By Megan SweeneyMay 19, 2023
We recently took our first family trip to Disney World with our four-year-old daughter, and it’s true what they say: it is the most magical place on earth. She is at the perfect age to soak in all the magic of the castle and the characters.
Knowing she would likely only want to spend a little bit of time on the rides but was excited to meet some of her idols, we booked reservations at some of the best character dining at Walt Disney World.
During our trip to Disney World, we visited four of the 12 character dining restaurants, and none were a disappointment. They were perfect for our four-year-old to have one-on-one time with the characters without waiting in line or being overwhelmed by the crowds. If you are planning a Walt Disney World vacation and curious about character dining, let's dig in.
When you make a reservation, many Disney World restaurants are classified as "Character Dining." Character dining restaurants are a set of Disney characters who come to the table while you eat for your little ones to see up close.
It’s a great way to meet a few characters in one place without waiting in line, or using your Lightening Lane passes — and it doubles as entertainment to keep the kids busy so you can enjoy your meal.
Every Disney World park has at least one character dining restaurant to choose from, and they are clearly labeled when you make your reservation.
If you are visiting Disney World with a special needs child, check with guest relations if the characters at the restaurant you are reserving are fluent in ASL, many of them are.
Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance for any restaurant at Disney World, and are all done either on the My Disney Experience app or the Disney World website. In addition, you can easily filter for character dining when searching for availability.
Once you set up My Disney account, you will see all your reservations linked there.
If the place you are eyeing is unavailable, keep checking back. Cancellations happen often, and spots will automatically open up. 12-character dining restaurants are available between the four Disney World locations and surrounding resorts.
Remember, you need a reservation to the restaurant and a same-day (valid) theme park reservation and admission to dine.
All restaurants in Disney World range in price, with the quick service often being less expensive than the table service.
All character dining meals are table service and range from $35-$60+ per adult, depending on the mealtime (breakfast, lunch, dinner). The meal is typically buffet-style or set menu, so your final bill is predictable. Some do not include alcoholic drinks but offer them an additional charge.
Our first character dining meal was at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. The Crystal Palace is a large, beautiful, Victorian-style restaurant with many windows overlooking Main Street, USA. You can easily find it close to the entrance gates of Magic Kingdom.
Our daughter’s eyes lit up as she saw Winnie the Pooh through the doors as we waited to be called in. We were welcomed by lovely cast members and shown to our table. Winnie the Pooh and his friends Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore from the Hundred Acre Woods walked around to all the tables and visited multiple times.
We picked up an autograph book for our daughter before heading in so she could start collecting signatures right away. The autograph book ended up being one of our top Disney World tips for visiting with a four-year-old- it gave her a way to start the interaction until she was comfortable giving a hug or high-five.
Piglet was the first to come to our table. My husband and I watched as our daughter hesitantly handed over the autograph book, Piglet started to sign it, and the smile on her face grew. We asked if she wanted to give a hug or a high-five, and she jumped out of her chair and gave him a huge hug. Meeting Piglet was the beginning of her Disney character obsession for the rest of our trip.
Throughout the rest of our meal, she watched intently where the other characters roamed the restaurant to ensure she didn’t miss one stopping by. It took a lot of convincing to get her to agree to leave the table to get food or go to the bathroom.
Since the restaurant is large, it can take some time for the characters to visit, but don’t worry, they will make at least one stop — likely more, before your meal ends.
The food was buffet-style, with lots of options for adults and kids. If you’re dining for breakfast, you can expect waffles and pancakes, biscuits and gravy, bacon, eggs, cereal, fruit, yogurt and pastries. Lunch and dinner have similar menu options — salads, chicken, prime rib, vegetables, and mashed potatoes are available throughout the buffet.
Non-alcoholic drinks are included in your meal, or you can add beer, cider, wine or cocktails for an additional charge.
We loved the experience at the Crystal Palace and recommend visiting if you’re at Magic Kingdom for the day.
We were invited to have a character breakfast at Chef Mickey’s when we stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and it was so fun. We arrived at 7:30 a.m. for the first seating, so it took a little longer for the characters to come out. Once they did, it was rapid-fire visits.
Chef Mickey’s is located on the 4th floor of the Contemporary, right next to the Monorail stop, a convenient location for different Disney World transportation options. The restaurant is designed like an old diner where Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy, are the chefs.
Chef Mickey’s was one of the first things we looked up when we were booked to stay at the Contemporary. You can see the restaurant from the guest room hallways overlooking the 4th floor. The giant sign is just the start of the magic you’ll experience inside.
When we sat at our table, our daughter noticed the Minnie Mouse smoothie right away. This strawberry and vanilla smoothie is topped with whipped cream and a giant chocolate Minnie Bow. She waited patiently with her autograph book for the characters to arrive, not wanting to leave for food out of fear she would miss them.
