Tips from the DFB Guide: Best Character Dining for YOU!

Character Dining! What’s a trip to Walt Disney World without at least one meal shared with your favorite Disney Characters?

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There’s simply no better way to kill two birds with one stone at Disney. You enjoy a hearty meal — oftentimes, it’s all-you-care-to-enjoy — and you get to interact with your favorite characters. Best of all — they come to you! There’s no waiting in line for hours to see them.

But you may think that a character dining experience isn’t for you if you don’t have kids in your party, or if your kiddos are as tall as you now. Or maybe you fear that the excitement and stimulation — not to mention all those trips back and forth to the buffet — will leave you and your toddler exhausted before you even get to the Parks.

Well, I happen to think that there’s a character dining experience just right for you, regardless of who makes up your unique party. So today, let’s look at a few tips that I’ve put together from countless Character Dining Meals — courtesy of the DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining 2015!

And if you like what you see here, there are a lot more where these came from! To see all of our advice for choosing just the right Character Dining Experience, pick up your copy of the Guide today for $4 off using code 2015 right here!

Character Dining With a Toddler: ‘Ohana Best Friends Breakfast

You’ve decided that the time is right for your pre-schooler to enjoy breakfast with Character Appeal for the first time. Now, how in the ‘World do you choose the meal that’s right for you?

Well, one thing to keep in mind is that most of the character dining experiences offer a buffet spread. This is great news when it comes to value. But juggling trips to the buffet, photo ops with characters, and a toddler who is stimulated to the max can be a challenge. So one of my favorite tips is to enjoy character dining that offers a sit-down…and stay down…meal. And one of the best is the Best Friends Breakfast at ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

To begin, well. Mickey in a Hawaiian Shirt. Best.

Say Aloha to Mickey and Friends at 'Ohana

Say Aloha to Mickey and Friends at ‘Ohana

But then, you have platters of Pastry and Bread, Fresh Fruit, and a Bountiful Breakfast Skillet brought to your table! And it’s as much as you want. And you don’t have to get up a SINGLE time to get any of it!

Family Breakfast Platter at 'Ohana

Family Breakfast Platter at ‘Ohana

Friendly servers also roam the dining area with Mickey Waffles! And you can ask for seconds. And thirds.

Mickey Waffles

Mickey Waffles

They even have Stitch waffles for the younger set.

Stitch Waffles for the Littles

Stitch Waffles for the Littles

Mickey, Lilo, and Stitch share relaxed times with you and pose for lots of pictures. And there’s no end to the smiles during the Coconut Races. It’s one of my favorite ways to kick off a Disney Day!

Character Dining For Grownups: Garden Grill

You may have witnessed the — shall we say, exuberant — spirit that pervades Chef Mickey’s at breakfast and dinner time. This character dining experience at Disney’s Contemporary is one of the Resort’s most popular, and can be viewed from above as you whirl by on the Monorail. It can get right down raucous with excited children and loud music and the inevitable napkin twirling.

And that’s totally fine, if you’re up for it. But if you aren’t, you may leave with a splitting headache.

If you’re an adults-only group, there’s probably a good chance you’d prefer to keep it on the quiet side. You know what? You can still enjoy character dining and all the great photo ops. And Garden Grill in Epcot’s Future World is a great spot for it.

Garden Grill is located in The Land building. And while the character dining is super fun, the restaurant has another unique attribute: it revolves!

Living with the Land as seen from Garden Grill -- The Farmhouse

Living with the Land as seen from Garden Grill — The Farmhouse

Not at supersonic speed, of course. You won’t be getting motion sickness while you dine. But you will enjoy an ever-changing view of the Living with the Land attraction as you enjoy your dinner. And in between the changing tableaus, expect a few fun visitors!

Farmer Mickey

Farmer Mickey, Chip & Dale, and Pluto Join You for Dinner

As for eats, there isn’t a lot of traipsing about, as the Garden Grill is family style meal. You’ll enjoy Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast, an all-you-care-to-enjoy meal of [Read more…]

Review: Lunch at Crystal Palace in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Welp, boys and girls — it’s time to head into Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and take in lunch at Crystal Palace! This is a beloved character spot for many Disney fans, and a must-do character experience for lots of you.

