Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
Imagine sitting at a table in a restaurant, eating your meal, when suddenly, you hear a rumbling sound--and it's not your stomach. It sounds more like, thunder. Lights flash, brightening up the dimly lit room, and you see a canopy of foliage above your head. You hear the sound of rain as the storm continues, the trumpet of the elephant, the grunting of a gorilla and just when you think it's all over and you can get back to your meal, a waiter runs out from the kitchen yelling 'VOLCANO!'
Almost sounds like some comedy sketch, but in fact, it's a part of the experience at Rainforest Cafe. Many of you may know exactly what I'm talking about--not only can one visit the Rainforest Cafe at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, but there are other restaurants all across the country.
If you've heard anything about the Rainforest Cafe, it's likely been the atmosphere, first and foremost. The entire restaurant is themed to look like a tropical rainforest--from the leafy canopy to the animatronic animals placed throughout.
I've been to the Rainforest Cafe at Downtown Disney in Orlando a number of times and the experience is generally always a pleasant one (there's also a Rainforest Cafe over at DAK--right outside the park gates)--that is, I mean to say I have yet to have a bad trip to the Rainforest Cafe, and I hope the good visits are of a consistent nature.
You can tell you've found a unique restaurant right from the start. At Downtown Disney, one can see the cafe in the Disney Marketplace--looking like a giant volcano. The open-air entrance features an elaborate waterfall, some animatronic animals, and sometimes live exotic birds are on display. After putting yourself down on the waiting list, you can take a look at the Retail Village--despite being a restaurant, Rainforest Cafe is also a store featuring all things earthy and animal-like--from t-shirts to plush animals.
Guests are then ushered into the Gorilla or Elephant Rooms (which are really like two sections of the restaurant, one featuring animatronic elephants, another featuring animatronic gorillas). This is where the atmosphere really comes into play: indoor waterfalls, large aquariums filled with exotic fish, and thunderstorms every thirty minutes. Near the center of the restaurant, the canopy opens up, revealing a nice fiber-optic starscape.
Your waiter or waitress can make or break the service depending on how outgoing and friendly they are. On my few visits, my servers were fantastic, full of energy, and always smiling. It made me feel welcome.
When it comes right down to it, however, the meal makes the experience. The menu is quite extensive, pulling from Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisine--it's a pretty good bet you'll find something you'll enjoy. As for myself, I'm a particular fan of Italian foods, so I ordered the Planet Earth Pasta: penne pasta in a spicy marinara sauce with Italian sausage and Mozzarella cheese. In my opinion, this meal alone really hit the spot.
There's that Volcano, too--a chocolate cake desert topped with ice cream and a sparkler (although in some cases, a simple, silvery blossomy stick is stuck in its place). Bringing the desert out, the server yells 'VOLCANO!' and other waiters and waitresses echo the call throughout the restaurant. Even some guests get into the act. It doesn't make for a quiet meal, but it is interesting.
Besides the extensive store and exquisite food, there's also a full bar under the Magic Mushroom (complete with stools carved to look like animal back ends--trust me, it's more charming than it sounds). There are also educational tours available--designed for all ages. The 30-45 minute tours touch on all aspects of the rainforests, including endangered species and worldwide conservation efforts. Unfortunately, lunch isn't included in the tour, but it's a nice opportunity for folks interested in the jungle and its wildlife. Rainforest Cafe also hosts a number of different events, including birthday parties, corporate events, field trips and more.
When it comes to pricing, an average meal for two will run roughly $50 dollars. Fortunately, Rainforest Cafe also features a Safari Club Card. Fifteen dollars gives you a permanent membership, plus 10% off meals and retail merchandise as well as a number of different member benefits. More information can be found on the Rainforest Cafe website.
If you won't be visiting the Orlando or Anaheim area anytime soon, don't worry, there are Rainforest Cafes all over the country--and they're all listed on the on the official website www.rainforestcafe.com. On a TPI scale of 0-10, I give the Rainforest Cafe a 9-Outstanding for the wonderful execution of its theme and the wide-variety of food on the menu.
And with that, I'm stuffed. Here's hoping I can report on something next week that doesn't threaten my gut and my budget! Still, expect another restaurant review next month. Until then, folks, keep on ridin'!
(We shall now add Joe's enthusiasm for Rainforest Cafe to Kevin's campaign against Tom Sawyer's Island as further evidence of a complete lack of consistent institutional ideology at TPI.)
To me, the Rainforest Cafe is like "It's Tough to Be a Bug," with its interesting, detailed queue and theater -- leading up to a lousy, unimaginative show. A theme restaurant with mediocre food's just as disappointing in my book.
Okay, full disclosure: I'm a foodie who dines at places like Spago and Bastide when I splurge to go out. But there are some places in the theme park world worth dining with -- notably Mythos and Emeril's Orlando. (As opposed to places more appropriately described as refueling while you choke down some mildy tasty, inoffensive grub. See: Pecos Bill.)
Is Rainforest Cafe really worth my giving it another look? The last time I was there, I thought it failed even to live up to the Pecos Bill standard of unassuming but acceptable fare.
