Dining with Mickey and pals is an important part of a Disney vacation for most families. Find out tips, tricks, and advice for character dining at Disneyland from a mom who has eaten with kids at every single Disneyland character meal. Tough work, but someone’s gotta do it!
Few families plan a visit to Disneyland without scheduling a meal with their favorite Disney characters. Character meals are a perfect way to get photos and autographs with a wide variety of characters in a quieter setting. You avoid the theme park lines and have a more relaxed sit-down dining experience so you can rest and recharge for the parks.
My family visits Anaheim often, and we usually plan at least one character meal at Disneyland each trip. As a result, we’ve tried them all! I have learned what works and how to make the most of each of them. While I’ve really never had a bad experience at any of the Disneyland character meals, it is very important for visitors to know that the meals can be quite different. Cuisine varies and the lineup of characters at each one is entirely unique. Some experiences will be a better fit for some families than others. If you don’t visit Disneyland often, it’s very important to pick the right meal and know what to expect so your family isn’t surprised or disappointed. So keep reading and you’ll avoid that fate!
Here’s what you need to know to pick the right Disneyland character meals.
The Basics on Disneyland Character Meals
Disneyland offers character dining in five different locations – one restaurant in each of the two theme parks (Disneyland and California Adventure) and one restaurant in each of the three Disney hotels (Disney’s Grand Californian, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and the Disneyland Hotel). No matter where you are staying or which parks you are visiting, chances are that one fits into your itinerary.
You’ll need to purchase theme park tickets to dine at the two in-park locations, but anyone can dine at the three out-of-park hotel restaurants. For that reason, the hotel restaurants can be an excellent choice for a meal on your arrival or departure day when you won’t be visiting the parks. You’ll still have the Disney experience without paying for an extra day of park tickets.
The characters that show up on a given day can vary widely, but you’re guaranteed to see the character who “hosts” each meal. This means a visit with Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure, Minnie at Plaza Inn in Disneyland, Mickey at PCH Grill in Paradise Pier, Chip & Dale at Storyteller’s Cafe in the Grand Californian, and Goofy at Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel.
Character meals are extremely popular at Disneyland, particularly during school vacation periods and weekends when families flood the parks. Advance reservations are extremely important. Disneyland takes dining reservations 60 days in advance, and you can even make them easily online. While you won’t often have to book immediately (my family had no trouble booking a spring break character meal experience about three weeks in advance of our last trip), it is always better to plan early.
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Essential Info on the 5 Character Dining Experiences at Disneyland
1. Surf’s Up with Mickey & Friends
- Meals Offered: Breakfast
- Location: Out-of-park, PCH Grill at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel
- Great for: Toddlers & young kids, Mickey fans
Surf’s Up with Mickey & Friends is the only character meal at Disneyland where you are guaranteed a meet and greet with Mickey Mouse. Located at the PCH Grill in Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, it’s the ultimate Disney beach party, complete with Beach Boys music and dance breaks with the characters several times during a meal. My family found it pure fun and an excellent fit for families with younger kids (mine were ages 6 and 2 at the time of our meal).
It’s also one of the smallest character meal experiences, meaning that the characters have even more time to interact with each guest. Frequent character visitors include Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, and Stitch.
2. Goofy’s Kitchen
Meals Offered: Breakfast, Dinner
- Location: Out-of-park, Disneyland Hotel
- Great for: Wacky food seekers, wide variety of characters
Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel offers a character dining experience with a wide and varied mix of characters, making it a smart choice for families with older kids or a wide range of Disney interests. On my visit, we saw everyone from Goofy himself to Sleeping Beauty, Pluto, Alice in Wonderland, and even Gideon from Pinocchio (look that one up!).
At breakfast, Goofy’s Kitchen is known for some of its more eclectic food options, including a macaroni and cheese pizza and PB&J pizza. It’s also the only Disneyland character dining location that offers dinner. Dinner may work better in many families’ schedules to make the most of early morning hours in the parks when lines are shorter.
3. Chip & Dale’s Critter Breakfast
- Meals Offered: Breakfast
- Location: Out-of-park, Storytellers Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
- Great for: Obscure character seekers, a more relaxed and luxurious meal
Disney’s most luxurious hotel, the Grand Californian, is home to a character breakfast hosted by Chip & Dale in Storytellers Cafe. In keeping with the hotel’s outdoor and rustic theming, all the characters who pay a visit to the breakfast are woodland creatures. Characters from Pocahontas, Brother Bear and Tarzan are frequent visitors. While this is a huge boon for Disney autograph seekers looking for more unique character interactions, chances are that your Mickey-loving toddler may not recognize many of them. For that reason, I recommend it for families with older children as well as for those who know and love their Disney trivia.
Consistent with its more luxurious reputation, Storytellers Cafe offers both a breakfast buffet as well as options of an a la carte menu, which can make for a more relaxing meal.
4. Ariel’s Grotto
Meals Offered: Breakfast, Lunch
- Location: In-park, Disney’s California Adventure
- Great for: The princess-obsessed, a more extensive and varied menu, table service.
If your little one is in the middle of a princess phase, make a beeline for Disney’s California Adventure and the Ariel’s Grotto character meal. Usually about five princesses will make an appearance here. On my last visit, my daughter met Ariel, Tiana, Rapunzel, Belle, and Cinderella.
Ariel’s Grotto offers both breakfast and lunch (it is the only character lunch available at Disneyland). It is also the only character meal restaurant that offers only table service rather than a buffet. As a result, it is a bit of a more refined dining experience. Ariel’s Grotto also boasts the most unique menu offerings of all the character meals but that also comes with a slightly higher cost. For lunch, seafood, pasta, chicken, and tri-tip are all on the menu, meaning you’re likely find value in the price differential.
Ariel’s Grotto has both indoor and outdoor seating, and I’d recommend requesting indoor if possible. My family found the noise from the nearby California Screamin’ roller coaster a bit too loud in certain outdoor seating sections, although the view outdoors certainly can’t be beat.
5. Plaza Inn
- Meals Offered: Breakfast
- Location: In-park, Disneyland
- Great for: Character variety, the best theme park location
If you want to be in a classic Disneyland location for your character meal experience, it doesn’t get more classic than Plaza Inn. Plaza Inn is located at the end of Main Street USA overlooking Sleeping Beauty Castle. Minnie Mouse hosts the breakfast and a wide variety of characters make an appearance here, making it another perfect fit for families who have kids of different ages and interests. Winnie the Pooh, Fairy Godmother, Captain Hook, Rafiki, Max, and more have been known to pop in.
Because early morning hours at Disneyland are often the best time for short ride lines, I don’t recommend booking a breakfast here as soon as the park opens. Instead, plan on a mid-morning brunch (10:00 am or so) after you’d had time to ride some of the attractions first. The food is hearty enough that a late breakfast will last you well into the afternoon.
Have you dined with characters at Disneyland? Which character meal would you recommend and why?