Liliane Opsomer, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, shares with us The Unofficial Guide on how to choose a Disney character meal.
Character meals are bustling affairs held in the hotels’ or theme parks’ largest full-service restaurants. Character breakfasts offer a fixed menu served individually, family-style, or on a buffet. The typical breakfast includes scrambled eggs; bacon, sausage, and ham; hash browns; waffles or French toast; biscuits, rolls, or pastries; and fruit. Family-style meals, such as at Akershus, are served in large skillets or platters at your table and are all-you-can-eat experiences.
Character dinner buffets, such as those at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian (temporarily unavailable) and Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort, separate the kids’ fare from the grown-ups’, though everyone is free to eat from both lines. Typically, the children’s buffet includes hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Selections at the adult buffet usually include prime rib or other carved meat, baked or broiled seafood, pasta, chicken, an ethnic dish or two, vegetables, potatoes, and salad.
At all meals, characters circulate around the room while you eat. During your meal, each of the three to five characters present will visit your table, arriving one at a time to cuddle the kids (and sometimes the adults), pose for photos, and sign autographs. Keep autograph books (with pens) handy and cameras or phones at the ready.
For the best photos, adults should sit across the table from their children. Seat the children where characters can easily reach them. If a table is against a wall, for example, adults should sit with their backs to the wall and children on the aisle.
Servers generally don’t rush you to leave after you’ve eaten—you can stay as long as you wish to enjoy the characters. Remember, however, that lots of eager kids and adults are waiting not so patiently to be admitted.
When to Go
Attending a character breakfast usually prevents you from arriving at the theme parks in time for opening. Because early morning is best for touring, and you don’t want to burn daylight lingering over breakfast, we suggest the following:
Schedule your in-park character breakfast for the first seating if the park opens at 9 a.m. or later. You’ll be admitted to the park before other guests through a special line at the turnstiles. Arrive early to be among the first parties seated. Be sure to have a park reservation for the park where the restaurant is located.
Go to a character dinner or lunch instead of breakfast. It will be a nice break.
Schedule the last seating for breakfast. Have a light snack such as cereal or bagels before you head to the parks for opening. Hit the most popular attractions until 10:15 a.m. or so, and then head to brunch. The buffet should keep you fueled until dinner, especially if you eat another light snack in the afternoon.
Go on your arrival or departure day. The day you arrive and check in is usually a good time for a character dinner. Settle in at your hotel, go for a swim, and then dine with the characters. This strategy has the added benefit of exposing your children to the characters before the chance encounters they’ll have at the parks. Dinner with Snow White is a special treat at Story Book Dining at Artist Point located at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Read the review by Savannah Sanders from Touring Plans here.
Departure day is also good for a character meal. Schedule a character breakfast on your checkout day before you head for the airport or begin your drive home. One of our favorites is the Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattorio al Forno.
Go on a rest day. If you plan to stay five or more days, you’ll probably take a day or half-day from touring to rest or do something else.
How to Choose a Character Meal
Once upon a time, breakfast was the only character meal at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom, and all reservations were gone within minutes of becoming available each morning. Disney responded by adding character lunches and dinners—and jacking up the price. Now, it’s much easier to get in for a meal during your stay. Also, the opening of the wildly popular Be Our Guest Restaurant in Fantasyland has taken a lot of pressure off Cindy’s.
DISNEY’S ROYAL ALTERNATIVES If you’re unwilling to fund Cinderella’s shoe habit or you simply weren’t able to get an Advance Reservation before young Ariel graduates from college, rest assured there are other venues that will feed you in the company of princesses.
THE CHARACTERS The meals offer a diverse assortment of characters. Select a meal that features your kids’ favorites. Most restaurants stick with the same characters. Even so, check the lineup when you call to make Advance Reservations. Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch is held daily at ’Ohana, the Polynesian-themed restaurant of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Note that the evening dinner does NOT have characters.
ATTENTION FROM THE CHARACTERS At all character meals, characters circulate among guests, hugging children, posing for pictures, and signing autographs. How much time a character spends with your children depends primarily on the ratio of characters to guests. The more characters and fewer guests, the better. The best ratio is at Cinderella’s Royal Table, where there’s approximately one character to every 26 guests. However, Cindy does not circulate (though the other characters at the Royal Table do); instead, she sees her guests for a quick chat and photo opportunity upon arrival.
THE SETTING Some character meals are in exotic settings. Two restaurants, Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom and Garden Grill Restaurant in The Land Pavilion at EPCOT, deserve special mention. Cinderella’s Royal Table is on the first and second floors of Cinderella Castle in Fantasyland, offering guests a look inside the castle. The Garden Grill is a revolving restaurant overlooking several scenes from the Living with the Land boat ride. Also at EPCOT, the popular princess character meals are held in the castle-like Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. Though Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort is rather sterile in appearance, it affords a great view of the monorail running through the hotel. Themes and settings of the remaining character-meal venues, while apparent to adults, will be lost on most children.
