#TBT – Disney’s Dining Experience
The rumor mill has been churning this week with rumblings surrounding the possible addition of a Haunted Mansion themed restaurant at Walt Disney World. Believe me when I say, being the Haunted Mansion Doombuggy Doll that I am, after all the Mansion is my second home, I have been stalking this news and interrogating my sources for days. Not surprisingly, everyone is tight lipped, and we don’t do rumors here at The Main Street Mouse, but we do have Throwback Thursdays, and this one falls right in line with the buzz surrounding the Haunted Mansion.
Way before Tables in Wonderland, an exclusive dining plan existed called Disney’s Dining Experience. This reasonably priced annual paid membership was exclusive to Florida Residents and allowed access to dining experiences with a discount, including opportunities to dine at some special members only ticketed events. One of those hard ticket events took place in 2002 and was a seated five course dinner inside the Haunted Mansion. Yes, INSIDE. I probably would have passed out and died right there had I been old enough to partake in this experience.
Because the internet is a magical place, I learned all about this opportunity from lucky foolish mortals who got to physically experience a night dining in my beloved home away home. If the rumored Haunted Mansion restaurant could be something like the 2002 version of dining in the mansion, Disney can just take all my money now. What you are about to read is the experience all fans of the Haunted Mansion should have at least once in their lifetime.
The 2002 experience was hosted in the month of September, so one can only imagine how hot and humid the evening must have been. Foolish mortals who held tickets were instructed to visit Ghost Relations, I mean Guest Relations, to check in and receive a seating assignment for the event, which was slated to begin at 7:15 pm. Disney spared no expense with setting the mood right from the start. Guests were provided their seating assignments on a 5”x 8” burnt piece of parchment paper that smelled curiously of toasted marshmallow. The event capacity was approximately 70 people, and when all had been accounted for, Cast Members moved the crowd of diners through an empty Magic Kingdom to the Liberty Belle Riverboat where hors d’oeuvres and adult beverages were awaiting guests.
Diners were instructed to board the Liberty Belle and offered a small cup of Guenoc Chardonnay. The evening truly began once the Liberty Belle began moving for a slow riverboat ride around Rivers of America sans the recorded audio track that guests are subjected to during normal park hours. Obviously the best view was the top deck with the Haunted Mansion looming in the distance, but probably an even better perk aside from the view was the unlimited refills to wine, assorted coca cola products, and butler passed hors d’oeuvres.
When guests departed from the Liberty Belle they were escorted to the restrooms before moving towards to the Mansion. Guests gathered in the entrance to the queue area (remember the cemetery was not in existence at this time) where a woman in full Victorian attire introduced herself to guests as Madame Carlotta the mistress of the Mansion. Her appearance gave guests the illusion that she had not seen sunlight in centuries. Madame Carlotta entertained the guests with trivia and jokes, and she explained the five course meal that was about to be savored. Although in her speech she warned guests that the meal was more of a sampling and that there would be no seconds, however guests were given unlimited access to wine, and from the stories I have been told, more than a few guests took full advantage of that perk.
Madame Carlotta then led guests to the main entrance of the Haunted Mansion where the ambiance was further established with jokes and guest interaction to help open the doors in a mystical magical way. Which really was the signal for the Head Butler named Broome to open the doors and let guests in. Broome was also in full butler attire and covered in dust and cobwebs. Broome led everyone to their assigned seats while cracking jokes, often at a foolish mortal’s expense. The mansion had a table layout in three separate rooms; the pre-show room, the stretching room, and the pre-boarding area. Each round table sat 8 people, and was divinely decorated with a lush black tablecloth featuring a velour red and black snake print overlay, the chairs all had matching covers. Centerpieces on the table were a tall mix of greenery and dead twigs with 3 candles floating within the design. The place settings for the evening included black serving plates, a water glass, and five additional glasses for the wine pairings. A piece of burnt parchment paper listing the menu items sat gingerly upon each plate. The back of the menu gave guests a backstory to each haunted winery that had been chosen as the evening spirits. The evening soundtrack was organ version of the Haunted Mansion theme song, and guests seated in the stretching room had an extra ambiance when the lights flickered, the thunder crashed and the portraits stretched.
Cast Members serving guests were in Haunted Mansion attire and placed strategically around the rooms in catatonic zombie positions, frozen in time until brought to “life” by Broome. Guests could not communicate with the mansion staff as they were not allowed to speak to anyone, only grunt, point, and gesture to things. Their appearance was also pale and covered in dust. Once all the guests were settled in a loud bang on the door signaled more entertainment was on its way. A magician by the name of Abner entered to join in on the swinging wake, and guests were treated to card tricks and puns. After the initial entertainment dwindled to an end, Broome began the announcement of the courses. As the night progressed guests were able to interact with Broome, Carlotta, and Abner, which all made rounds to visit guests as they dined.
Photos from firsthand accounts of the plated courses all show a beautiful but creepy presentation of exquisite delicacies. Perhaps my favorite photo of the plated dishes is that of the Raspberry Sorbet on a life-sized Ice Skull with a glowing red disk embedded into the bottom of the skull. That just looks cool, no pun intended. Guests were provided with additional glowing red disks so they didn’t try to pry them out of the skull. Once all the courses had been completed, Carlotta bid the guests adieu by moving everyone to the Doombuggies where guests were allowed to ride the Haunted Mansion and wind down their night. Unfortunately no additional interactions took place as guests rode through the mansion, although the addition of some extra spooks would have been amazing, given that several accounts from diners tell stories of guests who took the spirits on a little too raucously.
After all the diners had gone through the ride, Cast Members escorted guests to the restrooms, and when the group was all accounted for they lined everyone up on the southern side of Liberty Square where the final surprise of the evening was about to blow through. Once guests were far back enough for their safety, the clopping of hooves could be heard eerily making their way down to Liberty Square. The echo bounced off the facades and guests got a private viewing of the Headless Horseman racing through the streets. He made two rounds, and then rode off into the night. Cast Members walked guests to the front of the park where they got to watch what we know today as The Kiss Goodnight. As the park closed Cast Members helped guests to the monorail, and the evening came to an end.
In my humble opinion, if Disney is going to make a Haunted Mansion restaurant, I hope it meets or exceeds what the Disney Dining Experience offered guests. If not, I hope Disney brings these ticketed events back for this Disney generation to enjoy. A 999 Happy Haunts Ball would be sensational as an annual event, like a Haunted Prom, but I guess I’m just Haunted Mansion Disney dreaming now. What kind of dining experience do you think we will see? Let us know!
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