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337 Days! Let’s talk Character Dining

Kill two birds with one stone with Disney World’s character dining options.

Ok, so you’re going to have to eat at some point, right. If you’re looking to add some magic to your trip, and cut out some of that time waiting in line for character meet ‘n greets, you might want to check out some of Disney World’s many Character Dining experiences. At a character meal, you get to dine (usually buffet) with some of your favorite Disney characters, killing two birds with one stone. Since this trip for us includes our 5 year old son, we plan on hitting several of these. An added benefit for these is that all of the character meals inside the parks allow Advanced Dining Reservations starting at 8:00, and if you have a reservation in the 8:00 hour and the park opens at 9:00, they’ll let you into the park early and you’ll be able to get empty-ish park photos at the iconic spots before your meal. Also, if you finish early, you can head straight to get in line for your first ride of the day. We’ll be using this option where we can as well.

Full Disclosure: We didn’t do any character meals on our last trip, which means I haven’t done a WDW character meal in nearly 20 years probably, so I’m going off of what I’ve read until our trip. I’ll probably have done all of them within the next few years though.

So let’s go over some of your options:

Including Touring Plans Readers Rating (TPR, scale of 100) and Authors Rating (TPR, scale of 5), as well as AllEars reader Ratings (AER, Scale of 10)

Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Royal Table (TPR 85, TPA 3, AER 8.1)
The crown jewel of character meals is Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella’s Castle. It’s one of the more difficult reservations to get, and thus, they’ve bumped it up to a 2 meal credit meal. It’s open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. You’ll be greeted by Cinderella and you’ll be sent upstairs to the dining room where your princes and princesses will be “introduced” and proceed to dine with a bevy of princesses (4-5, I believe) that varies by date. Children are provided wands and swords as souvenirs. (Certainly worth the hefty price tag, right? Right?).

Crystal Palace (TPR 91, TPA 3, AER 8.5)
This one is already locked in our schedule, as we want that early morning Magic Kingdom reservation, and I think if my wife had her pick of characters to meet n’ greet with, the top 2 seeds would be Mary Poppins and Eeyore. Crystal Palace is the only character meal where you can find Eeyore, so if your kids (or you, I’m an Eeyore guy myself) are fans of him or Piglet (also unique to Crystal Palace), you might want to stop in. Also, Winnie and Tigger of course. Crystal Palace is also the home of the famous Pooh’s Puffed French Toast, which happens to be on the kids’ table (wink, wink), but nobody’s judging.

Epcot

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (TPR 87, TPA 2, AER 8.7)
For those who are balking at the price tag of Cinderella’s Royal Table (or couldn’t snag a reservation), Akershus is the obvious backup plan. Located in the Norway pavilion, meals at Akershus feature a different bevy of princess (although some are undoubtedly the same) and Scandinavian themed food (although mostly traditional American options). Also, since it’s in the Norway pavilion, it gives you quick access to Frozen Ever After once you finish your meal, so eat up. Nobody’s rushing you (nudge, nudge).

Garden Grill (TPR 93, TPA 2, AER 8.5)
I know I’ve done this one before, maybe on the trip before my last. The restaurant is located near Soarin’, and has a floor that rotates around scenes of Living with the Land. The meal features Chip and Dale, Mickey and Pluto in their farmer get up, and some of the food is grown fresh in the Land Pavilion. So basically, what I’m seeing here is, get a fast pass for Frozen Ever After or Soarin’ and eat at the restaurant near the other. That’s a free common sense tip for you right there.

Hollywood Studios (TPR 78, TPA 2, AER 8.5)
This is the Disney Jr character breakfast. I believe it currently features Jake, Princess Sofia, Doc McStuffins and Handy Manny. I think my son has cut all these shows out of his rotation, and the food is poorly regarded, so we’ll probably be skipping this one. That said, I do believe it’s your only option for that 8:00 hour ADR in Hollywood Studios. I don’t believe characters are present at Hollywood & Vine at supper time.

Animal Kingdom

Tusker House (TPR 92, TPA 3, AER 8.8)
Tusker House is probably the most highly regarded character meal in the parks. The African themed buffet seems to have some yummy options, as well as the traditional fare, and you can hang with Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Mickey in Safari gear. Chow down and run yourself over to Pandora. Oh, also, you can get a Rivers of Light dining package for any mealtime at Tusker House (you can use dining credits for those too).

