Whether you're an adult or a child, character dining can add a lot to your next Disney park visit. Sure, Disney has great dining options all over the parks, but character dining is still something special: you get to sit down and have a great meal while characters circulate through the restaurant to come and visit you.
It's a nice change of pace from the standard character visit at the parks, which often involve lengthy waits in line or fast passes picked up well in advance. And even though character dining will cost you more than an average meal, it can be a great way to pack in a lot of character moments without running around the park or doing any (or at least much) waiting.
However not all character dining experiences are created equal. While you may be tempted to start your day at Walt Disney World off with a visit to Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary, this popular choice — which is often both crowded and booked well in advance — might not be the best choice.
Instead, let's go off the beaten track with some of the more unique character dining experiences Disney has to offer.
1. Cinderella's Royal Table, Magic Kingdom
Admittedly, the first item on our list is another obvious choice... but it has an ambience that can't be beat. Located inside the castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Cinderella's Royal Table is something straight out of a fairy tale — and it's a great place to meet and interact with all of the Disney Princesses. Who you might see visiting while you're there will always include Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, and you're likely to see many other Disney princesses, too, like Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and Rapunzel.
However, it's one of the priciest and hard to reserve options on this list. If you absolutely have to get in, be sure to budget accordingly and start checking for reservations 180 days in advance of your visit. If you can't get in to the Royal Table, you can try Be Our Guest, also in Magic Kingdom for the same fairy tale ambience but without the character — though reservations can be just as hard to come by. If princesses are a must, however, check Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot, which has a similarly-themed princess experience — though less regal.
2. Crystal Palace, Magic Kingdom
If you have a Winnie the Pooh fan in your group, it's hard to beat a meal at the Crystal Palace. This Victorian-themed greenhouse — modeled after London's Crystal Palace — offers buffet food all day long plus the chance to meet all of your favorite characters from the Hundred Acre Woods.
Even though you aren't dining in the castle, the windows of the Crystal Palace offer castle views, and with the right seats this can be a fine place to people watch. It's also home to some characters that can be hard to find elsewhere in the park, like Rabbit and Piglet: so if meeting Pooh's circle of friends is a must, this becomes a can't miss experience.
3. Ohana Best Friends Breakfast, Polynesian Village Resort
Though you can find Lilo and Stitch around the resort from time to time, you can always find them at the Ohana Best Friends Breakfast alongside a few other characters — usually Mickey and Pluto — dressed for the beach. But the characters don't just circulate around the restaurant: about every half hour the characters form a conga line and dance around the restaurant, with audience participation encouraged (if that's your thing).
Food here isn't (entirely) the standard buffet fare, but instead brought to your table in large family-sized portions, including breads, fruits, waffles, and breakfast staples eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and biscuits. Also included with your meal is P.O.G. — though you'll find a similar concoction on the menu in other restaurants under the name of Jungle Juice — a mix of passion fruit, orange, and guava juices that always gets rave reviews.
4. Garden Grill Chip 'n Dale Harvest Feast, Epcot
For dinner, Garden Grill offers a family-style farmer's feast with a focus on organic and sustainable food. Like breakfast at Ohana, at Garden Grill food is brought to your table family style, with big plates of veggies, meats, and deserts — and don't be afraid to ask for seconds, because this is all you can eat!
During your meal, the restaurant rotates — slowly, so there's no need to worry about motion sickness — providing you great views of Living with the Land while you eat... but the view isn't the star of the show. Throughout your meal, characters will come to call: usually Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale. Mickey is decked out in farmer garb at the Garden Grill — and it's the only place you'll catch him in this particular costume.