Looking for magical Orlando dining at Walt Disney World? There's no question that character interaction can sprinkle any Disney experience with that much more fairy dust. And lest you think that park admission is required, think again! While fabulous choices abound at each park – Tusker House at Disney's Animal Kingdom or Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom's enchanted Fantasyland, for example – so, too, is magic hiding at the realm's many beautiful resorts. Guests adore the soaring ceilings and monorail rides they'll enjoy alongside their food and photo-ops at the Contemporary's Chef Mickey's and the Grand Floridian's opulence seeps into every interaction at 1900 Park Fare, where choices in character dining abound. Your child can enjoy a parent-free tea party with Alice and her Wonderland friends or meet princes, princesses and even evil stepsisters at Cinderella's Happy Ever After Dinner. Cravings for Mickey waffles (along with other classic early-day eats) can be sated at this venue's Supercalifragilistic Breakfast.
Garden Grill Restaurant
Chip 'n' Dale and other favorites work the room as guests enjoy harvest-inspired fare alongside views from EPCOT's Living with the Land. This venue offers character dining for all three squares, so bring your cameras and autograph books. Breakfast includes classic offerings (and Mickey waffles, of course!), lunch and dinnertime feature filet of beef and sliced turkey breast with bacon and leek stuffing. There are plenty of kid-friendly options, as well. Some of the food you'll eat here will have been grown right on site – and kids will likely dig the futuristic feeling of being in a rotating, revolving restaurant. (407-939-3463)
Cape May Café
Popular for its seafood bar, this restaurant offers a wealth of selections, including clams, mussels, chicken, fried fish and even tasty barbecued pork ribs in the evening, but mornings are for Minnie's Beach Bash Breakfast, when Mickey's favorite girl shows up – in full bathing-beauty costume – with a bunch of fun friends to help guests greet the day at Disney's Beach Club Resort. Mickey waffles, eggs, potatoes, glazed ham, creamy cheddar grits, yogurt with house-made granola , smoked salmon and fresh-cut fruit are among the goodies on hand. If you're a hotel guest, all the more reason to stock up, you're going to need plenty of energy to tackle what could well be the best resort pool complex in all of Walt Disney World. (407-939-3463)
Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy will be on-hand for memorable pics and signatures as you and your traveling companions enjoy a buffet-style meal amid the soaring confines of the beautiful Contemporary Resort. Soak up lake views, the gorgeous mural, nearly 100 feet high, and of course: the food. Breakfast features mainstays like eggs, waffles, cereal and dinner's big draws include a prime rib carving station and pasta bar. As always, the kids get their own special fare – pizza, macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers galore populate their very own child-friendly buffet. And everyone appreciates the ice cream sundae bar. (407-939-3463)
Located in a pristine glass pavilion on Main Street, USA, this sunny restaurant's the perfect place to meet Pooh and his pals, who appear at each meal for photos, autographs and hugs. Inspired by the Victorian greenhouses of the late 1800s, tropical palms and topiaries delight horticulturists, other decorative details will likely thrill the steampunk set. And everyone loves Winnie the Pooh! The buffet offers an array of classics at breakfast and tasty meats, pasta, salad and plentiful sides at lunch and dinner. Ice cream and an abundance of toppings await you at the sundae bar, so don't skip dessert. (407-939-3463)
Be Our Guest
Appropriately located in the Fantasyland realm of the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest brings diners inside the Beast's castle. Lunchtime here is a fast-service affair but come dinner, things become far more formal, with sit-down table service in three brilliantly themed rooms: the West Wing, Belle's beautiful book-lined library or the grand and regal ballroom where snow fall peppers the windows and cherubs soar amid the chandeliers. The menu, like the tale, is French-inspired with onion soup and charcuterie, chicken breast Provencal and thyme-scented rack pork chops, delicate ratatouille and – for steak lovers – a perfectly seared New York strip served with garlic butter and pommes frites (aka: steak fries). For Disney lovers in search of opulent themed venues, Be Our Guest is a natural match. (407-939-3463)
Serving all three squares on the edge of "Africa" within Disney's Animal Kingdom, Tusker House also is home to Donald's Dining Safari. Translation: Donald Duck and pals will host your character interaction at breakfast and lunch. Early in the day, the flawlessly themed venue serves an array of American favorites (eggs, bacon, Mickey waffles and the like) along with African-influenced dishes such as mealie pap, a traditional porridge, and beef bobotie. Lunch and dinner bring even more Afrocentric fare like Kenyan coffee BBQ pork loin and Berbere-rubbed spit-roasted beef striploin. Fear not, however, picky children and less adventurous eaters will be more than pleased with the selections. ((407) 939-3463)
Cinderella's Royal Table
For a quintessential fairy tale experience, treat your princess to a meal with Cinderella, her Fairy Godmother, Belle, Snow White and Aurora inside the Magic Kingdom's signature castle. Step into the magnificent dining hall, featuring a cathedral ceiling and beautiful European arched windows. At breakfast, guests dig into to an all-you-eat buffet, and the lunch and dinner menus offer traditional treats like prime rib and mash potatoes, as well as kid-friendly bites like burgers and chicken fingers. Also, did we mention you get to dine inside the epic icon of the Disney empire? Yeah, we thought that might make an impression. (407-939-3463)
Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
A bevy of lovely fairty-tale princesses await the arrival of your royal contingent in the Norway section of Epcot, where adventurous eaters can get a taste of that nation's interesting delicacies such as gravlax salmon, lefse, venison and more. Buffet-style dining means you can try it all and either load up on the koldtbord (cold entrees) or smarvarmt (hot entrees) but fear not, you'll find dishes that you'll recognize by sight if not name! Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Snow White and Mulan are among the princesses you might meet, but be aware they're not all on-hand at any given meal. (407-939-3463)
1900 Park Fare
Located in the opulent Grand Floridian Resort, 1900 Park Fare brings the fancy for your little princes and princesses. And character dining options abound. From the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast to Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner, your dining party will be well sated (both meals are buffets) and up to your eyeballs in photo-ops and autographs. Culinary selections for the latter include fare from "kingdoms" around the world, with plenty of kid-friendly chicken, pizza and macaroni to keep busy-day meltdowns at bay. What's more, 1900 Park Fare is also home to the kids-only Wonderland Tea Party, where 4-12-year-olds enjoy a parent-free hour of games, stories and cupcakes. Photo-ops and fun crafts round out the very-special experience. (407-939-3463)
Aloha! An island ambience pervades this restaurant whose name means "family" in Hawaiian. Although prevalent, families aren't the only ones entertained by the festivities, which include group singing, coconut races and hula hoop competitions. A blazing fire pit provides a focal point and also turns out skewers of seafood, chicken and beef. All dishes are served family style, so folks can choose the foods and portions they like best. Steak and seafood take priority on the menu, but you'll also find stir-fried vegetables, noodles and salads. The meal is a production in itself and a lively, festive jaunt to Polynesia, Disney style. Their popular character breakfasts, hosted by Lilo and Stitch, are guaranteed fun for the entire family. (407-824-1334, 407-824-2000)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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