On our last trip, we had the opportunity to do the Dine with an Imagineer lunch at Hollywood Studios. We arrived to the Hollywood Brown Derby around noon, and were soon led to a private back room with a group of 10 other people. Our imagineer was named Patrick, and he was a project manager there at Disney World. He’s worked on a lot of things, including a lot of the resorts.
To begin with, he had us all introduce ourselves and ask one question we hoped to have answered by the end of this lunch. He then shared some information about himself, including how he got started as an imagineer. The rest of the meal was pretty informal, and he opened the floor for questions and then expanded on his answers. We discussed lots of things, but I wanted to share some of the most interesting stories and questions here.
- When asked about the opening of the 7 Dwarves Mine Train, which is the current project he is working on, he told us his guess is sometime in May.
- When he started with Disney he answered the phones for reservations. He said that they give everyone a “unique name” so if someone wanted to complain or praise a person they talked with, there wouldn’t be any confusion (in case there were more than one person named Patrick, for instance). Well, he was late to work on the day that they got to choose names from a list, so he only had two left to choose from – Chester or Jose! He went with Chester.
- Patrick worked on the Art of Animation resort, and explained how the Finding Nemo section is designed to scale you to feeling like Nemo, and that you’re underwater.
- John Lasseter came to tour the Art of Animation resort, and one thing he was struck by was the curvy palm trees in the area. Patrick explained to him how the trees had been damaged from a storm and they got ahold of them to use for this area. John Lasseter thought the story was so interesting he asked Patrick if he could use it in his memoirs!
- Working on the Mine Train has been extra challenging because of it’s location – it’s an “island,” so there’s no back way for workers to get in and out, they have to go right through the public area.
- When asked about future plans, Patrick’s comment was “my world is all about Frozen these days.” He also said the company wants to “focus on things only Disney can do.” His example was that no other place could build a resort like Art of Animation, though other places could build things similar to Pop Century.
- I asked him if there was ever a project suggested that never happened that he was particularly disappointed about. He couldn’t give too much information, but he did say there was an idea for a hotel that would have been in between the Contemporary and Ticket and Transportation Center that he was really excited about. He thinks they idea was given up because it was too opulent and they didn’t anticipate enough demand for it.
In case you’re curious about the food portion, I can share info about that too! We had four course meal. First up was soup. The menu had a lobster bisque, but because there were children there the server also mentioned that she could do chicken noodle soup. Rolls and butter were brought at this time as well. Our second course was their famous Cobb Salad. For the entrée, you had a choice between steak, a seafood stew, or a Thai style chicken noodle bowl. Finally, dessert was a trio sampler with a bit of chocolate mousse, crème brulee, and grapefruit cake.
We even got “backstory” on some of the food! The way the Cobb Salad began was because a friend of the owner of the original Brown Derby had just had some sort of dental procedure, and he wanted real food but couldn’t eat anything in big bites. So they invented a salad where everything was chopped up into tiny pieces! As for the grapefruit cake, that came about because a popular gossip columnist that ate at the restaurant wanted some sort of “diet dessert.” Grapefruit was a big fad for dieting at the time, so they made a cake with grapefruit and told her it was healthy – despite all the cake and cream cheese frosting ;)
Overall we had a great time at Dine with an Imagineer. It’s really the people that you are with that will make or break the experience, and unfortunately we had some fellow diners that were a bit of a pain. They asked a lot of questions that were more complaints (“Why don’t the magic bands work better?” and “Why isn’t there a quick service location at Kidani village?”). Those things were frustrating and a waste of time. But Patrick stayed with us for 2 and a half hours answering questions. We also got nice name tags and a souvenir plate signed by Patrick.
Dining with an Imagineer is offered for lunch at the Hollywood Brown Derby three days a week at noon for $64.99 per person. It’s also available as a dinner at Flying Fish Café.