set it apart: Parents, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters ... they could all enjoy it together, and nothing would be inappropriate for anyone else. Does that mean a single ride or show must entertain every single person? No, but it means everyone must be able to at least enjoy the experience together.

I don't get that feeling at Akershus or Princess events, which are intended for an incredibly narrow audience of very young girls. Sorry, I just don't. It's so "niche" as to be exclusionary, whereas a "non-Princess" Akershus was something everyone could enjoy and left no one out.

Since you mention Disney's best financial interests, let's just say that I'm going to Walt Disney World on a long vacation this fall, and I'm spending close to $7,000 to do it ... for two people. So, as much as I honor and respect your feeling that families with kids are the ones Disney should be catering to, I look at the flip side and say, "No, they should be catering to people like me."

You know what? We're BOTH right. Make entertainment and experiences we all can enjoy -- that's what I hope Disney will start doing again, not creating experiences "just" for kids, "just" for teens, "just" for boys, "just" for girls. Trust me, when your girls are grown and you go back to Disney World without them, you'll understand what I mean.

But thanks for reading the blog!

Epcot82 said...

The festivals (Food & Wine, Flower & Garden) are great additions to Epcot, but I've always wondered why -- after so many years of doing them -- Disney hasn't found a way to make the booths and spaces feel more organic to the park. They're just like flea-market tents.

But in spirit and style, they capture exactly the idea of innovation, creation and discovery that Epcot should embrace more frequently. And, to the point that was raised in another comment elsewhere about Disney being for kids ... you don't see many kids at these events, but you do see a lot of grown-ups shelling out a lot of cash!

Anonymous said...

I can sympathize with you Epcot82. I know I missed the boat on this post but I did a google search for `epcot norwegian food' and bingo here is this 3rd result :) I loved Akershus for a different reason. I am of norwegian descent so the whole dining experience meant a little bit more to me. It was my culture and there was even a map with the city of Eikeland on it my last name.

That is not all though, Epcot was originally designed no as a theme park but as the Electrically Powered City of Tomorrow. It was designed to be a place for the top minds of the world to go and help the advancement of all human kind. This was designed by Walt himself. He of course passed before ground was even broke on the project. Anyway in a way they carried on his vision. When I first went to Epcot as a child it was designed to teach children about the world and our place in it. Science, Fossil Fuels, Etc Etc. Anyway here is my point. I think it is wonderful that they are trying to get kids to come to Epcot. I believe though that they have lost the point. It has deviated from learning and is trying to be more like Disney World. You want Charachter Breakfasts go to Disney. There are 11 other Charachter meals at the different parks. We really needed another one?

Epcot82 said...

I'm sorry that you lost a bit of your cultural heritage as told by Disney, Lance. But, you know, those Princesses just sell so well! That's ironic, of course, because it is a shame that someone like you cannot go to Epcot and find that his or her nation is important enough to feature without adding Disney characters on top of it.

Shellie K said...

I WOULD LIKE TO SAY THAT I come from Norweigan Decent..Oh yea and i've also been to Epcot MANY times...
Unfortunetly I think adults take children and there taste waaay for granted...I visited the "Smogasborg" many times as a child with my dad on our annual trips to Disneyworld.
As a child I would have hated the princess dining. It's unfortunate that parents "dumb" down there
children ito think that a "princess dining experience is better or equal to a "cultural" experience...
Unfortunetly I havent been to Epcot in three years . The last time I went we dined at Akershus and it was still an awesome experience (unfortunetly no longer that) .TOO bad I will not be able to take my son to this amazing and unique restaurant to experience a culture that both he and I share...