Me? I hadn’t been to Crystal Palace in foreva…not since an ill-fated late-night visit a couple of years ago when the food was AW-FUL! Yep, it was the end-of-the-night dregs of the buffet and we were pretty much just grossed out. (Have you ever seen a buffet about 15 minutes before a restaurant is about to close? Not pretty.) We ate very little and left as soon as we could. Sad, since we do love dining with Pooh and friends.

But it was time to revisit the 100 Hundred Acre Wood — after all, we’d had lots of great meals here previously — and I made reservations with some friends for lunch.

We have tons of shots to show you, so let’s get started!

Atmosphere

You’ll find Crystal Palace to the left of Main Street USA’s end, just as you approach Cinderella Castle. The beautiful glass building, inspired by ornate conservatories of the late Victorian Age, is a slice of Disney history as well. The restaurant has been around since opening day in 1971.

Entrance to Restaurant

Entrance to Restaurant

And here’s a tip if you’re looking for an extra-special experience during your Disney vacation: try and book Crystal Palace for an early breakfast. You’ll be one of the first guests into the Park when you do this, and visiting a nearly empty Magic Kingdom is an event to remember.

Once you step inside, you’ll see whitewashed walls that carry the bright, light decor throughout. Artwork depicting inspiration for the architecture as well as photos of lush palms cover the walls.

Artwork and Framed Photos

Artwork and Framed Photos

The soaring atrium above is gorgeous — especially on a sunny day!

Crystal Palace Atrium

Crystal Palace Atrium

After you check in, you’ll wait for your table outside on the shaded veranda. But once you step in, pause a moment to take it all in.

Dining Rooms

Dining Rooms

Tons of windows and glass domes allow for plenty of natural light in the two dining areas.

Dining Room from Another Angle

Dining Room from Another Angle

And really — look up. Because the windows are really stunning. I love the beautiful stained glass detail.

Stained Glass Windows

Stained Glass Windows

The decor puts you in mind of a Victorian conservatory, with its outside-but-inside feel. Lush flowers and what reminds me of patio furniture finish the area.

Evening Light

Afternoon Light

Crystal Palace is, of course, a character dining experience, and you’ve stumbled onto a party!

Center Atrium -- Up Close

Center Atrium — Up Close

In fact, visit here, and you’ll take part in a Friendship Day Celebration with Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

Banner -- Up Close

It’s Friendship Day!

Just check out these gorgeous flower topiaries of the whole gang!

Pooh and His Hunny Pot

Pooh and His Hunny Pot

Eeyore Topiary

Eeyore Topiary

The sweet little figures appear to be made of dried roses, and foreshadow the characters you’ll meet while you dine.

Piglet Topiary

Piglet Topiary

Bouncing Tigger Topiary

Bouncing Tigger Topiary

And beautiful hanging arrangements of tropical flowers complete the classic conservatory feel.

Fresh Flowers

Fresh Flowers

Seating is standard and fairly comfortable. Heavy, padded chairs share the space with booths, but some tables are situated a bit too closely for our comfort.

Seating for Two

Seating for Two

Seating along windows gives you a glimpse of guests waiting to be seated! But beyond them, you’ll also see a beautiful view of [Read more…]

Guest Review: Crystal Palace Restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Join us in welcoming guest author Katie McFarland with a guest review of the Crystal Palace in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!

The Crystal Palace is a restaurant that holds a special place in many Disney fans’ hearts.

For me, it was where I discovered Breakfast Lasagna, had dinner with my husband right before he proposed, and where we ate the very first night of our honeymoon.

For many people this is where they first met Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, and Piglet.

Atmosphere

The décor is Victorian elegance with a 1904 World’s Fair-feel. It’s “old fashioned” without feeling stuffy, which is probably in direct relation to the enormous amount of windows in this restaurant.

Crystal Palace Signage

They offer wonderful views of Cinderella Castle, Main Street USA, and the entrance to Adventureland (and also lots of ducks if that’s your thing).

