Besides TV talent competitions, there may be no purer form of vaudeville left in America than the Orlando dinner show. There are plenty to choose from, including Medieval Times, Sleuth's Mystery Dinners, and the epic Pirates Dinner Adventure spectacular.
Part banquet and part spectacle, most of these guilty pleasures involve stunts, audience participation, and plenty of noise. While the show grinds on, waiters scurry, distributing plates of banquet food the way Las Vegas dealers deal blackjack cards. Nowhere else on Earth—at least not since Caligula’s Rome—will you find so many places in which to stuff your face while fleets of horses, swordsmen, and crooners labor to amuse you. Dinnertainment represents the delight of Orlando’s shtick.
Most times of the year, most shows kick off daily around 6 or 7pm, but during peak season, there may be two shows a night, scheduled around 6 and 8:30pm. Upon arrival, crowds are corralled into a preshow area where they can buy cocktails and souvenirs—feel free to be slightly tardy, and feel free not to buy anything, because non-alcoholic drinks come with dinner. Most shows will be mopping up 2 hours later. Kids will find chicken fingers, hot dogs, and so on, while drinks, draft beer, and wine (the cheap stuff, watered down) are unlimited. Bring enough cash to tip your server because gratuities aren’t included. Money-saving tip: The free coupon books and discount ticket suppliers always have deals. The ones thrown by the theme parks, though, tend to sell out.
Only in Orlando: Dining with Disney Characters
Dining with your favorite costumed characters is a treat for many Disney fans, but it's a truly special occasion for those younger than 10. Some of the most beloved movie characters seemingly come to life: shaking hands, hugging, signing autographs, and posing for family photos (most never speak, with the exception of the princesses and a very small handful of others, so forget about conversation). These are huge events—in normal times, it's not uncommon for Chef Mickey's to have 1,600 or more guests on a weekend morning—so make your advance reservations (a must!!!!!) as far in advance as possible (when you book your room, if not earlier). Don't expect more than just a few moments of one-on-one, but what time there is will be sure to bring a big smile to your little ones' faces.
A character meal at Disney (407/939-1947) is a rite of passage. Usually all-you-can-eat and mostly buffet, it guarantees face-to-fur time with beloved costumed characters. Always, always book ahead—as soon as you can. If you can’t find a slot (bookings open 60 days out at 7am Orlando time), check 24 hours before, when people whose plans have changed cancel before the no-show penalty.
At Disney, meals are themed by location; at Chef Mickey’s, they emerge in chef’s aprons and do a towel-twirling dance. (Reading that, it sounds like a Chippendales show, not a Chip ‘n’ Dale show, but it’s all preschool-friendly.) The characters (six to eight headliners make appearances) circulate, working the room the way a good host does, and signing autographs. (When necessary, they interact from a safe distance.) This, as you binge on a smorgasbord that would give Jillian Michaels apoplexy—Mickey-shaped waffles topped with M&Ms start your day’s first sugar rush.
They’re cheaper at hotels than inside theme parks. When a meal is held inside a park, you’ll still have to buy an admission ticket. You should also know that the events that serve food buffet-style (health protocols permitting) are much more chaotic than ones at which servers bring your food. For breakfast, try to book the earliest seating available (they’ll let you in if it’s before opening time) so that by the time you’re done, you’ll be among the first in line for the rides; you’ll also have first crack at the stroller rentals. Tips are not usually included.
Cinderella’s Royal Table, inside Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle, is the big “get”—that place always sells out 60 days early. Also try Chef Mickey’s, which is next door to the Magic Kingdom, Akershus for early starts at Epcot, and the Tusker House for an early day at Animal Kingdom. Less prestigious addresses, such as the Beach Club near Epcot, can be smart choices—they tend not to be as crowded and you’re likely to have more one-on-one time with the stars.
Inside Disney Parks:
These are the regular events, but during special seasons, there may be temporary menus that cost more. The theme parks also sell dinner or dessert packages (407/939-1947) that get you into a prime viewing area for big shows (Fantasmic!, fireworks, concerts), but those are not character meals.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall—Princess Storybook Dining: Appearances by the Princesses in the Norway section of Epcot. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Norway, Epcot. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Meals $49–$59 adults, $29–$35 kids 3–9, plus park admission. All three meals.
Cinderella’s Royal Table—The most difficult reservation (reserve 60 days ahead at 7am Orlando time) features Cinderella, with possible appearances by her Fairy Godmother and other Princesses. The price includes a wand or a sword for kids (ages 3–9). See p. ###. Cinderella Castle, Fantasyland, The Magic Kingdom. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Meals $45–$80 adults, $35–$65 kids, according to meal and season, plus park admission. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Crystal Palace—Winnie the Pooh and his friends, and a visible kitchen. Crystal Palace, Main Street, U.S.A., The Magic Kingdom. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Buffet $34–$47 adults, $20–$28 kids, plus park admission. All three meals.
Dining with an Imagineer—When your kids have outgrown furry friends, there’s still this occasionally scheduled exceptional mealtime meet-and-greet. Over a four-course meal, groups no larger than 10 or 11 hang out with a longtime Disney Imagineer—an art director, designer, or engineer—and have the chance to ask them anything about the mechanics of the resort. Once a month, there’s a dinner at Citricos at the Grand Floridian. Both are incredibly hard to get into—start trying 180 days ahead. Hollywood Brown Derby, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. $89 per person, plus park admission (lunch version), tax and tip not included; kids 13 and under not recommended. Mon, Wed, Fri.
