Menu Monday: WHY WAIT IN LINE WHEN WE CAN JUST DINE? Considering the value of Disney’s Character dining.

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Now that Walt Disney World has a fully operational Fastpass+ system, it seems more clear than ever that the days of spontaneous character meet and greets are over. Instead of wandering up to park-goers on Main Street, characters meet with guests at specific locations, at specific times, with specifically designated lines. This translates into more planning, and, possibly, more waiting, to meet your favorite Disney icons.

Character Times
Character Times from the My Disney Experience App

Thankfully, character dining provides another opportunity to meet some of your favorites. As Brian McNichols outlined in a post here a few months ago, Walt Disney World offers a number of different dining experiences that feature visits with beloved characters to go along with your meal.

But is a character meal, which can approach $50 per adult at certain restaurants, a better value than waiting in line for a meet and greet (which has no cost other than Park admission and the time spent waiting)?

In this post, I’ll do my best to put values on character dining and on meet and greets so you can compare and decide how/where you’ll get a picture of little Suzie with Ariel. Read on for an explanation of how I made my calculations, or, if you prefer, skip right to some examples


The How and Why of Determining Value

On the Shoulders of Giants

A little over a year ago, the previously mentioned Brian McNichols attempted to determine value with The True Cost of Character Meals: Are they Worth it?. Brian used a formula that calculated a Leveraged Equity Number, or L.E.N., for a meal at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and concluded that “[b]ased on the math, this particular character meal does not seem worth the time and money it costs.” Brian also came to this overall conclusion from his analysis:

So, is a character meal worth it? It’s hard to say definitively, but the evidence is that it is at least close enough to strongly consider skipping them. The convenience of a character meal versus the potential food quality and savings of the alternative is an argument that this lowly analyst could not possibly settle.

Time – An Alternative Approach

Though I respect Brian’s approach to value analysis, I wanted to incorporate some of the wait times data available here at TouringPlains.com for my own value analysis of character dining. After discussions with my editor, we decided that the most appropriate wait time to use for the meet and greets when calculating the value comparisons would be the mode of the various wait times for the given attraction on a day the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar classifies as level 5 attendance.

Come Fly Away
Come Fly Away – @ John Kivus, 2013

Unfortunately, some of the character meet and greet locations (e.g., the Alice and Mary Poppins meet and greets at Epcot’s United Kingdom Pavilion), are not tracked by the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar. For those, I used an observational estimate of 12 minutes per meet and greet. If you think another wait time is more appropriate, please feel free to substitute it when conducting your own analysis.

My analysis focuses on breakfasts, since it’s the most important meal of the day (and since I have found that character breakfasts, rather than lunches or dinners, provide the best value). If you plan to just have pop tarts at the hotel, you would obviosuly save both time and money, but I am assuming you intend to spend time with your group at breakfast. The control I used for comparison is the non-character breakfast buffet at Boma, which is $20 to $25 per adult, and $11 to $14 per child, depending on the season. For a family of four at mid-level pricing, it would cost $70 for breakfast, not including gratuity.

Selecting a Meal

Again, I will point you to the work of Brian McNichols, who recently posted How to Pick the Right Disney World Character Meal. This post provides a good summary of the character dining options available at Walt Disney World, and suggests good defaults if you are not sure where you might want to go. Additionally, please feel free to take to the comments on this article to give and receive suggestions on character dining options.

Examples

Example One: Princesses

For this example, let’s say that your child (or, let’s face it, you) really wants to meet Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White. One dining option is, as Brian outlined, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.

Prices for breakfast at Akershus vary from $40 to $47 per adult and from $24 to $28 per child, depending on the season. Before you are seated, your group will pose for a photograph with Belle, and during the meal, you’ll meet with a rotating cast of Princesses that may include Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Jasmine, and Snow White. For a family of four at our assumed mid-level pricing, the cost will be approximately $140 before gratuity, or nearly twice the price of a standard Walt Disney World breakfast buffet without characters.

Instead of a meal at Akershus, you could do the following

for a total wait time of between 90 minutes and nearly two hours.

Under his L.E.N. based analysis, Brian questioned the value of a meal at Akershus. When I look at the combination of convenience and time saved with such a meal, however, I see a real value in spending the additional $70 in order to save myself from waiting in lines for almost two hours later in the day.