Outstanding view from our seat of Cinderella Castle

In addition to the soaring windows, there are stained glass windows all around the restaurant, most notably in the buffet area. And be sure to check out the bathroom – it’s very [Read more…]

My Photo Shoot With Tigger

One thing I love about Disneyland character meals is that they always have such a variety of characters present! In WDW, you often have a set cast of characters who are all associated with one another in some way — the fab five, the 100 Acre Wood characters, princesses, etc… . But in Disneyland, many of the character meals are haphazard in a fantastic way! Captain Hook is hob-nobbing with the Fairy Godmother; Minnie’s hanging out with Rabbit; Baloo is leading a dance party with Aladdin — it’s so much fun!

Also, because Disneyland table-service restaurants aren’t quite as packed as Disney World’s (you can get a reservation for most of them a week ahead of time) you can often spend a good amount of time with the characters themselves!

For example, at a recent visit to the Minnie and Friends Breakfast at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland, Tigger and I had plenty of time to get to hang out and goof off!

Plaza Inn -- Disneyland

First, I got to watch him dance with a new friend…

Then he showed off [Read more…]

Tigger Tails vs. Tiger Tails

This is one of the fun posts I promised in my last Newsletter, and I’m pretty excited to explore the intricate differences between these two Disney favorites!

Disney World and Disneyland both have some great signature food items — Dole Whips, Mickey Premium Bars, popcorn, pretzels… but only Disneyland has Tiger Tails AND Tigger Tails! Now, the names can get confusing, so let’s check out how to tell them apart ;-):

Tigger Tails

If you like marshmallows, caramel, and chocolate — this is the treat for you. Named after everyone’s favorite bounceriffic tiger, Tigger, these treats are homemade in Disneyland’s Pooh Corner!

Pooh Corner in Critter Country

Tigger Tail

Now, I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a HUGE marshmallow fan. I like them best when they’re toasted and smushed between chocolate and graham crackers or spread between bread with some gooey peanut butter in a fluffernutter, so I wasn’t really expecting to like the Tigger Tail all that much. After all, it’s [Read more…]

A Few Morning “Mugs”

Here’s how I feel this morning. How ’bout you?

mickey mug

Thought we’d start this Wednesday morning off with a pun (get it? “mugs?”), as all good English-Majors-Turned-Bloggers should do once in a while ;).

I’ve noticed so many different series of mugs at Disney-related stores recently, and I can’t figure out if Disney’s always released mug “collections,” or if this is new. (Maybe I’ve just not been paying attention…very possible… .)

Regardless, I first saw this Mickey mug at the Pop Century gift shop last year and thought it was just about the greatest thing ever. Once I saw the whole collection at a Downtown Disney store more recently, I couldn’t resist starting a new “series” of posts for the food blog. That means: stay tuned for more mug collections!

This one’s my favorite! She looks so peeved!
Tink mug

Yep — this fits my image of Grumpy in the morning…
grumpy mug

Minnie has hair?! And curlers?!
Minnie Mug

Hmm… a bit too “hypnotic” for me…
Tigger Mug

Aw. Who knew Dopey had footie pajamas?
Dopey Mug

Have a great day!

Crystal Palace: A Great Reason To Get Up Early

Early Morning on Main Street

Early Morning on Main Street

The Early-Morning Advance Dining Reservation (ADR)
One of the well-known tips among Disney enthusiasts is that you should always try to book a dining reservation for breakfast in a theme park before it opens. Why? Because this means you get in before the general masses. You get the golden opportunity to wander through a practically empty Disney park. It’s magic at its finest. (Plus, if you eat quickly enough, you can make it over to the Adventureland rope and be first in line for Splash Mountain…but I didn’t tell you that.)

Empty Tomorrowland

Empty Tomorrowland

One of my favorite restaurants at which to snatch up one of these break-of-dawn reservations is Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom Theme park of Disney World. This is a character breakfast, so you get to share your noms with Pooh and the gang (usually Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet); it’s a buffet, so you pretty much dictate how long your breakfast lasts; and it’s HUGE, so you have a great chance of getting those elusive 8:05 AM time slots.

Nearly Empty Main Street

Nearly Empty Main Street

So with all that going for it, you’ve got to give it a try! And I didn’t even mention that many guests deem Crystal Palace eats to be some of the best buffet food at Disney, scout’s honor.

