Budget-Friendly Date Night in Disneyland’s Downtown Disney

We all know the importance of date nights in maintaining a connection with your partner, but it can be hard to find the time, especially once you have kids. Have you considered going on a date while you are at Disneyland? If not, I highly recommend it! Restaurants and shops can be found throughout the Downtown Disney District, making it the perfect place for a date night without breaking the bank.

Date Night Planning

Since I still haven’t convinced my spouse to move closer to Disneyland, our trips have always required a long drive or a short flight. Fortunately, we have figured out how to enjoy a date night while there…pack your kids’ grandparents (well, don’t really pack them; they will probably be more comfortable in a seat and be more willing to take part in the next step of our date night plan).

We love taking our kiddo to Disneyland, but sometimes it is nice to get a bit of a break from all the action. Visiting the Parks with grandparents or other family members means we may be able to sneak away for a couple of hours of grown-up time in the Happiest Place on Earth. The kiddo gets to enjoy some extra bonding time with Grandma while we get to have an uninterrupted conversation that doesn’t involve snack breaks…or potty breaks…or nap breaks (although, I do love nap breaks).

The Date

So, now that you have sneaked away, what can you do? And, how can you make it happen without spending a lot of extra money? The Downtown Disney District is where to go! You will still be able to experience the Disney magic without purchasing a Park ticket. Not to mention, parking is free for up to two hours, or up to 4 hours with validation from participating locations.

Cool Cocktails

The first stop? Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar inside the Disneyland Hotel to share a cocktail or appetizer. With it’s tropical ambiance, eclectic and humorous decor, and fruity drink concoctions, this island-themed bar is the perfect kickoff to your date. There is a nice patio, but inside the bar is where all the fun can be found. Be forewarned: volcanoes may spontaneously erupt and bar stools may automatically lower themselves at any time!

img_0671If you are looking for a fun cocktail to share, try the Uh Oa. This fruity, rum drink comes in a large tiki-inspired bowl made for two (or more) people to share. While the drink is full of deliciousness, the presentation is what really seals the deal. Fire anyone??

  • Tip: Trader Sam’s can fill up quickly, especially during peak Disney months, so try to get there in the early afternoon. Check out their times and menu online.

This isn’t the place to get a great deal on prices. Regardless, I just love the atmosphere at Trader Sam’s, which is why I recommend sharing one drink or appetizer if you want to keep costs down.


Walk off your Uh Oa by walking (or skipping…come on, it is a date after all) over to ESPN Zone’s Sports Arena. Get the blood pumping by challenging your partner to a wicked game of air hockey or a “best out of three” arcade game competition.



  • Disneyland Annual Passholders save up to 15% off food.
  • D23 Gold Members can get a burger, non-alcoholic beverage, and a $15 game card for $20 though December 31, 2017. 

Happy Hour Food and Drinks

After that fierce competition with your partner, you may be hungry! Next stop, Tortilla Jo’s for happy hour! On Monday through Friday afternoons, you can get happy hour prices on house margaritas, (some) beer, and sangria (yum!), as well as a few appetizers.

img_0156Available happy hour appetizers include mini chorizo tacos served in crispy corn tortillas; puff pastries filled with beef and cheese; skewers made with mangos, cucumber, jicama, and lime; and elite asado (my favorite!), which is grilled corn on the cob topped with mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, piquin powder, and white truffle oil. Crunchy and tangy, the corn is an unbelievable flavor explosion in your mouth!

I have also heard that they won’t charge a corkage fee when you bring your own wine, but that hasn’t been confirmed.


  • To get happy hour prices, make sure to visit Tortilla Jo’s on a weekday, from 2pm-5pm. You can find the menu online
  • Tortilla Jo’s has allergy-free food choices for most of the top allergens. Meat, beans, rice, and tortillas are often a safe bet.
  • If you want to look beyond the happy hour menu, I highly recommend the chips and guacamole. The guacamole is made right at your table, so it can be customized to your liking. Extra onions? Sure. Hate onions? Keep those buggers out!

Take a Walk

Next, we like to stroll through Downtown Disney. It is perfect place to window shop and people watch! WonderGround Gallery is our favorite store to explore. It is filled with Disney-inspired works of art and unique novelty items.

