Dining with characters is a rite of passage for many Walt Disney World visitors, who consider dining with Mickey to be at the top of their theme park must-do list. But with so many options, how do you decide which character meal is right for you?
First things first – There are at least 15 restaurants or dining experiences in the Disney World theme parks and Disney-owned hotels on site that offer some form of character dining. Additionally, there are a few more authorized character dining opportunities at nearby hotels that are not owned by Disney.
Character meals are dining experiences where you can meet a Disney character in the comfort of a restaurant. With a few exceptions, the characters will come your table while you’re eating, stopping to chat and pose for photos. You’re essentially killing two birds with one stone – eating and getting an iconic photo opportunity. As an added bonus, the vast majority of character dining takes place in air-conditioned comfort, which is often not the case when meeting characters in the parks. This can be a huge factor to consider during the brutally hot Disney World summers.
For more information about meeting characters in general, check out our extensive character greeting FAQ.
When you’re deciding which character meal to book, you may want to think about several factors.
There is a significant range in prices for Disney World character dining. The adult price for dinner at the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella’s Royal Table is $73 (more during peak times), whereas the adult price for breakfast at the Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House is $30. There also differences if you’re using Disney Dining Plan credits to pay for your meal – that dinner at the Royal Table will set you back two table service dining credits rather than one for most other character meals.
Be sure to choose a character meal that fits within your overall budget.
Which characters will be at the meal?
There’s always a chance that a particular character may be ill or otherwise detained during a scheduled character meal appearance, but for the most part the characters at each venue remain consistent.
You’ll get Mickey and classic characters at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary resort. Winnie the Pooh and friends appear at the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace. There are princesses at the Royal Table, Epcot’s Akershus, and Trattoria al Forno at the Boardwalk. Disney Junior characters are at Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios. Lilo and Stitch are ‘Ohana (Polynesian) at breakfast. Other combinations appear at other locations; these are noted on the WDW website.
Make sure you’re reserving the meal that will get you to see your preferred characters.
Does my child have any issues with characters?
Some children are fearful of “fur” characters, those like Mickey who have big, animal-style heads. If that’s an issue for you, choose one of the princess-centric meals.
Other kids don’t do well with being teased or playful banter. If your child is a serious sort, avoid the dinner service at 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian) which features Cinderella’s snarky stepsisters and the Story Book Dining at Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge) which includes Snow White’s Evil Queen.
Make sure you’re not booking a meal that will upset your children.
What time of day do I want to dine?
Some character dining experiences, such as Crystal Palace, are offered at breakfast lunch, and dinner, other meals are only available at one or two of those dayparts. Don’t get your heart set on dinner with characters at Cape May Cafe (Beach Club), because that’s a spot that includes characters only at breakfast.
Consider your child’s attention span at various times of day (including possible time zone issues), nap times, your touring plan, and park hours when considering when and where to dine.
Do I have a park admission ticket? Do I want to use it?
There are character meals available within the theme parks and at the Disney resorts. You will need to use park tickets if you want to eat at one of the character dining venues inside the parks, even if you’re just going to eat. In many cases, this makes the in-park character meals a less than ideal choice for, say, the last day of your visit when you’re leaving WDW during the late morning to catch a flight.
If you’re going to be spending the day in a park anyway, there are some advantages to having an early breakfast inside a theme park. If, for example, you book an 8:05 a.m. breakfast at Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom) on a day when the park opens at 9:00, you’ll be finishing up your meal just as the park opens to regular guests, with you already inside the park.
Try not to book a meal that requires a park admission ticket if that’s the only thing you’ll be doing in the park that day.
Location of the restaurant?
Beyond the inside/outside of the theme park issue, you should also consider transportation options and the time it might take to get to actually get to the restaurant. If, for example, don’t have a car and you’re staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, booking a 7:00 a.m. breakfast at Chef Mickey’s is only realistic if you’re willing to pay for a ride (taxi/Uber/Lyft). In many other situations, getting from one hotel to a distant different hotel using Disney transportation could easily take an hour, or more. Will that impact your ability to get your child to bed at a reasonable hour?
Sometimes just booking the character meal closest to your own hotel makes the most sense.
How loud will the restaurant be?
The larger the restaurant, the louder you can expect it to be. And even some of the smaller restaurants can be a wall of sound during mid-meal parades or dance parties. If you have child with sensory processing issues exacerbated by noise, your best bets might be breakfast at Cape May Cafe (Beach Club) or lunch at Garden Grill (Epcot) that tend to have a somewhat lower ambient sound level.
What is the menu like?
Before booking a character meal, it makes sense to take a look at the restaurant’s menu to ensure that there are items available that you and/or your children will actually eat. All WDW restaurant menus are readily available online.
What is the dining style? Buffet? Table service? Something else?
There are several different types of character meal service, including:
- Buffet, there are many items located in a central location in the restaurant. You walk up to the central location yourself to retrieve your food. Examples include: Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Cape May Cafe (Beach Club), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom)
- Platter-based food, servers bring a heaping platter to your table from a set menu. You don’t get to choose the items on the platter, but you can get more of anything you are particularly fond of at no additional cost. Examples: ‘Ohana breakfast (Polynesian), Garden Grill (Epcot)
- Menu-based, this are served substantially like a traditional restaurant, where you choose what you want to eat from a menu, or a hybrid where some courses (appetizers or dessert) are pre-selected and your entree is chosen from a menu. Examples: Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom), Storybook Dining at Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge)
- Minimal character experience. Example: Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) – at dinner only, the Beast greets guests in a central location in the restaurant. He is the only character available. The food is ordered from a menu. Do not book this expecting to have a full character meal.
- Dance-based character experiences: The primary example of this was Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness. The venue closed in late 2018, but is expected to return in some form at a future date. In case you encounter this, the character interaction here was not the typical situations of characters visiting each table, or characters standing to pose in a central location. Instead the characters had some free dance time in the center of the venue. Kids could take a few moments to dance with their favorites, but there was no guarantee that you would get to dance with all the characters you wanted. This was particularly frustrating with some shy or introverted children. No word when or where something like this might return.
The style of service can have a large impact on your enjoyment of the meal. Some families prefer buffets because finicky children can see what the food options are, thus increasing the chance that food will actually be consumed. Other families dislike buffets because there is a constant “up and down” feel to the meal as family members go back and forth to the food line. Buffets are particularly challenging for single parents of small children.
Are reservations available?
Some character dining experiences, notably Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary resort) and Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom), become fully booked several weeks or months in advance, particularly during WDW’s peak touring seasons. You’re bound to enjoy your meal more if you have a reservation and are seated quickly rather than having to wait for an hour hoping to get in.
What is the weather during my trip?
All the currently available character dining takes place indoors. However, there are several character meals where the pre-meal waiting area is outdoors. For example, the queue for the princess dining for Epcot’s Akershus is in an unshaded walkway. If you’re visiting during the hottest months of the year (April-October) you might be happier choosing a venue where the waiting area is inside and air-conditioned.
What other questions do you have about choosing a character meal? Veteran Disney travelers – what helped you decide where to dine? Let us know in the comments.