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What You Need to Know About Character Meals at the Walt Disney World Resort

One of the highlights of any Walt Disney World vacation is the opportunity to rub elbows with your favorite Disney characters.  Luckily, Disney gives you opportunities all over the theme parks to get some face time with the characters. 

One great way to have a relaxing character experience is to plan a character meal.  Disney offers many character dining meals that adults and children can enjoy together.  What I really mean is that your children will get to see the characters and you will get to relax in a pleasant, air conditioned restaurant while someone waits on you.  Yes, this really is the best of all worlds.  You get to be the parent hero, your children are happy and you get waited on…does it get any better than this?

At any character meal, the Disney characters will stop by your table to take pictures, sign autographs, hug and interact with your family.  Each character stops for a few minutes at each table.  The characters are spread out so that you see all of them but you have a few minutes in between each one.  This is a great way to get some priceless pictures and most children really enjoy the experience.  Of course, you will want to let the littlest ones in your family know what to expect in advance so they aren’t frightened of the characters.

Character dining takes some advanced planning as the character meals are very popular and can sell out long in advance.  Yes, other parents have figured out that character meals are a great thing too.  Most of the time, you can’t expect to walk up to a character meal and get seated especially during peak seasons, near holidays or any time when a dining promotion is taking place.  So how do you make this character meal happen?

If you are working with a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations, they should be able to recommend a character meal that is right for your family and make your reservations for you.  We offer this service for every family who books with our agency.  Make sure to give your agent as much notice as possible so they can get the dining experience that you are looking for.

What did you say?  You don’t have a travel agent?  You are making all of your dining arrangements yourself?  Ok, I will forgive you this time.  Follow these six tips to get a reservation for one of these coveted character experiences.

Tip #1: The 180 Day Rule:
This is number one on this list for a reason….it is the most important factor in getting the character dining experience of your dreams.  Be prepared with a list of the dining reservations that you would like reservations for.  Dining reservations open exactly 180 days in advance at exactly 7am. 
You can call Disney at 1-407-WDISNEY to get your reservations or make them online at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/

Tip #2: The 180 + 10 Day Rule:
If you are staying at an official Walt Disney World Resort, you can get a head start.  You can call 180 days in advance of the first day of your trip and book dining 180 days in advance plus 10 more days.  In other words, you can book the dining reservations for your whole trip at once instead of having to call back every morning at 7am several days in a row, 180 days in advance of each day of your trip.  If you are not staying at an official Walt Disney World Resort, this is not an option for you.  This is one of the least known perks of staying at a Walt Disney World Resort but it is a good one.

TIP #3: Be Persistent
What is that you say?  You did not plan what and when you will be eating 6 months in advance?  Don’t worry, it is still possible to score that elusive seat at Cinderella’s Royal Table but it will take some work on your part.  If you find that the character meal you want is sold out, call or check online several times a day until you get a reservation.  Guests cancel their reservations all the time and you may get lucky and pick up a cancellation at just the right moment.

Tip #4: Be Willing to Eat at Non-Traditional Meal Times
You are more likely to find a dining reservation at odd hours.  For example, Chef Mickey’s may be sold out between 7am-9am for breakfast but may still have reservations available for 10:30am.  You will also find that some character meals are still serving long past the dinner hour.  Many have seating as late as 9:30pm.  If you are looking for lunch, most people eat between 11am-1pm.  Try looking between 2pm and 4pm if your first choice of times is not available.  In the long run, you won’t remember how awkward it was to have lunch at 3pm.  You will remember how precious your child looked with his outstretched arms towards Mickey.

Tip #5: Eat at the Character Meals at the Resorts
The most popular character meals are located in the theme parks for the most part.  However, there are several located in the Disney Resorts and you don’t have to stay there to eat there.  Character meals at a resort offer the opportunity for you to see the resort where you will be eating and the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the parks to enjoy a good meal.  Plan for extra travel time.

Tip #6: Early Seating
This tip only works if you enjoy getting up early and having a big breakfast first thing in the morning. Check out what time the parks open and reserve seats at the earliest seating time possible which is often before the park opens.  You will be admitted to the park before everyone else which offers a great opportunity to take pictures of an empty theme park on your way to the restaurant.
Families with children, and many without children, tell me that a character meal is the highlight of their Walt Disney World vacation and that they are well worth the cost.  Don’t forget to bring your camera and autograph book!  You will want to preserve these moments.  Good luck!

Character dining offerings change and Disney has instituted seasonal pricing. To give you an idea of what to expect here are some ranges from April 2013:

Tusker House Donald’s Safari Breakfast Buffet in Animal Kingdom
Adults $29-$33  Children (ages 3-9) $16-$18 (gratuity extra)

Crystal Palace Buffet Breakfast with Pooh and Friends
Adults: $25-$29   Children $14-$16 (gratuity extra)

Cinderella’s Royal Table Dinner with the Disney Princess’s in the Magic Kingdom
Adults: $65-$72  Children $41-44
(includes gratuity, wand or sword and complimentary imaging package given to you before you leave)

Chef Mickey’s with Mickey and Friends at the Contemporary Resort Buffet Dinner
Adults $41-$47 Child $20-$23


Katherine Schutte  

About the author:

Katherine Schutte first fell in love with Disney as a child on a family trip in 1976.  Her passion for all things Disney led her to her career as the Owner of Magical Castle Vacations where she happily makes the magic of Disney vacations come true for families, honeymooners, adult and senior travelers.  She is a graduate of Disney’s College of Knowledge (yes there is such a thing) and has extensive knowledge of Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line through her many visits.  Visit her website at MagicalCastleVacations.com

* The two images on this page are from April 2012 a lunch seating at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom for more pictures from this trip and others please visit the Walt Disney World Updates section

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