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Disney World Character Dining: Hits and Misses

disney world character dining

Meeting characters is an essential part of the Walt Disney World experience. It’s incredible to see little eyes light up with the delight of meeting their favorite characters. And it’s fun for the adults, too. Even if you think you’re too cool to take a photo with Mickey Mouse – or, OK, too old – you won’t be able to resist the silly exuberance of interacting with Disney’s most magical imaginings in real life.

Lines in the parks to meet characters can be long, and not always worth the wait. The best way to meet them is character dining. There are restaurants all over the parks and hotels that offer uniquely themed culinary experiences, and you have the benefit of getting to sit down to a nice meal while characters come to your table. While most reservations fill up 60 days in advance, if you can’t get one, don’t fret – tables often open at the last minute, and most restaurants can take walk-up parties, especially at the beginning of service.

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Hit: Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Picture this: You walk into an enchanted forest, the trees overhead glowing with twinkling fairy lights. Your server brings you your own magical tree, placing it in the center of the table, and every time it spins it reveals another woodland-inspired culinary delight. Every so often, a dwarf chances upon your table – and sometimes, a rosy cheeked maiden twirls past with a friendly greeting. But then, the crowd goes silent and the trees emanate a foreboding red. There is an Evil Queen in your midst.

Storybook Dining at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is an enchanting experience. The three-course dinner menu is Bavarian-inspired (think wild mushroom bisque, hunter’s pie, beef stroganoff) and after you have desserts like “poison” apples, the server brings you one final treat: chocolate hearts, delivered in an ornate wooden box, just like the huntsman delivers to the queen in the fairytale.

Dopey, Grumpy and Snow White will visit you while you eat, and at some point during your meal, you will be allowed to have an audience with her evilness herself. It’s the only time you can meet a villain during character dining, and it’s as delightful as it sounds. At one point, my best friend was talking back to the Evil Queen. “Is she always like this?” the Queen asked me in her regal drawl. “Every. Day,” I responded. She crossed her arms. “My condolences then.”

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Miss: Cinderella’s Royal Table

Magic Kingdom

This is a controversial take, but I think it’s the right one. While there’s an undeniable thrill going into Cinderella Castle, the experience inside at Cinderella’s Royal Table isn’t what it could be.

Downstairs before you enter the dining room, you’ll have a chance to meet Cinderella and have a Disney photographer take your photo. Upstairs, a rotating assortment of princesses like Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Tiana and Merida come to your table. The food is good but not great, and the interactions with the princesses are nice, but for the price ($69 per adult for breakfast and $84 per adult for lunch and dinner) you want better. What you’re really paying for is being able to experience the castle in a different way. Which, in fairness, is exciting.

If you want face time with the princesses, consider booking a table at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot instead. This less expensive restaurant in the Norway Pavilion offers a Scandinavian-inspired buffet and cocktails made with Norwegian spirits, and characters like Cinderella, Jasmine, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, Tiana, Mulan and Mary Poppins make the rounds.

If it’s the thrill of the castle that appeals to you, go with Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom. You’ll only get to meet the Beast, but the immersive atmosphere is gorgeous, the food is better and each of the three dining rooms has different magical surprises in store.

Disney Character Dining

Hit: Topolino’s Terrace

Disney’s Riviera Resort

Disney’s Riviera Resort is Walt Disney World’s newest hotel, and there are luxury details everywhere, from the ornate “Tangled” and “Peter Pan” mosaics on the way to the Skyliner to the antique European Disney toys. Fun fact: Mickey Mouse is known as “Topolino” in Italy. The crown jewel is Topolino’s Terrace, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, which is gorgeous at night for its Epcot fireworks views and equally as appealing for its French-Italian cuisine.

Every morning, the restaurant hosts Breakfast a la Art with Mickey & Friends. Your meal starts with a paint bucket of pastries accompanied by Nutella, butter and jam that you can “paint” onto the muffins and croissants.

