The character meals at Walt Disney World are, without a doubt, one of the best ways to meet characters at Disney. You get one on one time with each of the characters at the meal, they typically come right to you at your table, and you use the wait time to eat - which you'd be doing anyway.
I'm a little bit embarrassed to say that we've only being doing character meals for a few years - before we had kids we thought the Disney World character meals were for families, i.e. kids. Despite reading lots to the contrary, we just thought we'd be a bit awkward at them. Having done plenty now, that was definitely a mistake - we'd been missing out on this particular trick for years. So take a tip from us, no matter who is in your party, try out at least one character meal on your next trip.
This is far from all of the character meals on property (there are quite a few!) but here are some of our favourites.
Disney World Character Meals: Our fave
If you only have time for one character meal at Disney World, we strongly recommend Tusker House, at Animal Kingdom. Located in Africa, you get to meet Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy dressed in their safari gear. This is a buffet restaurant serving primarily African cuisine. It does have some 'American' options for the picky eaters and kids - perhaps more so at breakfast than lunch or dinner. Luckily, because it is a buffet, the kids don't have to stick to their designated food and can sample some of the delicious African inspired offerings. Tusker House is our absolute favourite character meal - fab characters and the food is really tasty. In fact, we enjoy the buffet so much that we recommend it, even if you're not interested in a character meal.
Disney World Character Meals: Fab Five
The only way to meet all of the fab 5 at once - Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto, is at Chef Mickey's, in the Contemporary Resort (although you get pretty close to it at Tusker House, but with Daisy instead of Pluto). The big advantage to this is that the Contemporary Resort is walking distance from Magic Kingdom - it's about ten minutes walk from the front of the park, or you can take the monorail. So you can take a break for a meal and then head back there without much delay.
The challenge with Chef Mickey's is that the food is average, at best. It is a buffet - with American food, a mix of cold salads etc and hot food, meat, fish, pasta etc. Breakfast is your standard breakfast fare, although features Mickey Waffles, which are always popular with the kids. Our personal favourite time for a meal here is Brunch, served between 11:30 and 2:30, when you get the best of both worlds. It is a popular restaurant and you can tell that the buffet is catering for the masses. It is not bad, it's just in no way outstanding - there are much better meals to be had on Disney property.
But, you're not there for the food. You're there to meet the fab five, in their chef's attire. The restaurant is big, and loud, but the characters get round to every table and the kids just seem to love it here.
Disney World Character Meals: Princesses
There are a few good options for meeting a selection of Princesses. There are two obvious candidates, which you will probably read about the most. The first is Cinderella's Royal Table - which is extremely popular as it is in the restaurant inside Cinderella Castle, in Magic Kingdom. This is a 'Signature' restaurant though, so it is pricey, or counts as two dining credits on the dining plan. The other is Akershus in Norway, in Epcot. This is a Norwegian buffet, and probably isn't for very picky eaters - although the breakfast serves much more typical American type food.
However, one of my favourite princess character meals is the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. This is located on the Boardwalk - it is about a 10 to 15 minute walk from Epcot's International Gateway exit. Or about 20 minutes walk from Hollywood Studios. Or you can get the Friendship Boat to the Boardwalk Hotel, from either park.
In the evenings, Trattoria al Forno, as you may have guessed, is an Italian restaurant, but for breakfast it serves mainly American food, although that includes a 'breakfast calzone'. The calzone is huge and includes salami, sausage, and cheeses, and is served on 'sunday gravy'. Now I had my doubts, because sunday gravy to me, is what goes with your roast, but it turns out it is a tomato based sauce, a bit like you'd find with pasta - and the meal is truly scrumptious.
It is an a la carte meal - which is a lovely change given that so many of the character meals are buffets, or family style. It really is a delicious meal. The only caveat is bang for your princess buck. You'll only meet two here - Ariel (in her human form) and Rapunzel - but you also find their other halves, Prince Eric and Flynn Rider, who you won't meet anywhere else. It may works as a good compromise if you have any kids in the family who do not want to meet the princesses quite so much.
The other princess character meal that should get a mention is Storybook Dining, at Artist Point, in Wilderness Lodge resort. This is just a short boat ride away from Magic Kingdom, and features Snow White, Dopey and Grumpy, circulating the restaurant, plus a photo opportunity with the Evil Queen. Full disclosure - we've not eaten here yet, since it changed to a character meal, but it has had rave reviews.
Disney World Character Meals: Little ones
If you have young children in your party, who have a fondness for Disney Junior, you might want to check out Hollywood n Vine, at Hollywood Studios. At breakfast it offers Disney Junior Play 'n Dine - an opportunity to meet characters from Disney Junior, while starting the day with an American style breakfast buffet - Mickey waffles, omelettes, fresh fruit etc. Currently, you can meet Fancy Nancy, Vamperina, Doc McStuffins and Roadster Racer Goofy. If you've got little ones that watch these Disney Junior shows then we can definitely recommend this meal. We've had some lovely interactions with the characters here, who are obviously well trained in how to deal with their very little fans! The food itself has mixed reviews - although we've always really enjoyed it for breakfast.
Disney World Character Meals: Unusual characters
If you want to use your character meal time to meet some of the characters that might be a bit harder to track down in the parks, you've got a few options.
1900 Park Fare, in Grand Floridian has a slightly odd collection of characters - you will usually find Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh at the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast. I'm assuming the connection is that they are all British. This is for breakfast only and is your standard buffet fare - think waffles, pancakes, fruit etc. We like this one as it is at the Grand Floridian hotel, which is just a monorail ride away from Magic Kingdom, so a great way to start your Disney day.
The only place you can typically meet both Lilo and Stitch together is the Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch, which is at 'Ohana, at the Polynesian resort. Mickey and Pluto also join them, for a family style meal - meaning it is all you can eat, but the meal is brought to you, so a bit more relaxing than a buffet, and you get to try everything. You have your usual eggs and waffles, but it comes with more of a Hawaiian twist. We love the dinner at 'Ohana - which is not a character meal - so we don't do this often but it is pretty popular. Like the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast, the Polynesian is just a monorail away from Magic Kingdom, so great for an early start to your day.
And finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the ever popular Crystal Palace, found in Magic Kingdom itself. Located just off Mainstreet, this restaurant is modelled on the real life Crystal Palace right here in the UK. Meet Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore as they circulate the restaurant. The food is American cuisine, served as a buffet. Our personal experience of the food itself has not been great, however it is a great way to meet these characters without waiting. It also has a really good reputation, and is pretty popular so you'd need to book well in advance. Choose this restaurant if you want 'safe' food, (good for fussy kids) and an easy opportunity to meet Pooh and friends.
We really do recommend having a character meal during your trip to Disney world. If you can fit it into your schedule at Animal Kingdom, Tusker House is a firm favourite with us - we never do a trip without a visit there now, for great characters and yummy food. If that doesn't work for you, hopefully we've given you some other ideas that will.