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!
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!).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
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