As someone that wants to spend as much time experiencing the parks as possible, waiting in queues for well over an hour (per character) was not fitting well into my touring plan. Sure, some are unique and the backdrop is amazing, but the more time I “waste” waiting in line, the fewer rides and parades I can experience during our limited time at Disney.
This is why I always push for as many Character dining experiences as financially possible. If you have the free Disney Dining Plan, this is a non-issue – of course you need to book character meals. But for everyone else paying out of pocket, you need to way the cost benefits of waiting in line vs having an expensive meal. I mean, you need to eat eventually, why not wine and dine with the characters at the same time.
And before you say anything, we have experienced just as many Character dinners before we had kids as we have with the kids. These tips apply to both families with young kids, families with older kids and families without kids. You better believe Mickey signed my autograph book.
To which I earn a small commission, at zero cost to you!
Tips for Dining with Disney Characters at Walt Disney World
Book WELL in advance
Because everyone wants to dine with Disney Characters and there are only so many spaces available, it is important to book as soon as your Advanced Dining Reservation window opens. If you don’t get the time and location of your choice, go to Plan B and keep looking. Something will open up.
Have your photo background sorted
The lighting is perfect, everyone is smiling and looking at the camera – and the family behind you is making the stupidest face ever.
Arrange yourself and the children for a blank backdrop, as much as possible. This will mean asking the characters to stand in a specific spot and angling yourself and the camera to have the children’s bodies block anything unsightly behind them. Editing is great, but it can only do so much when it comes to unexpected photobombing.
What time of day to book.
Personally, I prefer breakfast or later in the evening. This is for many reasons.
- Hat head and sweaty faces. The days are long and the sun is hot. Hat head isn’t easily remedied in the bathroom a few moments before your table is ready. By having character meals, which means lots and lots of photos, in the morning, you have avoided the situation altogether. In the evening, you have a chance to clean up, brush your hair and/or change your clothes, before heading to dinner.
- Lots of fun stuff happens around lunchtime. Schedule your lunch to be quick and simple. It’s still a rest, just not very long. Sit down and decompress in the evenings, before heading back out for nighttime shows and parades.
- The kids may be sleeping by the time your reservation comes around. Many restaurants don’t allow strollers in the main dining hall, so sleeping babies will need to be woken up. This is due to fire codes.
- Breakfast is cheap, and dinner lasts a while. If you and the kids can manage to stay up until 9 pm before having your main meal (because pre-dinner is a real requirement), others will be busy exploring the parks after dark. In theory, it shouldn’t be as busy in the restaurants as it would be at noon. Breakfast is also the cheapest meal of the day, and the only meal some locations offer characters.
Bring a container for leftovers
When it comes to kids, there are always leftovers. They say they are hungry, and yet can’t finish their plate. And that’s ok, there is a lot to see during Character Dining and they are very distracted (and interrupted often). Pack it up, and finish it later when they complain they are hungry.
Turn on your camera and make sure your settings are right
Don’t be caught fiddling with the settings while you have the characters. They are only with each table for a limited time, make the most of it. Play with the settings to adjust for the lighting by having one of the older kids or adults standing where you want the character to stand.
Character Dining with toddlers
Talk to your kids and encourage them to get excited
It’s one thing to be excited about meeting the characters and another to have your kids excited with you. Tell them what to expect and encourage them to participate. Have them talk to the character (knowing that many can’t respond), give them a hug and sign their autograph book. If they aren’t interested, they aren’t interested, but at least you tried.
Be prepared with a few other table-sized distractions
Disney does offer paper and crayons to colour with but after a handful of restaurants, this same (or similar) image gets a little boring. Even the act of colouring itself can cause tension with the children. Have a game, a book to read, a tablet or fully charged and loaded cell phone. Anything to distract the little ones while they wait for their food to be served, or for everyone else to finish eating.
Bring Toddler-Sized utensils if needed
Maybe your kid isn’t eating because they don’t like the size and shape of the utensils. If they are sensitive or just have small hands, as most toddlers will, consider bringing your own utensils from home. This will help the children feel more relaxed and less likely to combust when something new is placed in front of them to eat.
Be honest with yourself about your child’s eating habits
Know when and what your child likes to eat and plan your restaurants accordingly. If they are a picky eater, then maybe a buffet style restaurant is a better choice. How much they eat will also
Don’t forget an autograph book for the kids
Even if they say they don’t want to collect autographs, once they see the other children getting excited about their autograph books, yours will want something special to commemorate the occasion – or just want to do it too. There are several inexpensive options on ETSY, Amazon and in the Parks if you forgot to get one ahead of time.
With toddlers in tow, give yourselves plenty of time to get to the restaurant and get organized
Ending one activity and starting another is always an arduous task with little ones. Trekking across the Parks in order to reach the end goal doesn’t sound that amazing either, considering how many amazing things to see and do you will be passing. If you have to walk far, give yourself plenty of time to explore things along the way and avoid any meltdowns. Technically, I would suggest planning your touring strategy to have you near your restaurant of choice by the time your reservation comes along but we all know this isn’t always possible.
Move kids to the seats that are accessible to the character’s paths
Not only does the photo need to be in the perfect spot, but the kids need to actually be able to access the characters in a timely fashion. If you are in a booth, have them on the outside. Table and chairs; have them nearest to the photo spot. The more work that the kids have to do, the more chances there is of a pint-sized rebellion.
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