Character meals are an important part of a Disney vacation for many travelers. Character dining gives you a chance to interact with 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 all of the character dining meals in Anaheim (most of them multiple times!) 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.
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Disneyland Character Dining Basics
First things first: what do you need to know about character breakfasts and other meals at Disneyland?
First, be aware that compared to Walt Disney World, Disneyland actually has relatively few character dining options. Up until March 2020 when the parks closed down, there were only 5 choices, to be exact. Those included one standard character dining location in each of the three Disneyland hotels, one in Disneyland park, and an additional premium character meal in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.
Disneyland’s character dining meals as of March 2020 were:
- Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park at Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (breakfast only)
- Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel (breakfast and dinner)
- Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast (formerly Mickey’s Surf’s Up! Breakfast) at Disney’s PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier Hotel (breakfast only, brunch on weekends)
- Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast Buffet (formerly Chip ’n Dale’s Critter Breakfast) at Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel (breakfast only, brunch on weekends)
- Princess Breakfast Adventures at Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel (breakfast/brunch only, Thursday-Monday)
(A character dining restaurant called Ariel’s Grotto closed in early 2018 and Disneyland changed two of the other character meals on July 10, 2018, as is reflected in the list above. Finally, a new meal debuted in spring of 2019. So, if you find older information about the character meal choices at Disneyland, it is likely outdated. Tread carefully!)
Breaking Updates for Disneyland Character Meals in 2021
****BREAKING JULY 15, 2021****: Speaking of being outdated, there is breaking 2021 character meal news to now report! In spring of 2021, Disneyland reopened without character meals at all. But we have just gotten word that two character meals will soon be returning, as follows:
- Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park at Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (breakfast daily) — opening August 12; bookings available soon
- Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast Buffet at Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel (breakfast daily, brunch 11am-1pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday) — opening July 22; bookings available July 20
Sadly, Disney also recently announced that PCH Grill at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel will not be reopening. That means Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast won’t be making a return either. But any reopenings at all are great news these days, so I’ll take what I can get!
These meals will, of course, have to operate a bit differently now than they did in 2020 and earlier. Details on modifications are TBD, but I expect character meals at Disneyland to work similarly to what has been offered at Walt Disney World this year. There, characters come out at a modest distance and are available for selfies but not hugs or autographs.
How Early Do You Need to Book Disneyland Character Dining?
While character dining is very popular, Disneyland visitors historically haven’t seemed to make reservations as crazy-early as guests do at Walt Disney World. At Disney World, the best reservations were gone 180 days in advance in normal times. In fact, dining reservations have never even opened up until 60 days in advance at Disneyland.
While dining at Disneyland didn’t used to be a contact sport, it too now has a highly competitive scene in 2021. In the past, while you may have been able to book a character meal even just a week or two in advance of a Disneyland trip, that is no longer the case. Expect character dining reservations to book up very quickly in the weeks and months to come – likely in minutes from when they are released.
If your kids simply must dine with Mickey, start checking in the official Disneyland app ASAP. Reservations are usually – but not always – released at 6am exactly 60 days in advance. Refresh often to snag cancellations or new openings.
See my guide to how you need to do Disneyland differently in 2021 for complete current dining reservation tips.
What is the Best Character Meal at Disneyland?
(Editor’s Note July 15, 2021: While only 2 character dining locations are reopening in summer 2021, I’ve kept references to all the meals that were offered in 2020 below until we get final word on other reopenings and modifications to the remainder.)
I see this question asked so often by travelers headed to Disneyland for the first time. If you see someone trying to answer it definitively, I’d actually recommend not taking their advice.
Why? In my experience, the best character meal is different for every guest. For my family, the best character meal at Disneyland is the one that fits in best with our schedule, logistics and location first and foremost. We value park time and rides. Meals that work with our overall touring plan are best for us. We also go to Disneyland regularly, so we have more than one opportunity to try character meals.
For a family taking a bucket list one-time vacation to Disneyland, their calculus may be very different. If they have a child who is obsessed with a certain character, the best character meal for them may well be the meal that gets them that coveted character interaction time and photo opp.
The bottom line is that all of these meals are very good and you likely won’t go wrong with any of them. You just may go more right with some of them depending on your personal situation.
Things to Think About When Choosing Disneyland Character Meals
As a result, the purpose of this post is to help you choose the character meal that is best for YOU. Here are the factors to think about in making your decision.
