Which Disneyland Character Meal Is Best for Your Family?

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.

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. Maureen says:

    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). :)

    • Katie, We are travelling from Australia to Tokyo Disney in December. Our princess-crazy daughter has her 11th birthday while we are there, and I would love to surprise her with a breakfast with princesses. I am, however, having trouble finding info re same. Can you assist?

      Thank you so much

      • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

        Kylie – Ariel’s Grotto offers a princess-filled breakfast inside Disney’s California Adventure. You will need to have a park ticket to attend this character meal. Enjoy!

      • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

        Oh sorry, Kylie! I missed that you are looking for character dining in Tokyo! Let me see if I can nudge Katie (my #KidsNTrips business partner) to see if she can help you out!

      • Hi! Character dining happens at Tokyo DisneySea at the Horizon Restaurant but it is more like Mickey, Minnie, etc. If she likes princess Ariel, then you have to go to DisneySea because she has a grotto there and is only seen in this park (or at least that was the case when we went 2 years ago) but you can take a nice photo of her. Jasmine is at DisneySea, too. Have fun!

  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. Michelle says:

    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.

  13. Janeen McLaughlin says:

    Thank you for the great article! We are going to Disneyland in September and will be spending Monday (evening) thru Friday and leaving CA on Saturday afternoon. I’m wondering if you have advice on whether or not we should wait until Saturday morning to do a Character Breakfast or do it during the week? I’m leaning towards that Saturday…but fear it will be SUPER busy? Do you have any idea how early they start serving? I’m thinking of the breakfast at Paradise Pier. Thanks for any advice/thoughts.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Janeen – What fun – almost whole week at Disneyland! Breakfast is served at the PCH Grill 7:30 – 10:30 am. The wait can be long to get in on weekends, even with a reservation. If you book a table at 7:30, I’d think you’d get seated right away. Since you will be at Disneyland for so long, you will have time to do your character meal another day but it could be a fun send-off on your last morning. It really depends on what time you need to leave on Saturday and if you want to have the extra pressure of another activity on your last day or if you want to take away from park time on the other days to enjoy a character meal. Whatever you choose, I’m sure your family will have a blast!

  14. Thank you for the excellent info! We have a HUGE Mickey fan. We are first-timers headed to Disneyland this summer. Just to clarify, do you need a ticket to go the Mickey breakfast at the Paradise Pier?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Tera – You DO need a park ticket to attend Ariel’s Disney Princess Celebration inside Disney’s California Adventure Park. You do NOT need a park ticket to attend Breakfast with Mickey & Friends at the PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier Hotel. Reservations are strongly suggested for either. You can make reservations as early as 90 days before your trip. Have a great time!

  15. Gabriel says:

    Hello,
    I read your wonderful review on the character dining and my family and I decided to do the Ariel and princess lunch and my only question is what was the duration of the lunch?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Gabriel – I’d plan for 1.5 – 2 hours including check-in time for the Ariel lunch. (Keep in mind, you may need to wait awhile after you check in, even with reservations.) You want to have plenty of time to spend with the princesses chatting, taking photos and getting autographs! Enjoy!

  16. Great article! We will be going to Disneyland in September to celebrate our daughters 5th birthday! We will be doing Ariel Grotto for lunch one day, but we are stuck between The Plaza Inn and PCH Grill. Do you know if its possible to make reservation at the Plaza Inn before the park opens? It also seems that Minnie and friends breakfast & Goofys Kitchen seem to have the same characters, any thoughts? Thank you!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Cindy – You can’t make reservations at The Plaza Inn until after the park opens. I would make your decision based on the main character. Does your child have a preference for Mickey, Minnie or Goofy? Only the title character for any meal is guaranteed to make an appearance at a Disneyland character meal. If you don’t have a character preference, go for convenience. Which meal is closest to your accommodations? Do you want to take away from park time with a long meal or would you rather attend the character meal on an off-day as a special treat?

