I went to Disney Springs recently to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Drawn to Life,” which features the same high-quality acrobats, aerialists, dancers, musicians and skilled performers you’ll find in other CdS shows but tied together with a storyline based on Disney animations. It’s a good production – maybe not as jaw-dropping spectacular as “O” or “Ká” in Las Vegas but with some terrific moments. (The aerialist and the juggler are amazing but they could have come up with a more thrilling act to close the show than people on swings.) I recommend it.
But I was struck by how things have changed since Cirque du Soleil’s “La Nouba” first opened in 1998 in the elaborate circus tent-shaped building that was purpose-built for it. The entertainment complex itself has transitioned from Downtown Disney to Pleasure Island, and the addition of the West Side, to the current iteration of Disney Springs.
In those early years, one of the most frequent requests I would get – via actual letters or real phone calls on a landline – were from people who wanted to know where they could dine before or after for the whole dinner and a show evening. I didn’t have good news for them.
They could get something just OK at House of Blues but they shouldn’t expect much in the way of a fine dining experience. Ditto Planet Hollywood. Wolfgang Puck Cafe was there, in its original location, but its quality had sagged so much that I could not recommend it. And don’t get me started on Bongos, the dismal Cuban restaurant in the pineapple shaped building.
But look at the place now. The choices are almost overwhelming. And they even include a new version of Wolfgang Puck Cafe, now back under the control of Puck and recommendable.
For my recent outing, I had intended to wine, dine and cocktail my way from one end of Disney Springs to the other, finishing near the Cirque du Soleil theater. I figured my guests and I would begin at Wine Bar George, stop in at Raglan Road or Morimoto Asia, duck underground to Enzo’s Hideaway, the finish at Jaléo.
We started at Wine Bar George and finished at Jaléo, but there wasn’t time for anything in between. That was due mostly to the crowds – every place was packed, including WBG, which would not allow us to stand at the bar – everyone must have a seat, we were told. But a table opened up and we promised we would be there only a short time.
But we ordered the cheese board and some mac and cheese bites to nibble on, and of course had a glass of wine. (Good quality cheeses and really good honey.) Owner and master sommelier George Miliotes was there, as he usually is, and he’s always a congenial host. (Don’t expect him to be on hand when a version of Wine Bar George opens in Terminal C at Orlando International Airport, however.)
But enjoying the cheeses and not wanting to swill our good wines put us behind schedule. We zig-zagged through the throngs and high-tailed it to Jaléo (where we were welcome to stand at the bar) and only had time to order a cocktail – food was not an option – before getting to the show.
My leisurely stroll of sipping and nibbling would have required us to begin at least an hour earlier than we did – two hours wasn’t enough.
So to those who ask me for dinner and a show recommendations now – electronically; I no longer have a landline and I’m not even sure I still have a mailing address – I say choose one restaurant – any of those I mentioned above, but also Frontera Cocina, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, the Edison, Terralina Crafted Italian, Paddlefish or STK – and enjoy a full meal experience before heading to the show.
And be sure to make reservations.