1. How big is your budget?
Disney historically has not published character dining prices on the Disneyland website. And prices do seem to fluctuate, so it is hard to compare precisely over time.
In years past, all but one of the character meals were in the same price range per person (give or take a couple of dollars). Goofy’s for dinner was pricier than the rest, but not by much. And Plaza Inn was usually a few dollars cheaper than the other breakfast options.
In 2021, pricing is just starting to emerge. Prices for Storytellers Cafe in 2021 are:
- Breakfast (Served before 11am daily): TBD
- Brunch (Served 11am-1pm Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays): $51 for adults ages 10+ and $29 children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
Other prices for 2021 have not been released yet, but I expect Goofy’s Kitchen dinner could be even more expensive than Storytellers brunch.
For comparison’s sake, here are what prices were before the parks’ closure:
- PCH Grill breakfast (Fall 2018): $39 for adults ages 10+ and $23 for children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
- Storytellers Cafe breakfast (Fall 2018): $39 for adults ages 10+ and $23 for children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
- Goofy’s Kitchen dinner (Summer 2019): $48 for adults ages 10+ and $28 for children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
- Plaza Inn breakfast (End 2019): $34 for adults ages 10+ and $19 for children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
(Editor’s Note: The following meal is still closed with no reopening date in 2021 announced.) If you have a bigger budget and a princess fan in the family, there is a super-premium character dining experience to know about. Princess Breakfast Adventures is a character breakfast with Disney princesses in Napa Rose in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel that launched in May 2019. At $125 per person pre-tax and tip (for both adults and children ages 3+), it’s a spendy experience in another league entirely. It’s open 8:00 am until noon Thursday through Monday. The meal includes gifts and premium activity experiences in the price, so it’s a bit misleading to compare it directly to the other character meals since it offers more for the price.
Some travel agencies used to sell discounted character meal vouchers, but sadly those have been discontinued in 2019 across the board. But remember that you can always save on your overall Disney vacation costs by purchasing park tickets or a vacation package from Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. That will certainly help free up a little cash in your budget to afford a character meal! (Use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all package stays of 2 nights or more.) Find out my other money-saving Disneyland tips.
2. In-park or out?
The next 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.
Plaza Inn in Disneyland park is the only character dining experience where a park ticket is required, so your choices of out-of-park options in the three hotels are pretty extensive.
3. What time of day?
All of the character meals in Disneyland offer breakfast. Since the early morning breakfast hours can be valuable park time when lines are shortest, however, I highly recommend a non-breakfast option if you are an early-morning ride fan.
There is only one restaurant that serves a character dinner (Goofy’s Kitchen). With the closing of Ariel’s Grotto in January 2018, there is no longer any location where you can eat lunch with characters. But all hope is not lost. Mickey’s Tale of Adventure now offers brunch through 1pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Donald’s Seaside Breakfast has added brunch until 1pm those same days. This option is the closest to a new lunch offering as you may get.
Another strategy I recommend is to schedule a late breakfast. On a recent 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 (EMH is currently not offered in 2021). 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. (Check out a complete review of the Plaza Inn character breakfast for more information.)
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 (with the exception of Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures):
- Donald Duck at PCH Grill
- Goofy at Goofy’s Kitchen
- Minnie Mouse at Plaza Inn
- Mickey Mouse at Storytellers Cafe
- (No princess is guaranteed at Napa Rose, but Rapunzel generally greets guests upon arrival in the waiting area and Ariel closes the meal with an included Photopass photo).
Even though there is only one guaranteed character, there are some characters that make fairly regular appearances at certain locations. For example, you’ll almost always see Stitch at Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast and Winnie the Pooh is a frequent guest at Plaza Inn. Minnie Mouse can regularly be seen at all character meals (except Princess Breakfast Adventures) these days. Check out 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.
But each restaurant does have some variations and unique offerings. For example, the grown-ups on my last visit to Donald’s Seaside Breakfast loved the chilaquiles, which is a traditional Mexican breakfast or brunch dish and is served with shredded beef, salsa verde, and queso fresco.
If you are looking for something a little more unusual, I’d also recommend Goofy’s Kitchen, Goofy’s is known for a few wacky choices like pizza topped with macaroni and cheese or PB&J. And of course, since Goofy’s offers dinner, there is more than just breakfast cuisine if you dine at the later time of day.