Once the music started, we knew they were close by. Donald, Goofy, Pluto and Minnie came out of the kitchen in chef outfits and danced through the restaurant. Each character came to our table, signed autographs and took many photos. The energy was always high, and you could feel the kids’ excitement.
If your child is most excited about meeting Mickey, remember that you’ll need to wait until the end of the meal. Before you leave, there is a special area where you can meet him one-on-one and have your photo taken. You can only access this area with a receipt from your meal.
The restaurant is open for breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and dinner from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Expect eggs, bacon, a carving station with ham and beef brisket, the world-famous Mickey waffles among the breakfast buffet, strip loin, pork, macaroni and cheese, and much more for dinner.
While visiting Animal Kingdom, we stopped for dinner at the Tusker House. We had a tough afternoon with the heat and an over-tired four-year-old, which made me nervous about our later dinner reservations. My husband went up to the hostess and asked if there was any way for us to dine earlier, and she was so lovely and accommodating and got us right in.
The restaurant is located within Africa at Animal Kingdom, very close to the Kilimanjaro Safari and the Festival of the Lion King show. It is open for breakfast from 8:00 to 10:30 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and dinner from 3:35 to 7:00 p.m.
The food is buffet style- expect bread, dips, salads, chicken, pork, a variety of curries including Cape Malay green curry shrimp, and many kids’ options. Similarly to the other character dining restaurants, it was far too exciting for our four-year-old to be interested in the food.
When the characters first appeared, they came out, danced to music, and got everyone clapping along. Mickey, Goofy, Donald Duck and Daisy Duck are all dressed in safari outfits, ready for an adventure. They returned to our table multiple times for autographs, hugs and high-fives.
We had spent the morning at Magic Kingdom at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique that day, so our daughter was dressed to the nines in full Elsa attire. All the cast members and characters at Tusker House made an extra effort to notice and make her feel special.
Of all the characters we met through our trip, Daisy at the Tusker House was the favourite for our daughter. She held onto her in the biggest hug she had given the whole time. We had to peel her off so Daisy could continue visiting the other tables.
Our final character meal was at the Garden Grill Restaurant in EPCOT. It’s located just outside of the World Showcase in "World Nature." You’ll meet Chip’ n Dale and a few of their friends at the Garden Grill Restaurant. When we visited, we also met Mickey and Pluto.
The neat thing about this restaurant is that the whole thing rotates while you eat, so your view is constantly changing and a great way to keep your kids entertained while you eat.
Unlike the other character dining restaurants, the food was not served buffet style at the Garden Grill Restaurant. There was a fixed menu, and you order as much as you’d like. So we started with bread and a salad and then dug into a platter with chicken, steak, rice, and potatoes.
Be sure to save room for dessert which is a large plate of berry shortcakes and cookies for the kids. All of the food was excellent; you will not be disappointed.
Our server made our experience at the Garden Grill. He was engaging, full of Disney knowledge and great at interacting with our daughter. He ensured she always knew when the following characters were on their way and pointed out different exciting things to look at as we spun through lunch — including one of the hardest-to-find hidden Mickey’s in Disney World.
Like the other character dining, the characters were the highlight of our meal. Chip’ n Dale, we’re playful and spend lots of time at our table. We had already seen Mickey and Pluto at other meals, but seeing them again here was just as exciting.
The Garden Grill is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., and dinner from 3:45 to 8:00 p.m. Breakfast will start again in June 2023. You can expect a similar menu at both lunch and dinner.
Cinderella’s Royal Table is the ultimate princess experience in Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom. This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and they each include a special one-on-one visit with Cinderella before you eat.
Another great princess dining experience in Norway is the World Showcase at EPCOT. You’ll spend time with different princesses while enjoying Norwegian-style food.
Character dining is only available at breakfast at the Cape May Cafe for Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast, where Minnie and her friends are dressed up and ready for a beach party.
This restaurant has two different character dining experiences– breakfast with Disney Jr. friends like Doc McStuffins or Fancy Nancy or lunch and dinner with Minnie and her friends for a seasonal dining party.
At ‘Ohana, you can have breakfast with Lilo and Stitch or a Hawaiian-style dinner without the character-dining component. Both are served family style with Polynesian flavours.
Visit with Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy and even the Queen while you enjoy a fancy dinner in the Enchanted Forest. This storybook dining at Disney World, character dining experience, is only open for dinner and features a three-course seated dinner with individual entrees and shared appetizers and desserts.
Visit Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort for a character dining breakfast with Mickey and friends. The restaurant is also open for an Italian and French-inspired dinner, but characters will not join. Expect a pre-fix menu for breakfast with lots of different options to choose from.
This character dining restaurant is currently unavailable, but be sure to check the WDW website in the future.
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