Yosemite's Bracebridge Dinner is the epitome of the old-fashioned Christmas, a sumptuous visual feast. From the performers' jewel-colored costumes to the antique wreaths hung on every window, the Ahwahnee Hotel dining room becomes a setting worthy of the esteemed Squire Bracebridge, the evening's fictional host.
Celebrated since the Ahwahnee opened in 1927, the Bracebridge Dinner is based on a story from Washington Irving's The Sketch Book which describes Christmas Day, 1718 at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England.
Famed photographer Ansel Adams wrote the original Bracebridge Dinner program, which still follows his score of classic Christmas carols. Today, a cast of over 100 people, including performers from San Francisco's Eugene Fulton Chorale move diners to tears with an a capella rendition of "O Holy Night" one minute and have them howling with laughter the next at the antics of the Lord of Misrule (the court jester who has been given rule over the evening).
The word "dinner" doesn't do justice to the evening's seven-course feast. In the past, the menu included Savory Chevre Cheesecake, Braised California Pheasant & Chestnut Pithivier, Roasted Brandt Beef Tenderloin, hot mulled wine and plum pudding. All 335 servings of every course are served fresh in a matter of minutes, a marvel of organization that can only be called a Christmas miracle.
Likes and Dislikes
The Bracebridge Dinner is especially popular with people who have the means to attend, and is often the treat of a lifetime. Children under age 3 are not allowed, and younger teenagers may find it boring (unless they're the kind who like fantasy and Renaissance Faires). Babysitting services are not available during the holidays.
We rate the Bracebridge Dinner 5 stars out of 5 for food, ambiance, entertainment and just good, plain fun. Few affairs are so festive these days, and we wish we could go every year.
Bracebridge Dinner Venue and Crowd Factor
The Bracebridge Dinner is held in the dining room of Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel
Attendance is limited to about little over 330 people per performance, enough to make the occasion seem festive.
Tips for Enjoying the Bracebridge Dinner
- Some people wear evening gowns and tuxedos. At the very least, wear nice party attire.
- You must get a table assignment after you arrive in Yosemite. At the same time, buy wine to go with dinner.
- Arrive early for the dinner to enjoy Christmas caroling, but don't linger when the line forms for dinner. Tables are assigned, but seats are not. The last people seated must crane their necks to see the stage.
- Take all the pictures you like before entering, but Squire Bracebridge asks you to refrain from photography during the meal.
- Stay at a Yosemite Valley hotel and use the convenient park buses rather than driving out of the valley late at night.
Bracebridge Dinner Tickets and Reservations
The Bracebridge Dinner website has information about how to buy your tickets, as well as packages that include lodging and other extras.
The Bracebridge Dinner is an expensive affair, with tickets for dinner only running several hundred dollars per person. Nevertheless, we feel like it's well worth it if you can afford it, providing good value for money even at its high price.
Bracebridge Dinner Basics
- The Bracebridge Dinner is held in December, with several performances between the middle and end of the month. It lasts four hours, with a half hour of entertainment beforehand.
- Bracebridge Dinner website
- Reservations are essential. Before 2002, only a couple of performances were held and tickets were so scarce that they were almost impossible to acquire. Now, supply meets the demand and with enough flexibility, you may be able to get tickets even a week or two ahead of time. However, for the most choices, reserve as soon as you can after they go on sale in late March or early April.
If you like the Bracebridge Dinners (or the idea of them), you may like An American Christmas, played every year at San Diego's Hotel del Coronado.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of reviewing this event. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.