Dining among the tumbleweeds at Disneyland's Big Thunder Ranch
Published: April 21, 2009 at 3:43 PM
This new version of the old Big Thunder Barbecue's been open since April 2, and is already packing in... almost no one.
Seriously, it's as if Disney was trying to keep people away. Celebration Roundup & Barbecue is not listed among the Frontierland dining options in the Disneyland guide map. Nor is it listed on the show schedule, despite its character appearances and musical performers. (It is mentioned on the flap of the guidemap, along with other new and upcoming attractions and events, but that's not where folks look when deciding what to eat.)
Disney's hawking Celebration Roundup & Barbecue as part of a media day on Friday, so perhaps the promotions will begin after that. But for now, this is the best place at Disneyland to hog some characters all to yourself.
The barbecue is an all-you-can-eat meal, served family-style at the table (no buffet line!), with Jessie, Woody and Bullseye from "Toy Story" hosting. The price is $28.99 for adults and $12.99 for kids 9 and under, plus tax and an automatic 15% tip. But for some reason, Disney seems loathe to tell you any of this.
Hosts and hostesses out front will ask you if you understand how the menu works - that this is a "fixed-price meal, served family style at the table." Then they will ask you at the check-in desk. And when you are seated. When she was asked for the third time if she understood the menu, Laurie blurted out, "We pay you and you keep bringing us food, right?"
Perhaps the cast members are wired with shock collars that will send 10,000 volts through their bodies if they volunteer the phrase "all you can eat" or "character dinner." One wonders how badly Disney managers overestimated the popularity of a premium-priced character meal during the worst recession in Disneyland's existence, and wanted to keep expectations low and the tables turning. But given the sparse turn-out to date, I'm giving Disney two weeks before we see a giant banner out front of Big Thunder Ranch, proclaiming "An All-You-Can-Eat, Family-Style Barbecue! With Woody and Jessie!"
Jessie's there to greet you as you enter, with a Disney photographer there to capture the moment, like you were entering at a luau or boarding a cruise.
A cast member will come by your table later, with three prints of your photos in a commemorative cardboard frame, for an extra $29.99.
While we were waiting for our food, "Tex Tumbleweed" and "Miss Chris" worked the three occupied tables in the "crowd," with an admirable set of singing, strumming, soft shoe and whistling.
Then, the star of the show arrived, the spread.
Lunch included beans, cornbread, a bucket of barbecue chicken and ribs, corn on the cob (sliced into easy-to-handle rounds) and cole slaw. Drinks are included, and Laurie and I both went with the obvious choice and selected lemonade.
The barbecue was good, not great, tasting like baked meats well-simmered in sauce, rather than pit-cooked or smoked barbecue. The meat was moist and not at all tough, though it lacked the smoky tang that distinguishes "real" barbecue. Laurie and I loved the corn, though, if for no other reason that the unusual cut made this the easiest corn on the cob to actually eat.
While we ate, Woody and Bullseye came on stage to perform their short show...
...then Woody came down to wander the tables and pose for photos.
Finally, once we threw in the towel and ripped open the Wet Wipes on lunch, our server brought around dessert - two cupcakes in waffle cones, topped with whipped cream and presented on an ostentatious metal ribboned birthday box.
I ordered the strawberry shortcake, with a yellow cupcake and strawberries. Laurie went for the red velvet cupcake, with cream cheese frosting. A chocolate mousse with raspberries is also available, and I'd try that if I had another chance, rather than getting the rather dry strawberry option again.
Celebration Roundup & Barbecue is in an awkward place. If it remains unpopular, it's a great deal, with fawning service, attentive characters and unlimited good food. But if it were ever packed to the fences, I don't know that it would remain as good a deal. But I supposed that would have to happen before anyone could tell.
And given the state of the economy, I don't see that happening anytime soon.