Disneyland Tip #1 – Character Meals

This post begins my series on “Tips I Learned While On Vacation With Small Children In Disneyland and Southern California.” Trust me, this is worth it. My learning experiences shall greatly benefit you. If not, no charge for reading this. (HA HA HA)

My first trip to Disneyland was in 1989, when I was nearly 11 years old. Resiss was the youngest at the time, and she was almost six. We returned as a family in 1992, and then again in 1996, when Auntie was three and a half. (I made a trip with my youth choir in 1994 and then the Webmaster and I honeymooned there in 2000.) So the 1996 trip was the closest reference point that I had to doing Disneyland with a toddler. And even then, I knew it wasn’t a good comparison, because I was almost 18 in the summer of ’96, the Captain was almost 16, and Resiss was almost 13. So, two parents and three teenagers were more than adequate to handle one three-and-a-half year old. We didn’t even take or rent a stroller for Auntie.

Fast forward to 2008, and our trip participants now include myself, the Webmaster, four-and-a-half year old Ane, three-next-month Tad (so still quite legally two, for travel and ticket purposes), and Nana and Papa (the Webmaster’s parents). Now that you know our cast of characters, also know that I armed myself with this book, and here we go.

Today’s Tip – Character Meals. Do you do them or not? Are they worth the money with small children?


Now, I do recommend being selective about which character meals you decide to do, because they are not cheap. Prices are pre-set for meals, though some of those meals are all-you-can-eat buffets. And – I will say this – all of the food at these character meals was excellent. Easily some of the best food we ate while we were on vacation.

We ended up doing three character meals, but we initially had only planned for two. On the advice of Scrap Mom, we pre-booked tickets for Ariel’s Grotto at California Adventure – this is the Princess dining experience. Do you have a Princess-crazed girl? This experience is for her. Ariel’s Grotto only serves lunch and dinner, and I think has the same menu for both with the same cost. I recommend having an early dinner there – we made our reservations for the 4 o’clock hour. This let us eat a large meal early and then continue having fun without starving kids, plus it was not as packed in the restaurant as it would have been for lunch or the real dinner hours. Because Tad was still 2, he ate for free and got an “infant’s portion,” which, the way he was eating on this trip, was plenty for him.

Because Ane is such a Princess nut, we did not tell her about this at all. When we initially went to California Adventure, our reservations were three days away and I knew we’d have no peace if she knew something was up. So I swore all the adults to secrecy, and when she saw the restaurant and asked about it (because it has Ariel’s picture over the doorway), I only told her that it was Ariel’s restaurant. Well, the kid had no concept of character meals, so when she asked if we could eat there, I replied with a non-commital “maybe.”

After naps on the day of the meal, we told her that we were eating dinner at Ariel’s Grotto, and she was pleased. Because Tad was in his stroller, once we were paged to our table, we got in the elevator to go down to the dining level. When the doors closed, I turned to the Webmaster and said, “You know, Daddy, I think we forgot to tell Ane something.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” he replied.

“What? What?” Ane asked, excited.

I sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve totally forgotten. Maybe it’ll come back to me when we get downstairs.”

The elevator doors opened – and there stood Ariel, in her little picture bower, waiting to greet Ane.

“Oh, that’s it! We’re having dinner with Ariel and the Princesses!” I said.

Ane’s jaw hit the floor. I had never seen her so stunned and thrilled in her entire life.

After we were seated and ordered our meals, a “court announcer” rang a gong and began proclaiming the entrance of another princess. Each princess then makes her way around the dining room, greeting everyone, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Ane could barely eat her food – although I did tell her that each princess would come quicker if she’d just keep eating her spaghetti.

Even Tad picked a favorite Princess:

So, Ane got to meet, greet, get an autograph from and her picture taken with every major Princess… except Sleeping Beauty. She wasn’t there that evening, which was a small downer to Ane, who does love Sleeping Beauty. She asked if we could find her later, and I promised we’d try.

On our last day in Disneyland, I learned the value of the Princess meal, because the line in Fantasyland to meet a Princess at the “Princess Fantasy Faire” was insane. Because of the heat and crowds, they only have three princesses out at a time, and if you miss the Princess you wanted to see… well, tough. And YOU try explaining that to a four-year-old. When we got to the front of the line the first time, Sleeping Beauty exited for her break right in front of Ane, who was crushed. She burst into tears.

