Noshing In Wonderland #5: Whispering Canyon Cafe vs. Kona Cafe, or: “I can hear old guitars a playing, on the beach at Hoonaunau…”

Boots & I recently hit the 2013 International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot in Walt Disney World, but we couldn’t let our Lake Buena Vista excursion pass us by without a few other miscellaneous adventures in Disney Dining. So this time around, we decided to check out two restaurants at their Deluxe resorts: the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge and the Kona Cafe at the Polynesian. Yes ladies and gents, we witness what can only be described a Breakfast Showdown of the Ages. In one corner, we had the Rip-Roarin’, Rip-Tootin’ Wild West Wonderment and Yee-Haw Yammerings of Whispering Canyon, whereas in the other hand we had the Pervasive Pacific Powerhouse and Pape’ete-Pumpin’ Prowess of Kona. And with that I promise to end all alliteration for the rest of this blog. Anyway… whose will be done? Who came out on top in this Clash of the Hekatonkheires??

Read on…


We decided to check out the Whispering Canyon Cafe, as Boots and I will be staying at the Wilderness Lodge during the 2014 Marathon Weekend in January. I had only been there once about a decade ago, and Boots had never been. As we pulled into the property, we were both pretty impressed with the size, look, and feel of the property. Nestled on the banks of Bay Lake just south and east of the Magic Kingdom, it definitely looked like a fun place to hang out for four nights next January.

"Paging Dr. Freud..."

“Paging Dr. Freud…”

But as much as we loved sightseeing around the property, let’s get to the reason why we’re here today. Located a sharp left after entering the cavernous lobby from the main entrance, this entire area was quite the sight to behold. There were totem poles that reached floor-to-ceiling (several stories high), amid fireplaces, big comfy cozy chairs, and an open, inviting atmosphere. The look and feel was decisively Old West mixed with Pacific Northwest, which really added to a sense of time, place, and theme. There was even a big table full of Lincoln Logs for kids to play with while waiting to be seated.

The staff are definitely garbed in Western attire and are mostly in full character. They’ll play the experience up to the hilt, often talking with a drawl or giving you a heapin’ helpin’ of sass and attitude. Much has been made about what happens when you ask for ketchup or for a “large” soda. I won’t spoil it here, if you’ve never been initiated. Suffice to say, they definitely put on a show for you, if you’re open to it.

Naturally this works to your detriment if you’re looking for a casual, quiet, low-key place in which to dine. The Whispering Canyon Cafe can be loud and seems to be always bustling with energy and activity. They have wooden pony rides for the kids (and more than a few willing adults) which is accompanied by music and hollering over the sound system. If you’re gonna eat hear, definitely know what you’re getting yourself into. If you want a high-octane experience to get you pumped for a day of park-hoppin’ activity? This is your place. Otherwise, caveat emptor…

The interior of the Whispering Canyon Cafe.

The interior of the Whispering Canyon Cafe. Notice the Western tropes painted on the back of each chair.

So let’s get to the eats, shall we?

blgwhisperingcanyonbloodymaryAfter being seated and perusing our menus, Boots decided to go with her favored Eggs Benedict with a side of bacon, whereas I went with the Breakfast Skillet with a side of cheese grits. I also decided, on a whim, to enhance my meal with a Bloody Mary. I’m generally not much of a Bloody Mary fan; I have to be in just the right mood for one. That morning was definitely one of those times. It’s hard to describe, but there are times where you want a bottomless cup of coffee and a kick-your-face-off Bloody Mary to go with your breakfast delicacies, and this was one of those mornings. As you can tell by the picture, they definitely did not hold back one iota when it came to the celery stalk. Otherwise, it was a reasonably decent Skyy Bloody Mary. Just enough hot pepper to make you stand up and say “Thank ya ma’am!” to nobody in particular.

We happily dug into our entrees as quickly as they were served up to our anxiously awaiting table. I think it’s safe to say that we both found are food to be… acceptable. Decent. Satisfying but nothing extraordinary. Here’s a shot of Boots’s Eggs Benedict


Poached eggs, Canadian bacon, Hollandaise sauce. Your basic Eggs Benedict.

… and here’s the Breakfast Skillet:

More poached eggs, chicken-apple-raisin sausage, peppers, onions, and taters.

More poached eggs, chicken-apple-raisin sausage, peppers, onions, and taters.

I generally don’t like poached eggs, but I thought I might expand my horizons with this dish. In retrospect I suppose the best course of action would have been to follow my initial instincts. I think scrambled or even fried might have been a better approach. On the other hand, the chicken-apple-raisin sausages were superb! Very tasty and flavorful. The breakfast skillet ended up being decent and filling, but unspectacular and, surprisingly, a bit on the bland side; it could have been made much better with some kind of sauce accompaniment. I dumped on some hot sauce for flavor, which improved measures considerably. No way I was asking for ketchup.

