Lines on Opening Day at T-Rex Cafe
Grammy (my mom) flew down from Pennsylvania today to spend a week with us. Our number one son, Brandon, told us he wanted to take her to the new T-Rex Cafe–A dinosaur themed restaurant in Downtown Disney holding its grand opening today. We called them at 4:22pm to see if they were open. They informed us that they opened at 4:00pm for the first time. When I asked if they were taking reservations, they said no and that the line was currently wrapped all the way around the side of building.
So off we went to explore this newest feature at Disney. True to their word, the line was wrapped around one side of the building and we were informed that the wait was 35 minutes to an hour. Mrs. LanceAround and Amber held our place in line while Grammy, Brandon and I went exploring the front of the restaurant.
Before we even reached the inside of the restaurant, our immediate thought was that it looked just like a Rainforest Cafe. There was a large, dinosaur-head shaped podium informing those waiting that “Your expedition is about to begin.” [At Rainforest Cafe the line is, "Your safari is about to begin.] To your right, there is a store that features all manner of dinosaur themed clothing, games and memorabilia. To the left was the cafe. Sure enough, our research uncovered that the cafe was owned by Landrys–The same company that owns Rainforest Cafe.
The restaurant is loaded with audio-animatronic dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes. They are enhanced with creative lighting and fog effects. There are several major room areas, each with a different theme.
The bar is located under a giant octopus whose tentacles wiggle and whose eyes roll. There are large fish tanks around and wondrous jellyfish overhead. Tables are spread around other areas in a cave like environment with dinosaurs that sway their head from side to side. Fossilized bones and geodes adorn many walls, including the restrooms. (Well, at least the “He-Rex” bathroom, I can’t speak for the “She-Rex” bathroom.)
Ice Cave at T-Rex Cafe
One area is themed as an ice cave. The eerie ice-like walls become even spookier every 20 minutes or so as the entire restaurant comes alive when a “meteor shower” rocks the restaurant and the ice cave walls change from milky ice-white to ice-blue, to pink, to purple. Photos that Brandon took during this time have a very Andy Warhol feel about them. The lights dim, the sky shimmers, meteors streak across the ceiling and crash into one another as planets explode.
While the interior was impressive, I was apprehensive about the meal. I used to enjoy Rainforest Cafe, but in the past few years the quality of their food has gone downhill. While waiting in line at T-Rex, I grabbed a menu and looked it over. I was dismayed. Vegetarian options were few and they seemed to go out of their way to promote products such as Reese’s Peanut Butter Smoothies and other well known brands of dubious quality. The line greeter assured me that once inside, the chef (who they called either the “fire tender” or the “fire chef” and who works in the “kitchen of fire”) would come out and let us know which menu items could be prepared vegetarian. While waiting, two different people walked past the line and informed us, without being asked, that it was worth the wait.
Again, true to their word, the wait was only about 40 minutes and the chef was at our table helping us to select some vegetarian entrees. For appetizers, we ordered the flat bread pizza (sans chicken), onion rings, eggplant bruschetta, and waffle fries. For entrees, we got tortellini (one with Alfredo and one with pomodoro sauce), mushroom ravioli, linguine with nothing but Parmesan (Amber’s personal favorite) oh, and a big, well done burger for our carnivorous Grammy. We also got three smoothies and two sodas.
The waiter was very pleasant, although he did not seem to listen very attentively. The rest of the staff was very attentive. We had at least five different employees stop by our table to check on us. At this point, the only noticeable annoyance was the sheer cacophony of noise stemming from the drum beat music, the din of other diners, the bustle of the wait staff and an acoustically poor design that made it impossible for me to converse with my mom sitting at the other end of the table.
The drinks came (without the water we ordered). After getting another staff member to attend to the water, we discussed the pending meal. Mrs. LanceAround was warning me to not be too negative as I was getting hungry and grouchy and preparing myself for a bad experience. I told her that the fact that the chef did not even know the ingredients for the batter on the onion rings (whether or not they were vegetarian) meant that they were not prepared fresh. For entree items priced from $12 to $25 dollars, I argued that at those prices the wait staff should know all the ingredients. She reminded me that the prices had much more to do with the elaborately themed interior and the restaurant was, at best, casual.
Mrs. LanceAround, Grammy and Amber React to the Meteor Shower
Our discussion was interrupted by the arrival of pizza, onion rings, bruschetta and fries. One bite of the bruschetta and Mrs. LanceAround was happily munching away with an expression of “I told you so” and a reminder that I had to blog about the balsamic glaze sprinkled over the pizza and bruschetta that was out of this world. The flatbread pizza was superb–Goat cheese and fresh basil enhanced by the drizzle of balsamic created a very pleasant flavor. The onion rings that I had talked myself into dreading were also the best I had eaten in a long time. Things were looking up!
By the end of the appetizers, we were all pretty full. Had we stopped at that point, the meal would have been satisfying, delicious, and somewhat reasonably priced. But the entrees soon arrived to relatively positive but somewhat mixed reviews. Once again, the waiter’s inattentiveness was evident as Amber was given the wrong entree. Brandon enjoyed his tortellini with Alfredo sauce. Mrs. LanceAround also loved her pomodoro tortellini and I had mixed emotions about the mushroom ravioli. Was it really just average or was I just overfull? Grammy was clearly disappointed with her burger, saying the bun was too hard and the onion ring placed on top of the burger (dramatically presented with a knife sticking like Macbeth’s dagger through the top of the bun, past the onion ring and into the belly of the burger) was not desirable. Amber perked up noticeably when her linguine finally arrived. The Parmesan shavings interlaced throughout the pasta was a nice touch.
We had intended to order the Chocolate Extinction dessert–An impressively presented tray of chocolate brownies, ice cream and the creme de la creme smoldering volcanic glass in the center with who-knows-what creating a mist arising from the glass. Alas, we were too full, so I gave my credit card to the waiter and asked him to go ahead and run the bill. Another mistake.
When the credit slip arrived the amount of $175 for the five of us seemed excessive. I double checked the bill and noticed that we were charged $10.99 for each smoothie that was advertised at $5.99 and Amber was charged for the rigatoni dish she did not order but that they prepared for her. I spoke to the waiter and he called over the manager. They were nice for the most part, but when they explained that the smoothie charge was for the T-Rex smoothie glasses that we get to take home, I informed him that we did not order that. His curt reply of, “well then you can’t take them with you” did not come from a contemporary customer service manual. We informed him that we were happy to not have the glasses and after a prolonged wait our bill was reduced by $28. Again, except for the initial reaction from the manager, our concerns were all responded to graciously.
Crazy Diner Kissing a Dinosaur at T-Rex Cafe
Overall, the atmosphere was fantastic. Kids, particularly, will love this venue. The food was mixed–From acceptable to excellent. The price was reasonable for the venue. The staff was friendly and attentive. And, most importantly, the experience was unique and enjoyable. If you are on a budget, you don’t need to overindulge–A trip to the bar for a shared smoothie or a meal of only appetizers will leave you feeling satisfied and you get all the enjoyment of the venue. But for a special night out, particularly with the kids, this will be a nice addition to the Orlando offerings.
—–***** 5 out of 10 stars for food
–******** 8 out of 10 stars for atmosphere
—******* 7 out of 10 stars for service
—******* 7 out of 10 stars overall