  17. Shannon says:

    We made Surf’s Up reservations for the latest available time. By the time we finished eating there were only a handful of kids and they got tons of dancing time! I did feel a little rushed with the meal however. It just didn’t seem to equal a character meal at WDW. We will try a different one at DL next summer and see how it compares.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Shannon – I’m sorry to hear your dining experience didn’t live up to expectations! Next time you might want to try the Ariel’s Grotto character meal. It’s the only sit-down meal, which I really enjoyed. It felt the most relaxing of all of the Disneyland character meals to me. Hope that helps!

  18. Thanks so much for this!!! We’re headin to Disney this Dec and are trying to figure out the character dining. Our biggest problem is my 11 year old son. He wants characters and my twin girls want princesses… oh the struggle :)
    A couple of years ago we did the Surf’s Up! breakfast at Paradise Pier. We had 6 kids with us and got to see quite a few characters (Stitch was their fav). They get the kids up and teach them to dance with the characters! Loads of fun and it’s VERY kid friendly food.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      That’s what my dad would call a “high class problem”! I hope you come to some sort of resolution. Maybe two character meals?! Or tell your 11yo the princesses are very pretty and it’s a good way for him to practice his flirting skills?! ;-)

  19. Thanks a million for the great tips! I’m going to run the Dinseyland marathon next month and booked a trip that includes premium character dining. I made a reservation for Goofy’s on one of our park days and after reading your hot tips I realize it would be so much better to go on the day we aren’t planning on going to the park and have to go pick up our bibs at the Disneyland hotel.

  20. We are sending our friends, a family of 15, to Disneyland for three days. With a group that large, I think I should make them dinner reservations for each night. Thank you for the information that Goofy’s Kitchen is the only restaurant with characters at dinner. That will definitely be one night’s dinner booking. Would you have suggestions for family dining with children ages 2-26, plus the parents? Thanks so much!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Tracy – What a fun trip for your friends and family! My family LOVES Tortilla Jo’s Trattoria in Downtown Disney – tasty food plus live entertainment via mariachi band to entertain the kiddos. The Wine Country Trattoria in Disney’s California Adventure park is also quite good. You can purchase a World of Color meal package, which includes a reserved spot at the water, color and fire spectacular. It’s always fun to dine at Blue Bayou beside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride or Big Thunder Ranch (with live music) in Disneyland.

  21. Hi there! Thank you so much for taking the time to make planning our trip easier! We will be coming from Brazil to visit Disneyland in December and we want to have breakfast at the PCH Grill. Because of the time difference, we want to make reservations at the later hours, around 10:00. I saw that breakfast is from 7:30-10:30 so I am worried about our reservation time. Do they stop serving at 10:30? Do the characters leave at this time? If the place is crowderd and it takes us a while to get seated, will they extend breakfast hours? Thank you so much for your help!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Marcia – I just spoke to Disney Dining and they said PCH Grill will stop serving fresh food at 11:30 am and the characters will leave around 11:35 am. They assured me you would have plenty of time to be seated and enjoy your character meal. Bon appetit!

  22. Thank you for doing all of this work! How do all of these compare when it comes to cost?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Diane – I just spoke to Disney Dining and as of today, here’s pricing for brunch (lunch also offered at Ariel’s Grotto and dinner offered at Goofy’s Kitchen for a few more dollars per person):

      Story Teller’s and Plaza Inn: $30 per adult, $14 per child (age 3-9)
      Disney’s PCH Grill and Goofy’s Kitchen: $33 per adult, $17 per child (age 3-9)
      Ariel’s Grotto: $37 per adult, $20 per child (age 3-9)

      Children under 3 can eat for free off a parent’s plate at all character meals. This is easily done at the buffets, but at Ariel’s Grotto where you order off the menu, you may want to order something for a young child if they don’t want to eat the same dish as you.

      Hope that helps!

  23. I have a question, we bought a package deal that came with premium character dining. If we reserved dinner with Goofy is there an additional charge or is it covered by the ticket?

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