Character meals are a version of table service dining at Walt Disney World. During character meals, Disney 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. Most guests find that character meals are worth trying at least once, if only as a rite of passage.
If a character meal is on your to-do list for your next Disney World vacation, what should you consider when deciding which one to choose? What should you factor into your decision-making process? Here’s our list of questions to ask when picking a character dining experience.
I heard character meals were modified during the pandemic. Is everything back to normal?
With minors exceptions, character meals are back to pre-pandemic practices. The character interaction and food have both returned to normal operations. The exceptions are 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Hotel, which has not yet reopened, and Trattorina al Forno which has reopened, but not with their former character breakfast.
Is there a list of the character meals currently available?
Here you go:
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT. Family-style service. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Disney Princesses.
- Cape May Cafe, Beach Club Resort. Buffet. Characters at breakfast only. Minnie Mouse and classic characters in beach vacation outfits.
- Chef Mickey’s, Contemporary Resort. Buffet. Serving breakfast and dinner. Mickey Mouse and classic characters.
- Cinderella’s Royal Table, Magic Kingdom. Menu-based service. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Disney Princesses.
- Crystal Palace, Magic Kingdom. Buffet. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Winnie the Pooh and Friends.
- Garden Grill, Land Pavilion, EPCOT. Family-style service. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chip & Dale and classic characters, including Mickey Mouse.
- Hollywood & Vine, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Buffet. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast features Disney Junior characters. Lunch and dinner feature Minnie Mouse and classic characters in seasonal garb.
- ‘Ohana, Polynesian resort. Family-style service. Characters at breakfast only. Lilo & Stitch and classic Disney characters.
- Storybook Dining at Artist Point, Wilderness Lodge Resort. Hybrid family-style and menu-based service. Characters at dinner only. Snow White, Evil Queen, Dwarfs.
- Topolino’s Terrace, Riviera Resort. Menu-based service. Characters at breakfast only. Mickey Mouse and classic Disney characters in artist-inspired outfits.
- Tusker House, Animal Kingdom. Buffet. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mickey Mouse and classic characters in safari outfits.
How much will a character meal cost?
There is a significant range in prices for Disney World character dining. The adult price for dinner for some character meals is nearly $70, plus tax, whereas the adult price for breakfast at the Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House is about $47, plus tax. Children’s meals are typically about $40-45 for dinner and about $30-35 for breakfast.
If you’re using the Disney Dining Plan, be aware that Cinderella’s Royal Table, Storybook Dining at Artist Point, and lunch and dinner at Akershus require two table service credits per meal.
You may be able to apply an Annual Passholder or Disney Vacation Club Member discount to your meal. However, these benefits change over time so confirm the discount in advance if you are planning to use it.
Which characters will be at the meal?
If your child is obsessed with Winnie the Pooh, no amount of princess dining will fill the bear-shaped hole in his heart. The characters appearing at each venue are noted above. 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.
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 choose “human” princess-centric meals.
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 meal periods. Don’t get your heart set on lunch with characters at Chef Mickey’s, because that’s a spot that currently only offers breakfast and dinner.
While guests with date-based tickets no longer need to have theme park reservations in addition to admission tickets (that requirement went away in early 2024), those using Annual Passes and some other ticket types such as Military Salute tickets may need park reservations. If your ticket requires a reservation, then make sure you can enter the park at the time you want to eat.
Also, consider your child’s attention span at various times of day (including possible time zone issues), nap times, your touring plan, park reservations, 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 in 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 (Animal 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.
Are there other location details to consider?
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, you don’t have a car and you’re staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, 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/Minnie Van). 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.
Regardless of the meal presentation, breakfast typically includes American standards like eggs, pancakes, bacon, fruit, and pastries. There is more variation at lunch and dinner. Since Disney is familiar with the tastes of children, you’ll find that all character meals include an assortment of kid-friendly dishes that are usually “safe”. But if you’re paying the hefty cost for an adult and the adults in your party are limited to the chicken fingers and mac ‘n’ cheese, that might not make you happy.
What is the dining style?
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 prix-fixe menu at a traditional restaurant. You choose what you want to eat from a menu, or some courses (appetizers or desserts) 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 Disney World’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 to Take Away
Character meals can be a fun feature of your Disney vacation. Especially in the summer months, they can be a way to meet characters that meet outdoors in the parks in air-conditioned comfort. Here are the keys to success when picking one for your family;
- Be sure to choose a character meal that fits within your overall budget.
- Make sure you’re reserving the meal that will get you to see your (or your child’s) preferred characters.
- Make sure your child is OK with the type of characters you’ll be meeting at the meal you book.
- Make sure that the character meal time makes sense for you.
- Decide if your ticket situation allows for an in-park character meal.
- Think about how long it will take to get to your intended character meal.
- Be sure your family will eat the food that’s being served.
- Does the service style make sense for your needs?
- Can you secure a reservation in the time that’s available before your vacation? If not, do you have a backup plan?
Are you a fan of character dining? Which meal is your family’s favorite? Let us know in the comments!
Originally published May 2022. Updated January 2024.