I see this a lot: A family plans a trip to Disney World and they get the dining plan, which allows them to eat at a wide variety of restaurants on site, but when they make their advanced dining reservations (ADRs), they end up booking a character meal for almost every day of the trip. As a travel agent and possibly more so parent as a who’s taken my children to Disney World many times, I want to shout “don’t do it.” Don’t get me wrong, I like character meals, but hear me out. There’s a reason why I say this.
Disney World is an amazing place with a lot going on almost 24-hours a day, much more than you can experience in one trip. It can sometimes be too much for an adult to take in, much less small children. For someone like me, who really likes to eat, food is a big part of that experience and character meals can really add to your visit: The character buffets at Disney are surprisingly good and the interaction with the characters is more involved than at a regular meet and greet in the parks. But at a certain point, you can overdue it. Add too many character meals to a kids’ schedule and they get a little bored It’s sort of like opening gifts on Christmas morning: We all remember how the first few were the most exciting.
Aside from being overwhelmed, one problem with too many character meals, from an adult perspective, is that you miss out on so much good food. I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of buffets, but I generally think Disney buffets are a cut above what you would find off site. Having said that, most of these meals are pretty much the same thing over and over. Why would you want to stick to fried chicken and mac and cheese your entire trip when you can have great, wood-fired pizza or artisan pork?
Here’s what I propose instead: Do just two character meals for a week-long stay, say Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table, then pull the “It’s My Trip Too” card and plan a night for everyone at a signature restaurant of the grown-up’s choosing. Signature restaurants, in case you’re wondering, are the more high-end of Disney’s table service restaurants. They require two table-service credits on the meal plan and offer more sophisticated, but still accessible, fare. The nice thing about doing a “fancy” restaurant at Disney World, is that they’re all kid-friendly. At home, you may hesitate to take your young children to a white table cloth kind of restaurant, but you don’t have to worry about that at Disney. Every restaurant is set up to accomodate kids, complete with kid friendly menus and some of the best servers you encounter anywhere. So branch out for a special evening without worrying. I love a night out at California Grill, located on top of the Contemporary Resort, watching the fireworks and eating a good meal. It is a wonderful celebration and my favorite way to end our vacation.
This still leaves you with a few table-service credits left, so maybe try French food at Chefs de France for lunch or an African-inspired buffet at Boma for dinner. One thing Disney does exceptoinally well is make sure that every restaurant has something for picky eaters, so don’t worry about accomadating someone who doesn’t like to experiment; even in the most exotic of restaurants, they should be able to find something to please.
Disney chefs work every day to overcome the impression that they’re serving “theme park food.” Next trip, branch out and treat yourself. You won’t regret it.
Chris writes here and at Everything Walt Disney World. She’s also a travel agent and a member of the Mouse Chat Podcast. Email her at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com for information on how you can get a free $100, $50, or $25 Disney gift card when you book a new vacation. Don’t forget, free dining for August – September 2011 is now available.
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