For anyone visiting Walt Disney World with little girls in tow, face time with the Disney Princesses is an absolute priority. In fact, the royal ladies are often treated a bit like The Beatles, commanding a large amount of attention whenever they hit the parks, attracting scores of parents and anxious kids seeking an autograph, a picture, and a little insider conversation. Primarily tips on how to keep a tiara clean.
Sensing a need (or stumbling upon an obscene financial opportunity), Disney has arranged a few stops in the World to simply kick back, get something to eat, and have the Princesses come to you for a few minutes of primo interaction time. It’s simple, but oddly ingenious, playing into parental hysteria by requiring a colossal dining fee just to get in the door. One of those famous eating establishments in located at Epcot’s Norway pavilion, inside the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, sold as “Princess Storybook Dining.”
The storybook submersion part of the experience is shallow at best, but the location offers not only Princesses galore, but also an opportunity to dine inside one of the World Showcase’s more vivid architectural achievements -- a castle-like environment with high-beamed ceilings, cartoon fantasy accoutrements, and stained glass windows, contributing to a festive mood of royal adventure. For a restaurant stop, it’s definitely equal to the rest of the glorious Epcot eateries, capturing a soft sensation of faraway travel only a few steps away from the endless bustle of sweaty tourists.
Princess Storybook Dining is divided up into three courses, the first being a trip to a salad and cold cut bar, where anyone with a particularly inventive palate can fill up on salted meats and cheeses, seafood dishes, and breads of their choice, representing a first step into the Disneyfied depths of Norwegian cuisine. Something about a deli meat buffet sounded so outrageously amusing on the way into the Hall, but once confronted with the selection of the cold stuff, I wilted, awkwardly put off by the idea of padding the meal with static selections when the hot stuff was just around the corner.
The second course requires some menu study to pick out a suitable entrée. Most meals reflect the theme of the land, but there are always a few safe dishes to appease those burnt out on the cold cut buffet. I opted for the Kjottkaker, a traditional meatball dish that remained amazingly flavorful and tender -- a miracle, as I was hesitant to order it, fearing the Disney chefs would provide a dry, cold lump of a meatball, getting away with the bare minimum. I’m no expert on Norwegian cuisine, but the entrée added to the mood nicely. My dining companion ordered the open-faced chicken sandwich, topped off with a squirt of Lingonberry mayonnaise. Fair warning: this place puts Lingonberry on everything. If you do decide on the Storybook feast, start doing Lingonberry push-ups now.
During the meal, the fab four (a fifth Princess is stationed near the door for a photo op that’s included with the meal) hit the dining floor, ready and willing to interact with anyone who makes eye contact. Lacking wee ones to buffer the greeting, my personal time with the Princesses was short and clumsy, with questions kept to the basics of travel plans (I’m local), food preferences (surprisingly palatable), and my favorite member of KISS (Ace Frehley).
The Princesses only spend a few hot minutes with the guests, rotating around the room like a fairy tale version of speed dating, with Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White zipping around trying to encourage as many smiles as possible. While the effect is limited on me, watching kids light up at the sight of these cartoon ladies is fantastically entertaining and sweet, as some nosepickers get a little starstruck when faced with the glittery, overly tanned personification of their DVD daydreams. A Princess visit can be a little overwhelming for some, others take the table action as a visit from a long lost sister, taking full advantage of the brief encounter with fairy-dusted, Lingonberry-smeared greetings and gabbing.
Dessert makes for quite a closer at Storybook Dining, with a trio of sweet treats offered to satisfy guests, including Traditional Rice Dream, Flaky Puff Pastry, and Chocolate Mousse Cake (with Lingonberry). Having three selections to sample and share is a fitting final act to the meal, giving everyone at the table a chance to dig into diverse flavors, leaving on a sufficiently sugary high note.
Balancing the feel of Norway with the needs of Princess worship, the Storybook Dining experience is a marvelous way to get up close and personal with your majesty of choice. And hey, if you’ve never had the opportunity to sample Lingonberry, this is your chance.