Updated June 3, 2017
For many, a visit to Disneyland isn’t complete until they share a meal with a Disney character. I’ve researched your options, below, with details on each so that you can find the best fit for your family. If you’re considering making that meal reservation, know these things before you commit.
A few notes:
- There are five options for character dining at DLR. Three are within the resort hotels, one is at Disneyland and one is at California Adventure.
- Theme park tickets are required to enjoy a dining option at the parks.
- A hotel room stay is not required to enjoy a character meal at one of the DLR hotel restaurants.
- Reservations are highly recommended and can be made up to 60 days in advance. All reservations can be made online or you can call (714) 781-DINE (3463) between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM daily (Pacific Time).
- You will not have to pay for children under the age of 3, however, include them in your party count when making a reservation. That way, the restaurant can accommodate accurate seating for your group. Children age 2 and under can eat off your plate or you can bring food for them.
- Three character meals are labeled as Premium. Those are Goofy’s Kitchen, Surf’s Up!, and Ariel’s Grotto. Minnie’s in the Park and Storyteller’s Cafe are not Premium. If you pre-purchase vouchers from Disney or a travel agency, you will need to know which is which. I recommend using Get Away Today for character meal vouchers. They include tax and tip (18%), which will added to your bill at the time of payment. Book through Get Away Today at this link. In some cases, you won’t save money and the pricing will come out even. In a few – like lunch at Ariel’s Grotto – you’ll save about $4 per adult. In any case, having the meals paid for in advance is a nice advantage.
A few tips:
- Character meals are priced a bit higher than other meals throughout the parks, however, there is a lot to be gained with these experiences. You can avoid standing in line for signatures and photos during park times, you get personal interaction with the the characters and you can achieve a more memorable experience during character meals.
- There is no need to follow characters around throughout your meal. They come to you! Be sure to pack your autograph book!
- Characters vary throughout meals and there are no guarantees you will see specific ones. The only absolute is that you will see the character whose name is included in your meal’s name. IE: Goofy will be at Goofy’s Kitchen.
- Small children may be overwhelmed with life size, enthusiastic characters interacting with them. Consider this before making a reservation.
- To ensure the most time available for rides and attractions, I recommend choosing one of the three DLR hotel character dining experiences (unless you time it just perfectly – more on that later), perhaps on the day you arrive or leave. This way, you don’t interfere with precious park time.
- If you are going during the hotter months, consider a lunch option to escape the heat and sit down for a while. While breakfast is a nice way to go, those hours are best used if you’re serious about riding a lot.
- Strollers are not permitted in any of the five restaurants with character meals.
- If you are dining at one of the meals at a Disneyland Resort Hotel and driving in only for that meal, park at the hotel and ask for your ticket to be validated. You’ll receive free parking up to 3 hours with your paid meal.
The basics of each:
Storytellers Cafe Breakfast- Woodland Critters, lovely setting, no PhotoPass+
Goofy’s Kitchen Breakfast or Dinner – Your only dinner option, lots of “kid” food
Surf’s Up! Breakfast – Your only option to see Mickey Mouse (and Minnie!)
Ariel’s Breakfast and Lunch – Princessy fun
Minnie’s in the Park Breakfast – Most diverse characters, my favorite
Now, let’s compare the five restaurants in more detail……
DLR Hotel Dining Options
- Location: Grand Californian Hotel
- Menu: Breakfast
- Cost: American, Asian, Mexican fare ($33 for adults, $19 for children)
- The main idea: Mickey waffles, buffet or other menu items are enjoyed while mingling with Chip n Dale and friends.
- What’s unique: Unusual characters are often spotted here, including Brother Bear and hard-to-find woodland critters. They often do the hokey pokey and the entertainment is lively and energetic. Check out a previous visit to the breakfast. And, one from February 2017, too.
- This is a great option for only those who have experienced the classics. I agree. It’s one of my favorites, but the well known characters do not attend this meal.
- Typical (but not guaranteed characters): Brother Bears Kenai and Koda, Chip n Dale, Meeko, and Brer Fox. (I’ve heard recently that Pluto has been appearing in place of Koda.) *****Note: this is the only character meal that is not included in the PhotoPass+ program.
- Book this meal.
- Location: Disneyland Hotel
- Menu: Breakfast and Dinner
- Cost: American fare ($36 for adults, $21 for children for breakfast; $39 for adults and $23 for children for dinner)
- The main idea: With table service and a buffet, this classic Disney character experience is a favorite because of its lively ambiance. Dancing is a must when Goofy’s around. Unfortunately, the interaction between characters and guests is limited – I believe – due to the size of this character meal. We had brief encounters with each of them, although they did all make it to our table once.
- What’s unique: This is your only opportunity for a character dinner, in or out of the parks. It is also the only place to find Goofy’s famous Peanut Butter and Jelly Pizza. Kids LOVE this option because of the huge amount of “kid food”. Check out one of our visits from 2015 so you know what to expect. My most recent visit can be found here, which was in January 2017.
- Most people suggest that this option has gone down in quality. We had a great time at this meal, but encountered more characters at others. Other locations are more up to date decor wise, as well.
- Typical (but not guaranteed characters): Pluto, Chip n Dale, Goofy, and Minnie.
- Book this meal.
- Location: Paradise Pier Hotel
- Menu: Breakfast
- Cost: American fare ($36 for adults; $21 for children)
- The main idea: Mickey Mouse and friends cause mischief throughout the beach-themed restaurant, stealing sips of milk and acting silly. This meal is very interactive and has proven to be one of the best available.
