Character dining at Walt Disney World is a great opportunity for you and your family to make lasting memories. Instead of waiting outside in line to get an autograph or photo, at character dining, they come to you! Here's our list of the best character dining experiences. All of these locations serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. And here's a helpful tip: If you book an early breakfast for a restaurant at a park, you'll already be inside the park before it opens, so you can be the first in line at any ride after your meal.
The Crystal Palace, Magic Kingdom
In the heart of the Magic Kingdom, with spectacular views of Cinderella Castle, The Crystal Palace is a perfect place to start your morning – or a magical way to top off a day of rides and fun. Here you'll meet your friends from the Hundred-Acre Wood, like Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore, while enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet. The restaurant's architecture and glass atrium are modeled after England’s Crystal Palace, which was built for the the first World's Fair in 1851. The dining room is not only stunning, but houses some of the best buffet food at Disney World. The breakfast specialties include puffed French toast and Pooh’s breakfast lasagna. For lunch and dinner, you can sample from an assortment of carved meats and seafood dishes. They're also known for their fresh salads and have more than a dozen to choose from. The buffet area just for kids includes gooey macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers, and desserts are housemade cakes and soft serve ice cream.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Epcot
You'll find this popular restaurant in Norway, directly in front of Frozen Ever After. The royal hall looks like a medieval castle and is home to some of the most famous storybook princesses, including Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Aurora and Ariel. Dining here is the easiest way for your family to meet a princess at Disney World without waiting in line. Breakfast is served family-style, with favorites like scrambled eggs and bacon. Lunch and dinner are Norwegian-inspired, starting with the Taste of Norway, a selection of Scandinavian seafood, imported cheeses, cured meats, salads and fruits. Order from a menu of hot entrees for lunch and dinner, including pan-seared salmon, oven-roasted chicken and kjottkake, a mouthwatering Norwegian meatball dish. Don’t miss the Royal Chef’s Dessert Plate – a platter of 3 delectable desserts.
The Garden Grill, Epcot
This rotating restaurant inside The Land is one of the only places in Epcot where you can meet Mickey Mouse. He's joined by his pal Pluto and the lovable Chip 'n' Dale. As you dine, the entire restaurant rotates slowly to reveal incredible views of the Living With the Land boat ride below. The food is served family style: Platters are brought to your table for everyone to share. It's all-you-can-eat – but without the hassle of having to get up from your seat like a buffet. Breakfast here is superb, featuring a memorable cinnamon bun bake and hazelnut chocolate syrup for your Mickey-shaped waffles that you can't get anywhere else. Lunch and dinner feature homestyle favorites like roast turkey with buttermilk mashed potatoes. Meals are made with fresh vegetables grown in The Land's greenhouses. For dessert, try the delicious berry cobbler. The intimate setting sets it apart from other character dining experiences. Since there are fewer tables you may get to see the characters more than once during your meal.
Tusker House Restaurant, Disney's Animal Kingdom
The Tusker House is one of the best-kept Disney dining secrets. Located in the Africa area of the park, this buffet is themed as the Harambe marketplace. Here you'll meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy all decked out in their safari outfits and ready for adventure. Kids enjoy meeting the characters, while grown-ups love the unique African-inspired dishes. Don't worry – there's still the usual American fare to please your picky eaters. As usual, breakfast brings waffles and scrambled eggs, but there are also distinctive items like beef bobotie quiche and mealie pap, a specialty African porridge. For lunch and dinner, the menu features salads, pork loin and macaroni and cheese along with international fare like couscous, curry chicken and other entrees cooked with African spices. A tip: Come for breakfast so you can be one of the first guests to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris for the day. The animals are more active in the morning so you may see more than you normally would later on.
Chef Mickey's, Disney's Contemporary Resort
This bright, open restaurant in the center of the Contemporary Resort has a fun atmosphere with the monorail whizzing overhead. It's conveniently right next door to the Magic Kingdom and you don't have to be a resort guest to dine here. One of the greatest things about Chef Mickey's is you get to meet every single one of the fab five characters: Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy! This restaurant specializes in American comfort foods, with an extensive buffet. Don’t forget to create your own decadent dessert at the sundae bar.
[Photos: All photos courtesy of Walt Disney World]