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Disney Character Dinners: An Over-Looked Option

by Eric J. Weinstein, Guest Columnist

Inevitably, when friends or family call to tell me about their upcoming trip to Walt Disney World, they all ask the same question, "Which character breakfast should we make reservations for?"

I'll tell you what I always tell them. First, you need to decide if Disney character dining is even for you. Most character dining experiences are buffet, or all you can eat family style meals. If you do not like that kind of dining, I suggest you skip the character meals altogether. Second, know your audience (your kids) and choose a character meal that the kids will enjoy. Make sure you know the characters that appear at your meal - don't take 9 year old boys to Cinderella's castle for the princess breakfast. Last, understand that meeting the characters face to face comes with a price - a family of four may spend $60 for most breakfasts and over $100 for most dinners. (Prices are always subject to change, but dinners average around $25.00 per adult and $12.00 per child, not including alcohol and tip, with breakfasts averaging $17.00 per adult and $9.00 per child.)

If you have decided that you want the character dining experience, my response is usually: "Make a Disney character dinner reservation."

My wife and I have been to Walt Disney World seven times since 1989, with three trips since 1999 with kids. Prior to having kids I would never had considered a character meal, but when you go to Walt Disney World with children you go to see it through their eyes, and meeting the characters can be a big thrill for kids. My wife and I learned early on with our son that getting up early for a breakfast and rushing to the park with a lot of other little kids was just too overwhelming. The first two reservations we had, at the Crystal Palace (in Magic Kingdom) and at Chef Mickey's (nearby at the Contemporary Resort), we missed completely; it could not be done. But when we discovered the character dinner, the whole concept changed for us.

I believe a Disney character dinner can be a much more relaxing and enjoyable dining experience. First, it can come after a long day of park hopping, when, after being on your feet and in line all day; you can finally sit down and let the characters come to you. The beauty of most of the dining experiences is that the characters move from table to table, making sure to hit each one, sometimes making multiple visits during your meal. This gives the kids plenty of opportunity to get autographs and pictures with their favorites. Personally, I like to refresh myself with a decent meal at the end of the day, rather than eat more fast food at the park; so while the kids are interacting with the characters, my wife and I can just enjoy the moment and the meal.

When calling the meal reservation line, 407-WDW-DINE (or 407-939-3463) the cast member on the phone can be a tremendous help in finding the dining experience just right for you. We originally called for Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle at Magic Kingdom, but after a very long discussion we settled on other locales that were both available at times that were better for us, and had characters that were more appropriate for our children. These cast members know the "ins and outs" of these meals, their menus and their popularity. Frankly, just because a meal isn't that popular may mean that it's just undiscovered. One note on popularity - if you want one of the most popular locales, like breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table, be on the phone exactly 90 days before your intended meal; these book fast. Don't despair if you do not get a reservation, just keep calling looking for a cancellation.

Our personal favorite, from our Thanksgiving 2004 trip, is 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort. Designed in the turn-of-the-century style of "Mary Poppins," there are carousel horses on the walls, and a huge pipe organ mounted close to the ceiling. While my nine year-old son was not enthusiastic, our four year-old daughter enjoyed meeting Cinderella and Friends (which included the Fairy Godmother, Prince Charming and some other special visitors, like Goofy). The food was exceptionally good for a buffet, with some high-end items like mussels in garlic sauce and prime rib. I have recommended this dinner location to several friends and so far, they have all returned high marks for the entire experience, from the characters to the food and environment.

Another very popular Disney character dinner spot is Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort. This breakfast/dinner locale is right in the heart of the Contemporary resort. All the standard Disney characters make an appearance, including the Mouse himself, and it is very lively. This is a great location if you want a party during dinner, but it can be hectic. In my opinion, the food can be hit or miss, but with a tremendous location, and the classic Disney characters, it's a good bet.

When making a decision about a Disney character meal, whether breakfast or dinner, make sure it will be worth it to you, both within budget and experience. Think carefully, do your research and find the best character meal for your family and you'll have a great time.

This article originally appeared in our May 2, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 04/06/07 

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