Example Two: Poppins and Pooh

In this example, let’s say the favorites are Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, and Alice. For this meal, head to 1900 Park Fare.

Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare costs between $22 and $26 per adult, and $12 and $15 per child, depending on the season, with characters including Alice, the Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger too. For a family of four, at mid-level pricing, 1900 Park Fare would cost approximately $75 before gratuity, or approximately $5 more than a standard character-less breakfast buffet. That’s $5 to have breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and get pictures like one below.

Breakfast Date with Pooh
Breakfast Date with Pooh – © John Kivus, 2014

Alternatively, you could attend the following meet and greets:

  • Alice at the United Kingdom Pavilion: Expected wait 12 minutes
  • Mary Poppins at the United Kingdom Pavilion: Expected wait 12 minutes
  • Tigger & Pooh at the United Kingdom Pavilion: Expected wait 12 minutes

Assuming you agree with our 12-minute estimate for these types of meet and greets, you are looking at a total wait of approximately 36 minutes to meet these four characters.

I look at the $5 it would cost to save that 36 minutes of waiting – not to mention the hassle of having to ensure I’m at the United Kingdom Pavilion at the right times for these characters (who are only out for 40 minute increments or so) – and I see a really good value in this character dining experience. If a waiter came up to me during my standard meal and said, “for $5, I will bring Mary Poppins, Alice, Pooh, and Tigger right to your table,” I would accept that offer in a heartbeat.

Example Three: Mickey & Company

In this final example, let’s say that you or your child really wants to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy. To get all four of these characters in a single meal, we’ll head over to Chef Mickey’s.

Chef Mickey’s has prices of $33 to $38 per adult, and $18 to $21 per child, depending on the season. This works out to $110 for a family of four before gratuity, or approximately $40 more than a standard breakfast buffet, to meet Disney’s “Fab Five” of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto.

As you would imagine, there are a number of ways to meet the Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy outside of a meal. One approach to meeting them would be:

which totals just under an hour of wait time.

The trade-off between $40 in extra meal cost and an extra hour of waiting in line is a closer call to me than the $70 for 2 hours of time savings that we discussed in Example One. Though one could argue that you are paying $35 per hour of savings in Example One, and $40 per hour of savings in Example Three, the additional hour of time saved in Example One makes a big difference (e.g., it could mean the difference between having enough time to take a break in Stormalong Bay or having to spend all day in the park to see everything you want to see.) I would lean toward not going the character dining route for this example.

Caveats

If you have read the previously referenced article on character dining, you might have noticed that the a few names are not present, including: Anna, Elsa, Merida, and Tiana (Rapunzel has recently been spotted at Cinderella’s Royal Table, but it is unclear how frequently she is present.) If your goal is to visit these princesses (/queen if we’re discussing Elsa), then character dining is not going to help you. Unfortunately, the same goes for Pixar characters like Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Jessie.

My wife, who is a big fan of Disneybounding, felt that it was very important to add that many characters have different costumes depending on location. For example, you’ll meet mermaid Ariel in her Grotto, while she clearly has legs to walk around Cinderella’s Royal Table and Akershus. Belle, as noted above, sometimes wears her blue dress and apron, but definitely loves to put on her iconic ball gown.

Additionally, almost all character dining experiences come with the disclaimer that “character appearances and entertainment are subject to change.” Though there seems to be some consistency in which characters appear at which locations, there is also a chance that the one particular character you really want to see is unavailable on a given day.

Conclusion

Unlike Brian’s, my analysis indicates a good value in the character dining experiences available at Walt Disney World. Of course, as with most value analysis, the real answer comes from what you as a guest value the most. Is it worth the extra money in the morning to save you time in the afternoon? That really is a question only you can answer. I hope this post at least provides you with a framework and some motivation to make your own value determinations.

Who are your favorite characters to dine with? What other benefits to character dining do you like to enjoy (e.g., early access to the park, sometimes an hour before it opens)? Let us know in the comments.

Tell me When It's Over
Tell Me When It’s Over – © John Kivus, 2014

John Kivus

John is on the long list of attorneys who are also huge Disney fans. He likes to think there's more to him to that, but the jury's still out. John's love and fandom for Disney is only rivaled by his love for his wife Elyssa and his fandom for the Boston Red Sox. Though they live in North Carolina, John and Elyssa try to visit Disney World whenever possible - especially for runDisney events, holidays, special occasions, vacations, and days that end in the letter "y". John can be found on Twitter at @kivus.