It's a matter of taste in the truest sense. While I enjoyed Rainforest Cafe, I actually found Mythos Restaurant unappealing to my own palette. I won't deny that the IOA restaurant serves an exquisite cuisine with a flourish of presentation, but when I ordered the Tomato Salad, I saw tomatoes of colors I'd never eaten in my entire life. I'll default the number one slot to Mythos because of its exotic menu, but I'm a simple kind of guy--I found my meal at Rainforest Cafe more inviting, while the food at Mythos was just too "complicated" for my taste.
That being said, I do admit I've only been to Mythos once, and haven't returned because of the difference between the menu and myself. Perhaps a second trip would prove better (and make for a good restaurant review for next month)?
(For the record, I had some chicken thing. It's been a long time.)
But, to prove that Robert is out of it, I like the food. And I am very picky. It isn't four-star by any stretch but I have never had anything less than three-star at the Anaheim or Vegas restaurants. To add fuel to the fire, I preferred Mythos's atmosphere but really do not remember what I ate at all. Which tells me Mythos is neither fantastic nor awful. But I can remember I had the cheesy dip thing at RC, a cheeseburger and some great drinks. Don't remember the rest, but that may be due to the drinks.
I still have two problems with RC, though. The endless waits are legendary, but almost as legendary is poor service. I have read many reviews on various RCs and service is always brought up. In fact, last visit we marveled at how much better the service was, and it was only average. If there was somewhere else worth eating at in the DLR, I would choose it.
If I'm in a restaurant with a volcano, I prefer it spew margarita mix.
I have one question for you. Since everybody seems to agree that everything is overprices, I would like to know by how much?
If you eat a normal meal, how much more will you pay for the whole meal in dollars? Is it 5$, 10$, 15$/person?
Five bucks for a French Dip lunch at Philippe's is a great deal. But I'll also gladly pay $150 for the tasting menu at Bastide.
A meal and experience that leaves me quesy and anxious, regardless of price, just ticks me off.
Interesting contrasts in opinions.
I was rather surprised by the response from my Rainforest Café review. Thinking perhaps my review was a fluke, I took a second trip to RFC (the Mythos Restaurant review will have to wait until next month) with the intent of focusing on food, service, and pricing.
On past visits, being the pasta fanatic I am, I’ve ordered the Planet Earth Pasta. It’s a great meal, in my opinion. This time, I decided to order something I wouldn’t normally eat—something with chicken. Apparently, RFC doesn’t do chicken right, so I wanted to taste it for myself. Not seeing any BBQ chicken on the menu, I ordered the next best thing: Tuscan Chicken. Balsamic and tomato marinated chicken breast char-broiled and dressed with cucumbers, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and a chive mustard sauce.
When they served the dish, I had to hunt for the chicken. It was hidden under a pile of cucumbers. Thick slices of cucumber. I don’t care for cucumbers very much, but I managed to eat a few slices, along with the Kalamata olives (which are like regular black olives, except they’re very, very sweet). The chicken was tasty (along with the garlic mashed potatoes), but not incredibly tender. Tender chicken can be cut with a fork—I needed to use my knife with this dish.
It had a very interesting taste to it—like a culinary work of art, but unfortunately, it’s not my thing, so I didn’t fully enjoy it. What I did enjoy was the order of Jungle Safari Soup: eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, sausage and spinach lightly stewed in a zesty broth with pasta and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese. I enjoyed every bit of that soup.
I’ve yet to get to dessert, but let me go ahead and talk about the service: my waiter was a guy named Wendel—a friendly fellow. The only real wait I had the entire time was waiting for him to get to take my order at the beginning of the meal, and even then, it wasn’t more than five minutes. Finished with my meal, I asked him how much the Volcano was priced. Not only did he tell me ($12.99), he offered a cheaper (and better tasting, in his opinion) alternative, the Amazon Apple Cobbler. At $7.99, the cobbler is served in a sundae glass, topped with ice cream, whipped cream and cornflakes (at least, that’s what they tasted like). It was a VERY good ending to the visit, but what made it all worthwhile was the presentation. Wendel walks up to me and asks, “Off the top of my head, did I forget anything?” It takes me a minute to realize he has the sundae glass balanced on top of his head! Service AND a show!
The only thing left was the price of the meal. Rainforest Café isn’t just someplace to go on a regular basis. The main dish was $15.99—with an additional $3.99 for the soup—and the $7.99 desert (water is free—all you can drink). Roughly $28 bucks (not counting tax and gratuity). It’s pricy, not something I would (or could) do regularly, but it’s always a treat.
So what’s the big deal? How did a trip to RFC for myself turn out alright but for others not so good at all? Maybe it has to do with location? Maybe the RFCs in Florida are better than the ones in California? Or maybe it has to do with the time of day—or year, even? Maybe it just has to do with the people on staff during the time—the waiters and chefs. When you come right down to it, it sounds like the quality of your experience at Rainforest Café is going to be hit or miss. Perhaps like other restaurants, theme parks and even individuals, RFCs have their on and off days. In that case, cheers to us all for the good times and here's hoping that the bad times were just poor days that won't happen again.
Otherwise, this thread has been great--I love the feedback on both ends. Thanks folks! :-)
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort