Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dine with an Imagineer at Walt Disney World Resort

After countless trips to the Happiest Place on Earth, I finally had the opportunity to participate in Disney's Dine with an Imagineer program at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida!  The program, which includes a 4-course meal at either The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios, or The Flying Fish Cafe at Disney's Boardwalk Resort, commemorative gifts, and, of course, lunch or dinner with a working Disney Imagineer, is without comparison.  While a bit pricey, around $75 total for adults, I found it to be worth every penny!  The experience is made particularly special by the intimate atmosphere of the event.  Reservations are made for no more than 8 guests, plus the Imagineer, and it takes place in a private room within the restaurant itself; at the Hollywood Brown Derby we were seated in the Bamboo Room, which is usually reserved for visiting dignitaries and celebrities.  My personal experience was particularly memorable, as I was able to dine with my husband and five of my technical theatre students.

At check-in we were given engraved name tags to wear during the event, and keep as a souvenir.  After a few minutes we were greeted by one of the hosts, given a tour of the restaurant with a brief speech about its history (pictures in gold frames came from the original Hollywood Brown Derby), and let to our room where we were introduced to our Imagineer.

My name tag

Our Imagineer was Sarah Matthews, Associate Graphic Designer, and responsible primarily for print collateral.  Rather than tell you all about her, I have included the bio that was included with our event program at the end of this post.  She was very personable, and it was a wonderful experience speaking with her.  She is currently working on the Aulani project, and it was fascinating listening to her discuss what all she gets to do on the print collateral for a project.  The print collateral department is responsible for selecting the font, verbiage, color, paper weight and texture, the logos, and anything else you can think of.  Next time you step into a WDW Resort room, take a look at all the print collateral around the room; everything from the Environmentality card to the resort maps is the responsibility of the print collateral team to design, and produce.  Of course, they are also responsible for the print materials for special events, restaurants, other Disney properties, and more as well. 

I'll admit, at first I was a little bit disappointed when I saw "graphic designer", and "print collateral" listed, as I have a deep interest in the more theatrical aspects of Walt Disney Imagineering, but Sarah was great.  She was engaging, and friendly.  She was not at all irritated that five members of our seven member group were high school students, and offered them a lot of advice on college and career pursuits; as she started with Disney as a college program intern herself.  She easily chatted with them, and listened patiently when they would get a bit off topic.  As I teach a unit on Imagineering in my technical theatre classes, my students have a basic understanding of what goes into Imagineering projects, so they had some great questions which Sarah did her best to answer.  For example, they asked what a typical day in Imagineering entailed for her.  Sarah stated that she is very lucky, and that due to the nature of her day she gets to work a traditional 9-5 schedule for the majority of the year.  She spends the first portion of her day answering emails, and then spends the remainder in meetings with project staff and working at her computer on design work.  Other Imagineers in her division work a lot of evening hours doing signage installations throughout the parks.  Two of my students have an interest in publicity design, and they were particularly interested in how much thought goes into the design of logos, the picking out of papers, colors and fonts, and the time spent putting it all together.  She also brought along her Imagineering hardhat and let them all try it on and take pictures.  Sarah was excited to tell us that in addition to her work on Aulani, she is also currently designing her own set of Vinylmation figurines, and they should be out this fall.  While not a Vinylmation collector myself, I might have to hunt her set down anyway. 

Lunch was fabulous, and included a soup course, salad course, main course and dessert.  The soup and salad courses are a set menu, but one of my students does not eat bacon and they happily brought her a different soup that did not contain bacon. 

Personalized Lunch Menu:


The corn chowder was delicious, and I had to be careful not to eat too much.  The ancho-chili oil had just a hint of spice to round out the flavors in the soup.  The Cobb Salad was wonderful, and it was beautiful!  Each salad either had a flower, bird or swan carved out of vegetables, and they were almost too pretty to eat.  As for entrees, I had the steak, and it was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.  The truffle potatoes were incredibly rich and smooth, and the wine reduction sauce was not too strong.  My husband had the grouper, and thought it was fantastic, and one of my students tried the noodle bowl and enjoyed it as well.  I know that the grapefruit cake is the signature dessert at The Hollywood Brown Derby, but most of us tried the creme brulee.  In true creme brulee form it was delicious.  The consistency was perfectly creamy without being too sweet or thick.  The biscotti was great  dipped in my coffee!  A couple of the kids tried the grapefruit cake, and I had a small bite.  It was good, not too sweet or too tart.  However, the texture of the cake was a bit dry for me.  I have included pictures of the food below for those of you who care to see them, though somehow I do not have a picture of the soup or the creme brulee.

Cobb Salad

Char-Grilled Fillet of Beef

Brown Butter, Almond-Crusted Black Grouper

Noodle Bowl with Grilled Breast of Chicken

Grapefruit Cake

At the conclusion of the event, which last about 2.5 hours, we were presented with a program that included a group photo, and a gorgeous clear glass plate with Sorcerer Mickey, the icon of Walt Disney Imagineering.  Sarah signed both the plates and the programs.  It was really neat, because this was her first luncheon after returning from maternity leave, and they had not been doing the photo and program prior to that.  She asked for a copy as well and had each of us sign it so she could put it in her office.  It was really nice, as she told us it was the most relaxed and enjoyable Imagineering lunch she had had as part of the program, and that everyone knowing one another and not being afraid to ask questions made the event relaxed and friendly.

Event program with group photo

Beautiful keepsake plate.  I don't know why it is isn't like that on my computer.

I would recommend this program to anyone with an interest in how the parks are developed and maintained.  It was highly enjoyable, and each time you participate you will be getting a different experience, as the Imagineers sign up for the program so you will most likely have a different Imagineer each time.  I plan on making a reservation for our next trip as well! 

For reservations call 407-WDW-DINE, visit Disney's Online Dining Reservations page for this event, or contact your travel agent.


  1. Gosh, glad you had so much fun without me :P

    Haha just kidding, that does sound awesome though!

  2. This sounds so great! What an exciting trip!

  3. Just happened upon this while searching for Dining with an Imagineer. Glad you had a good time! It was so great to meet you, your husband and all of your students. Let me know next time you make it back to Disney!