Donald’s Dining Safari—This explorer-themed buffet features appearances by Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Goofy. The lunch and dinner menus are mildly international (vegetable tandoori, samosas, etc.) but not too jarring for most kids’ palates. Tusker House Restaurant, Africa, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. $47 adults, $28 kids 3–9, plus park admission. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Garden Grill—Appearances by Mickey, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and Pluto. One-on-one time for this one is above average. Garden Grill, The Land, Epcot. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Meals $32–$47 adults, $19–$28 kids 3–9, plus park admission. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Hollywood & Vine—This one, called Disney Junior Play ‘N Dine, usually has Goofy, Vampirina, and Fancy Nancy. But during peak school holiday periods, lunch and dinner are hosted by Minnie, Mickey, and friends (the dinner theme changes; look for Minnie’s Seasonal Dining). Hollywood & Vine, Echo Lake, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Buffet $34–$50 adults, $20–$30 kids, plus park admission.
Park Admission Not Required:
You don’t have to be a guest of any particular hotel, or pay park admission, for these meet-and-greet meals. These may also be easier to book. Disney’s Grand Floridian resort does a super-luxe Perfectly Princess Tea (407/939-1947) with a guest appearance by Aurora; it costs $334 for two and includes goodies like a doll and bracelets, but it isn’t a full meal.
Breakfast à la Art—Appearances by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy at a rooftop restaurant with a view. Topolino’s Terrace, Disney’s Riviera Resort. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Breakfast $42 adults, $27 kids 3–9.
Cape May Café—Minnie’s Beach Bash: Appearances by Goofy, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy Duck. If you can’t snag a reservation to other character meals, you can often secure this one. Cape May Café, Disney’s Beach Club Resort. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Breakfast $42 adults, $27 kids 3–9.
Chef Mickey’s—The most popular breakfast outside park gates, next door to the Magic Kingdom and beneath the indoor path of the monorail, is served by Mickey, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Pluto. Chef Mickey’s, Disney’s Contemporary Resort. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Breakfast, brunch, dinner $41–$52 adults, $25–$31 kids 3–9.
Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner—Appearances by Cinderella, Prince Charming, and others. Prices surge in peak season. Supercalifragilistic Breakfast is in the same space. 1900 Park Fare, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Dinner $39–$56 adults, $25–$31 kids 3–9.
Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy & His Pals—Appearances by Goofy and friends, who (shh!) usually include Mickey and Minnie. Strongly recommended for the high-quality buffet and lots of character face time that comes with being uncrowded. Includes a free digital download of a photo with characters. Ravello, Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. 10100 Dream Tree Blvd. www.fourseasons.com/orlando. 407/313-7777. Breakfast Thurs, Sat 7–11am. $46 adults, $24 kids 3–12, including photos.
‘Ohana Character Breakfast—Family-style meal with appearances by Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, and Stitch. Disney’s Polynesian Resort. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Breakfast $31–$39 adults, $20–$25 kids 3–9.
Story Book Dining—This one in a forest lodge-like setting is for Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs, and the Evil Queen. (It’s safe to eat the apples.) Artist Point, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Dinner $55 adults, $33 kids 3–9.
Supercalifragilistic Breakfast—Appearances by a variety of characters, including Mary Poppins, Alice, and the Mad Hatter. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner is in the same space. 1900 Park Fare, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/939-1947. Breakfast $45 adults, $29 kids 3–9.
Trattoria al Forno—Called Bon Voyage, this meal’s twist is that the romantic couples from The Little Mermaid and Tangled are your hosts. When you’re done, you can enter Epcot (if you have a ticket) via its side door. Trattoria al Forno, Disney’s BoardWalk. www.disneyworld.com. 407/939-5277. Breakfast $34 adults, $20 kids 3–9.
Wonderland Tea Party—An apt choice if you don’t want to commit to an entire meal; kids sip apple juice “tea” with Alice, the Mad Hatter, and her other fanciful friends. The hotel is beside Magic Kingdom, and you can walk to it. 1900 Park Fare, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. www.disneyworld.com/dining. 407/824-1391. Mon–Fri 2–3pm. $49 per person.
Other Casts of Characters
Not wanting to feel left out, Universal Orlando has instituted its own character dining experiences. Like Disney's meals, these are very popular, so be sure to reserve your spot as far in advance as possible.
Despicable Me Character Breakfast—Start the day with Gru, Margo, Edith, Agnes, and the Minions, if you like such mayhem. Tahitian Room, Loews Royal Pacific Resort. www.universalorlando.com. 407/224-2690. Breakfast $35 adults, $21 kids 3–9. Sat at 8, 9:30, and 11am.
The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast—The Grinch has friends? Seuss Landing, Islands of Adventure. www.universalorlando.com. 407/224-3663. Dinner $50 adults, $25 kids 3–9, plus park admission. Variable schedule around the holidays.
Marvel Character Dinner—Hard to imagine crusty Wolverine gladly taking snapshots with the kiddos over supper, yet there he is along with Captain America, Spider-Man, Cyclops, Storm, and Rogue (don’t let her touch anything). Cafe 4, Islands of Adventure. www.universalorlando.com. 407/224-3663. Dinner $50 adults, $25 kids 3–9, plus park admission. Thurs–Sun at 5pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.