Resorts

Chef Mickey’s @ Contemporary (TPR 85, TPA 2.5, AER 8.2)
While I’ve heard somewhere that the food may not even deserve to be called “food”, it is the only character meal where you can find all of the Big 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto), and I mean, they do have Mickey Waffles, and the Monorail goes right through the hotel. Gotta find the silver lining somewhere, but seriously the Big 5 is your silver lining. Oh, also, it’s crazy loud.

Best Friends Breakfast at ‘Ohana @ Polynesian (TPR 91, TPA 3, AER 8.5)
The food here is served ‘Ohana-style (‘Ohana means family you know), meaning you get a big ol’ skillet filled with bacon, eggs, sausage and fried potatoes. Oh, and everyone is your cousin, like you’re island family, or from Alabama. Also, I’m told there are delicious sticky sweet cinnamony rolls. Mickey and Pluto join Lilo and Stitch and wear Hawaiian shirts and leis (which you’ll also be given). ‘Ohana is one of the more highly regarded character meals on site, but it’s only at breakfast time.

Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare @ Grand Floridian (TPR 91, TPA 2.5, AER 8.6)
As noted above, my wife is a fan of Ms. Mary Poppins, so this is on our short list, not sure exactly where to squeeze it, but we’ll be trying to get it in. You can catch Mary, along with Alice and the Mad Hatter, as well as Winnie and Tigger if you didn’t catch them at Crystal Palace (or even if you did). There are a few more different options on the buffet here than at some of the other character breakfasts, but you know, there are still Mickey waffles. I mean, let’s not get crazy.

Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare @ Grand Floridian (TPR 91, TPA 2.5, AER 6.9)
Another alternative to the Royal Table if your little princess has Cinderella at the top of her must see list. Guests will also meet Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine and the Stepsisters, all making their only character meal appearance. Also, this is the home of the famous Strawberry Soup.

Cape May Café @ Beach Club (TPR 91, TPA 3.5, AER 7.3)
You can catch Minnie, Donald and Goofy at this beach themed meal. Also, there’s all you can eat seafood at dinner time, so that’s got to account for something. It can be pretty difficult getting here in the morning if you’re not staying at an Epcot resort. I think we’re going to stay in the Epcot area next time around, so I think we’ll save this one for that trip.

Garden Grove @ Swan Resort (TPR 70, TPA 2, AER 9 (breakfast), AER 7.7 (Dinner))
This one doesn’t seem to be rated very well, will have to check some other sources, but they do have Prime Rib on their dinner buffet. Also, note that characters only make appearances for breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday. They’re there nightly for dinner.

So, now that we’ve gone over these, let’s talk what I’m planning for OUR trip. On the definite list, we have Crystal Palace (to catch Eeyore and get an early AM ADR at Magic Kingdom) and Tusker House (Rivers of Light Package and early morning ADR, wish my travel agent luck). We’ll probably do Cinderella’s Royal Table as a decent value use of 2 credits (We’re going with a Deluxe Dining Plan, but don’t want to have sit down meals 3 times a day). If we end up taking the niece (or maybe even my sister in law), we might tack on Akershus to get some extra princess action. I think we’re going to end up with a pick’em between ‘Ohana Best Friends Breakfast and Kona Café (TONGA TOAST!!! KONA COFFEE!!!!), and as I noted above, we’ll try to squeeze in breakfast at 1900 too, if we get a chance.

What are some of your favorite character dining experiences? Anything people need to know that I left out?

Planning Our Perfect Vacation

So, as I’ve noted in my about page everywhere, we’ve been planning our upcoming WDW trip ever since our son was born. I’ve been to WDW a few times with my parents (once with my wife and parents), and my wife used to go every year as a cheerleading coach, so we have a decent feel for it, but I like to delve into travel plans, so I’ve spent a lot of time reading reviews and tips, watching videos, and crunching numbers to try and get everything just right. I thought I’d write this post to give you an idea of some of the things we’ve considered in locking down our plans for our reservation.

First off, this is what we’re calling our “all-in” trip. For us, that means we’re trying to knock out as many quintessential must-do Disney World things as we can in one trip, so that future visits don’t have to be so inclusive. Thus, if our plans exceed your personal budget or thoughts, don’t worry. There’s a WDW plan of attack for everyone and on a lot of budgets.