Now the cheesy grits? They were delicious…


… but honestly, how hard is it to mess up cheesy grits? Nonetheless, I enjoyed them a lot. Boots liked her Eggs Benedict but agreed with me that the food was fine but nothing special. We walked away generally OK with our experience at the Whispering Canyon Cafe, but this is the place to go with your family for comfort food rather than any kind of fine or quirky dining. Think of it like a fun (if somewhat overpriced) diner, and your expectations might be more in-line with what you’ll be getting. Then again, if you’re coming for a fun, lively atmosphere with decent food, the Whispering Canyon Cafe might be more your speed.

blgkona01Well nothing ventured, nothing gained… we spent the next half-hour wandering the grounds in anticipation of our January excursion. As we left we agreed that the Wilderness Lodge was definitely going to be a great place to stay come next January. Cut to several mornings later, when we entered Round 2 of our Breakfast Cafe Showdown with a trip to the legendary Kona Cafe! Nestled in the heart of Disney’s Polynesian Resort, located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House, this is one of our favorite Disney restaurants. And, while we’ve dined there several times before, this was our first time there for breakfast, so it was something of a new experience for both of us.

I read online somewhere that the Kona Cafe’s decor was reminiscent of a 50’s Howard Johnson diner retrofitted with festive South Pacific trappings, and while that may be more truth in that statement than Disney would like you to believe, it’s still a very cool looking joint. Walking into the Great Ceremonial House (read: hotel lobby), past the waterfalls and tropical rain forest atrium, there’s a real sense of peaceful serenity. It is perhaps completely antithetical to the noise and frivolity of Whispering Canyon, which I think was much more our speed.

For comparison purposes, here’s the official Walt Disney World Resort pic:

This photo © Disney,  Disney Parks & Travel. Used without permission. Please don't tell!

This photo © Disney, Disney Parks & Travel. Used without permission. Please don’t tell!

… and one I took (with much apologies for the blurriness):

All that's missing is Pumpkin and Honey Bun.

All that’s missing is Pumpkin and Honey Bun.

And now I’m gonna be frank. Walt Disney World and I are the same age. Vintage ’71, baby. I’ve been visiting WDW since the tender age of 3, so we’re talking four decades worth of Theme Park Geekyness. My cred is established. I hope.

But I have never… I mean never ever… tried the legendary Tonga Toast at Kona.

A bit of history just to provide a bit of context: as mentioned before, Walt Disney World opened in 1971 too much fanfare, but as far as amenities it “only” boasted a single theme park (the Magic Kingdom), two golf courses, the Ft. Wilderness campground, and their two inaugural hotels — the Contemporary and the Polynesian. Positively quaint, compared to the mishegas they got going on now. So the Polynesian has been around as long as Walt Disney World has and, even more, Tonga Toast has been a featured resort menu item just as long as well!

The magnificence of the Tonga Toast is much revered among Disney nerds. And I had never, ever tried it. Until this very day.

So what exactly is Tonga Toast, for the uninitiated? Nothing less than a small loaf of sourdough French Toast, stuffed with bananas and covered with cinnamon and sugar, served with syrup and strawberry compote. I knew I was ordering this going on (with a side of creamy grits), whereas Boots was in more of a protein mood and went with The Samoan entree, which is sort of a Polynesian “Eggs Benedict” variant; poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce, for sure, but served over smoked pulled pork. All this with plenty of 100% Kona coffee and orange juice to go around.

Let’s take a look at the results, shall we? Here is Boots’s Samoan Platter…


… and, at long last, my Tonga Toast!


Again: this is why I run.

I’m just gonna be blunt here: the Tonga Toast is my new favorite breakfast item. It needed neither the syrup nor the strawberry compote with which it was served. As far as sweetness and flavor, it did perfectly fine on its own, with the right amount of cinnamon on top of a crispy outer crust and a moist inside thanks to the stuffed banana interior. Heaven on a plate. The breakfast sausages it came with were fine; nothing to write home about, but they acquitted themselves very well as standard breakfast sausages.

Boots agreed as well; she loved her Samoan Platter more than the Whispering Canyon’s Eggs Benedict. But the ways her eyes lit up when she tried some of my Tonga Toast leads me to believe she’ll be making a bee-line to that entree the next time we dine at the Kona Cafe for breakfast.

And Kona was the clear winner of our Breakfast Cafe Showdown, as if you hadn’t figured that out quite yet. Maybe Whispering Canyon won the sausage battle with their chicken-apple-raisin links, but that’s all they won. Otherwise Kona had them beat entirely. The food was fresher, tastier, and ultimately more satisfying on every level. But let’s be honest: they’re two entirely different experiences altogether. For a fun time with the family in a loud, boisterious, lively atmosphere with agreeable if unspectacular eats, head to the Wilderness Lodge, sit down at the Whispering Canyon, order a large soda, ask for ketchup, make a cell phone call at your table, and watch the fireworks happen. It’s a fun place, no question. That said, I’ll be back at Kona as soon as I’m back up at the World. That Toast ain’t gonna eat itself, I’m tellin’ ya. And here’s the video:

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