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Sunday Brunch

A Sunday Brunch with Character
April 17, 2011

A few weeks ago when we made Tonga Toast, I mentioned my experience with a Disney Character Meal with Minnie Mouse and friends at the Polynesian in 1993.  Sadly, that was the last time I ever dined with the Disney characters, but hopefully it is not the last time ever.  My family has fortunately had the chance to have two character meals during my childhood.  I felt the need to comment on our very first one, as to my knowledge, it seems to be the most unique and enjoyable character meal Disney has ever had.  True, Disney offers some unique experiences such as dining with Mary Poppins in a Victorian Era restaurant in a Victorian Era hotel, or feasting on a garden fresh meal with farmer themed Disney friends in a revolving restaurant.  Though, the trouble with most of today's Disney Character Meals is that they all follow a similar formula: a uniquely themed environment with an appropriately themed meal, with appropriately themed characters coming around the tables for meet and greets.

I am by no means writing off the Disney character meals-they're terrific experiences that those fortunate enough to attend will really enjoy.  My very first character meal had a lot to offer and it's sad that Disney no longer does.

'So WHAT IS IT?' you ask.  Back in 1991, when I was a little boy of 4 years, my family and I were lucky enough to enjoy a Disney character meal at the now 'legendary' Odyssey Restaurant in Epcot.  Disney fans all know this building as the random, tan building that's never open (sans the bathrooms) at the end of Future World next to Mexico in the World Showcase.

The Odyssey was a counter-service restaurant that opened when Epcot opened in 1982, offering typical American quick service food.  After a good start with the opening of Epcot, the Odyssey soon began to lose business to other Future World counter service eateries, and finally closed its doors to the public in 1994.  Whether the restaurant will reopen in the near future is unknown, though today, the old building contains a Cast Member break room and cafeteria while its main space is rented out for private parties and used for special events (e.g. Epcot's Food and Wine Festival).

My first character meal experience at the Odyssey was certainly a magical moment during my first trip to Walt Disney World.  Much of this trip is a faint memory, though our home videos certainly help me to remember.  At the Odyssey, I do remember the elation and excitement I felt when the characters came to meet us, though the greatest part about this meeting was the lead-up to it.  The Odyssey's dining room was set up with a central stage that rose out of the floor, very futuristic.  It featured live bands, but also a lively, musical character song and dance show featuring Epcot's Future World versions of Mickey and the gang (though Donald is noticeably absent for some reason).  Get ready, though these pictures are from 1991, they have a distinct 1980s feel'


Goofy, Chip, Minnie, Mickey, Dale, and Pluto dancing along to a lively 'Clap Your Hands' song and dance in their 'Astronaut Meets Rainbow Brite' Future World outfits.

The dancing characters didn't limit themselves to the stage, as they stepped down with balloons into the dining room and continued entertaining right by the families as they ate, creating a fun little dinner theater experience.  I don't know if my parents knew how this restaurant worked, but somehow, they managed to snag a table right by the center aisle where the characters danced.  My brother, sister, and I were elated because we could almost touch Mickey and friends.  In fact, we were so excited by their closeness, we actually got out of our seats, which was not the best idea, and tried to dance with the characters. 


Here is my sister, clapping her hands as Mickey dances his way back to the stage.

In the home video, you can faintly hear among the music my dad shouting to my mom in Tagalog to get us out of the way.  The music was too loud for Mom to hear him, and it all happened so fast.  There was a part in the choreography where Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, and Pluto danced their way back to the stage, but Goofy was distracted and got left behind.  When Goofy notices he got left behind, he runs to join his friends.  Unfortunately, I was so excited to be among the Disney characters, I stepped a little more into the aisle to watch them as they danced back on stage, not realizing I'm in Goofy's flight path.  I'm pretty sure he ran around me, but the balloons he was dragging behind him hit me in the face.  In my elation of dancing with Disney characters, I was blissfully unaware of the danger I put myself in.  An important looking man with a necktie proceeded to come down to our table and nicely told us to stay in our seats until the characters were finished the show.  An announcement with the same warning also played on the sound system after the show finale.   It was probably something alarming for a parent to witness, but I'm glad my dad videotaped it as it is hilarious to watch after 20 years.

The party just began with the singing and dancing.  After they were done their show, the characters came back down into the audience.  This was our first character meal, so I'm glad Mom was ready with her camera and Dad recorded the whole interaction on tape.  They managed to capture all the excitement and awe in our faces as our favorite Disney friends came by to say hello.  As they say, a picture's worth a thousand words, so here's 4,000!


Dale signs an autograph as Grandpa reaches to try on his hat.  Meanwhile, Minnie gives my sister a hug.

Due to his large schnozz, Pluto needs to sign up high.  We didn't have an autograph book, so my mom grabbed the only thing in her bag: the envelope her paycheck came in!  I do remember seeing his signature, though I couldn't read it, I did recognize the bone he drew next to the address window on the envelope.


Ecstatic to be in the presence of Minnie Mouse!


When Mickey came by, he had to turn us around because we were too excited to look at the camera. 

Character meals at Disney can get pretty expensive for a large family (especially if not on the Disney Dining Plan) since they are limited to the table service restaurants and buffets.  Nowadays, you would never see characters at a counter-service restaurant, so the Odyssey was definitely a great way for a character meal experience with less of the expensive price tag.  Also, to my knowledge, there are no meals where the characters perform and entertain on stage before coming to meet you.  It's a great lead-up to meeting the characters, and by itself, a nice bonus to a standard counter-service meal.  The whole dining experience was a great way to get the kids and families excited about being at EPCOT where classic Disney characters were virtually nonexistent (even though it was planned to be that way). 

With such a fantastic and unique dinner theater-like experience, why did the restaurant close?  Maybe my incident with Goofy was one of many, so they decided to cease the performance portion.  But then why stop the character meals?  Perhaps providing characters and entertainment with a counter-service restaurant was not worth the costs.  There are certainly some logical reasons as to why Disney shut down the Odyssey Restaurant, but also some of it remains a mystery.  For more on the history of the Odyssey Restaurant, check back next week as we dine 'in the future' by looking at the past.

 

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