Disney Character Dining Ranked by Us for You!

Hi folks! I have been deep into planning mode lately. Our August trip has evolved from just Universal Orlando to a hybrid Disney/ UO trip, but I’ll share more of that later. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of wishing that I was back at Walt Disney World, soaking up the warm temperatures and hanging with my favorite characters.

One of the things we love most is character dining at Walt Disney World. Even though our daughter is growing out of it, she’s still a pretty good sport about it. Character dining is a great way to meet your fav characters and get a great (most of the time) meal! We thought it would be fun to rate each of the character dining meals we have experienced to help out those who may be having trouble deciding where to try. The “location” category is for how convenient or special the restaurant’s location is, while the “atmosphere” category rates the overall feeling of the restaurant. This is, of course, our personal opinion. Yours may differ. With that being said, enjoy our character dining ratings!

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Tusker House— Food: 5 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 4                                      Characters include: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy

Garden Grill— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 5                                        Characters include: Mickey, Pluto, Chip, Dale

Akershus— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 5                                               Characters include: Snow White, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Belle

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Hollywood and Vine (L, D)— Food: 2 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 3               Characters include: Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, Donald, Daisy

(Hollywood and Vine also has a character breakfast with Disney Jr. characters which we’ve never personally experienced. )

Crystal Palace— Food: 3 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 5                                      Characters include: Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet

Cinderella’s Royal Table— Food: 3 Character Interaction: 2 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 5                    Characters include: Ariel, Jasmine, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle

1900 Park Fare (B)— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 3 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 3                               Characters include: Alice, Mad Hatter, Pooh, Mary Poppins

1900 Park Fare (D)— Food: 2 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 3                              Characters include: Cinderella, Prince Charming, Drizella, Anastasia, Step-Mother

‘Ohana (B)—Food: 4  Character Interaction: 3 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 4                                              Characters include: Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, Pluto

Chef Mickey’s— Food: 3 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 3                                       Characters include: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto

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Cape May Cafe (B)— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 5 Location 3 Atmosphere: 3                               Characters include: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Daisy

Trattoria al Forno (B)– Food: 5 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 4                          Characters include Rapunzel, Flynn Ryder, Ariel, Prince Eric

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That about does it. We didn’t rate Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness, as we have not done that experience, and probably won’t any time soon (it’s out of our price range!) I hope you’ve found this post useful, or at least mildly entertaining. At any rate, we had a blast remembering  our past character dining experiences. What’s your favorite character meal? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Top Disney Questions…Answered!

Hello out there! It’s another snow day in the south (at least we have actual snow for this one) so what better time to throw a movie on Netflix and do some blogging? I have joined a few Disney trip planning groups on Facebook, because I like to share my views, help newbies, and learn from others who have been to Disney a lot more that me! I’ve noticed that there are many of the same questions asked on these groups, so I figured I’d do my best to answer some of these questions here. Read on to see if I answer some of your Disney-related queries!

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When should I go to Walt Disney World? If you can go at any time during the year, the best months for crowds and weather is early to mid-November, and early December, as well as most of January to early February. September crowds tend to be low, but the weather is more unpredictable. There really is no “low’ season anymore due to all the new stuff happening at the parks, so plan to visit when good weather is more likely and crowds won’t be at their peaks. These peak times to avoid if at all possible are spring break, early to mid-summer, and holidays.

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Where should I stay? I always recommend that people stay at a Disney resort hotel if it’s at all in their budget. The perks are just too awesome, and there is a Disney hotel for every budget. There are certain times of year you can get a room on property for under $100! If you have a larger family, you might look at Art of Animation suites or the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. There are so many great resorts on property that you should strongly consider it. If you’re looking for an upscale, amenities-rich experience, look into the deluxe resorts. I have enjoyed both moderate and value resorts, since we are focused on enjoying the parks, and just need a bed, decent pools, and some food.

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How far ahead should I start planning? I always say, the sooner the better with Disney. Decide on your travel dates, then start researching to decide what tickets you’ll need, where you want to eat and where you’ll stay. Dining reservations can be made 6 months out and Fastpass+ can be made 60 days out for guests staying on property (see? Perks!) Can you plan a trip in a month? Yes, but be prepared to not get the restaurants and Fastpasses you want (character meals book up fast as do FP for popular rides.)

