While I’m very reluctant to admit that my kiddos are well passed the pre-schooler age, I recently had the opportunity to re-live my early years as a parent at the Disneyland Resort with my Nieces; Amelia (age 4) and Evelynn (age 3). In advance of our trip, I booked two character dining reservations, one for dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen and another for breakfast at Storyteller’s Cafe. As the ‘unofficial’ Babes in Disneyland Contributor with the most visits to Character Dining restaurants, I am very familiar with the ins and outs of the reservation system, the food, the characters, and most importantly, the overall dining experience in general. I have to admit that while traveling with my nieces was an entirely new and different experience for me (click here for my previous post regarding taking young children to Disneyland), seeing their eyes light up as the characters came to our table made my heart beam with pride and joy! Helping them choose the items that they wanted from the buffet, taking photos and videos of every moment, and even trips to the potty took me back to the days I experienced as a young parent. Our trip also reminded me of some of the challenges I faced and that many families encounter with young children face when dining with toddlers.
If you’re planning a trip to the Disneyland Resort and are wondering how best to enhance your character dining reservation, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks, which I hope will make your dining experience much easier and more magical!
Do Your Homework
Each of the character dining restaurants at the Disneyland Resort offer a multitude of different experiences, characters, meal times, and menus. As such, I very much encourage you to research each restaurant prior to making your reservation. As an example, if your child is a Princess fan, I highly recommend you make a reservation for breakfast or lunch at Ariel’s Grotto where the only characters your children will meet will be Princesses. If the only time you have available on your itinerary is dinner, I highly recommend you book a reservation at Goofy’s Kitchen, as they are the only dinner character dining restaurant.
In my humble opinion, making reservations prior to your visit is crucial to maximize your enjoyment of character dining experiences — especially when traveling with toddlers. Reservations help you avoid long wait times and ensure that you are eating at the time that is most convenient to you and your family. Additionally, during peak travel seasons (i.e. spring and summer breaks), Disney restaurant reservation spots fill up quickly, and they allow very few, if any walk-ins. You can get ahead of the game by booking reservations well in advance either online and via the Disneyland Resort App up to 60 days prior to your visit. You can also call the dining hotline at 714-781-3463.
Know When to Go
During peak dining times, Disney restaurants tend to get a bit overcrowded. I recommend making a reservation earlier in the morning or later in the evening for less of a crowd factor and the opportunity to maximize interactions with the characters. This is also true for days of the week and/ or times of the year. Disney restaurants are generally more crowded on the weekends, so in my experience, booking on a weekday is a better option. I realize that it might be difficult to book during a non-peak travel season or on a weekday, but rest assured, no matter when you happen to book, all the characters at the restaurant on your chosen day will make it to your table and will do everything they can to make the experience as magical as possible, for your kids, and for you too!
Bring an Autograph Book
Autograph books are a great ice breaker for kiddos who might be a bit more cautious when meeting their favorite Disney characters. They are also a great way to capture your kiddo’s age, growth, and development, especially those that happen to have autograph books with a photo sleeve on one page, and the autograph page on the opposite side. Over the years, my kiddos were overjoyed when characters wrote personal notes, drew photos, and intricately autographed their books which, to this day, we lovingly look back upon as amazing Disney moments we shared of the characters we met.
Prepare Your Kids
For some toddlers, meeting a character for the first time, or even for the tenth time, might be a frightening experience. In the eyes of a young child, characters can sometimes seem a bit larger than anything they have ever experienced and even intimidating — especially if your child doesn’t associate the character with a movie or cartoon they are familiar with. If your child is unfamiliar with any or all of the characters who happen to be at the restaurant you choose, I recommend you enjoy the experience of watching the movie(s) in advance of your trip, or, if you’re short on time, searching the internet for photos to share with your child prior to your reservation to familiarize him/her with the characters and get them excited too!
Take Tons of Photos
I cannot stress enough the importance of bringing along a camera and taking as many photos as possible. As the lighting in each restaurant is different, I highly recommend taking a few test shots and adjusting your camera settings as necessary so you can capture the magical moments of your child’s first Disney character interaction! Taking video is also a good idea if you are able and many cameras these days have the option of allowing you to take photos while taking video. Lastly, if your camera has a continuous shutter option, this is a great way to capture the fast movements of toddlers and characters alike and ensures that you won’t miss the special hugs, games of peek-a-boo, and blown kisses.
To sum it all up, my most recent Disney character dining experience with my adorable Nieces and the priceless memories they evoked, has not only reinvigorated my love of all that is Disney but reminded me of all the wonderful experiences I shared with my own children and the many more memories we will share in the future! So much so that I look forward to re-visiting each of the restaurants soon to experience the magic all over again with my own kiddos, Nieces, and my soon-to-be Disney indoctrinated Nephew! As future trips unfold I’ll be sure to bring you along for the ride and offer up more tips and tricks too!