Is Disney World Character Dining Worth it or is it Overpriced?

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Disney World Character Dining meals at Walt Disney World are an opportunity for your child to meet some favorite Disney characters up close and personal. The characters are integrated into each meal’s theme. In some cases, the characters’ costuming is designed specifically for the meal’s character (pun intended) and other times the characters themselves are central to the location’s theming. Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast with Lilo & Stitch at the Polynesian Resort is an example of both. Lilo and Stitch are a natural fit for this South Pacific inspired resort. They are joined by their good friends Pluto and Mickey who rock some trendy Hawaiian shirts.

Most of the character meals are buffets or family style meals with the notable exception of Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table. As a general rule, you can count on meeting four or five Disney characters in about 75 minutes.

How does it all work? Once guests are settled, the Disney characters will stop at each table for a photo op, to sign autograph books, and for some good-natured antics. They may also lead a parade or a little activity such as napkin twirling.

Defining Value

Value is relative, especially at Walt Disney World. In the case of character dining, I look at four main factors: atmosphere (this includes characters and entertainment), food quality, quantity, and of course cost.

Atmosphere

It’s all about the characters. After all, that’s why you frantically began dialing at 6:55 a.m. (sans coffee) 180 days out to get hold of a coveted Advanced Dining Reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table, isn’t it? There are two types of characters at the character meals – face characters like the princesses and costumed characters like Winnie the Pooh. For me, face characters have an advantage over their costumed friends. Face characters can speak and really engage their guests through conversation while costumed characters are limited to gestures as they do not have a voice. So, if you’re looking for the most value, I say go for character dining with face characters such as the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast or Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare or Princess Storybook Dining in the Norway Pavilion. You’re kids will get more than a quick picture, a hug, and an autograph. That being said, if your child is Handy Manny’s number #1 fan, there’s no doubt meeting him at Playhouse Disney’s Play ‘n Dine at Hollywood & Vine will b e a highlight of the trip, even if he doesn’t speak.

Let’s talk about venue next. Some are truly special such as Akershus Royal Banquet Hall or Cinderella’s Royal Table while others are run-of-the mill. Yes, Playhouse Disney Play ‘n Dine, I’m talking about you. If your food tastes better in pretty surroundings, then book a princess meal which take place in some of the prettier character dining restaurants. Something that is hard to put a value on is taking photographs inside an empty theme park. For a photograph of your kids alone in front of Cinderella Castle, book a breakfast character dining experience before the park opens; you’ll be able to enter early and get those special pictures.

Food Quality

Most Disney World character meals are buffets and I would rate the overall food quality to be mediocre – you’re really paying for the character interaction. Though it may be just average, there is a lot of variety and the food is plentiful. These buffets have kid-centric stations that are sure to please little ones. One of my favorite character dining experiences from both an atmosphere and food quality perspective is Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort. To sum it up, if you weigh food quality heavily when judging value, then you’ll probably think character dining is overpriced.

Food Quantity

There’s no shortage of food at the buffets and family style meals. The problem is my family usually doesn’t eat our money’s worth. My kids are bouncing out of their seats waiting for their favorite character to stop by so it can be an exercise in futility to get them to eat their food. I’m so busy taking pictures and filling plates at the buffet that all-you-can eat often translates into all-you-have-the-chance-to-eat. This is compounded by long lines at some of the buffets since multiple groups are often seated around the same time. Where’s the best value? For my money, family style meals win out. The platters are brought directly to the table and mom and dad don’t spend a lot of time taking turns at the buffet filling plates.

Cost

If you’re paying out-of-pocket and compare restaurants based on price and food quality, you’ll pay more at most character dining. But really, you’re paying for your little ones to have a guaranteed opportunity to meet their favorite Disney friend one-on-one. Guests on the dining plan have the advantage of meeting characters for one table-service credit (with the exception of Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table), the same as other table-service restaurants. That’s a good deal.

What I don’t like is feeling obligated to purchase a photograph on top of the sometimes steep cost of the meal. At locations like Ohana’s a photographer will take your group’s picture before breakfast and then will give you the option to purchase it for about $30.

What’s the verdict?

