Thrifty Thursday: Making the Most of Character Dining

There’s probably nothing that is more synonymous with Walt Disney World than the Disney characters…so much so that for many children, that is the single most important thing to do on a Disney vacation. Realizing this, Walt Disney World provides a number of Character Dining experiences, so whether your child wants to see princesses or Pooh, there’s a meal for that. 🙂

Guaranteed character photo ops, mixed with lots of fun…and some reasonably decent food as well, make Character Dining restaurants a hot item for a significant majority of families with young children…and more than a few who do not have young children as well. Here are some quick tips to make the most of this most popular Disney experience.

Character Dining 411

There are a number of great restaurants that offer Character Dining at one or more meals throughout the day, and most are located in the Disney resorts. With a variety of food options ranging from breakfast, to afternoon tea, to dinner buffets there is something to please just about everyone. And there is also a range of character options as well, which is extremely important to consider when planning a character meal with your children.

In fact, there are several things you should consider about your children before reserving a character meal:

  1. How does your child feel about character interaction in general? Many children are in love with the “idea” of eating with a princess, but when faced with the actual princess in person, they become shy, uncomfortable, or worse, terrified. Consider your child’s comfort level before booking.
  2. What they like to eat may be somewhat secondary though, as many children are just so excited at the prospect of meeting the character of their dreams, that they don’t eat a bite. This happened with our daughter at Cinderella’s Royal Table for breakfast when she was 7: she ended up standing the entire time waiting breathlessly for the next princess to arrive, and never ate more than a bite. While there may be no way of knowing how your child will handle this in advance, I would also not make the menu the main criteria in choosing where to have a character meal.
  3. I would however, consider the time of day when booking. If your child is typically not an early morning person, don’t book an early breakfast, as he/she just won’t enjoy it. Likewise, if your toddler typically crashes in the early afternoon, don’t schedule lunch just when his/her nap typically is starting. Even if they are awake, they are not likely to be feeling especially magical.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, yes you need to book an ADR for a character meal, no matter what time of year you are going. And for Cinderella’s Royal Table or Chef Mickey’s, be prepared to be reserving online at 6 a.m. ET., 180 days prior to your trip.

As to what it will cost you, Character Dining costs are comparable to those for a Casual restaurant, typically in the $10-$20 per adult entrée. The thing that is a bit different though, is that many if not most of these experiences are buffets (and some are quite good!) that offer many more choices for children who are particular about what they eat (if they aren’t too excited to eat). In addition, as an all-you-care-to-eat buffet, they are a good value if you have family members that enjoy eating. 🙂

Is it worth the money to eat at a Character Dining experience? If you love visiting Disney World, and enjoy having fun with the characters, then yes it is worth it, without a doubt.

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