by Lisa

It’s no secret that food at theme parks, generally speaking, sucks, is lousy.  The food lowpoint of our vacation was not, however, what any of us ate or didn’t eat, but the moment when we were standing in the brunch line at our hotel, which was full of great, fresh food, and my husband saw a young boy waiting for his turn at the colorful tray of melons only to have his father push him along, saying, “What are you doing? You don’t need any fruit. Come down here.” And they made there way down to the bacon and sausage and biscuits and gravy–all of which are fine things to eat, but I wish that boy had gotten to choose.

We were all starved for fresh, whole fruits and vegetables. And while the food in Disneyland is pretty awful, they do have carts filled with fresh fruit, including watermelon, wedges of pineapple, and containers of cut mangos. We ate a lot of mango while we inside the Magic Kingdom. But we also quickly discovered that (sit-down restaurants aside) the grab-and-go/cafeteria style food is much, much better at California Adventure, so we tried to eat there as much as we could. Plus, they serve wine and beer, which is always a good addition to a meal when you need a little extra downtime.  Or a boost of courage for, say, Tower of Terror. There’s a new set of restaurants way out on Paradise Pier that serves really good flatbread pizza, fresh salads, and a whole range of grilled mediterranean skewers.  There’s also a lot more ethnic food (Mexican & asian inspired rice bowls) all around the park, and an infusion of California wine country sensibility–which also leans toward fresher, leaner, more seasonal meals.

We made it through all the parks (Legoland, Seaworld)  by eating less meat, seeking out cold fruit instead of ice cream, finding simple salads(lots and lots of Caesar’s), avoiding sweetened drinks, and substituting fruit for fries. Because we were on the road so much, and the choices were generally less fresh than we’re used to, even the kids didn’t complain. Of course we got ice cream & fries and candy and treats, too. It was vacation, after all.  We just didn’t make these choices every day at every meal.

The best surprise of all was a lovely al fresco dinner at Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure (I know. I know.) It wasn’t a character dinner, and the kids have long since traded princessphilia for the adrenaline of the fastest rides they can find, but they dinner came with preferred seating for the night show, which we wanted to see.  The service was excellent, the margaritas sweetened with agave, and the food was really good.  Our appetizer was served family style: a tower of salumes, salads, and olives which the kids also dug into.  My main course ravioli was the best thing I’d eaten in 3 days. Kory’s meal was equally satisfying. And the kids had “meatball lollipops”: lovely little meatballs on skewers atop a plate of spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce.

Dinner. Before the kids attacked the fruit.

What I loved most was the kids’ appetizer, which was ingeneous and a standard part of their meal.  I loved the assumption that the kids could have a first course. It acknowledged the parents’  right to relax over a meal and assumed kids are capable of dining right along with them. I especially loved the cute little green apple jelly.

Watermelon, cheese, and a green apple gelatin

What the kids loved most was probably the family style dessert, which wasn’t great, but was really fun to look at.   Especially the white chocolate film strip.

Happy kids. Happy meal. And for this night, certainly, one of the happier places on earth.