One of the first things to consider is “When can we go?”. For us, we ended up with a 1-week window to work in. I’ve only ever been in the summer, and it’s always ridiculously humid and crowded. My wife used to go for Cheerleading competitions in the fall, and really liked the weather and crowds for that time of the year, so while her teaching schedule doesn’t work for the fall, we found a week in the Spring that we should be able to go. If you want to find a less crowded time of the year (the park is pretty much always somewhat crowded at this point in time), TouringPlans.com posts crowd calendars and I think weather estimates, so you can get a feel for how your dates are going to look. I know that when I was looking at dates, going in the summer was 50% more crowded than going the week we ultimately chose.

The next important things to consider are where your priorities are. Our son will be 5 years old when we go to Disney. He’s a pretty chill kid, but even so, he’s probably not going to have the best temperament if you try to drag him around a park all day. Therefore, one of our priorities is to make sure we can build in several hours of rest time back at the hotel to nap or swim or do something aside from being dragged around a crowded park all day. To this end, we decided to prioritize a resort on the Monorail, as these resorts are fairly convenient to Epcot and Magic Kingdom (and with the new Express Transportation option in the parks, pretty convenient to any of the parks at mid-day).

You also have to consider the makeup of your party. We have our son, who’ll be 5, and we may also have my brother and sister in law, with their daughter, age 6, and son, age 9. With all the kiddos in tow, we know we’re going to want to do a lot of the age-appropriate rides and get in some character meals. The character meals keep your kids from getting bored at a meal time and allow you to skip waiting in line for pics and autographs from your favorite characters in the park. We decided since a lot of these character meals best fit at breakfast time and using a table service credit for breakfast is not exactly the best value, we decided to go with a Deluxe Dining Plan, so we can have the extra meal credits to use on nice dinners and show packages to get the value out of our plan. Once we knock out some of these experiences, we can go out of pocket or on a more traditional dining plan on future trips. The makeup of your party also helps determine how many days you need to devote to each park. With kids in your party, I can almost guarantee that you’re going to want to devote 2 days to the Magic Kingdom, you might can cut back on Epcot (a lot of attractions more catered to adults, and won’t keep kids’ attention). Depending on your kids, Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studio can be anywhere from a half day to a day and half (or 2 if you want to spend a lot of time exploring Animal Kingdom). If you’re in an adult only group, you’ll probably spend more time at Epcot, and maybe enjoy more of the shows and music at Animal Kingdom, or spend a good amount of time at Disney Springs.

All in all, we’ve targeted 7 nights at the Contemporary or Polynesian with a Deluxe Dining Plan and Memory Maker and 6-day park hoppers. I crunched a lot of numbers in the process, but generally didn’t do it across the board for a lot of things, so I’ll try to spend some time doing that, so I can give you rankings based on specific data points, like the ones I used in planning our trip. Good luck in your planning, and feel free to send me any questions you might have.

Alcohol Added to Disney Dining Plan 2018

So, the big rumor this week (at least at our house, my wife and I high fived) is that alcoholic beverages will be added to the Disney Dining Plan for 2018. Under the new plans, guests will be able to choose between one non-alcoholic specialty drink or alcoholic beverage per meal. Obviously, we’re probably going to see a price hike, but since I was going to be paying more to get alcohol anyway, we cool.

Alas, against our initial hopes, I still can’t use all those snack credits to drink around the world in Epcot.

Pricing Your Trip

We’re traveling in 2018, so I actually haven’t had a chance to crunch the real numbers for our trip. 2018 packages will be able towards the end of this month (June 2017) and we should be able to delve into the numbers for 2018 at that point. For now, I’ve still been going off of 2017 prices and just assuming a 3-5% hike in those numbers.

You can go through and pull numbers direct from Disney’s site, but when I’m crunching data and building spreadsheets and what not, I prefer to just go to WDWinfo and get all the beautiful data in one place.

You can find 2017 resort rates here:
http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/disney-rates.htm

(Note that depending on where you stay, you might be able to get a discount on your resort)

2017 Dining Plan Costs are here:
http://www.wdwinfo.com/disney-dining-plan.htm

2017 Ticket prices are here:
http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/tickets.htm#tickettypes

With Pandora opening recently, and Toy Story Land opening in 2018, expect prices to take another decent jump, and probably another one in 2019, with Star Wars Land coming down the pipe.

All in all, these numbers are a pretty good place to start and to get idea of what kind of budget you need to have.