Wandering around the World of Disney store is another fun choice. Take selfies while wearing funny hats, view Disney art creations, and even play with toys. I can literally spend hours at this store (but maybe not with the hubby…that might be a bit too much Disney for him).


Checking out the second largest Lego Store in the country is another fun idea for your date. The life-size Lego creations are magnificent!  When I was kid, building a Lego house with four walls and a door was impressive. Nowadays, there are custom kits that allow you to make anything you can dream of…including a Disney Castle!

If all of this window-shopping has left you tired, now is a great time to find a bench next to one of the water features and relax for a bit.


After the sun goes down, the live performers usually come out. This is our absolute most favorite part of the Downtown Disney District! Depending on the the night, the path through Downtown Disney can lead you from a soulful blues singer to a modern pop musician to an extraordinary violinist playing beautiful music. And, it is all free!


You can also check out the the Louisiana Jazz Kitchen, which has New Orleans style music on a nightly basis.

Tip: Check out the Downtown Disney Entertainment calendar ahead of time to make sure performers will be there on your date night.


Lastly, if you and your love have a hankering for something sweet, pick up some warm, doughy beignets covered in powdered sugar at the Louisiana Jazz Kitchen; sweet ice cream (or sorbet for those with dairy allergies) at Haagen Dazs; or sinfully delicious cupcakes at the new Sprinkles (at least one vegan cupcake is usually available, which are often allergy-friendly). Kettle corn is another sweet and salty treat sold at one of the stands. No matter where I go, the smell of kettle corn always reminds me of Downtown Disney!


There you have it. After all that fun, it is time to head home and tuck the kiddos into bed. Just make sure you wipe the powdered sugar evidence off your face before walking in the door!

Enjoy your date night!

**As seen on Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos

Enjoying Character Dining at Disneyland with Food Allergies

Managing Food Allergies at Disneyland's Character Dining

What if you could meet some of the classic Disney characters without waiting in line? Do such magical places really exist? Actually, they do! Character dining is a great way to hang out with some of your favorite characters, take pictures, and eat to your heart’s content.

Most of the character dining locations offer buffets as their main (or only) choice. As a food allergy mom, the thought of eating at a buffet usually causes my heart to race and sweat to start dripping down my face…but not at Disneyland! With a bit of preparation and communication (and a dash of Pixie Dust), guests with food allergies can safely enjoy character dining.

Meeting the Disney Characters

Meeting Disney characters has changed dramatically over recent years. Those of us who visited Disneyland as children fondly remember the days when you could follow Mickey as he strolled down Main Street or run up to Minnie for a quick hug. The characters would appear anywhere at any given time. It was magical (well, for the kids; it was probably chaotic for the characters as they were swarmed by children).

These days, things are a lot different. Meet and greets occur at set times and locations so you know exactly where to find your favorite princess or character. This definitely makes it easier to ensure kiddos (and grown-ups) are able meet that special figure (instead of crossing your fingers and toes hoping Anna or Elsa bumps into you at some point).

While I appreciate knowing when and where we can find Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore, I do miss some of the spontaneity of the old days.

This is why I like character dining. It gives you and your family an opportunity to be “surprised” when Pluto stops by to say hello or when Goofy decides to squirt mustard on your leftover cupcake (yes, that really happened!). Throughout your meal, multiple characters come to your table, sometimes more than once. The interactions also tend to be longer and they will usually do a little song and dance as they sashay around the restaurant. It’s a real party!

And, for people like me who want to maximize their Disney time, you get to cross two things off your list at once: pictures with the characters and eating a yummy meal! Done and done!

Managing Food Allergies at Disneyland's Character Dining

There are three different character dining locations located within the Disneyland Resort Hotels: Goofy’s Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel), Storytellers’ Cafe (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel), and PCH Grill (Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel). These locations don’t require Park tickets or even a hotel stay.

There are also two locations inside the Parks, Plaza Inn in Disneyland and Ariel’s Grotto in Disney’s California Adventure. Park tickets are required to eat at these restaurants.

