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Providing Some Perspective on Character Meals

Friday, April 01, 2011

With most experiences in Walt Disney World one thing if for sure; you are going to have choices to make.  Which park should we visit today, what attractions should we avoid, what characters should we see, what snack should we enjoy next, or one of the most common questions asked; where should we eat?  Choosing a restaurant is one of the biggest and most enjoyable decisions you’ll make before you visit Walt Disney World.  After all, dining at Walt Disney World is a big part of your family’s vacation itinerary. 

If you are a first time visitor or a family that visits Disney World on occasion chances are you’ve decided a character meal is a must.  Paying a visit to the head cheese, the main mouse, or his spouse (Minnie Mouse) is an absolute must.  Maybe Mickey or Minnie are not on your radar.  Your son or daughter may have expressed they wish to see their most favorite Disney character like Stitch, Goofy, Pluto, or even a princess.  In most cases it’s not necessarily the location, the food reviews, or the restaurant’s theme that drives your choice of which character meal to choose.  Most choices are driven by the characters who attend the meal with you. 

Let me go on record right now by saying I feel character meals at Disney World are overpriced for what you get, but I do understand why they are popular.  They are a great way to meet and have some personal time with your favorite characters.  Character meals can also save you some time by combining your dining and character meet and greets together.  You won’t have to wait in a long line inside the theme park if you’ve already seen Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, or Chip & Dale.  Since you’ve already dined and seen your characters you can focus more on park attractions and other experiences.   

So how can you make the most of your character meals at Walt Disney World while easing the burden of the big check that awaits you after you’ve dined?  Here are a few tips to consider. 

  • Book well in advance.  You’ve probably heard this 100 times.  To get the character meal and desired advanced dining reservation time you want make sure to book as close to 6 months before your vacation as possible.  All of the character dining locations at Walt Disney World are very popular.  They tend to book quickly, especially during peak season. 
  • Avoiding the photo package.  Most of the character meals start with your family taking a picture next to a restaurant marquee or with a specific Disney character.  Later, during your meal, you will be approached by a Disney Cast Member who will show you your photo and ask if you wish to purchase a photo package.  Consider having a Disney Cast Member take your family photo at the beginning of the meal with your camera.  This way you can take your photo home, have it developed, and framed without paying the hefty price tag of the Disney photo package.  Also note a couple character meals require you to purchase the photo package as part of your meal cost.  Be sure to investigate which meals include or do not include the photo package.
  • Don’t forget to eat.  With all the excitement of meeting your favorite characters children can push their plate(s) away, especially when they see the characters.  Make sure they eat so they are not hungry 2 hours later.  Eating a substantial meal at a buffet can postpone hunger until later in the afternoon or evening saving you some money on food for the rest of the day. 
  • Autograph books and pens.  Consider creating and bringing your own autograph book from home.  You can theme your book after your character meal or favorite Disney character you’ll meet.  Also bring your own reliable pens with you.  Both the Disney autograph books and pens are somewhat expensive and not as well made as what you can provide during your vacation. 
  • Book your character meal before the park opens.  Most of the in-park character meals can be booked for breakfast before the park opens to guests.  One of the best character meals I ever had was at the Crystal Palace before the Magic Kingdom opened.  Walking up an empty Main St. USA with nobody around can provide your family with a magical experience and some great photo opportunities.  Be sure to take advantage of it if you can. 
  • Character breakfasts are a better value.  No matter how you slice it character meals are expensive.  However, character breakfasts are less expensive than lunch or dinner character meals.  Eating a large character breakfast (especially buffets) can help you postpone your hunger through lunch and maybe into the early evening.  Since you are paying less for the character breakfast you’ll save some money along the way while still seeing your favorite characters. 
  • Don’t miss your opportunity.  Make sure you keep an eye on the characters and know there table rotation.  Once a character is nearby you don’t want to go visit the buffet or bathroom or else you may miss them.  They typically don’t wait for you to get back.  They simply move on to other tables.  Once the character is at your table be sure to get all of the autographs and photo opportunities you want.  Although a character may want to move on be sure to ask them for other pictures and autographs.  They’ll be more than happy to do it even though they seem ready to move to the next table. 
  • Knowing when to leave.  There are times at character meals when you can feel like your meal is getting rushed.  Don’t let the host or hostess set the pace of your meal.  Enjoy your meal at your own pace and make sure you see all of the characters at least once.  Also make sure you are completely satisfied with the food offerings at the buffet.  The only time I ever suggest getting through your meal as soon as possible is at breakfast when the theme park is just opening and you want to experience the attractions with little to no wait. 
  • Don’t forget about the discount.  Character meals, like other restaurants at Disney World, accept discounts.  Be sure to show your Tables in Wonderland card to get your discount.  Since character meals are expensive saving 20 percent can make a difference in the final price. 

Here are my top 5 character meal locations at Walt Disney World based on price, food quality, theme, and character interaction.  It should be noted that character meal experiences can vary day-to-day depending on Cast Member situations, staffing, food quality, and crowd levels, but I’ve found these five locations to be consistently good. 

Number 5 – 1900 Park Fare

Located off the lobby at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort this character meal features Alice in Wonderland characters at breakfast and Cinderella and her royal lineup at dinner.  Like the entire resort this restaurant features a Victorian theme. 

Number 4 – Chef Mickey’s

Located in the Grand Canyon Concourse (4th Floor) of Disney’s Contemporary Resort some guests refer to this location as the flagship of character meals.  It is very popular because of its proximity to the Magic Kingdom and the Mickey Mouse and friends character lineup.  Mickey and his pals are dressed in their cooking attire ready to prepare a delicious feast for your family during breakfast and dinner. 

Number 3 – Crystal Palace

Located inside the Magic Kingdom this location features Winnie the Pooh and his friends in a turn of the century setting.  This is a very large restaurant that can accommodate several guests during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It is a very popular location and reservations can fill-up fast. 

Number 2 – Cape May Café

Goofy and his pals are ready to have some fun in the sun with you as your family enjoys a delicious breakfast.  Located in the lobby of Disney’s Beach Club Resort the characters are dressed appropriately in their beach attire in a sand, surf, and beach themed setting. 

Number 1 – Tusker House

Jambo!  Welcome to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Tucked away towards the back of the park in the Africa section the Tusker House is home to Mickey Mouse and his friends in an African themed village setting.  Characters only appear during breakfast.  This is a large restaurant and usually has good availability.  Be sure to request some Monkey Juice or Jungle Juice (aka Dole fruit juice) when you are first greeted by your server. 

Do you have any character meal tips to share?  Do you feel another character meal is worth your time and money?  Please leave a comment in the discussion forum below.  There are several ideas and opinions to share.  With the amount of choices available to guests at Disney World it can be difficult to make decisions; especially in the last minute.  So do your homework, come prepared, and get ready to enjoy two Disney World experiences at the same time; food and characters. 

Next Up:  Resort hopping continues as I visit a place with an address adjacent to the Magic Kingdom. 

Note – I’m currently at Walt Disney World.  Be sure to check out live photos and updates from the parks and resorts here in the fan friendly forums of Studioscentral.com or on my Facebook page

Friend Aaron on Facebook:  I accept reader friend requests. 

About this column

Aaron DelPrince looks at the various activities you and your family can experience at Walt Disney World


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