The setting is luxe and the food – like quiche gruyere, bread pudding brulee and wood-fired steak and eggs – is excellent, for less money than many other character breakfasts. What’s also iconic about this experience is the artistic Mediterranean outfits the characters wear. Mickey is a painter, complete with a paint-spattered apron. Minnie is a writer, wearing a dress of newsprint and carrying a notebook in her pocket. Donald is wearing quintessentially French navy-and-white stripes, and Daisy is wearing a chic high-fashion ensemble.

For another unique way to see characters, Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast at Cape May Cafe in Disney’s Beach Club Resort is an adorable option. Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy all appear in their best beach attire at this buffet breakfast.

Miss: Hollywood and Vine

Hollywood Studios

There are some enormous perks to eating at Minnie’s Silver Screen Dine at Hollywood and Vine inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios: It is one of only a few character meals open for lunch, and lunch is only one credit on the Disney Dining Plan (the food is the same for dinner but costs two credits). With that lunch or dinner, you get entry into reserved seating for that evening’s showing of “Fantasmic,” the unmissable nighttime show at the park.

Speak to one of our “Magic Makers” – AAA travel advisors who specialize in all things Disney – to learn more about the Dining Plan and if it’s worth it for you.

If you’re paying out of pocket, this one is a skip. After my $63 meal of mostly unimpressive food, plus soft drink and gratuity, I spent almost $90, while my friend on the dining plan spent nothing, even with a cocktail. Not even adorable interactions with old Hollywood-styled Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto could erase that sting.

For a bigger selection of similarly kid-friendly food and the same classic characters, go to Chef Mickey’s in Disney’s Contemporary Resort instead. You can still get face time with Mickey and Minnie at breakfast and dinner, but you’ve got the added entertainment of the Monorail rushing overhead. I’ve seen it a million times and it never gets old.

Hit: Tusker House Restaurant

Animal Kingdom

For a truly adventurous experience, embark on a journey to Tusker House Restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. Here, you can meet Donald, Daisy, Mickey and Goofy in their safari finest while you eat African-inspired cuisine. For breakfast, the selection includes chocolate-swirled “zebra” coffee cake, guava cream cheese danish, Simba waffles and fruit salad with ginger syrup. If you’d like, you can wash it down with an African Bloody Mary made with berbere sauce and applewood-smoked bacon. For lunch and dinner, selections include tandoori chicken, za’atar braised beef and green curry shrimp with jollof rice. Don’t skip dessert, which includes baby flamingo cupcakes. (And later, when you ride the safari in Animal Kingdom, don’t miss the fact that the flamingos’ island is one giant hidden Mickey.)

Miss: Garden Grill

Epcot

If you love the Living with the Land ride in the Land Pavilion in Epcot’s Future World, you’ll love Garden Grill. The restaurant is built around the ride, and the whole thing rotates so you can see different parts of the ride as you eat. Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale, all in their farmer finery, make appearances as you eat. But just like the ride itself, the vibe is relaxed and low-key, which isn’t the most fun way to meet characters. The food is a novelty, though. A lot of what the restaurant serves is grown in the Land Pavilion, and the menu has significantly more plant-based options than most other Disney restaurants.

For less common characters in a more energetic environment, opt for Crystal Palace inside Magic Kingdom. Inside this light-filled, Victorian-inspired restaurant on Main Street, you can meet Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore, who are hosting a Friendship Day Celebration (which just so happens to be every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner). The restaurant is also one of the few places in Magic Kingdom where you can get an adult libation with your meal.

There are a few other character dining experiences, including Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and His Pals on Saturday mornings at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando, Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch at ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Resort and 1900 Park Fare, which just recently reopened after renovations in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

These are my personal recommendations, but choosing the best places for character dining in Disney is subjective. It all comes down to which characters you and your family want to meet and the overall vibe and experience you prefer that will ultimately determine your hits and misses.

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What’s your favorite Disney character dining experience? Tell us in the comments.

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