My younger, earlier days at Disney World consisted of walking up to characters in the park as we passed by walking to the next ride, take a picture and keep walking. There were no lines, no fastpasses to meet/greet and no need for a cast member to stand next to the character for crowd control or prevent lewd behavior on the character. It’s sad, but true. There are people who behave so poorly at a place one would hope would be free of bad stuff that children should not see.
Now, it is necessary to not only stand in line for a long time, but it’s best to get a fastpass! That can take up so much of your valuable time at the parks. Eating a few meals at restaurants that have characters can take care of two needs at the same time, you can sit while waiting to see the characters in AIR CONDITIONING and if you have shy little ones, this will allow them to be seated at the table as the character walks up to them versus the child having to wait and walk up to the character. While character dining tends to be a bit on the expensive side, there are plenty of different foods for all ages, you’ll save time, gives you time to rest and possibly save stress on the little ones.
It’s important to remember that characters can change. It is also so incredibly important to make reservations as soon as you know your plans. If you book your vacation more than 180 days in advance, be ready on the 180th day to book your reservations online or call to book your dining reservations for your entire stay (if staying in a Disney resort--180 plus 10 days. Non-Disney resort--Need to call every 180th day of your trip). As long as your first day of your stay is 180 days out, you can book reservations for your stay (up to 10 days). For dining reservations at Walt Disney World call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463). For more advice on securing the best restaurants Walt Disney World has to offer, go to 7 Tips to Successful Dining Reservations.
- Tusker House Restaurant, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Africa--This is my go-to place for a character restaurant. You get the best of both worlds! Great food for all palates and you get to meet great characters without having to wait in line. Join Donald Duck on a safari for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is a buffet with American favorites for all ages including dishes with an African flair. The variety is great and the food is very tasty. Mickey, Daisy, and Goofy might make an appearance, too! With a breakfast reservation and depending on the time you book the reservation, you will have a chance to walk through the park before it opens to the public.
- 1900 Park Fare, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa--This is a relatively small place so it's a little tight for wheelchairs and strollers to get around. It's best to leave them out in the lobby, if at all possible. They have a lot of different foods (buffet) to please all ages and all palates. Be sure you look to see where the characters are before you go to get your food. You don't want to miss out on seeing them. We met Prince Charming, Cinderella, Wicked Step Mother and her two daughters when we were there for dinner. The step mother and her daughters are quite comical. This restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner only. You can meet Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh at breakfast. Don't forget that characters are subject to change.
- Cinderella’s Royal Table, Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom--It's definitely a great experience that everyone should try at least once. The food is ok, but the moment you are walked through the doors, you see somethings truly special. The inside of the castle is gorgeous, you get a meet and greet with Cinderella along with a Disney photographer to take your picture with her and then you go up through the castle to the dining room. While you dine, you meet many princesses after every girl and boy are given a special trinket. (Yes, adults, too!) So, before you turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, go see Cinderella and enjoy the “All You Care to Enjoy Banquet”. Other princesses known to make an appearance: Aurora, Belle, Snow White and Ariel.
- The Crystal Palace, Main Street, U.S.A., Magic Kingdom--Join Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner! It is a buffet with American favorites for all ages. In fact, a portion of the buffet is lower than the rest of the buffet in order to allow children to serve themselves. So cute! Outside of the Crystal Palace you can get some great shots of the Cinderella Castle with fewer people obstructing your view and are able to watch the parade while waiting for your table if the parade is going by during your expected time of arrival. If you make breakfast reservations early enough, you can see Main Street, U.S.A. with much less people than normal, because it would be before the park opens to the public.
- Akershus, Epcot--What a wonderful experience! Each party is brought into the restaurant to see their first princess. A photographer is there to take a group photo with the chosen princess of the day. Make sure you have your autograph book and pen ready, too! The food is tremendous. Whoever is taking pictures, keep the camera ready as Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel and Snow White stop by for pictures and autographs. Then, there is a mini parade with the princesses and children throughout the restaurant. Food and entertainment....worth the price tag!!
- 'Ohana, Disney's Polynesia Resort--Join Lilo and Stitch for breakfast only. There have been a few different characters to stop by including Mickey, Pluto and Chip 'n' Dales. Jump on the monorail for a short ride to the Magic Kingdom after you eat!!
- Chef Mickey’s, Disney’s Contemporary Resort--Enjoy an American cuisine breakfast or dinner buffet with some of the Disney classic characters. To name a few: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck dressed in their chef outfits! While this is a great place to see characters, the food is not as good as the other places above. It is best to dine here for breakfast as that is the better, tasting meal they offer. This is another location where you can take a short monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom after you’re done eating!
Once again, I can’t begin to emphasize how important it is to book reservations either 180 days in advance of your first night’s stay of your vacation or ASAP!! Continue to look over the months prior to your trip just in case there is a reservation opening including up until the day you wanted to dine at any of the locations just in case there was a cancellation! Good luck and have fun!!