Which Disneyland Character Meal Is Best for Your Family? (Updated 2014)

Each of the five Disneyland character meals has its own feel, special touches, and star character. These meals are a great way to meet many characters in one fell swoop. This frees up park time to enjoy rides, shows, and other attractions rather than waiting in long lines for a brief photo opp. But how do you know which Disneyland character meal is best for your family? Let me break it down for you…

Best Disneyland Character Meals

Disneyland Character Meal Overview

Most character meals are served buffet-style. I am not a huge fan of buffets but Disney does everything well, and buffets are no exception. For breakfast, you will find made-to-order omelets, pastries, Mickey-shaped waffles, and other tasty treats. For dinner, expect kid-friendly food like macaroni and cheese, pizza, and chicken plus some especially delicious desserts. Ariel’s Grotto is the only character meal option that serves a sit-down, three-course meal of appetizers, main course, and dessert.

mickey mouse waffles and fruit

Best Character Meal inside Disneyland

Breakfast in the Park with Minnie & Friends

Where?  The Plaza Inn inside Disneyland (so you must have a Disneyland park entrance ticket to dine here).

Meals offered?  Breakfast only.

Characters?  We saw a multitude of characters at this meal, from Minnie herself to Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

The Verdict?
  Dining with Minnie with a view of Tomorrowland’s Asto Orbitor was a wonderful start to our day at Disneyland. However, I’d rather not “waste” precious park time eating a long breakfast. I suggest eating a character meal at one of the hotels either on the day of arrival or departure to squeeze in some extra Disney magic on a day when you don’t want to spend your money or time at the parks.

Tips?  Be sure to request a seat indoors when you make your reservation and again when you check in so you can get out of the heat or the cold, as the case may be. The pink stained glass mosaics inside are darling, plus you will feel more a part of the action.

brother bear at disney's chip n' dale character meal

Best Disneyland Character Meal for Unusual Autographs

Chip n’ Dale Critter Breakfast at Storyteller’s Cafe

Where?
Storyteller’s Café at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.

Meals offered? Breakfast only.

Characters? Chip n’ Dale and other woodland characters like Brother Bear and Winnie the Pooh.

The Verdict? Children who have their hearts set on seeing a specific character may be a tad disappointed to be greeted by the array of woodsy creatures here. On the other hand, kids collecting signatures might be pleased to find some off-the-beaten-path characters to sign their autograph books!

Tips?  Don’t follow the characters around the restaurant. Enjoy your meal and they will come to you! (This is true of all Disney character meals.)

goofy dancing with kids at disney character meal

Best Meal for Dancing with Disneyland Characters

Goofy’s Kitchen

Where?  Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel.

Meals offered?  Brunch and dinner.

Characters?  The only character guaranteed to make an appearance at any meal is the meal’s namesake. So, for sure you’ll see Goofy here. You are likely to see other classic characters like Pluto, Donald Duck and the like.

The Verdict?  Watching the kids dance with Goofy was definitely the highlight and added a little something special to this meal. Goofy parades about the restaurant before clumsily “spilling” a bunch of clanking, non-breakable dishes. Then he invites children to join him in making music by banging the dropped plates and bowls.

Tips?  This is the only Disneyland restaurant that offers a character dinner. If you want to dine with characters in the evening, book this one early!

family with ariel at ariel's grotto

Best Disneyland Character Meal for Princess Lovers

Ariel’s Disney Princess Celebration

Where?
  Ariel’s Grotto in Disney’s California Adventure Resort (so you must have a Disney’s California Adventure entrance ticket to dine here).

Meals Offered?  Breakfast and lunch. As of mid-June 2010, dinners at Ariel’s Grotto no longer feature the princesses. Instead a special World of Color dining experience is available at night.

Characters?  Ariel and other princesses like Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, and Aurora. Unlike the masked characters, the princesses talk to diners. And they never break character. My husband said, “You really look like Snow White.” To which the raven-haired princess replied in her tiny, bubble gum voice, “Why, whatever do you mean?”

The Verdict?  For a little girl, this is the ultimate treat for a birthday or other celebration. Younger children scared of plush characters will find the princesses less intimidating. My son, Leo, was 19-months-old when we visited and he seemed just as enthralled as his big sister by all of these sweet, beautiful women stopping by his table to say hello. I enjoyed the more relaxing, upscale dining experience of this only sit-down Disney character dining option. Hors d’oeuvres and mini pastries are presented on tiered trays, adding to the fanciful feel of the meal.

Tips?  There is both indoor and outdoor seating at Ariel’s Grotto. Make your preference known when making a reservation and checking in.

Mickey and friends Disneyland character meal video

Click the image above to watch a video of Mickey and friends dancing with children at the PCH Grill

Best Disneyland Character Meal to Meet Mickey

Surf’s Up! Breakfast with Mickey & Friends

Where?
  Disney’s PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier Hotel.

Meals Offered?  Breakfast only.

Characters?  Mickey Mouse and other classic Disney characters like Donald and Daisy Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Pluto as well as former title character, Stitch.

The Verdict?  This is the newest Disneyland character meal, headlining the head cheese himself, Mickey Mouse. The characters dance, sing, and frolic with children throughout the beach-themed meal…so much that you might have a hard time getting kiddos to sit down and eat! Stitch was my kids’ favorite character to visit our table, stealing pretend sips of milk and causing other mischief in true Stitch-style. I highly recommend the longer walk to the Paradise Pier Hotel for this interactive and tasty meal. Watch a video of the Mickey Mouse & Friends character meal entertainment.

