DIS Contributors review meals and entertainment that they have paid for during their own vacations. They only utilize discounts and special offers if they are available to the general public, such as annual passholder discounts, Tables in Wonderland, or DVC membership discounts. They receive no additional compensation for dining experiences or events, so that they may give their honest opinions about price and value.
Contrary to the commercials that show children skipping hand-in-hand with their favorite Disney characters down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, Disney characters seldom appear in the parks without set times, and therefore lines.
Knowing this, my husband and I booked 3 different character dining meals (with the help of our Dreams Unlimited Travel* agent) during our last Walt Disney World vacation to ensure our kids — ages 5 and almost 2 — would have lots of opportunities to meet characters without having to wait in separate lines for each.
Our reservations (each on a separate day of our trip) included breakfast at Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom (with Pooh and friends), lunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom (with Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy), and an early dinner at Akershus in the Norway Pavilion of Epcot (with the princesses).
Character dining is definitely fun and a great way to meet favorite characters, many of whom can be difficult or impossible to find in the parks. Instead of waiting in line to meet one character at a time, which is the way many meet-and-greet opportunities work, you get to eat your way through the wait and meet multiple characters throughout your meal.
We enjoyed our interactions with the characters at each of the restaurants we chose. This was especially true at Crystal Palace, because this was our little guy’s first Walt Disney World vacation and Crystal Palace was his first opportunity to meet characters. He adored them. Despite this, we decided never to book this many character dining experiences again.
Character dining, though fun, is typically a less-than-relaxing experience. For example, when we arrived at Crystal Palace, we were seated in a table likely to be the first stop when a character entered that area, so my husband and I took turns making quick trips to the buffet to ensure we didn’t miss our opportunity to meet one of them. Likewise, in Tusker House, Goofy was walking through our section when we arrived and we weren’t sure which way he’d make his way across the room, so this Mama ran to the buffet, threw a few Mickey waffles on a plate, and ran back to the table.
My fellow parents understand that this maneuver was to ensure Mr. Almost-2 didn’t have a less-than-magical meltdown while we waited for Goofy to arrive at our table. You’ll notice I mentioned getting Mickey waffles even though I said above that we made reservations for lunch at Tusker House. Well, we happened to arrive during the changeover from the breakfast buffet to the lunch buffet (our reservation was at 11 AM), so not only were we trying to make quick trips, but there was limited food available for the first 30 minutes or so (which was understandable but made it slightly more challenging).
Akershus was thankfully a little more relaxing. They have appetizer-type items on a buffet but main dishes are ordered from the menu and brought to the table. While this eliminated runDisney-style trips to and from the buffet throughout our meal, we were still faced with another challenge of character dining: trying to enjoy our meal between visits from the characters.
Now, I can definitely say the challenge of enjoying our meal was not something I noticed until we did character dining with our kids. My husband and I had several experiences with character dining as a couple before we had children (Chef Mickey’s is a favorite) and they did not feel as rushed or interrupted as the meals on this trip did.
That's because there’s less prep needed as the characters approach when dining with older children or just with adults. In other words, my husband can wipe his own mouth sufficiently before standing up to pose with Mickey. Little Miss Eats-More-Syrup-Than-Waffles and Mister I’d-Like-Some-French-Fries-With-My-Ketchup? Not so much!
As each character approached, my husband and I stopped eating, mopped up as much extraneous food from each of our kids’ faces as possible, got them up, brushed crumbs off, got the autograph book ready, and got ready to take pictures. Pictures, of course, that captured some of the most memorable moments of our trip and that we'll cherish for years to come. So, while the memories were well worth the effort, we will likely stick to one or two character dining experiences on future vacations.
My goal in sharing our character dining experiences is not in any way to dissuade you from booking your own, just to give you some insight and considerations before you do. This way you can be prepared and know that, especially if you have young children, you’ll be putting in a little extra effort behind the scenes to create those magical (and ketchup-free) moments with characters.
For more details on the restaurants I mentioned and more, be sure to check out The Disney Dining Show!
*Editor's Note: Dreams Unlimited Travel is the official sponsor of The DIS.