Princess Breakfast Adventures has a unique and much more extensive menu. While there is a breakfast buffet component to the meal, the offerings are much less mass produced and definitely aimed at foodies – including champagne for adults. The meal begins with a bread basket of breakfast pastries, followed by tiered display of starters like an open faced and cheese sandwich with cranberry cream cheese or a chia and granola parfait.
Then the hot buffet is open, featuring kid-friendly favorites like Mickey waffles, macaroni & cheese (with and withOUT breadcrumbs for pickier eaters), and scrambled eggs. Adults will also enjoy more exotic options like tempura shrimp with a spiced dipping sauce and braised short ribs. Home fries are also provided on the table as well. Finally, the meal finishes with a tiered display of 5 different miniature desserts like cake pops, seashell macarons, and strawberry honey sorbet.
The menus of every character meal are available on the Disneyland website now, so check them out in advance to see what looks most appealing to you.
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 a few years back), 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 four hotel restaurants, as all of them have only indoor seating. The in-park character meal at Plaza Inn has both indoor and outdoor spaces. While you can certainly make a request to be inside or out, there are simply no guarantees on where your table will be.
7. What Extras Interest You?
While all character meals include food and character meet-and-greet time, a few of them have some extras that might matter to you or your kids.
For example, at all of the character meals except Mickey’s Tales of Adventure, Disney PhotoPass photographers take a formal photo of you with the meal’s main character. If you have Disney’s MaxPass, your character meal photos are included just like all your Photopass photos are! Because there is no pre-meal photo opportunity at Storytellers, this might be a meal you should do on a non-park or non-MaxPass day. (Note for 2021: MaxPass is not offered at the moment, but 1 day Photopass is. No word yet on whether it will include character meal photos.)
If your kids are outgoing and want even more character fun, they might like some of the offerings that allow them to get up out of their seats and interact with the characters. At PCH Grill, kids can dance to beach music with the characters during a regular dance party. And at Mickey’s Tales of Adventure, the characters parade around the restaurant every 20 minutes or so, leading the kids who carry and play musical instruments and noisemakers. At Goofy’s, there’s a similar character procession that ends with getting kids up to dance. Of course, if you have kids who might be overwhelmed by the noise, the quieter meal option of Plaza Inn might be better for you!
And when it comes to activities, none of the character meals can hold a candle to the offerings at Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures. There, kids can participate in story time with Belle or learn some warrior skills with Mulan. Children ages 3 and up receive an autograph book at the start of the meal and can also choose between a parting gift – a tiara necklace or a sword and shield set. Adults receive a free Photopass image (no Maxpass required) and a tote bag with chocolates.
Additional Tips & Tricks for Disneyland Character Meals
Need even more tips and tricks for a successful character dining experience at Disneyland? A few final thoughts:
- Anyone can dine at the hotel character meals. You do not need to be a hotel guest to make a reservation or dine.
- If you are staying at one of the Disneyland resort on-property hotels and can’t find availability for a character meal, call (714) 781-DINE and ask about Preferred Reservation Access. Disneyland holds back a small selection of dining reservation times for their hotel guests!
- Even with a reservation, you might not be seated immediately upon arrival. Leave some buffer time in your schedule for the day to account for this, especially if you are trying to make rope drop or work around a return time to the virtual queues at Rise of the Resistance or WEB SLINGERS.
- Kids under 3 are free at all character meals. You should, however, count them in making your table reservation. The true count is needed to assure proper table size.
- Parking validation is available for character meals in the Disneyland resort hotels if you drive to your meal and park. But don’t try to use this trick to then go to the parks for the day – the validation limit is usually only for 3 hours.
- Don’t forget your autograph book! Character meals are some of the easiest times to get character autographs. (Note for 2021: Characters will not yet be signing autographs.)
- If you plan to dine at Princess Breakfast Adventures, plan on at least 3 hours to complete the experience. Consider carefully whether your toddler or preschooler has the patience for a meal of that length – I personally think the meal is really best suited to kids 5 and up.
Free Printable for Disneyland Character Meals
Want to line up all the Disneyland character meal choices and compare them? You’re in luck! Check out the free downloadable printable with essential comparison information about Disneyland character dining, including what additional characters often make appearances at each meal. (Note not yet updated for 2021).
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