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Should I get the Dining Plan? The Disney Dining Plan has its pros and cons. The prices have gone up for 2018 and now include alcoholic or specialty beverages, so if you don’t imbibe the strong stuff, it might not make financial sense. We love the Dining Plan when it’s free. We get it included with a package at certain times of the year and do our research to get the most out of it. Paying out of pocket for food is going to make the most sense for most families, but do the math and see if it works for you.

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Where/ What do we eat? The Disney parks and resort hotels have every kind of food imaginable, from chicken strips to Kobe beef with bordelaise sauce (seriously, check out the menu for Victoria and Albert at the Grand Floridian here.) Check the Disney website under dining for every menu for every restaurant on property. If you have special dietary needs, alert the staff when you arrive at the restaurant and every effort will be made to accommodate your request.

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Where is Harry Potter Land? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at Universal Studios Orlando. This is a different park from Walt Disney World Resort. ‘Nuff said.

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So, there you have it! The most common questions about travel to Walt Disney World answered. Still have questions? Post a comment here!

Our 3 Favorite Disney Eats

We are gearing up for our next trip to Disney next week! We are at the 3 day mark, and that’s when I begin to panic about remembering to pack everything (we forgot our trading pins on our last visit and I felt awful for our daughter, who had so much fun trading the time before.) I am still tinkering with our dining reservations, but am pretty satisfied with our lineup. In narrowing down my decisions, my husband and I were reading reviews about a Magic Kingdom restaurant with a western theme. One review was glowing, and the next dreadful. It made me realize that you really can’t depend on reviews. One person’s culinary masterpiece is another’s prison meal. That being said…we thought we would share with you our favorite overall dining experiences at the Walt Disney World resort. These are meals that we still talk about and try to experience every time we visit. Let’s begin!

Favorite Disney Eats

  1. California Grill. It’s hard to go wrong with a signature meal. One would hope that for the money you’re paying, that the meal and service would be unforgettable. We have experienced dinner and Sunday brunch at the California Grill and they were both amazing meals in every aspect. The service is attentive but not overbearing, the food is fresh, flavorful and beautiful to look at. And that view (see the photos.) Now all this doesn’t come cheap and I doubt we would have gone if not for the Dining Plan, since it is not for the budget-conscious. But, if you have the dining plan or are planning a celebration meal while on property, this is the way to go.
  2. Tusker House. We devoted a whole post to a review of this Animal Kingdom character buffet. Generally considered to be the best character meal at Walt Disney World by those who know, we always schedule a late breakfast at Tusker House. The number one reason is the food. Basic breakfast is provided, and yes, you will get your beloved Mickey waffles, but the menu also includes African and Indian-inspired dishes that are fresh and full of flavor. The other main draw of this establishment is the character interaction. Mickey and the gang are here and we always have such a blast with these guys. We highly recommend taking time out of your Animal Kingdom visit to dine here and experience this place for yourself.
  3. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. Another experience in the “not-so-budget-friendly” category, Hoop-dee-doo will cost over $200 for a family of 4. Why do we recommend it? Unlimited food, like ribs, fried chicken, baked beans, salad and strawberry shortcake is brought to your table and served family-style. The extra perk of this dining experience is unlimited beer and wine for mom and dad! The entertainment is the real draw here. The musical show that accompanies your meal is classic Disney. The 2 hour Vaudeville-style show will have everyone clapping along before long. The interaction with the audience is so much fun. We got to stand up and celebrate our anniversary in a fun and special way. If you are looking for something very different that will become a favorite, and you have 2+ hours to spend dining, we highly encourage you to give Hoop-dee-doo a try.

So, there you have our top 3 dining picks for Walt Disney World. Have you tried any of these restaurants? What are your favorite dining experiences? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Questions to Ask When Planning Your Disney Trip Budget: Part 5

So far in our series of questions to ask yourself when planning a Disney vacation budget we’ve looked at: where you’ll stay, when you’ll travel, what kind of tickets you’ll need and how you will get there. The next question we’ll tackle is, “What will we eat while we’re there and how do we afford it?”

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Food, glorious food. I get pretty excited about planning meals for our trips. My husband might say that I’m obsessive about finding the perfect reservation at the perfect time of day. I love trying new places and revisiting old favorites, but I am aware that all those restaurant meals can add up quickly. Here we’ll look at some options for keeping costs down while still enjoying the culinary delights that Disney has to offer.