As a mom, atmosphere (i.e., meeting the characters) is the most heavily weighted factor when I judge value. That means if my little guys have a favorite character or two, a couple of character meals are worth the money especially if the character is not so easy to find in the park. In fact, a character meal often means more time for the attractions since I don’t have to arrange our touring schedule to find and meet an elusive character.

What do you think? Is character dining worth the money?

Lisa M. Battista is the author of  Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers. When she’s not chasing after her little ones, you can most likely find her at the beach or in the kitchen trying her hand at a new recipe. You call follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DisneyExplorer.


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9 thoughts on “Is Disney World Character Dining Worth it or is it Overpriced?

  1. Definitely worth it. My adult daughter and I do at least one character meal every trip. We enjoy interacting with the characters and getting photos with them as well as seeing them interact with the children in the restaurant.

  2. This is exactly how we do it! As adults we still love the character meals! There is no way I’m going to get my 65 year old Dad standing in long lines to meet characters, but I do want some photo opts with my Dad and characters! His favorite is Crystal Palace for Breakfast!

  3. I have been to several of the character meals when I was down here on vacation in the ’90’s. I think the best in my opinion were the breakfast buffet at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian, where you are greeted by Mary Poppins, and the breakfast buffet at Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club, with the Fab Five celebrating Goofy’s Beach Romp. Others that are not being done currently were Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Breakfast at Artist Pointe at the Wilderness Lodge (miss that one!) and the all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Coral Reef Cafe, which I had mt Chirstmas morning meal and got an additional holiday gift by seeing Mickey, swimming in the aquarium. I have to agree that you have to weigh the costs with what you really want to experience. But it IS WDW, and no one does it better!

  4. On our last trip we had the dining plan (free dining promotion) for the first time and even though it was just my (now) husband and I without kids, we did a late dinner at Akershus one night just to try something different and the food was really good. The atmosphere is really fun too, I’d say its a must for any princess fans. Even though we hadn’t hesitated to see any characters that didn’t have much of a wait, we felt a little silly taking up the princesses time for a quick autograph and photo when there were so many cute kids near us about to fall out of their seat staring at them, lol.

    On our checkout day we also did the Ohana breakfast at the Polynesian, mainly because knew we’d have one last table service meal credit to use up but also because we thought it would be a nice send-off vs just checking out from the hotel and driving back home.

    On our next trip (25 days away!) we’re doing the Star Wars Galactic Breakfast which is way overpriced IMO (no dining plan this time) but Star Wars loving husband is going to flip – its a surprise – so that makes it worth it to me. If I’m willing to shell out $50/person for an adult to eat breakfast with Darth Vader, I have no doubt character meals will be a big part of future trips once we have kids. 😉

  5. The charicter meal that I feel is best worth it is the princess meal at Akershus. With 2 girls we would wait in line for 45min to an hour in a cramped hallway. This way we don’t have to entertain the kids while in line and breakfast is done as well. It does come with a picture of Belle but I’m sure that is factored into the price as well.

  6. It is not something that I feel I must do every day of my trip….but I do enjoy at least one character meal each trip.

  7. For us it’s worth just because of how we do it: we make a breakfast ADR for pre-rope drop. We get to enter the parks early and see their beauty, take photos and be seated with little or no wait. We get character interaction and photo ops without lines. As people who enjoy good food, we find breakfast offerings more palatable then lunch offerings. And we don’t lose park time.

  8. Yes- I believe that character dining is worth the cost, for a few reasons- 1) saves you time: You get to eat and meet characters, I have never felt “rushed” as far as eating, nor have I encountered long wait lines at the buffet. Yes, getting your child to eat while they are bursting with excitement can be a challenge but, I usually pick a time for meals when I know my child will be hungry. 2) It’s fun! It’s a place for the whole family to interact with the characters versus waiting in line and feeling “rushed” to get that hug, high five and signature because you have guests waiting behind you for their turn before the character needs to take a “bathroom break”. 3) I feel the food quality is better than QS in most cases and I don’t have to stand around scoping out a table while teetering a heavy tray in my hands and praying that no one bumps into me.
    Yes- it can cost but I think it’s worth it to see your child’s face light up when they get surprised by their favorite characters and that is what will keep me coming back for more! :o)

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