Most of the character dining meals occur during breakfast, although some do have lunch options (and one has dinner – Goofy’s Kitchen). During peak season, we like to hit the parks early to take advantage of fewer crowds before eating breakfast around mid-morning. In the slower months when the Parks don’t open until later, we usually eat breakfast before the rope drop so we can focus on rides as soon as they open.

As I mentioned before, buffets are available at most of the character dining locations. Buffets mean you get a variety of food choices to please the pickiest of eaters (yay!) but for those with food allergies, it also can mean a lot of stress (boo!).

Managing Food Allergies at Disneyland's Character Dining

Allergy-Free (and Other) Tips

So, how can you enjoy character dining while also avoiding your allergens? Here are some tips to help you:

  • Make reservations up to 60 days in advance and note any food allergies in your reservation. Reservations can be made at disneyland.com or by calling Disneyland Dining at (714) 781- 3463.
  • Those with four or more allergies should also contact Disneyland Special Diets at special.diets@disneyland.com to complete an allergy form thirty days before your arrival.
  • If you are still feeling nervous, you can usually ask for a chef to call you to discuss food options ahead of time. This can be requested on the allergy form.
  • Guests with multiple allergies should consider bringing pre-printed cards that list all of the allergens for you to give to the chef.
    Once seated at the restaurant, notify your server of any food allergies and ask to speak with the chef.


  • Avoid eating directly from the buffet as much as possible, as the risk for cross-contamination is high. For example, Goofy’s Kitchen is known for it’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Pizza. If you have a peanut allergy, that could be a recipe for disaster. Instead, walk through the buffet line with the chef to identify which foods you would like to eat. Verify the ingredients and ask the chef to prepare those foods for you in the back kitchen.
  • As with any restaurant, bring wipes to clean off the table and chairs.
  • For breakfast, the gluten-free waffles and pancakes are usually a safe choice for individuals with one or more of the most common allergens (even if wheat is not one of you allergens). Fruit, bacon, and some potato items are often allergy-friendly, as well.
  • At lunch and/or dinner, meat, sourdough bread, veggies, and fruit are free of most of the top allergens. Also, egg (and dairy) free pasta is sometimes available as an option.
  • Desserts can be hit or miss. Sometimes they have a safe sorbet or an Enjoy Life cookie, but I always bring a special dessert for my kiddo just in case there aren’t any good options.
  • Small kiddos may get overwhelmed by the characters. Be prepared to kindly ask the characters to just wave from afar (or sometimes a fist bump or high five works too!).
  • Don’t forget your camera and autograph books! There will be plenty of opportunities for pictures with the characters, in addition to professional photographs available for purchase.

Managing Food Allergies at Disneyland's Character Dining


The cost ranges from $33-$40 for adults and $19-24 for children. Breakfast tends to be the cheapest option. Although these are not inexpensive meals, they do provide more “bang for the buck” by combining eating with meeting the characters.

Favorite Character Dining Locations

Each character dining location has unique qualities.

Although I truly enjoy all of the character dining locations for different reasons, my favorite spots are the Storyteller’s Café,  Ariel’s Grotto, and Plaza Inn. Storyteller’s Café places a high priority on safe food-handling practices for food allergies and the food is excellent. They often do interactive activities like the hokey pokey, as well.

I also like this spot because you can eat there before the Park opens. Our favorite times of day to go on rides are first thing in the morning and late in the evening, so I like to avoid “wasting” time eating when we could be riding Peter Pan or Soarin’ Around the World! However, Chip ’n’ Dale are the main characters here so you will miss out on some of the traditional favorites like Mickey and Minnie.

Enjoying Disneyland Character Dining with Food Allergies

On the other hand, Ariel’s Grotto has princesses! Do I need to say anything else?? The food isn’t quite as good as the other locations, but the variety of princesses more than makes up for it. This is also the only location that does not provide a breakfast buffet, which may make some people with food allergies feel more comfortable.

“Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park” at the Plaza Inn is also so much fun! It is almost surreal to sit in the heart of Disneyland surrounded by the traditional Disney characters. You never know who may stop by! And, they also have a positive reputation for handling food allergies.

Enjoying Disneyland's Character Dining with Food Allergies

Regardless of which character dining experience you choose, you will enjoy it! Meeting your favorite character or princess can make the most serious of adults turn into giddy kids again.

 **As seen on Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos