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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Last updated: September 11, 2021.
Disneyland Character Dining Basics – Updated for 2021!
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. Now in 2021 as Disneyland has reopened, there are only 4 that are currently in the process of a phased reopening.
The current 2021 Disneyland character meal offerings include two meals (one standard and one premium) at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, one at the Disneyland Hotel, and one in Disneyland park. They are:
- Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park at Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (breakfast only)
- Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel (breakfast and dinner) – characters returning September 16, 2021
- Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast Buffet (formerly Chip ’n Dale’s Critter Breakfast) at Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel (breakfast daily, brunch 11am-1pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
- Princess Breakfast Adventures at Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel (breakfast/brunch only, Thursday-Monday)
(Note: if you find older information about the character meal choices at Disneyland out there on the internet, it is likely outdated. Tread carefully! A character dining restaurant called Ariel’s Grotto closed in early 2018 and Disneyland changed several character meals names on July 10, 2018. A new meal debuted in spring of 2019. And in 2021, Disney also announced that PCH Grill at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel would not be reopening, meaning that Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast – formerly Mickey’s Surf’s Up! Breakfast – would not be making a return either.)
These meals will, of course, have to operate a bit differently now than they did in 2020 and earlier. Characters come out at a modest distance and are available for selfies but not hugs or autographs. Buffets are back at all the locations that have had them in the past. Some locations, however, will give you a plate that a cast member prepares on the service line. For now at least, some locations also include free Photopass images with your meal cost – bonus!
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. Character dining reservations have been going very fast – with the most – likely in minutes from when they are released.
If your kids simply must dine with Mickey, you need a competitive advantage. 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. I also highly recommend using a service called Mouse Dining which will alert you to openings and save your sanity. There is a free version with a limited number of email alerts as well as a reasonably priced paid version that sends instantaneous text alerts.
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?
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?
Before 2021, Disney historically did not publish character dining prices. Prices seemed to fluctuate without notice, so it was hard to compare precisely over time. Thankfully, prices are somewhat more transparent now with some of them posted on the Disneyland website.
In 2021, prices are:
- Storytellers Cafe Breakfast (Served before 11am daily): $49 for adults ages 10+ and $29 children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
- Storytellers Cafe Brunch (Served 11am-1pm Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays): $51 for adults ages 10+ and $29 children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
- Plaza Inn Breakfast (Served daily 8am-11am: $41 for adults ages 10+ and $24 children ages 3-9 (plus tax and tip)
- Goofy’s Kitchen Breakfast (Served 7am-noon Monday through Friday, 7am-1:30pm Saturdays and Sundays): TBD
- Goofy’s Kitchen Dinner (Served 5pm-9pm Monday through Thursday, 4pm-9pm Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays): TBD
- Princess Breakfast Adventures: $125 for all adults and children 3+
For comparison’s sake, here are what prices were before the parks’ closure:
- 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)
As you can see, all but one of the character meals have usually been 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.
If you have a much 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 on-property 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 hope is not lost. Mickey’s Tale of Adventure offers brunch through 1pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with a somewhat different buffet of foods at that time. This option is the closest to a new lunch offering as you may get. And Goofy’s now also serves breakfast until noon daily and 1:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. So it’s easier than ever to eat midday, even if it’s not labeled as lunch!
The strategy I recommend most is to schedule a later breakfast or brunch if you plan to dine with the characters on a park day. 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 the parks starting at 7:00 a.m. with Extra Magic Hour (EMH is currently not offered in 2021). At about 9:00 when the ride lines were getting longer, it was almost time for our character meal. 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):
- 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 Chip ‘N’ Dale at Mickey’s Tales of Adventure 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. If you are looking for something a little more unusual, I usually 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.
And of course in 2021, everyone’s comfort levels with indoor vs. outdoor dining is a constantly moving target due to health considerations. So it’s especially vital to know what restaurants offer what.
If indoor dining is a must-have, choose one of the 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 make a request to be inside or out, there are no guarantees on where your table will be. That said, Disney cast members have been very good at accommodating guest preferences for outdoor seating in 2021, so you should be able to get an outdoor table if that is important to you. Just be prepared that you may need to wait a bit longer.
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 want a posed and more professional character photo, the other meals might be the better choice. (Note for 2021: Photopass photos are included in the cost of breakfast at Plaza Inn. I’m still investigating what could be included in other character dining locations.)
And when things return to normal again, 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. For example, at Mickey’s Tales of Adventure, the characters used to parade around the restaurant every 20 minutes or so, leading the kids who carry and play musical instruments and noisemakers. At Goofy’s, there was 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 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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