  • Consider bringing food from home. In our situation, we go “snack and breakfast” shopping at our local Aldi (a great discount grocery store) a few days before we leave for vacation. We purchase bars, cheese and peanut butter crackers, cheese cubes, salami, toaster pastries, soy milk and cereal, and trail mix, along with drink mixes to liven up our bottled water. I pack a plastic tote with our food, bring some zip-lock bags to pack with snacks each day, load it in the car and we’re set. If you’re flying, we understand you can’t bring all that food with you. Amazon is a fantastic resource for buying groceries and you can have them delivered right to the resort (for a small fee!) Just stop by the front desk and pick them up when you arrive. Another idea is placing an order at Walmart and choosing a store close to the parks. This is the closest one I found. You can set a time to pick up your order and it’s a free service. However you do it, just make sure you have a good assortment of snacks for long days at the parks. It stinks to have a hangry toddler when you’re about to meet Cinderella at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Think about checking out the Disney dining plan. This is a hot topic among Disney veterans. Some people can’t imagine a vacation without it, and some think it’s too much money for too much food. We’re somewhat in-between on the matter. On our first vacation to Disney, we paid out of pocket for our meals. We did some sit-down meals and a character meal, but we ate a good share of quick-service and I felt like we had to be really careful budgeting for our meals. With the dining plan, everything except tips is prepaid, so it feels like you can really treat yourself. On our last two trips, we had free dining. Even though we didn’t pay for the dining plan, I tried to maximize our dining credits. Meaning, I tried to find the most expensive character meals and ordered the most expensive entree at the quick-serve restaurants. We pride ourselves on finding the priciest snacks and meals that we don’t have to pay for!
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    All this food for one snack credit? Yum!

  • The Tables in Wonderland card could work for you. If you are a Florida resident, annual passholder or DVC member, you are eligible for Tables in Wonderland. This card gives you 20% off all food at participating Disney restaurants. It does have an annual cost. Click this link for a list of restaurants that participate in the program.
  • Use the Disney website to get an idea of how much to budget for food. Once you have snacks bought, use the Disney website to look at menus and prices for the restaurants you’d like to visit. You can pretty much budget out every meal you’ll be eating on Disney property. For example, say you were interested in trying 50’s Primetime Cafe in Hollywood Studios. You might decide to have the meatloaf at $18.00 and skip the soda in favor of one of their famous peanut butter and jelly milkshakes ($6.00.) Now you know what you’ll be spending and how much to allow for a gratuity. The Disney Dining Calculator is another resource for meals like buffets, that don’t always have an exact price on the Disney site. You plug in the number of people in your party, and where you’ll be eating for each meal and it can help you decide if the dining plan will be a good value for you or not.
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Entree Menu at 50’s Primetime Cafe

I hope these tips can help you navigate the world of dining at Disney. By no means is it cheap to eat “in the world” but it is good to have some tricks up your sleeve for keeping costs down.

Dining Review: Tusker House in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Usually we like to try new restaurants on our Disney adventures, but there are a few favorites that we love to visit again and again. Tusker House in Animal Kingdom was one of the first character meals we ever enjoyed, back when we weren’t sure what to expect from this place called Disney World. We loved it so much, we have gone back on every trip. The unique cuisine and the fantastic character interactions make this a must-do on your next trip. And the good news is: it’s one of the cheapest character meals on property!

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For our last trip to Tusker House, we had a dining reservation for 10:40 am. This is my favorite pro tip: the restaurant changes over to lunch at 11:00 am, so you can start out with some breakfast offerings and then fill up on their awesome lunch buffet; all for the price of breakfast! The food is really varied here. There are some good old “American” standbys for the kids and then an array of cuisine from Asia and Africa for the more adventurous eaters. Whole salmon, pork loin, roasted chicken, regional salads, plantains, hummus, taboulleh, breads and  various desserts are the highlights of the lunch menu. Breakfast is a bit heavier on the sweets, but also offers frittatas, potatoes, sliced ham with sauces, and corned beef hash. All meals here are all-you-can-eat buffets, which is a nice way to fill up for the long day ahead. You probably only need a snack later in the afternoon or a shared quick service meal to make it through to dinner.

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As stated above, the other highlights of Tusker House are the characters. At this restaurant you will normally be meeting Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy. They are all dressed in safari gear and I just love the theme of their outfits! It is a good conversation starter with the characters to comment on where they have been exploring, are they tired from their safari, etc. The server was very kind to fill us in on the path the characters would take to get to our table, so we could keep an eye out for when they were close. The Fab 5 are always up for clowning around at this meet and greet. My husband had a Donald Duck shirt on, which got quite the reaction from Mickey! Of course, Donald loved it. My husband loves messing around with Goofy and tried to help Goofy spell his name while signing his autograph. Goofy played along really well and had us all laughing.


For much less than Chef Mickey’s, you get a more creative menu, fantastic theming, and highly entertaining interactions with the Fab 5. Those are the main reasons we love Tusker House and will always fit a trip there into our itinerary.

Tusker House is located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Price varies according to season but ranges from $15.00-$34.99 per adult for breakfast, and $35-$59.99 per adult for lunch/dinner.

 

Brunch at California Grill; an Unforgettable Experience

We planned our last Disney vacation to get in on the free dining offer. We booked our stay at a value resort, and upgraded from the complimentary quick-service plan to the standard dining plan (DDP) for a little less than $200 for six days. With the standard plan one of our quick service meals was replaced by a table service credit. It also includes a refillable drink cup to be used at any Disney resort hotel. We really enjoy the quality and variety of the table service restaurants at Disney and prefer them to the standard “burger and fries” world of quick service restaurants.

On our last trip, also with free dining, we enjoyed dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary to celebrate my husband and my 10 year anniversary. California Grill is a signature restaurant, so if you plan on using the dining plan, each person will have to use 2 credits. I don’t spend my dining credits willy-nilly, so you better believe CG is worth it.

When we found out they were offering a Sunday brunch this year, I jumped on the website and booked a 12:30pm reservation for the 3 of us. Then checked out what the web had to say about it. The reviews were generally positive and we couldn’t wait to experience it.

 

Sunday morning, we walked from the Magic Kingdom over to the Contemporary Resort and took the escalator to the 2nd floor. We checked in and were directed to a special elevator to take us to the top of the resort. We stepped out into a lively scene with a jazz trio playing standards, bartenders busily filling champagne glasses with mimosas and people chatting and eating. The wait to be seated was made much more tolerable with a complimentary mimosa! There’s really not a bad seat in this restaurant, since the windows are huge and there’s a stunning view in every direction. Once we were seated, we were given menus, but told not to worry about ordering our entree at that point, since we had an entire self-serve buffet to enjoy first! The spread was mouth-watering. The stations included a Charcuterie station, a Greek yogurt and toppings station (fresh fruit, granola, and honey comb were on offer) as well as salads, the best deviled eggs ever, pastries, oh, and I almost forgot, sushi! Everything on display was incredibly fresh and tasty. My favorite was the aforementioned deviled eggs and a grain salad called Fregola salad. You can watch a video tour of the whole buffet, including the bloody Mary bar here

After about 10 minutes of noshing, our ever-attentive server was back to see if we were ready to order-that’s right, there’s more! You order an ala carte entree from the brunch menu. It was hard for me to decide between the pancakes (mmmm, pancakes…) and the poached lobster benedict (oh, how I suffer) so the server said it was no problem to add one pancake to my order. Todd got the steak, and little one got the chicken, which she took a bite of, then announced that she was full. The single pancake fulfilled my carb craving and left me with room to enjoy the lobster. Hubby was satisfied with the steak, although he did drip some pesky chimichurri down the front of his shirt and we all picked at the chicken and decreed it delicious, though we were all pretty darn full by this point.

After a few moments of sitting, sipping our coffee and walking outside to the fireworks viewing platform to take in the view, we were presented with dessert. Yes, it continues. Dessert was a selection of small sweets presented on a cake stand. Chocolates, madeleines (which were a tad dry and the only thing we didn’t finish) macarons, and linzer cookies. I’m thoroughly surprised we didn’t have to be wheeled out. Our dining experience took almost 2 hours, so plan this meal around a slow Sunday. You will not want to run to catch your Space Mountain Fastpass right after this meal. And don’t feel guilty about taking a long time. It’s a lot of food, and it’s an experience worth savoring.

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For $80 per adult and $48 per child (see why we like the dining plan?), you are treated like Disney royalty in a beautiful setting overlooking the Magic Kingdom. We thoroughly enjoyed this meal, and if we are on the DDP on a future visit, will definitely try to visit again. Don’t forget to hold on to your receipt so you can come back in the evening and watch Wishes from the observation platform. California Grill’s Brunch at the Top is held  Sundays from 10 am to 1 pm. Cost is $80 per adult and $48 per child. Complimentary valet parking is also available for this event. There’s a link to the full menu here.

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