Tips?
  I’ve never seen Mickey Mouse at any of the other Disneyland character meals, so if Mickey is on your must-see list, make your reservation at the PCH Grill. You may need to wait a long time after checking in to be seated at this popular meal so plan accordingly.

Disney princess autograph book

More Character Meal Tips

Some young children are fearful of these life-sized cartoon characters. Before attending a character meal, you may want to get your child acquainted with Disney creatures by reading books featuring Disney characters, watching Mickey Mouse Playhouse or other shows on the Disney Channel, or renting a couple of Disney movies. Also, you may want to wait until after your family has had a day in the parks to get used to the idea of the characters at a distance before plunging into a character meal.

An autograph book brings a whole new, entertaining dimension to the character meal experience. Hold off purchasing one until your child is old enough to appreciate it. My daughter requested her first autograph book at age 5 and proudly brought it to preschool for “show & tell” the following week.

Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera! Shots of your kids cuddling up to their favorite Disney characters are priceless.

Reservations are recommended for all of the character meals and can be made up to 60 days in advance by calling 714-781-3463. Call as soon as you know you will be attending; you can always cancel later.

What is your favorite Disneyland character meal? Leave a comment below!

A Note from the Travel Mama: My family and I recently received free passes to Disneyland so that I could review the Breakfast with Minnie at The Plaza Inn. We paid for all of the meals mentioned in this post ourselves. I will always let you know if I receive any complimentary or discounted goods or services related to a story on TravelMamas.com. 

Photos and video by Colleen Lanin.

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About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is a mom of two and the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of THE TRAVEL MAMAS' GUIDE, she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen teaches blogging classes and has given travel tips on television, radio, and as a paid video blogger. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing.

Comments

  1. I’m surprised they don’t have more character meals inside the parks at Disneyland/Calif Adv. So different from WDW.

  2. Hi Debra – Disneyland is much smaller than Disney World but there are other fun meals there, just no other character meals. There’s Blue Bayou inside Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue with live entertainment, oooh- and my favorite – the Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel – just to name a few. If you can ever swing a date night at Disneyland, I highly recommend the Napa Rose. Here’s why: http://142.4.10.17/~travelma/wordpress/romance-at-disneyland/

  3. Anywhere to dine with princesses after Mid-June?

  4. Maureen – You can still dine with princesses at Ariel’s Grotto for breakfast or lunch, just not at dinner. Plus, you can stop by Princess Fantasy Faire to meet your favorite princesses. Here is a link: http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland/en_US/parks/attractions/detail?name=DisneyPrincessFantasyFaireAttractionPage
    You may need to stand in line for photo opps but it’s free. Be sure to swing by to listen to one of the princesses reading a fairy tale aloud to the kids at scheduled times during the day! (I think the times are listed on the daily Schedule of Events that you receive when you enter the park.)

  5. We haven’t tried a character meal, but I know people who consider it a MUST for any trip to Disneyland. Thanks for the tips!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Allison – Oh my, you haven’t ever done a character meal?! I think your kids would love it and you will probably enjoy it too!

  6. who knew? that is SO CUTE!

  7. Good tips. We’ve done character dining in Hong Kong and Tokyo but I agree, not worth park time. I like doing it at the hotels instead (also because they have better booze). :)

  8. This family would head straight to the Surf’s Up!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Good choice! I do love the Surf’s Up character meal and the interactivity makes it especially appealing.

  9. I have done the plaza one inside the park and it was pretty fun! We did meet Minnie mouse, tigger, the fairy godmother. We were able to just walk up without a reservation, although we did sit on the porch, it was actually nice, they all came out to the porch to us, we didn’t have to walk in and find them. Very fun, buffet was okay. But just kind of a short and sweet meet and greet, great for older kids who don’t want to dance and sing with them but still want to see the characters.

  10. My husband and I plan are surprising our kids with a trip to Disney before he leaves for boot camp, and plan on staying at Paradise Pier. We have the Disney Chase debit card and they offer 10% off dining. They also have other dining discounts and shopping!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Kelly – Great tip on the Disney Chase debit card discount! You will love Paradise Pier. I hope you get a chance to dine with Mickey and friends while there!

      • We did Goofy’s kitchen last time and had a blast there! We got to see a lot of characters- we went early (7am) so it didn’t interrupt our park time. Also, there is a walmart not too far from Disneyland and they have a decent selection of items, including autograph books. We got some there for under $5.

  11. This was SO helpful in choosing an option for my 3 year old daughter! THANK YOU!!!!!

  12. Is Arial’s breakfast the only one where you see princesses?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Michelle – In all of our many Disneyland character meals over the years I don’t think I ever saw any princesses at any venue besides Ariel’s Grotto. We did, however, meet Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother at the Plaza Inn inside Disneyland. If you’ve got a princess fanatic, Ariel’s is the place for you!

    • We actually saw Snow White and Aurora at Goofy’s Kitchen last may :D

      • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

        Randy – Good to know! Still, if the main thing you’re seeking from a character meal are princesses, then I’d head to Ariel’s Grotto.

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