13 thoughts on “Menu Monday: WHY WAIT IN LINE WHEN WE CAN JUST DINE? Considering the value of Disney’s Character dining.

  • September 1, 2014 at 11:40 am
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    I always figure you have to take time out during the day to eat, so why not make sure you are maximizing that time by meeting characters while you aren’t out and about in the park. For our upcoming trip we are doing 6 character meals (plus the Villains Sinister Soiree). We also have free dining so why not take advantage of meeting characters? My 7 year old loves meeting the characters, but hates waiting in lines, so character meals definitely make sense for us.

    Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm
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    For my first trip with the kids, I’m planning a dinner at Chef Mickey’s. It’s loud and expensive, and I hear the food quality isn’t great, but… it’s the Fab Five right out of the gate, before we set food in a park. I figure it’ll also decrease the “ohmygosh it’s Mickey; let’s waste an hour in line under the hot sun while daddy’s plans go down the toilet!” problem in the parks. Slam dunk.

    Reply
    • September 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm
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      Meant to add that dinner at Chef Mickey’s will be on the night of our arrival.

      Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 2:56 pm
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    Excellent article! Thanks. I enjoy reading the many ways to quantify vacation choices.
    As for me, sitting and eating and characters come to us always beats standing in line. 🙂

    Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 4:25 pm
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    I love a good analysis. Thanks for a new spin on an old topic.

    Question: I’m assuming that you didn’t factor the length of the actual Enchanted Tales with Belle into your wait time. Not only do you have to sit through the whole show to get a photo with Belle (who will not do autographs at that location), but you also have to participate. You can’t get a photo if you don’t have a role. This may or may not influence the equation for some guests.

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    • September 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm
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      Good point. You are correct, I did not factor in the performance time. I debated whether or not some people would consider the show a benefit or “additional wait.” Ultimately, I decided to simply leave it out of the comparison.

      Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 8:49 pm
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    Oh, how I love analytical posts like these! REally something to chew on. lolz.

    For our first family trip that happened earlier this year, we opted not to do any character dining. We weren’t sure how our kids (5, 3 and baby) would react. But, I also thought that if there were a bunch of princesses, or Mickey and friends walking around, it would be impossible to get my kids to focus and eat.

    I am not paying gobs of money for a meal, to have my kids not eat it!

    I think for our next trip, whenever that may be, we will do at least one character meal. Perhaps on a down day where we can spend part of the day at the resort or something, vs. attacking the touring plan.

    Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm
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    One other thing to factor in…..in some cases you can only find the characters when doing character dining. I haven’t heard of any other way to meet the Disney Jr characters, specificaly Doc and Sophia.

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    • September 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm
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      Sophia does a meet & greet at Hollywood Studios, along with Jake. Not sure about Doc

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      • September 2, 2014 at 2:05 pm
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        Kacie is correct about Sophia and Jake. Also, Doc actually made her debut at the Play ‘n Dine, and–I believe–doesn’t have any other meeting locations.

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  • September 3, 2014 at 7:23 am
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    One other aspect of character meals is the possibility of better interaction with the characters. There is more obvious time pressure waiting in line to see them, so it is a quick autograph/photo with not much else. In contrast, at the Garden Grill dinner we met all the characters at least twice and they had the time to play with the children. Chip and Dale had an ongoing ‘battle’ over who was my daughter’s favourite, and Pluto played hopscotch with her. Worth every penny!

    Reply
    • September 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm
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      Karen, that makes me so happy! We are doing the Garden Grill for the first time as our Candlelight Processional ADR on 12/21 and we were wondering if that was the right choice for a 2 credit meal. We decided to give it a try and keep hearing good things about the food and especially the character interactions.

      We got free QS dining with our package, but paid to upgrade to standard DDP for this exact reason. We love character meals, and paying out of pocket for them is silly when you can get the DDP and eat with characters multiple times! Even though we have our favorites (I think we’ve done Akershus 4 times now) we always try at least one new TS meal per trip. This year we have ADRs at Garden Grill, Chef Mickey’s and BOMA, with 3 more TS credits to plan!

      Reply
  • September 4, 2014 at 4:32 am
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    I hope you have a really good time, Krissy, your plans sound great!

    Reply

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