If it’s core memories you’re looking to make on your Walt Disney World vacation, a character dining experience is your chance to do that. Not only do you get to eat some of the best food in Disney’s parks and resorts, but your kids are guaranteed to meet and interact with some of their favorite Disney characters. Character dining does cost a little extra than the average meal, but the look on your child’s face as their favorite characters approach them is priceless!
Although all character dining experiences are magical, I came up with my top 5 list. Keep in mind, these are all based on my experiences and characters are subject to change throughout the year. All of the character dining experiences listed below are also on the Disney Dining Plan.
1. Chef Mickey’s
Chef Mickey’s is a character buffet that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s located on the Grand Concourse level of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It’s one of the most sought after restaurants in Walt Disney World and I recommend making your Chef Mickey reservation as soon as the window opens for you to book your dining.
The menu at Chef Mickey’s is a variety American comfort foods, almost all of which is standard fare that will appeal to picky eaters. You will have a huge variety of food and dessert items. There is an omelet bar in the morning and a carving station at night. My kids love the feature during breakfast that allows them to turn a knob and the cereal of their choice will drop down into their bowl.
If you’re choosing to do just one character dining experience, I strongly recommend Chef Mickey’s. It has what I call, “The Big 3:” Nostalgia, Location, and Characters. Yes, all character dining has characters, but Chef Mickey’s takes the cake (or perhaps, the Mickey Waffles) when it comes to character dining. It’s the only spot in Walt Disney World where you can meet the classic characters, aka- the Fab 5: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald, and Goofy! You can search the parks and your Disney App, to find and visit all character locations, but at Chef Mickey’s, you can dine while they come to you!
I mentioned location and Chef Mickey’s is prime real estate. Located within the Grand Concourse level at The Contemporary Resort, Chef Mickey’s allows for you to hop right on the monorail and into the park, once you’ve finished dining. The restaurant itself is right in between two monorail tracks. Not to mention, it’s great entertainment for your children to watch the monorails pass overhead. Another way to access the park after dining is via the walkway to path from the Contemporary right up to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. The walk is about 10 minutes, and after a hearty meal, it might be exactly what the mouse ordered!
If the location and its characters aren’t enough nostalgia for you, then all you have to do is simply, look up. Towering over the restaurant is Mary Blair’s original mosaic tile mural. In 1970, Blair was asked to design a series of murals for the Grand Canyon Concourse. Faced with the airplane hangar ambiance, Blair addressed the problem with a nine-story ceramic interpretation of the Grand Canyon from the canyon floor to the rim. The mural has been there ever since and is a constant reminder of Disney-Yesteryear.
2. Tusker House
Tusker House is a Harambe marketplace-themed character buffet located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Tusker House is a family-friendly buffet overflowing with endless food options that incorporate African flavors in addition to American classics such as Mickey waffles and bacon for breakfast, and macaroni and cheese or roasted chicken for lunch and dinner.
If classic characters are what you’re looking for, this is one of the best places to spot them. Donald Duck can sometimes be hard to find character in the parks, but at Tusker House, he leads the pack. Dressed in his safari attire, Safari Donald visits each table and brings along some familiar faces; Daisy, Goofy, and Mickey.
There aren’t many sit down dining options in the Animal Kingdom and Tusker House is the perfect place to feed your family while taking in the beauty of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
3. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
Located within Norway, in Epcot, Akershus Royal Buffet is my top pick when it comes to dining with Disney’s Princesses. A bold statement, I know. Many would ask me, “What about Cinderella’s Royal Table?” Cinderella’s Royal Table is enchanting in the fact that you are eating in Cinderella’s Castle, but after that, Akershus tops Cindy’s table in every other way.
Akershus is less expansive than Cinderella’s Royal Table and if you’re on the dining plan, it uses just 1 credit (vs the other, which uses 2 credits). Akershus is a buffet-style restaurant with endless options for everyone in your family. Because it’s a little more under the radar, it can be easier to obtain a dining reservation. I’ve found when character dining experiences are less busy, your little ones get more quality time with the characters. You are guaranteed a visit by every Princess and you never feel rushed.
It’s impossible not to feel like royalty when you’re dining at Akershus. You’re little Princess (in my case, Prince Charming’s) will have the opportunity to meet Belle, Aurora, Ariel, Mulan, Jasmine, and Cinderella. Anna and Elsa do not appear, but once your meal is complete you can walk across the Norway Pavilion and visit them at their very own meet and greet.
Because of Akershus’ location, I suggest booking an early breakfast dining reservation. You will be allowed to enter the park before it opens for your reservation and after you’re done the park will have just opened. I suggest taking advantage of the little to no wait you will have at the Frozen ride, directly next door to Akershus!
If Lilo and Stitch taught us anything, it’s that Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Ohana is located in the Great Ceremonial House at the Polynesian Village Resort, and here, everyone is family.
Keep in mind, the characters do not appear at dinner service. For a character experience, you will need to make a reservation for breakfast. Lilo, Stitch and other familiar faces (Mickey and Pluto) make their way around the dining room and you’re invited to join them in lots of singing and dancing! Although it doesn’t have as many characters as other dining experiences, it does have location and nostalgia.
I grew up going to the Polynesian and long before it was Ohana, it was Minnie’s Minehune’s. My parents would take my siblings and me to breakfast where we would do the hula with Minnie Mouse, before heading into the parks. Taking my family there, the nostalgia kicks in and I’m happy to be sharing something with my children that I used to love so much. The location is one of the bests for character dining. One entire side of the restaurant is floor to ceiling windows. You can dine overlooking the beautiful Volcano pool, with Cinderella’s Castle in the distance. Once you’re done eating, the monorail is just seconds away and before you know it, you’re on your way to having the best day ever.
Ohana, like Chef Mickey’s, is one of those coveted dining reservations and are often hard to come by. I strongly recommend making your reservation as soon as possible.
5. Hollywood & Vine
Located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Hollywood & Vine is the place to be if you’re children are fans of Disney Junior!
Fancy Nancy, Doc McStuffins, Vampirina, and Roadster Racer Goofy meet and greet guests during Disney Junior Play ‘n Dine, a fun-filled breakfast. The breakfast buffet offers a variety of American dishes where ou’ll find breakfast meats, egg dishes, the always popular- Mickey waffles, pastries, fruit, and breakfast desserts.
For dinner, you can party with Minnie Mouse and friends. Our mouse hostess-with-the-mostest hosts several different themed parties throughout the year. Minnie will throw dinner parties to “celebrate the cheerful togetherness of the holidays, the glamour of Hollywood, the delight of spring, the excitement of summer and the frightening fun of Halloween.” The music, decor, costumes, menus, and interactive musical moments will change with each season.
Pro Tip: It can be discouraging when even 180 days out, there are no reservations available at your desired restaurant. The good thing is, Disney asks people to put down a credit card to hold the reservation. If they are a no show, the card will be charged a fee. You have up until 24 hours before to cancel your dining reservation, and most people don’t want to be charged, so they cancel an unwanted reservation. The week leading up to our trips, I’m constantly checking the My Disney Experience App to see if dining has opened up, especially the 24 hours before the day we would like to eat at a specific location. A few months ago, I scored a dinner reservation at the perfect time, at Ohana! I also suggest checking out Mouse Dining. Mouse Dining is a website devoted entirely to making Disney dining reservations. The best part is, you can set up alerts at your favorite restaurants and when an opening becomes available, Mouse Dining will text and/or email you to let you know!