How to Choose the Right Character Meal for Your Family

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After at two-year hiatus, traditional character meals are returning to Walt Disney World — the kind where the characters stop by each table to chat, sign autographs, and pose for photos. You’re essentially killing two birds with one stone – eating and getting an iconic photo opportunity. As an added bonus, 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.

Now that this rite of passage has been resuscitated, it may be time for your family to book a character meal during your next Disney World vacation. But what should you consider when deciding which one to choose?

Is the character experience configured the way you want it to be?

During the transition back to normal, not every former character dining location is fully back to its former state.

The following locations have returned to full character experiences and interaction: Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary resort), Hollywood & Vine (Disney’s Hollywood Studios), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), Garden Grill (Epcot), Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge), and Topolino’s Terrace (Riviera resort).

There are highly modified, brief character appearances happening at Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest (both Magic Kingdom). (Note: Disney is not currently listing these as character dining, but a character may appear and wave at guests.)

As of today, Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Cape May Cafe (Beach Club resort), ‘Ohana (Polynesian resort), and Trattoria al Forno (BoardWalk resort) are open, but without characters. And 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian) and Akershus (Epcot) remain closed.

Price

There is a significant range in prices for Disney World character dining. The adult price for dinner some character meals is more than $60 whereas the adult price for breakfast at the Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House is about $40.

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 and Garden Grill. Cinderella waves at you at her Royal Table. Disney Junior characters are at Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios during breakfast while Minnie Mouse and friends are there during lunch and dinner. 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, you might want to defer your character dining until the “human” princess-centric meals have fully resumed.

Other kids don’t do well with being teased or playful banter. If your child is a serious sort, perhaps avoid the Story Book Dining at Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge) which includes a snarky Evil Queen.

What time of day do I want to dine?

Some restaurants offer character experiences throughout the day, others include characters only during one or two of dayparts. Don’t get your heart set on lunch with characters at Chef Mickey’s, because that’s a spot that currently only offers lunch and dinner.

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 Tusker House (AnimalKingdom) 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.

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.

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?

Family-style breakfast at Garden Grill.

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.
  • Family-style service. – 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.
  • Menu-based – 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.

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.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

4 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right Character Meal for Your Family

  • May 8, 2022 at 4:32 pm
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    And really really important – if you are dining at a restaurant in the parks, make sure you have a park reservation for that park – there is no point booking a meal in a WDW park that doesn’t have any park reservations left as YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ENTER THE PARK EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE A RESERVATION AT ONE IF THE RESTAURANTS IN THERE. As soon as you make your restaurant reservation make your park reservation. We saw several disappointed people who had not made a park reservation and couldn’t get to their restaurant booking last time we were at WDW.

    Reply
    • May 9, 2022 at 1:42 pm
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      You make an excellent point. Thank you for sharing.

      The exception to this would be guests with Park Hopper tickets who make later afternoon or evening meal reservations at their second park of the day, assuming that they’ve already entered their first park.

      Reply
  • May 9, 2022 at 2:09 pm
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    If you book a 10:30 reservation at Tusker House do you sstill get access to both breakfast and lunch? I know it was that way pre-pandemic, but haven’t seen anything specifically about that since it re-opened.

    Reply
    • May 9, 2022 at 2:14 pm
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      Breakfast is currently served at Tusker House from 8:00-10:30 am and lunch is served from 11:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. They’ll be switching the food on the buffet line in the intervening half hour. If you have a reservation at, say, 10:00, 10:15, or 10:30, they won’t kick you out during the switch, so effectively you’ll have access to the menus of both meals.

      Reply

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