Dining with Mickey and pals is an important part of a Disney vacation for most families. Luckily, one of our TravelingMoms has eaten at every single one of the Disneyland character meals. Tough work, but someone’s gotta do it! Find out her best tips, tricks, and advice for character dining at Disneyland.
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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. It gives everyone a chance to 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, visitors need 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. Keep reading and you’ll avoid that fate!
Here’s what you need to know to pick the right Disneyland character meals.
The Basics of Disneyland Character Meals
No matter where you are staying or which parks you are visiting, chances are that one of the Disneyland character meals fits into your itinerary.
As of spring 2018, Disneyland offers character dining in four different locations: one restaurant in Disneyland park and one restaurant in each of the three Disney hotels (Disney’s Grand Californian, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and the Disneyland Hotel). There used to be a character meal in Disney California Adventure park at Ariel’s Grotto, but that location has now closed.
You’ll need to purchase theme park tickets to dine at the single in-park character meal. Anyone, however, 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.
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The characters that show up on a given day can vary widely. You’re at least guaranteed to see the character who “hosts” each meal. This means a visit with 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, it is always better to plan early. My family had no trouble booking a spring break character meal experience about three weeks in advance of our last trip, but no guarantees!
Essential Info on the 4 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. It is located at the PCH Grill in Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Surf’s Up is 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 varied mix of characters, making it a smart choice for families with older kids or a wide range of Disney interests. On my last visit a few years ago, we saw everyone from Goofy himself to Sleeping Beauty, Pluto, Alice in Wonderland, and even Gideon from Pinocchio. More recently, the restaurant has begun featuring many more of the Disney “Fab 5.” Whether you’ll see obscure characters it a bit more hit or miss these days.
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 is 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. Storytellers Cafe is 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 a huge boon for Disney autograph seekers looking for more unique character interactions, your Mickey-loving toddler may not recognize many of them. For that reason, I recommend it for families with older children as well as those who love 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. 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. 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, and Max are all regularly who 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.
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Have you dined with characters at Disneyland? Which character meal would you recommend and why?