The Wave Review – Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Some meals at Walt Disney World are about the experience. Others are about convenience. On rare occasions, a restaurant provides both: a great meal that doesn’t require an extended wait to get a table. Today, we’ll discuss one such restaurant. Here’s a review of The Wave.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort is one of the most storied theme park resorts ever constructed. It was one of the first two hotels that The Walt Disney Company ever built, as Disneyland Hotel was owned and operated by a third party. When Disney introduced Walt Disney World to the public, they championed the convenience of the Contemporary and even gave it a wienie. The world-famous monorail has stopped at the hotel ever since opening day.
Due to its proximity to Magic Kingdom and placement on the monorail line, the Contemporary is one of the most convenient places to eat a meal at Walt Disney World. You simply jump on the monorail (or ride a bus or a boat) from the park to the resort. In fact, you can even walk if you know the way. The distance from the entrance of Magic Kingdom to the lobby of the Contemporary is less than 1,000 steps according to my Fitbit.
When you ride the monorail, you’ll find yourself on the fourth floor of the Contemporary, one of the best spots on the Disney campus. It has a pair of great shops, an arcade, and two terrific restaurants. Neither of them is The Wave, though. To eat here, you’ll have to take the elevator down to the first floor. It’s tucked away at the back of the hotel lobby, making it extremely convenient.
Of course, these directions assume the monorail as your method of transportation. By taking the bus or walking, you’ll basically enter the building at the right point to enter The Wave. You’ll simply walk past the front desk until you see the entrance to the restaurant. It’s legitimately the closest restaurant to Magic Kingdom that’s not actually in the park.
At The Wave, the theme is water. As you enter the walkway to the restaurant, you’ll notice that it takes on the shape of a wave of water. The metal structures attached to the walls and ceiling accentuate the premise, carrying the effect of the wave into three dimensions. You’re walking through a wave as you enter The Wave.
The restaurant’s interior has oceanic scenery with a slightly futuristic tone. You’ll see lots of deep blues and accompanying lights that add an unusual hue. It seems like something out of an underground club or maybe a cruise ship dining room. As you approach the check-in desk, you’ll see seating areas off to your left and right. The one on the right is an art deco take on underwater dining. It’s definitely different and memorable.
What’s odd about The Wave is that when you enter the dining area, the color scheme changes dramatically. The main dining room is a bright area full of glossy lights. The ceiling and light fixtures still have waves, but it’s almost as if the theme disappears once you’re ready to eat. This sort of design is unusual for Disney. The explanation is that The Wave is an upscale restaurant at one of their Deluxe Resorts. The meal is more important than the theme here, especially since Disney frequently ships dignitaries here.
The Wave is notorious for its availability. It’s one of the few restaurants at Walt Disney World where an Advanced Dining Reservation isn’t needed most of the time. In fact, when Disney has an emergency situation where they need to seat a large group of guests, this place is one of their first calls. Disney loves it because the restaurant serves haute cuisine, has a patrician ambience, and rarely gets booked. So, it has the Disney seal of approval but not a very strong reputation among park guests.
Part of the issue is that it’s in direct competition with Chef Mickey’s on the fourth floor and several sublime eateries at other resorts on the monorail line. The Wave has trouble standing out in the face of ‘Ohana, 1900 Park Fare, Citricos, and Victoria & Albert’s among others. Is that fair relative to its food quality? Read on…
The name hints at the priority of The Wave. It’s a seafood place at its core. Appetizers include Prince Edward Island Mussels and Lump Crab and Florida Rock Shrimp Cakes. These starter dishes hint at what you should expect from the entrees. Several of them feature fish as the primary protein. The Wave has a sustainable fish of the day, Seared Sea Scallops, and other seasonal seafood dishes. Don’t worry if you’re not a fish fan, though.
Several other entrees are more conventional in nature. The Wave offers elevated versions of comfort food like Braised Short Rib and chicken breast. The chicken is especially interesting, as it shows the diversity of flavors at The Wave. This dish is Chili-Rubbed Joyce Farms Chicken Breast, a spicy take on a standard recipe. The kitchen accentuates the dish by adding Mexican Street Corn, Queso Fresco, and Salsa Verde as the sides. The flavor profile is remarkably powerful for what sounds like an ordinary chicken breast.
The Wave is secretly home to one of the best kitchens at Walt Disney World. Several of Disney’s finest chefs have trained here. Due to the quality of the kitchen staff, the food here is quite good. No, it’s not the best at Walt Disney World, but you’ll eat a solid meal here at a reasonable price, at least by monorail restaurant standards. Also, I have to give The Wave credit for offering a cheese plate as an appetizer AND a dessert. That’s an idea that any foodie will love.
The Wave is difficult to review in that you’re not merely evaluating it. You’re also comparing it to the opportunity cost of eating at other nearby restaurants at Disney Resorts. In a vacuum, it’s reasonably priced with savory cuisine. Seafood is the focus, but plenty of other proteins are on the menu. And the desserts are delicious.
Disney caters to some of its most important clients at The Wave. They wouldn’t do that unless they have full confidence in the ambience and the cuisine. It’s a very good restaurant that’s easy to reach and easier still to get a table. It’s just not the best eatery at a monorail resort…and probably isn’t in the top five. You can eat well here for a reasonable price. You can also do better elsewhere.
Personally, I recommend the food at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort more; however, I’ve eaten at and enjoyed meals at The Wave during each of my last two trips. So, the difference isn’t so significant that I won’t eat here. To the contrary, I like The Wave quite a lot.
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