YOSEMITE — Now that you’ve had a trial run in Thanksgiving it’s time to think about a real feast.
It’s not your usual seven course meal, either.
In fact it is the most sought after dinner reservation in the 209 — the Bracebridge Dinner at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel once known as the Ahwahnee before Curry Company established new lows in being a sore loser in the National Park Service concessionaire sweepstakes by trademarking longtime Yosemite names.
Keep in mind this is not your mother’s Thanksgiving meal that the American Farm Bureau Federation says she spent more than $51 preparing this year to feed 10 people. The main course isn’t turkey but smoked filet sturgeon garnished with sweet poached shrimp, watercress, and pickled Fresno pepper.
The meal that includes six other courses will set you back $252 for Tiny Tim assuming he’s 12 and under. Everyone else it’s $320 a pop unless you want the photo package that bumps the price up to $373. The prices include gratuities but not taxes.
So assuming you book a party of 10 with two kids 12 and under be ready to shell out $3,704 — or $4,258 if you want photos as selfies as other photographic equipment is not allowed — if you want to dine next month in style in Yosemite Valley. And remember that doesn’t include taxes.
If you haven’t figured out by now the Bracebridge Dinner is neither legendary or the most priciest meal in the 209 simply because of the seven course meal even those that have partaken in the cuisine say it’s well worth it.
The Bracebridge Dinner is a Christmas pageant worthy of the granite cathedrals towering over Yosemite Valley. It is a delight for all of the senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
The Bracebridge Dinner was born in 1927 as a Yuletide celebration in the grand dining room to mark the completion of the original Ahwahnee Hotel.
It was fashioned loosely on “A Christmas at Bracebridge Hall” at Yorkshire in England in 18th century as envisioned in a sketchbook authored by Washington Irving in 1820.
With a cast of nearly 100 it features opulent settings with costumes to match with music, song, and mirth.
Today’s dinner script stays fairly true to what was created when a part-time Yosemite Valley resident who played the role of The Lord of Misrule for the first two years was called upon due to his musical knowledge to direct the production in 1929. That part-time valley resident was legendary photographer Ansel Adams.
Adams within several years took over the role of Major Domo to rule over Squire Bracebridge’s household to lead the presentation of the larger-than-life replicas of each course of food down the aisle for the Squire’s approval as the chorus sang. Adams was part of the pageantry until 1973.
Originally designed as one performance on Christmas Day, a second Dec. 25 dinner was added in 1956 and then the third performance on Christmas Eve in 1978.
Today there are seven performances: Dec. 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 22.
The Bracebridge Dinner over the years became the proverbial global hot ticket leading to the need to enter a lottery a year in advance to secure a seat.
The craziness to secure a seat for the dinner as bookings are now a thing of the past as the lottery has been replaced by an online reservation system.
The appeal is still there especially if you score an evening in the stately dining hall with soaring ceilings when a light snow is falling outside the imposing cathedral-style windows.
The seven courses include duck liver mousse for the relish, golden beet consommé for the soup, smoked filet sturgeon for the fish, baby jewel lettuce with pomegranate seeds for the salad, Best of Local Mary’s Chicken as the peacock pie, medium poached burgundy wine beef tenderloin, plum pudding, and more.
This is not a come-as-you-are affair meaning hiking apparel won’t do. At a minimum you need to wear a dark suit or a cocktail dress although given this is a world-class musical pageant with cuisine to match, many men opt for tuxedos and women often dress in formal gowns.
Unless you are going to drive up and back in the same day which may be a bit of a stretch given the length of the dinner that starts at 6 p.m. and the wine pairings that go with it, you might want to book a room at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel as pitching a tent doesn’t quite fit the bill. The cost is $946 to $972 a night. If that’s a tad high you can spend $591 a night at the Yosemite Lodge.
If all of this is too rich for your blood and you want a unique Christmas experience, you can always go for the horse drawn sleigh rides Dec. 21 through Jan. 2 offered through the Yosemite Trails Saddle and Sleigh Co. They are 45 minutes apart starting at 9 a.m. and running through 5 p.m.
It’s pure winter magic being on a sleigh with steel runners gliding over the snow while being pulled by Belgian Draft horses as bells jingle. A warm fire along with marshmallows to toast, hot apple cider and coffees are part of the package at ride’s end.
Wagon rides may be substituted if snow conditions aren’t muscular enough.
The cost is $35 for those 15 and older, $22 for those 4 to 14 and free for those 3 and under.
Sleigh ride information can be found at yosemitetrails.com while information about the Bracebridge Dinner can be found at bracebridgedinners.com.