Would you love to experience all the great table-service restaurants available at Walt Disney World but you’re worried about sitting through a long meal with your children? My kids are 9, 6 and 3, so I totally understand those feelings. However, I think with a little practice and pre-planning, you and your family can be dining at Le Cellier in no time.
First of all, make sure the kids know what to expect. If the only eating out they do at home is McDonald’s, they’re not going to expect a meal at Disney World to last for an hour and a half. A great way to let them know your expectations is to practice with a fancy dinner at home. You could even make a menu and allow them to choose their meals (of course, you’ll only write down the foods that you’ve already prepared!). Have the table all set with the dinnerware and serve them their plated meals. Practice manners such as staying in your seat, keeping your napkin on your lap and speaking quietly. It’s doubtful that your meal at home will last as long as a table-service meal at Disney will, but at least your kids will start getting the hang of how to behave at a fancier meal.
After discussing manners, I think the next most important thing is to plan something to keep the kids occupied during the meal. One option is to hand them a video game, but that’s against the rules at our house. No shame if that’s something you allow, we just have a child who isn’t good at knowing how to shut down without a fight, so we really limit screen time at our house. I think being on vacation at Disney provides the perfect opportunity for tableside conversation:
- Chat about what everyone’s favorite thing that day was.
- What are they looking forward to tomorrow?
- What’s the one souvenir they’re hoping to get?
- Is there something they have learned on the trip so far?
- What are they looking forward to telling their friends back home about?
Have some word play games in the back of your mind that everyone can participate in. These will come in handy many times with kids – in an attraction line, waiting for the doctor, driving to the store, etc. My standbys are the old ABC game, We’re Going on a Picnic and a “circle poem.” The ABC game is where someone starts with A and has to come up with something that starts with that letter, then you keep going around the table and through the alphabet. We like to play using words that are related to Disney. For “We’re Going on a Picnic,” one person starts by saying “We’re going on a picnic and we’re taking…” and names something that begins with an A. The next person has to repeat the opening phrase, the original A item, plus add a B item. This can get funny as the list gets longer and longer and people start to forget the items. A circle poem is something my friends and I would do in high school when we had a long wait. Someone says a word, then the next person says the first word that the original word makes them think of, and so on. You keep going this way until you get back to the original word. My kids love this game! They might sound silly, but these games can be really fun and are always different, so they will take up some time and keep the kids engaged.
The children’s menus at Disney restaurants have some games on them, like word searches, crossword puzzles and sketching activities. The kids will be given some crayons to complete these activities. Depending on their ages, these may or may not keep the kids busy for very long. My youngest can’t do any that require reading and my oldest gets them done too quickly. If you keep a pad of paper in your bag (can even be a pad of post-its), you can easily do another drawing game that will involve the whole family. For this one, the first person draws a shape, then passes the paper to the next person. That person adds one thing to the drawing and passes it on. It’s funny to see what the drawing ends up becoming when so many people are “helping.” On another note, you can do something similar with telling a story out loud. Each person can add a sentence or two, which really can result in some crazy stories.
Now, I know I said we don’t let our kids use electronics at the table. But, there are times when my husband or I will use our phones to lead a family game (if it’s a place where it’s not inappropriate to have a phone out). I have a Mad Libs app that our kids enjoy and is always fun. We also will open up My Disney Experience and play a wait time “game.” Someone will say an attraction and the rest of us have to guess what the current wait time is. Yes, this is nerdy, but our kids have been to Disney a lot and are actually pretty good at this game and really enjoy it.
The last thing to think about is the food. If your kids are like mine, they may not eat a lot of the fancier food that you might think of at a nice restaurant. Luckily, this is Disney, so there are generally some pretty standard kid-friendly options available on the children’s menu. If there isn’t something on the menu that your child would enjoy, you could always check with the chef to see if there’s an option to get plain buttered noodles or rice. Our kids don’t eat most of the food served at Ohana, which is one of our favorite restaurants, so they always order a grilled cheese. As much as I love the menu items at Ohana, the grilled cheese is a double-decker and made with plenty of butter – it looks very tempting! We have also found fun desserts available for kids at many of the table-service restaurants, which can be something for them to look forward to if they behave during the rest of the meal. Just to name a few, Kona Cafe has a make-your-own sundae dessert, Yachtsman Steakhouse has a Mickey puzzle dessert and and California Grill has a candy sushi dessert!
Even with all this practice and preparation, there is still the possibility of a few hiccups in your table-service dining experience with your children. We took our boys to California Grill a few years ago and before we were even all seated, one of them knocked over a chair. Oops. But, as long as you react calmly, it can be a learning experience and the more times you try it, the better it will be. Soon, you won’t think another thing about dining out with your children and you’ll be able to enjoy any of the table-service restaurants you choose. What’s your experience? Do you take your children to any of the fancier Disney restaurants?