- What’s unique: Mickey is a guarantee here and is only spotted at this dining experience. Check out a recent visit. Outside of the Disney Visa meet-n-greet at DCA, this is your only option to meet Stitch. Here is a link to my visit in February 2017.
- This meal is an excellent opportunity to meet both Mickey and Minnie without standing in line in the parks, which will save you about a half hour in your park visit. I agree.
- Typical (but not guaranteed characters): Mickey, Minnie, Stitch, Pluto and Daisy.
- Book this meal.
In the Park Options
- Location: California Adventure Park, Ariel’s Grotto Restaurant
- Menu: Breakfast and Lunch
- Cost: American fare with healthy options and vegetarian cuisine ($37 for adults and $22 for children for breakfast; $40 for adults and $24 for children for lunch)
- The main idea: Ariel and her princess friends interact with guests as they eat.
- What’s unique: This is the only table service, higher-end character dining option and is a princess fan favorite. Food presentation delights young kids at this ‘fancy’ meal.
- This meal is the absolute authority when it comes to princesses. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and you can check out photos from my recent visit. Sit outside if you’re comfortable with the weather, as the photos are beautiful with the water/park as a backdrop.
- This option has bloody marys. (Don’t judge me.)
- Typical (but not guaranteed characters): Ariel, Belle, Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora (Rapunzel has been spotted here recently, too.)
- Book this meal.
- Location: Disneyland, The Plaza Inn Restaurant
- Menu: Breakfast
- Cost: American ($32 for adults, $18 for children)
- The main idea: Minnie and friends mingle at this breakfast on-site, with seating inside and out. Most people like indoor seating better because interaction is a bit more likely and weather isn’t a factor. I’ve dined outside several times and have had great experiences each time, however.
- What’s unique: You can enjoy a view of the entrance to Tomorrowland while you dine and the Astro Orbitor is in view. Check out out photos for more details from a recent visit. Find more photos from another visit here. And, here. And, here, which was in January 2017. (I’m obsessed.)
- Most people love this meal for both the food and interaction with characters, plus the amount of characters you’re likely to see. I completely agree!
- Typical (but not guaranteed characters): Chip n Dale, Minnie, Hook, Tigger, Eeyore, Fairy Godmother, Winnie the Pooh, Max, and Rafiki. (By far the most I’ve seen at a character meal – and they have GREAT interaction. This is my favorite character meal. I saw Pinocchio last visit! Others have reported seeing the mice from Cinderella.
- Book this meal.
Character meals are a special way to celebrate at Disneyland. Choose the best meal for your family, make your reservation ASAP and prepare for the fun ahead!
Some More Tips
*Use the Disney Parks App to locate characters outside of your committed meal times if you don’t get to see the ones you want during your dining arrangements.
*My absolute favorite character meal is the Breakfast in the Park with Minnie and Friends. Here is why. It’s hosts the most characters, the characters and super interactive and attentive, and it’s in the best setting, as far as I’m concerned. Schedule this for 10:00 or 10:30am, so that after you arrive early for the early hours to enjoy the parks with fewer crowds and less chaos, escape to a nice meal right as the the people arrive. You will love this break from the crowds. Be sure to try the French Toast, too, with Banana’s Foster topping.
*My favorite for ambiance and setting is Storyteller’s Cafe, however, it does not include classic characters and I only recommend this one for those who have done the classics. I also believe they have the best food.
*Have the PhotoPass+ One Day package purchased before arrival if you are interested in grabbing the one image that PhotoPass photographers will take. That happens at the beginning of your meal. This is the only time I recommend pre–purchasing the PhotoPass+ One Day package, as it’s imperative to have it pre-purchased if you want that image from your character meal. Read more about PhotoPass+ and why you should have it for your trip. If you are interested in printed photos, you will have the opportunity to purchase these on site for around $35.
*While I list the characters you’re most likely to see at each meal, there is no guarantee that every one of these characters will greet you at your table. Characters do their best to accommodate every table, but occasionally, you might miss one. Character focused cast members are on site. If you feel that you’re not seeing enough interaction, kindly approach a cast member and ask if he or she can help. Disney wants you to have the best experience possible.
*Each meal is set up a little differently. With some, you will check in and pay upon arrival. Others will include receiving the check at the end of the meal. You may leave gratuity at any/all of the meals.
*Premium Character meals are considered to be Goofy’s Kitchen, Surf’s Up!, and Ariel’s Grotto. This is a Disney added label. I prefer other meals that don’t include the ‘premium’ label.
*As mentioned before, I recommend the latest dining time possible for breakfast so that you don’t miss out on the less crowded park time early in the morning. With that latest time, you will still have an average of an hour prior to when characters depart from the meals. Disney won’t schedule you for a 10:30am meal and have the characters take off at 10:45am. They account for an hour past the latest reservation so that guests see as many characters are possible.
*Most character meals include specific buttons designed to show you enjoyed a meal there that day. Grab one for each person in your party upon check in.
*If you make your reservation prior to official park opening, you will need to take your reservation confirmation (email or via your mobile) to the gate marked for such. You will be allowed to enter for your time, even without EMH or Magic Morning. Do NOT use your EMH or Magic Morning for a character meal. Save it to use another day. Find more on EMH and Magic Morning in this post.
Here is a photo of what your gate will look like:
Leave me a comment if you have any questions. Happy to help you!