Character meals are an important part of a Disney vacation for many travelers. Character dining gives you a chance to take photos and get autographs from multiple characters in a short period of time while taking a break from lines and the heat (or rain or cold, depending on the season). Even though these experiences can be a little pricier than other dining options at Disney parks, the benefits often greatly outweigh the few extra bucks.
My family almost always makes time for at least one character meal on every Disney trip we take. Since Disneyland is the resort we visit most often, we’ve experienced nearly all of the character dining meals in Anaheim and can offer up some valuable comparisons. I’ve created a handy printable below that summarizes the options in chart form so you can choose for your family too.
Disneyland Character Dining Basics
First things first: what do you need to know about character meals at Disneyland? First, be aware that compared to Walt Disney World, Disneyland actually has relatively few character dining options. There are only 5 choices, to be exact. There is one character dining location in each of the three Disneyland hotels, and one in each of the two parks. Each has its own style so it is important to pick carefully.
The character dining meals are:
- Ariel’s Disney Princess Celebration at Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure (breakfast and lunch)
- Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park at Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (breakfast only)
- Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel (breakfast and dinner)
- Mickey’s Surf’s Up! Breakfast at Disney’s PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier Hotel (breakfast only)
- Chip ’n Dale Critter Breakfast at Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel (breakfast only)
While character dining is very popular, Disneyland visitors don’t seem to make reservations as crazy-early as guests do at Walt Disney World, where the best reservations can be gone 180 days in advance. In fact, dining reservations don’t even open up until 60 days in advance at Disneyland. Nevertheless, I recommend trying to plan and reserve early for Disneyland too. That said, you may be able to luck into prime reservation times even just a week or two in advance of your trip.
Things to Think About When Choosing Disneyland Character Meals
1. In-park or out?
The first major choice to make is whether you want to eat in-park or out-of-park in one of the hotels. If you are dining out-of-the park, you won’t need a park ticket that day to have a Disney experience. For that reason, I often schedule a character meal in a hotel location on my arrival or departure day when I already might not be purchasing a park ticket for just a partial day. This strategy allows my family to make better use of our park days and also potentially to save money by purchasing tickets for fewer days in the parks (don’t miss my many other Disneyland money-saving tips here!).
2. What time of day?
All of the character meals in Disneyland offer breakfast, but there is only one location where you can eat lunch with the characters (Ariel’s Grotto) and only one restaurant that serves a character dinner (Goofy’s Kitchen). Since the early morning breakfast hours can be valuable park time when lines are shortest, I highly recommend one of the non-breakfast options if you are an early-morning ride junkie.
Alternatively, schedule a late breakfast. On our last Disneyland trip, my family ate breakfast at Plaza Inn at 9:30 a.m., which was just about perfect. We spent the early morning hours in California Adventure starting at 7:00 a.m. with Extra Magic Hour. We then park hopped to Disneyland for our reservation at about 9:00 when the ride lines were getting longer. We just gave the kids a few snacks in the early morning so they wouldn’t be starving before meal time.
3. Table service or buffet?
Most character meals at Disney parks everywhere are buffets, and Disneyland is no different. The only full table service character meal option at Disneyland is Ariel’s Grotto so that is your only choice if you want a sit down meal. One other choice if a buffet doesn’t suit everyone in your party is Storytellers Cafe, where guests have the choice of ordering off an à la carte menu or visiting the buffet.
4. What characters are a can’t miss?
Is there one character that your kids MUST see? Then your choice in character meals may be narrowed down easily. While you’ll probably meet 4-8 characters during any given meal, there is only one character guaranteed at each Disneyland dining location:
- Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto
- Mickey at PCH Grill
- Goofy at Goofy’s Kitchen
- Minnie Mouse at Plaza Inn
- Chip & Dale at Storytellers Cafe
Even though there is only one guaranteed character, there are some characters that make fairly regular appearances at certain locations. For example, you’ll always see multiple princesses at Ariel’s Grotto, and you’ll usually see quite a few members of Mickey’s gang at Mickey’s Surfs Up! at PCH Grill. See the printable below for common characters you may see at each location.
5. What kind of food?
The basic breakfast options at most of the character dining restaurants are all fairly similar. You’ll find standard fare like eggs, sausages, bacon, and Mickey shaped waffles everywhere.
If you are looking for something a little more unusual or exotic, however, I’d recommend Goofy’s Kitchen, which serves some wacky foods sure to make your kids smile like macaroni and cheese pizza and PB&J pizza. Ariel’s Grotto has the most options for fine(r) dining fans, with menu items like tri-tip and lobster on the lunch menu.
6. Indoor or outdoor dining?
If you are visiting Disneyland during a pleasant time of year for weather, having outdoor dining as an option during your character meal could be a big draw. But if you are visiting during an Anaheim heat wave (they do happen – it was over 95 degrees during my visit in late September this year), you may prefer a location where you are guaranteed indoor seating and air conditioning.
If indoor dining is a must-have, choose one of the three hotel restaurants, as all of them have only indoor seating. The two in-park restaurants offering character dining (Plaza Inn and Ariel’s Grotto) have both indoor and outdoor spaces. While you can certainly make a request to be inside or out at these two locations, there are simply no guarantees on where your table will be.
7. How big is your budget?
Most character meals are right at about the same price per person (give or take a dollar or two). Disney does not publish prices on the Disneyland website and prices do seem to fluctuate, so it is hard to compare precisely. That said, the priciest character dining option is – hands down – Ariel’s Grotto. The table service plus fancier menu means it is about $10 more per head than the other options. If budget is a factor and you don’t have a princess-crazed kiddo, I’d consider elsewhere.
Free Printable for Disneyland Character Meals
Want to line up all the Disneyland character meal choices and compare them? You’re in luck! Download the free Trips With Tykes Disneyland character dining printable below.