...And the Castle

...And the Castle

Getting Into the Park for Your Reservation
While it may seem like a red tape nightmare to get into the park an hour early, it’s usually pretty streamlined. Bring your dining reservation confirmation number with you to the park and show up about 20 minutes before your scheduled time. You’ll simply enter through the turnstyles marked for the Breakfast crowd (usually all the way to the right, but this can change); a Cast Member might check off your name and confirmation number, and then you’re free to explore Main Street in all its empty glory. This is why I suggest arriving 20 minutes early; you get to take all of those fascinating photos. Don’t forget to make your reservation for a day without extra magic hours in the morning!

By the way, if you’re staying at a Disney resort and taking the bus to the Magic Kingdom, a “breakfast bus” usually begins running at least 30 minutes before the first reservation in any park. The monorail also starts running far enough in advance as well.

Time for Breakfast!

Time for Breakfast!

Checking In for Your Reservation
The Crystal Palace can be found between Main Street USA and Adventureland — it’s the huge, glass domed building to the left of the walkway. Simply head up the steps (past the throngs of people, most likely — the Magic Kingdom may seem empty, but almost everyone who IS in the park is at the same restaurant) and jump into line to check in for your reservation.

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Once your party is called, you’ll head into the beautiful Crystal Palace restaurant and be greeted by…

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers...

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers...

…some very familiar friends! Not to mention an absolutely stunning, light-filled atrium made entirely of clear and stained glass. For all of Disney’s signature dining restaurants designed by award-winning interior artists, I find Crystal Palace’s atrium to be one of the most gorgeous design aspects on property.

The Beautiful Central Atrium

The Beautiful Central Atrium

A Buffet With Character!
Once you’re seated in one of the two side rooms (these are beautiful, too — paneled with mirrors and filled with plants) you’re free to head up to the buffet.

There are two sides to the buffet, and these are mirror images of one another. The two sides culminate at the customize-your-own-omelet station in the center of the semi-circular buffet.

The Buffet

The Buffet

Hot Items are Identical on Both Sides of the Buffet

Hot Items are Identical on Both Sides of the Buffet

The Buffet

The Buffet

On the far ends of the buffet lines are cold items: yogurts, granola and other toppings, fruit, salmon, breads, etc. In the center you’ll find hot items: breakfast pizzas, breakfast meats, waffles, the famous puffed french toast, breakfast potatoes, and omelets.

Cereals

Cereals

In the middle of the room you’ll find muffins, cereals, and Pooh’s famous breakfast lasagne.

Pooh's Breakfast Lasagne

Pooh's Breakfast Lasagne

Baked Items

Baked Items

The food is fairly similar to most of the other Disney breakfast buffets, which is actually quite good. Here are a few more close-up foods of some of our favorites. That Mickey Waffle might look familiar to some of you! It’s my avatar on Twitter!

Breakfast Pizza

Breakfast Pizza

Mickey Waffles

Mickey Waffles

Puffed French Toast

Puffed French Toast

Pooh and Friends
Once you have your food, it might be time for the first Character Parade! Hopefully you haven’t forgotten that some of your favorite friends are here, and they can’t wait to have a great time with you (and/or your kids…they’re good to go either way).

Piglet Leading the Parade!

Piglet Leading the Parade!

While Character teams (Pooh and Piglet, and Tigger and Eeyore) take turns visiting tables on either side of the restaurant, some sort of Character Parade or Celebration occurs when it’s time for the teams to switch restaurant sides. This is when you should encourage your little ones to go find a character and follow along. Cast Members will be there to help move the parades forward.

There’s usually much singing and music; napkin “twirling” is a common activity during these functions. All in all, it’s a good time!

Eeyore Being Shy During the Parade

Eeyore Being Shy During the Parade

And then it’s back to signing autographs, taking photos, and making people smile for the characters (and back to eating for you!).

Tigger Signing Autographs...Sort Of...

Tigger Signing Autographs...Sort Of...

And then, if you’re lucky, you pay the bill when the park is just about to open. I couldn’t resist posting this photo of a family following Alice (in Wonderland) as she hurried to “unlock” Fantasyland and her TeaCups ride right at opening time!

Alice is Very, Very Late in Opening the TeaCups Ride!

Alice is Very, Very Late in Opening the TeaCups Ride!

So you can see why Crystal Palace is one of my favorites for breakfast, but don’t forget that you can dine here for lunch and dinner as well! Both of those meals are buffets as well, and offer great food (in my opinion).

Enjoy!