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Lunch time at Be Our Guest: Lines, rogue roses, photo ops

Key attractions within the Fantasyland expansion at Magic Kingdom now are officially in "soft opening" mode, a sort of prep period for the area's grand opening on Dec. 6. I dropped in at Be Our Guest restaurant for lunch to see how things are going this week. Here are some of my notes and tips:.

•OK, saying I "dropped in" is underplaying the situation. The line for Be Our Guest, built to look as if it's part of Beast's castle, extended out the building onto the bridge at 10:45 a.m. A cast member told me that the eatery opens at 10:30 a.m. but folks have started lining up at 10 a.m. After waiting about 15 minutes in the sun, I had made it inside … only to discover more line. It was about 35 minutes from the time I joined the line to the time I placed my order.

•Once inside, there were plenty of nice design touches to occupy the mind. Wow, those gargoyles have impressive abs — and sour expressions. I liked the suits of armor that line the hallway to the ordering station. That hallway also has the menu on screens built into pedestals. Some folks in our group held up the line, poring over the choices as if they'd never get another chance. Don't worry, the selections are presented again — and larger — in the next room. (The menu also is posted outside the gates.)

•At the end of hallway was a bottleneck. There was one station with one cast member to distribute rose-inspired pager to every party in line. She activated the pager, and then another cast member sent me to an ordering station according to method of payment. Then, yet another cast member talked me through the ordering process, which included putting my rose near a monitor so the computer would recognize me. It didn't work. Dude joked that I had broken it. It was a joke, I know, I know, but after waiting for that long just to order, I was a little miffed by the implication that somehow I was holding up the process. Wow, I really needed to eat. Paging Mr. Rumpy, Mr. G. Rumpy.

•After ordering I exited into the ballroom, a wide-open space that definitely brings "Beauty and the Beast" to mind. (Do look up and admire the ceiling and chandeliers.) I asked to eat in the West Wing, a room I had not seen yet. I was surprised by how compact that area was – about 15 tables. It's dark in there, so dark it was hard to see which fountain drink you were aiming for. But the darkness and the intimate quarters seemed to be calming to the younger guests. I found it relaxing as opposed to the ballroom, which can take on a mess-hall quality. OK, a very nice French mess hall, but still.

•Soon, a cast member checked on me because I had no food. It didn't seem like it had been that long. I've waited longer at counter-serve restaurants in the real world like Pei Wei. She nabbed my receipt, went into kitchen, came back and said my food would be out soon. It was. That's when I realized that the rose-based notification system didn't seem to be working, at least for us West Wingers. But the staff was impressively attentive in there, and they didn't say "Bonjour!" as frequently as previous workers had. A little faux French goes a long way.

•The food arrived in a nice serving cart. I have to admit that when Disney showed off the cart during a media preview a few weeks ago, I was unmoved. I mean, it's a cart that rolls and (gasp) there's a drawer, too. But when it rolled to my table, I actually felt a little special. It takes so little to make G. Rumpy happier.

•The West Wing does double duty as a photo op. Everyone, myself included, wants a picture of the rose and of the princely portrait (they play a role in the entertainment, too). But that makes for a constant line of amateur photographers seeking just the right angle. I was glad I wasn't sitting at certain tables that drew a crowd. Who wants to eat with Uncle Bill's fanny pack in your face?

•I enjoyed my grilled-steak sandwich. About halfway through I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was eating the same dish at Pecos Bill's restaurant in Frontierland. Was the fresh Be Our Guest atmosphere influencing how I thought it tasted? Maybe a little — and maybe it's worth it. If nothing else, the format allows theme-park life to be more civilized and relaxed. Oh, and I liked the dessert, a chocolate cream puff.

•Remember, there's a marked difference between lunch and dinner at Be Our Guest. The night shift is more schmancy, with servers and French cuisine. And that's the only time you can get beer and wine there. You'll need reservations for Be Our Guest dinner, and the wait is long — weeks, probably months, as opposed to the minutes required for lunch, when no reservations are taken.

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