THE FOOD Though some food served at character meals is quite good, most is average (palatable but nothing to get excited about). In variety, consistency, and quality, restaurants generally do a better job with breakfast than with lunch or dinner (if served). Some restaurants offer a buffet, while others opt for one-skillet family-style service, in which all hot items are served from the same pot or skillet.
THE PROGRAM Some larger restaurants stage modest performances where the characters dance, lead a parade around the room, or lead songs and cheers. For some guests, these activities give the meal a celebratory air; for others, they turn what was already mayhem into absolute chaos. Either way, the antics consume time the characters could spend with families at their tables.
NOISE If you want to eat in peace, character meals are a bad choice. That said, some are noisier than others. Check our table in the book for what to expect at each.
WHICH MEAL? Though breakfasts seem to be most popular, character lunches and dinners are usually more practical because they don’t interfere with early-morning touring. In hot weather, a character lunch can be heavenly.
COST Dinners cost more than lunches, and lunches cost more than breakfasts. Prices for meals vary considerably from the least expensive to the most. Breakfasts run $45–$65 for adults and $35–$40 for kids ages 3–9. For character lunches or dinners, expect to pay $65–$85 for adults and $35–$45 for kids. Little ones aged 2 years and younger eat free. The meals at the high end of the price range are at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at EPCOT.
ADVANCE RESERVATIONS You can make Advance Reservations for character meals 60 days before you wish to dine. (Disney resort guests can reserve 60 days out for the entire length of their trip, up to 10 days). Advance Reservations for most character meals are easy to obtain even if you call only a couple of weeks before you leave home. Meals at Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, and Story Book Dining at Artist Point are another story.
“FRIENDS” For some venues, such as at the Crystal Palace, Disney has stopped specifying characters scheduled for a particular meal, instead listing a specific character “and friends”—for example, “Pooh and friends,” meaning Eeyore, Piglet, and Tigger, or some combination thereof. Our friends at Touring Plans just reviewed lunch at the Crystal Place. Read more here. “Mickey and friends” with some assortment of Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Chip, and Dale.
THE BUM’S RUSH Most character meals are leisurely affairs, and you can usually stay as long as you want. An exception is Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. Because Cindy’s is in such high demand, the restaurant does everything short of prechewing your food.
BOYS To answer a common reader question, most character meals featuring Disney princesses include some element to appeal to the young roughnecks.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT’s World Showcase, serves family-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Belle are regulars. Entrées are a combination of traditional buffet fare and the occasional Scandinavian dish.
Dinner at the Grand Floridian’s 1900 Park Fare (temporarily closed) features the whole crew from Cinderella, including Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters (breakfast is a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious affair with Mary Poppins and friends, which currently includes Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger). This is a far more economical option for diners wishing to get their princess on, and the stepsisters are an absolute hoot. This meal is also a little more boy-friendly if you’re entertaining a mixed crowd. Finally, remember that your princess may be feeding off your own excitement over eating in the castle—she might be just as happy with a plastic crown purchased in the gift shop and a burger from Cosmic Ray’s. We recommend visiting 1900 Park Fare on a day when you’re not visiting the parks.
If you were unable to get to the Frozen Ever After ride and your little Anna and Elsa really want to experience it without waiting at least an hour in line, consider breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. Pick a day when the park opens early. Next, book the first breakfast seating available, probably at 8 a.m. Enjoy the breakfast, and by 8:45 a.m. make your way outside to the ride, right next to the restaurant, and be the first in line.
Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White is a character dinner at Wilderness Lodge. The prix fixe dinner comes with shared appetizers and desserts, and guests choose their own entrée. Prime rib, roasted chicken, and braised veal shank are among the choices. One of the desserts comes in a smoking box called The Hunter’s Gift to the Queen. You can’t keep the box, but you can enjoy the maple popcorn and chocolate-ganache hearts inside. During the meal, Snow White, Dopey, and Grumpy entertain guests with sing-alongs and a mini parade around the restaurant to the tune of “Whistle While You Work.” They also visit each table for pictures and autographs. At the end of the meal, guests can meet the Evil Queen in front of a themed backdrop. The experience is pricey ($60 adults, $35 children ages 3–9), but the setting comes with above-average food and seldom-seen characters.
Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends takes place at Topolino’s Terrace at Riviera Resort. The
prix fixe menu comes with fresh pastries and a choice of entrées, including quiche, waffles, steak, smoked salmon, and eggs any style.
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For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
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Take it Duck wasn’t on the menu?!