So, I had the Webmaster go and take the kids to the other small shows there at the “Faire”, while I got back in line to see the Princesses AGAIN. The first line had taken 45 minutes to get through. The second line took well over an hour – and then when I was within sight of the entrance, I hung back and let people go in front of me, because I had had the Webmaster peek into the meeting area and we knew Sleeping Beauty wasn’t there. When she walked back in, I called the Webmaster on his cell phone and Ane joined me in line… and, well, you can see for yourself:

*sigh* The things we do to make our kids happy. And if Sleeping Beauty had just BEEN AT DINNER, I wouldn’t have needed to stand in that line. So, yes, the Princess meal was worth every penny just for that.

Because my kids are such fans of Lilo & Stitch (which I confess is completely and totally my fault), the Webmaster and I decided to surprise everyone (Nana and Papa included) with breakfast at the PCH Grill at the Disney Paradise Pier Hotel, home of the Lilo & Stitch Aloha Breakfast.

If there was one thing I would say we did absolutely right, it was this. The kids LOVE the movies and the TV show, and this is where the real value of the Character Meals comes into play – you are NEVER guaranteed that you will be able to meet any character at Disneyland except for Mickey (who is always at his well-air conditioned house) and the Princesses at the Faire. Other characters do have visiting times, but they have to take breaks and there is almost always a line. With these Character meals, you are guaranteed both a chance to see characters who may not be wandering the parks, and you almost always get a more personalized experience. Tad absolutely LOVED meeting Stitch (whom he calls “Chi”).

So did Ane.

So did Mommy. 🙂

Ane also got to meet Lilo, and Max, Minnie, and Pluto all hang out at the breakfast as well.

The food was superb (all sorts of breakfast foods, many of them Hawaiian-inspired, chefs waiting to make your custom omelet, and did I mention that it was all-you-can-eat?), and because we were there so early in the day (our reservations were for 7:30 am, even before Disneyland opens), we were only one of a handful of families there, which meant the kids got a lot of “playtime” with Stitch. It was SO worth it. Every time I watch the video of Tad and Ane just hugging Stitch over and over, I get teary-eyed. If your children love a certain character, and that character attends a meal, DO IT. It was one of those moments that made the whole trip – and was a fantastic breakfast to boot.

The last character meal we did was spur-of-the-moment – Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. We arrived for brunch at 10:30 am, and the place was PACKED. Note to self – character meals are much less crazy on the off-hours. Either very early or pre-dinner are definitely the way to go. However, you can stay as long as you want to (within reason), and at Goofy’s Kitchen in the busy times, you pay for the meal up front. At Goofy’s Kitchen, we saw Goofy (obviously), Chip, Dale, Pluto, Mulan, Alice, and Baloo (from The Jungle Book). The large crowds in the restaurant make it hard for the characters to get around, so you do have to be patient at the busy times. Every half hour, Goofy usually makes a very loud noise in the middle of the “kitchen” – either by ringing a bell or by “spilling” plastic pots and pans – and invites all the kids to come and play with him. Ane went and did the Macarena, and also banged pots and pans on the floor and with spatulas with Goofy.

The food. Oh, my. Because they are open all day, and we arrived at brunch time, we had our pick between breakfast and lunch foods. There was something for absolutely everyone there, from pancakes to pizza. Bread pudding to peanut butter and jelly. There was a creme brulee french toast (that was more creme brulee than french toast, hee hee) that was DIVINE. We ate very well and had lots of fun – which was great, because that was the last thing we did before heading to the airport.

So, my verdict is a yes on character meals being worth the money, especially with small kids. After my experiences waiting in line with Ane to just see Sleeping Beauty, I really do realize how hard it is to wait for something that isn’t even a ride. But I also know how important it is to them to see these characters, and I truly believe that is where the real value comes in. The food being spectacular is just the icing on the cake. I don’t know if we’ll ever do three character meals again – or even any of these same ones again – but the memories we gathered and the time the kids got with some of their favorite characters were well worth the cost.

Oh, who am I kidding. You think Ane will let us get away with going to Disneyland again and NOT eating at Ariel’s Grotto??

One Response to “Disneyland Tip #1 – Character Meals”

  1. Ressis
    July 14th, 2008 06:22

    Sounds like fun! I remember you mentioning an interesting conversation between Ane and Belle. I hope we get to hear that soon.