With larger than life cartoon characters, the chance to be transported into a magical fantasy world, super friendly staff and providing a space for precious family memories to be made, it's not hard to see why they say that Disney World, Florida, the "Happiest Place on Earth". After all, anywhere that you can have breakfast in a fairy-tale castle has got to be pretty great, right?
But for foodies, there is one place that's even happier than Disney World, and that's Disney's Victoria and Albert's restaurant. A black-tie establishment, where a meal will set you back several hundred dollars, it's the pinnacle of fine dining as far as Disney's offerings are concerned, promising to "evoke another era, when dining was an elegant ritual". Needless to say, it's an adults-only affair.
Now, one former employee has opened up on what it was like to be on the other side of the table, spilling the secrets of her time working as a real-life Cinderella in Disney's fanciest restaurant.
Tucked away inside Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and decked out in an elegant 19th-century style, Victoria and Albert's comes complete with a strictly enforced dress code (no Mickey Mouse ears allowed) and six-month wait for a table. With three different dining rooms, including the intimate Queen Victoria's Room and the even more exclusive Chef's Table, it serves up American favorites, alongside Siberian caviar, Australian Kobe-style beef and cheese selections.
Like most fine dining experiences, it doesn't come cheap; dinner averages around $250 per person, plus an extra $150 for wine pairings, and that's before you've even thought about a tip. Admittedly, the plates look infuriatingly tiny - like seriously, where is the rest of my delicious beef there? - but rest assured, they're part of a seven or ten-course tasting menu.
And it seems that even the finest food critics would agree that hefty price tags are worth it, as the restaurant is actually one of the most highly regarded in the whole country; so far, it's the only restaurant in Florida to hold the AAA Five Diamond Award, 2018 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award, and TripAdvisor's "2nd Best Restaurant in the US" simultaneously. Not bad going for somewhere best associated with a giant mouse, eh?
So what goes into making such an exquisite service? According to Olivia Stultz, who worked as a reservationist at the restaurant through the Disney College Program, which offers students a semester-long paid internship program at the Walt Disney World Resort or Disneyland Resort, it's all about the little details.
It was her job to quite literally make the magic happen by liaising with guests before they arrived to ensure that personalized menus could be created, celebrations noted and the dietary considerations of each diner catered for.
Taking inquiries and reservations from diners, she revealed that her favorite part of the process was helping guests tick the dining experience off of their bucket lists, adding that: "Many of my guest interactions would happen by phone in assisting with booking reservations, selecting gift arrangements, and pre-planning proposals. It taught me that even the little things go a long way."
Olivia did admit the whole being posh thing took some getting used to though, saying: "I came in with an open mind as the fine dining world was completely new to me. (The only restaurant experience I had was in fast food.) And let me tell you, I was shook."
Fortunately, her colleagues seemed like a friendly bunch, saying: "everyone who was working that evening was interested in seeing how I was enjoying my college program so far and eager to teach me."
As most of us will never get the chance to experience Victoria and Albert's *sob*, Olivia kindly let us know what we're missing out on, revealing that all tables are served by two waiters, who already know the names of their guests before they even walk in.
For that extra magic touch, each meal is served on specially-made china and comes with an explanation of how it has been made. Keen to make their guests feel like they're in a fairy-tale, ladies leave with a complimentary red rose at the end of the night.
Reassuringly, it also sounds like the staff get a pretty good deal out of it too, and - as all Disney fans will be relieved to hear - Olivia has nothing but praise for her former co-workers and employers: "During my remaining time as a reservationist, the office staff and management were invested in my professional development and sincerely cared about me as a person. Some of my favorite memories were showing up to work one morning and finding my desk decorated for my birthday and another time for my last day", she said. Nawwwwww.
All in all, this sounds like a pretty good gig for a young waiter or host, considering some of the horror stories that come from working in the hospitality industry. Anywhere that can get their employees say that "even when I did work there, I felt the need to pinch myself every so often to make sure I wasn't dreaming" has got to be pretty great, really.
That said, I'd still rather be playing Belle for the evening, frocked up and filling my belly than working there like Cinderella.