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Vote of the week: Character dining at a theme park

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Published: May 18, 2012 at 2:03 PM

When was the last time you had a character meal in a theme park?

And by "character meal," I don't mean one where you actually eat a character:

Duffy waffle

But one where you dine with the characters:

Tea party character meal at Disney World's Grand Floridian

The upside of character dining is the chance to multi-task: You take care of a character meet-and-greet and a meal, at the same time! The downside is the expense: Character meals often cost more than non-character meals with the same food. You're paying for that character experience.

But many theme park visitors welcome the chance to pay a little extra to ensure some one-on-one time with the favorite characters without having to wait, often outside in the sun. That's why character meals often require advance reservations, and sometimes weeks in advance.

Not every character meal's a tough ticket, though. Several years ago, the kids and I walked over to the hotel at Knott's Berry Farm for dinner, and ended up being the only party with kids at a Snoopy character dinner. The kids were thrilled to have Snoopy all to themselves, but after about 10 minutes, we discovered that too much character time can get, well, awkward. Once Snoopy had mimed his way through all his gags, the encounter started to feel like a bad blind date. The kids had nothing left to say, and Snoopy, well, he's a giant theme park dog. There wasn't anything he could say. So after several moments of awkward silence, Snoopy mercifully called it a night and shuffled away.

I'd love to hear your stories and opinions about character dining in the theme parks. Please share your tips and advice, or just a funny, silly or crazy story, in the comments.


As always, thanks for reading Theme Park Insider, and have a great weekend!

Readers' Opinions

From Daniel Etcheberry on May 18, 2012 at 2:53 PM
I went to customer service in Epcot with my brother-in-law to make a reservation for the restaurant at the Norway pavilion. The cast member looked at us in disbelief and said "Do you know that's a character dining with princesses?" We look at each other because we didn't know. Finally we decided to make the reservation anyways. There were no kids in our party, so it was awkward when a line of princesses came to our table. They were beautiful + I'm single, but this is Disneyworld, not Coyote Ugly Saloon. That was the moment that I understood the cast member's reaction; with no kids, it is awkward. She must have thought that we were gay.
From Will Chilcote on May 18, 2012 at 3:16 PM
Went to Goofy's Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel on my last trip. The food was decent but, if u don't have any young kids its really not worth it. We only went because it was free. The resort hotels give u free character breakfasts sometimes. I would not do it if I had to pay for it.
From KJ Simpson on May 18, 2012 at 3:15 PM
We're not really big character fans, but I always try to do Akershus and Crystal Palace, both for breakfast. Getting an ADR an hour before the park opens, and being able to walk through a completely empty park (albeit not too far in MK)is totally worth it for me! I absolutely love walking all the way through Epcot and over to Norway without a soul around....
From Amanda Jenkins on May 18, 2012 at 3:19 PM
We always schedule some character dining, even when we are without our children. We enjoy just sitting there, relaxing, and then being able to get a photo and autograph. I prefer this to waiting in line to meet the characters. In my opinion, it is worth the extra cost. Our sons ask us to make sure to book some character dining. This also helped to slowly introdcue them to the characters when they were toddlers without scaring them. Watching them walk around and interact with other families helped and encouraged our boys that a six ft tall Tigger was something that you could approach and hug.
From Dominick D on May 18, 2012 at 3:39 PM
I barely eat at table service restaurants in parks, but character dining is great, as you don't have to wait in lines! The downside is the restaurants are pricey (typical).
From Melanie Howe on May 18, 2012 at 3:40 PM
With no kids, my husband and I aren't interested in character dining, but ...... We travel with our Great Dane and we've always sort of wished we could bring him into the Islands restaurant at Universal's RPR to get a picture with Scooby-Doo during character dining.

Well, we got our wish last trip. We were all sitting outside Jake's one night when the Scooby character came walking by with his handler on their way off-duty. "Scooby" recognized another Dane right away :-) Here was our chance... but, of course, the camera was in the room!! Even though they were both tired and he wanted to get "Scooby" out of the heat, the handler graciously agreed to follow us back to our room so I could get the camera. He took the perfect shot of all three of us with our favorite cartoon dog.

We made sure to contact the character management office the next day to tell them how much we appreciated their employees going above and beyond to indulge two silly pet parents :-)

From 173.19.37.145 on May 18, 2012 at 7:57 PM
My family enjoys character dining and we make sure we schedule at least one character meal during our trip. At WDW we have eaten at: Akerhaus with the Princesses, Garden Grill with Chip, Dale, Pluto and Mickey; Chef Mickey's (Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Chip & Dale); Crystal Palace (Pooh, Piglet, Eyeore, and Tigger), 1900 Park Fare (Cinderella, Prince Charming, Fairy Godmother, Perla, & Suzy); and Cinderella's Royal Table at the Castle (Princesses and Fairy God Mother). We enjoy Chef Mickey's the most and try to do the dinner with him each time we go to WDW.

As far as Character Dining at Disneyland, we really enjoyed Goofy's Kitchen. The food was ok, but the characters and the overall atmosphere was great. We also have eaten at Ariel's Grotto. Once again the food was ok, but we scheduled the meal so our daughter could see all of the Princesses since only a few were actually available in the park. We would like to try some of the other character dining experiences the next time we travel to DL.

From Beth Olliges on May 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM
I love character dining! I don't find it a bit awkward. I figure my boyfriend and I paid just as much for our meal tickets as everyone else, so we deserve photos with the characters, too! Of course, if there are tables with kids nearby, we don't mind waiting our turn. We don't necessarily book one on every trip, but we've done several! We feel like it's part of the fun of getting to be kids again. (Once, we had the 'Ohana breakfast on my birthday, and I got up and danced around the room with Mickey and all the kids! Hey, it was my birthday, and if anyone had an issue with it, that's their problem!) :-D
From Pat Jackson on May 21, 2012 at 10:17 AM
It has been quite a while since I have done did Character dining but the first time experience was similar to Daniels and was made quite memorable for it. The wife and I went to Disney sans kids (both were under 3 at the time) and decided to do a character meal under the guise of checking it out for the next trip when we have the kids. There are kids are all over the place, seemingly every table has at least one, characters table hopping and Goofy comes up to our table and through belly gestures and pointing asks if my wife is pregnant, no we say. Goofy hold his hands out raising and lowering to various heights then shrugs his shoulders. We took that to mean where are the kids. We said back home in Maryland with the grandparents, we are here alone. Goofy looks around and claps his hands, give us the double thumbs up, pats me on the back and off he goes. Each time Goofy came near us after that he made some gesture or inference that had us laughing at what we perceived to be a more adult meaning. Needless to say we went back several times with the kids but it was not quite the same for us. The kids enjoyed the slapstick and the attention but I kind of preferred the PG version. ;)
From Ted Heumann on May 21, 2012 at 10:32 AM
We have made it a birthday tradition to go to Goofy's kitchen at DL around my 3 kids birthdays (fortunely they are all right around the same 3 months).
My wife and I enjoy the food most of all. They have some of the best bacon I have ever had.
From Mark Kausch on May 22, 2012 at 1:50 AM
We did a charactor breakfast at the Plaza Inn when my daughter was young. Short story, she didn't even like Santa Claus - though she didn't seem to mind the presents - and Gepetto had her running around the place, but not too happily.

But...her mother and I had a ball watching it.

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