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Why my family might take a break from character dining at Disney

Our family generally does at least one character meal on our trips to Walt Disney World. Our kids are currently 9, 7 and 4, so we’re the perfect demographic for these meals. But after our most recent trip, we’re really debating taking a break and considering skipping them the next time we’re on vacation.

Image: Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s 2012

We’ve always enjoyed the chance to meet several characters at once, without having to stand in individual lines or using several FastPass reservations for them. We’ve done many of the character meals available around the Resort and our favorites are generally Chef Mickey’s (we love getting to meet the “big” characters all in one place) and Crystal Palace (for the ability to get into the park early). On this trip, we scheduled a breakfast at Crystal Palace, lunch at Akershus and a dinner at Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine. You can read about our Jedi Mickey dinner experience here.

Image: Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine

So, what went wrong that’s causing us to second guess our tradition? To sum it up, the meals were overly chaotic. We really felt rushed this time. I’m not sure if this is really a change from the norm or if we were much more aware of it this time. There are many factors that come into play here. Our kids still need help getting food from the buffet stations, so we tend to take turns. One person stays at the table watching for the incoming characters and the other one takes one or more children to get food. While filling their plates, we’re constantly on watch, having to keep looking back at the table to see if we’re going to miss a character. This automatically starts the meal off on a stressful note. If we do see a character coming, we all have to run back to the table so we don’t miss the photo op. If we do miss a character, we haven’t really had luck in getting the character attendants to bring them back over before we leave.

Image: Our middle son didn’t make it back from the buffet in time for this photo at Crystal Palace.

Once we’ve finally gotten food for the kids, it’s our turn to visit the buffet (again, still doing the constant checking to make sure we don’t miss a character). Because of our kids’ ages, my husband and I spend a good portion of our mealtime walking back and forth to the buffet to help fill plates. This does not make for a relaxing meal.

On this particular trip, much more so than in the past, our time with the characters was limited and rushed. They barely had time to take a photo before they were hustled off to the next table. Combine this with the fact that we had been so vigilant in watching for them that it’s more than a little frustrating that the kids get so little time with them. I’m not asking for a personal meet and greet time, just would like more than a 3-second photo before they run away. Our kids learned that if they wanted a photo, as soon as the character was nearing us, they were to be up and ready to pose.  At our Jedi Mickey dinner, the characters came so fast and close together, that the kids often didn’t even have time to sit back down.

Image: Princess Minnie Leia at Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine

Now that I’ve detailed some of our poor experiences, I will share a positive one. We really enjoyed our meal at Akershus. Why was this character dining experience so different from the others? The food comes to your table, so you don’t spend all your time up at a buffet, craning your neck looking back at your table watching for characters. This reduced so much of the stress in our character meal experience. Akershus is a princess meal, so our 4-year-old daughter, whose career goal is to be a princess when she grows up, was in heaven. The meal does start with an appetizer buffet, but if the princesses aren’t right next to your table when you arrive, you have plenty of time to get this food. After this, you order from a menu and your food is brought to your table. We didn’t feel rushed and since we didn’t have to deliver our own food, we could relax and enjoy until the princesses came to our table. Another highlight is the fact that they are all “face characters.” Since they don’t wear masks, there was a lot of great interaction between them and our kids. All of these factors worked together to make this so much more of a positive experience.

Aurora at Akershus

Image: Aurora at Akershus

If we do decide to continue with our tradition of character meals, I think there’s a strong chance that we will stick to family-style meals for awhile instead of the buffets. We enjoyed the Akershus experience so much more than the others. In the past, we’ve been willing to overlook the price and the mediocre food in exchange for some fun moments between the characters and our kids. But after the chaotic experiences we had this time, it may be a couple of years until we’re ready to brave these buffets again.

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Leah grew up in a little farming town in Illinois, right on the Mississippi River. Her Chicago-born husband, David, left the city for her, and they're now raising their three children (Jacob, Jonah and Lydia) just 12 miles from her hometown. As the Senior Editor of the DIS (wdwinfo.com), Leah spends a lot of time writing about, reading about, and discussing Disney. So, it should come as no surprise that one of her family's favorite ways to spend time is going to Walt Disney World and traveling on Disney Cruise Line. She also enjoys shopping, watching movies with her husband and doing crafts with and for her kids.


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