Recently, in a Parenting Panel column, we discussed how to get young kids used to the Disney characters when visiting Walt Disney World. While some kids are perfectly all right with the notion of a giant cartoon mouse, dog, or duck coming to life right before their eyes, other kids might experience a little anxiety, trepidation, or downright fear. The number one piece of advice that I had to get kids more comfortable around the beloved Disney characters was to make sure and book some character dining experiences. Dining with the characters gives you more quality interaction time with them and affords kids the opportunity to get the most out of these meetings—all in a more comfortable setting.
Some of our fondest Disney memories as a family have taken place at the various character meals throughout the resort. But how to choose? Which ones are most worth the price? Which ones have the best food in the nicest atmosphere? Not so easy when you consider that 21 different character meals can be found spread out over 11 restaurants in all four parks and in five of the on-property hotels.
My choices below take several factors into consideration. First is rating our overall experience at the meal. Some dining experiences just have that extra special dose of Disney magic and it’s often hard to put into words exactly what makes it so special. It just is. The next is the food. Yes, you’re going there to meet Disney characters and have some fun. That doesn’t mean you have to scrimp on the food choices. For example, several of the Disney character breakfasts offer what they refer to as “family style” meals. What that means is that a big heaping plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits is placed in the center of your table and everyone pulls from it to eat. I can’t in good conscience recommend having that kind of breakfast—even at a place as cool as ‘Ohana in Disney’s Polynesian Resort, when just a short ride away on the monorail, at 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian, you can dine at a buffet that has something as decadent as lobster eggs benedict, all for the same price. I realize the experience and the characters are different, and dining with Lilo and Stitch may mean a lot to certain kids, but the lobster eggs benedict is going to win that toss-up in my book every time. Sorry. Sure, I’m going to meet the characters, but I still have to eat… and why shouldn’t I eat well?
With that said, let’s get to it and break down my Top 5 Walt Disney World Character Meals.
Maybe it’s because you get to meet the classic Fab Five characters—Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald. Maybe it’s the coolness factor of the monorail whizzing by overhead or the classic sleek decor of the Contemporary. The food is good, not great, but there’s just something about Chef Mickey’s that has always given us a good time. This past summer, Donald Duck, in particular, was on fire with my twin boys. He was hysterical. Something struck him as particularly amusing about my guys because he put on quite a show for them; stealing their stuffed toys, popping them into his mouth, taking their pens and autograph books. I’ve never seen them laugh so hard. It was truly unforgettable.
If you have a daughter, at some point in time there’s going to have to be a princess meal. In my opinion, this is a much better place to meet princesses than Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is still the hardest reservation to get in the whole resort. First of all, it’s not so impossible to get into Akershus. Matter of fact, we’ve never had a problem booking here, even relatively close to our dining date. Secondly, each time that we’ve been here, the ladies have spent considerably more time with us than their counterparts at Cinderella’s. Finally, the food is quite good. I’d say it’s better than the food served in Cinderella Castle. I love the fact that there is a cold Norwegian buffet first featuring sliced deli meats, cheeses, salads and breads. This is followed up with served entrees such as the delicious traditional kjottkake (Norwegian meatballs, mashed potatoes, vegetables and lingonberry sauce). It’s everything that a World Showcase meal should be—a taste of the host nation’s cuisine in a very cool environment. Only here, there’s a bunch of fairytale princesses thrown in for good measure. Your daughter’s will love it. Your sons will, too, and you’ll enjoy the food, wine, and service.
This breakfast buffet gave us one of our most memorable meals the last time we were there. One of my all-time favorite tips is to book the latest breakfast reservation you can when it comes to a character meal. We’ve followed this advice for years and it has always paid off, never so much as it did this past summer at 1900 Park Fare. Our reservation was in the 10:30 a.m. neighborhood. As we finished our meal, we were one of only two tables left in the restaurant. We were never rushed, never made to feel like we were holding them up from closing out breakfast, and the characters were literally all over us. The kids got multiple visits from Alice, Mary Poppins, Pooh and Tigger, and Belle, filling in for a much-missed Mad Hatter. Alice kept referring to our twins as the Tweedles. We got to take photos with Pooh and Tigger simultaneously instead of apart. It was fantastic. Top this off with a wonderful breakfast buffet featuring the aforementioned deliciously decadent lobster eggs benedict and perfect service, and you’ve got a real winner of a character meal.
For some reason I expected less from the Garden Grill and was very pleased when my expectations were exceeded. The restaurant slowly rotates through the Living with the Land attraction below. The changing scenery kept us all interested. I thought the food was excellent. The basket of warm bread with maple butter is a great way to start. The farmer’s salad, supposedly featuring greens from the Land greenhouses, was crisp and delicious. The food, served family-style, something I don’t typically care for, was fresh and perfectly prepared, especially the char-grilled filet of beef with red wine butter. The bread pudding, the fruit cobbler, and what my son says is the best mac and cheese anywhere round out a limited but solid and tasty menu.
While most restaurants feature open tables, the Garden Grill has high backed booths that look out onto the changing scenery. This creates quite the element of surprise when it comes to characters appearing. Mickey, in his unique-to-this-restaurant farmer clothes, seemed to slap his big shoes on the floor each time he approached, giving us a heads-up. Aside from that, you have no idea that a character is coming until they are there upon you. It makes for some wonderfully surprised looks on the kids' faces. This is a new favorite character meal and one that we will return to often.
This is still our favorite character meal and actually one of our favorite all around meals in Walt Disney World. The Crystal Palace, located at the end of Main Street U.S.A. just outside the bridge to Adventureland, is an enchanting room reminiscent of an 1800s Victorian greenhouse. Pooh and Tigger do appear at 1900 Park Fare, but this is the place to meet them with their friends Piglet and Eeyore.
Once again, we always book the latest reservation possible for breakfast. Despite the fact that they are getting ready for lunch, we have never felt rushed, and the kids always get to spend quality interaction time with the characters. The service here has always been exemplary. It seems like there are veteran Disney servers on staff, and the difference shows.
For breakfast, you can’t beat the buffet. I love the made-to-order omelettes, the abundant fruit offerings, the smoked salmon, the cheese grits, and one of the best things to eat anywhere on Disney property, the breakfast lasagna, which I’m happy to say has returned after a sad and mysterious absence. We’ve eaten here many, many times, sometimes twice in one trip. It’s a “must do” for my family for the warm and fuzzy characters, the delicious food and the classic atmosphere. We always book it on our first day and it’s become a tradition of sorts to kick off our trip with a memorable visit to the Crystal Palace for a great breakfast with Pooh and his pals.
So there you have my top choices for character meals at Walt Disney World. Meeting characters has certainly become an important part of any Disney experience. For me, there’s no better way to experience this wonderful bit of Disney magic than by booking a sit down meal with some classic Disney characters. Get in out of the heat. Get off of the long lines to meet the characters out in the parks. Sit down, relax and let them come to you. Watch your kids bursting with anticipation as they patiently wait for their favorite friends to make it to their table. Watch their eyes light up when the characters finally get there. Take the photos that you can look back on over and over again, much like the ones that I have here.
A visit to Walt Disney World is about capturing wonderful magical moments that can’t happen anyplace else. Sitting down, ordering some good food, and waiting for that favorite character to pay you and your kids a personal visit should always be high on your list of magical moments to treasure.
That’s my list. Let me hear yours. Click on the link below and let’s hear what your favorite spot to dine with the characters is at Walt Disney World.
(Send an email to Chris Barry)
Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.