We are BIG fans of character dining. I recognize that it is foolishly expensive, and a lifetime of training by my frugal father makes me slightly appalled by our arguable wastefulness in selecting so many character dining meals every trip, but we simply love it, so we rationalize it as paying for the experience as opposed to the food. In normal times, you have to stand in long lines, or waste fastpasses on character meet and greets in the parks, so character meals save you that headache, while also getting your family fed at the same time. That being said, my aforementioned frugal father’s lasting impact has led me to save pennies where ever I can, so we tend to opt for character breakfasts, as opposed to lunches or dinners (significantly cheaper), and we utilize all available discounts (Annual Passholder or DVC, whichever is running a better promotion at the time, or Tables in Wonderland when my kind mother has chosen to gift us with that in the past – gotta love parents). I won’t even get into the cost/benefit analysis of the dining plan here, because it’s a doozy, but I will say that people who tend to book character dining would be the people who would benefit most from the dining plan, hands down. Character meals are some of the most expensive “one table service credit” options available on the dining plan, so they are truly the best way to get your money’s worth if you do get the dining plan (not available during covid, so this point is moo, it’s a cow’s opinion, as Joey Tribbiani would say).
All of that being said, we normally have dozens of options to sift through when selecting our character dining agenda for the week, but times have changed and there is a very short list of options right now. The only true character dining options available right now (January 2021) are the following:
Topolinos at Riviera Resort (Character Breakfast – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy)
Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary (Character Breakfast – Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Pluto)
Garden Grill in the Land in Epcot (Character Lunch/Dinner – Chip and Dale, Mickey and Pluto)
Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios (Character Lunch/Dinner – Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, Goofy)
I frequently see people bringing up Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest in the discussion of character dining options being offered right now, but my understanding is that neither of these are true character dining experiences currently, although Cinderella and the Beast do walk through the room periodically at each restaurant respectively. I am not familiar with the level of interaction at either of those restaurants. I do know the Be Our Guest was never really a character dining restaurant, the Beast merely walked through briefly and then you could interact with him in another room separately, even pre-Covid, so I doubt he is interacting with each table currently. If you have a princess lover, by all means, absolutely try Cinderella’s Royal Table. Hopefully you get a glimpse of Cinderella, and worst case scenario, you get to eat in her castle. That is a win-win with no other Princess dining options available these days (there are some truly awesome Princess breakfasts elsewhere in normal times that are sorely missed).
So that is it, four options. Pretty easy to manage as far as planning goes. Definitely takes away the element of having TOO MANY choices. On our three trips since the reopening in July, we have eaten breakfast at Topolinos 5 times (hehe), lunch/dinner at Garden Grill twice, and lunch at Hollywood and Vine twice. Chef Mickey’s only brought back characters on December 16th sadly, which was such a bummer since we were staying at Bay Lake Tower a week prior, and Chef Mickey’s is typically our absolute favorite (pre-Topolinos), so we have not experienced their Covid offerings.
Our experiences during Covid have been as follows:
Pricing: $42/adult, $27/child, kids under 3 can order anything off the menu and eat for free
We visited Topolinos for the first time in July for breakfast, so we have never experienced it before Covid. That being said, even with Covid modifications, it has arguably leapt past Chef Mickeys and Cape May Cafe as our favorite character breakfast. They knew what they were doing in having it as one of the only options for character dining when Disney reopened. They definitely wanted to draw people over to Riviera to show off their beautiful new resort, and it worked. I’m totally sold, haha. It’s gorgeous. The views from Topolinos are some of the best in all of Disney World. The terrace off of the restaurant is my new happy place.
Some people are disappointed at the lack of in-park character dining options right now, but honestly Topolinos is SO conveniently located if you are staying in the Epcot resort area, that it would be one of our top choices regardless of whether all of the normal options were open. You can just hop a quick Skyliner ride over to Riviera from the back of Epcot if you are staying at Boardwalk or Beach Club (the Epcot Skyliner starts letting people on at Epcot far earlier in the morning than in the opposite direction – heading towards Epcot). It is super convenient on an Epcot day or a HS day since it is a quick 5-10 minute Skyliner ride from each park respectively. Even if you are staying near MK though, you can take the monorail/boat to MK and grab a bus to Riviera. We stayed at the Polynesian on our trip in July and got to Topolinos in maybe 25 minutes. The bus to Riviera happened to just be sitting there at MK when we got off the monorail, so it was a super easy “commute” to breakfast. I definitely would allow for longer, since you might have to wait for monorails or buses, but we haven’t done much waiting for transportation since the parks reopened, knock on wood.
Upon arrival at Riviera, you take an elevator to the 10th floor, where Topolinos is located. It has a super luxurious feel to it, but as far as I’m aware, there is no dress code for the character breakfast (there is a dress code for the non-character dinner). Our temperature was taken during our August visit, but not December, so I think Disney may have done away with the temperature scans at resort dining locations at this point, but don’t quote me on that. We utilized the mydisneyexperience app to check in to our dining reservation when we were a few minutes from Riviera each time. Within 5 minutes of checking in, our table was ready (you get a text saying your table is ready). We’ve eaten there at least 5 times since reopening, and every time the table was ready within 5 minutes of checking in on the app, so that seems pretty consistent. Gone are the days of waiting around for 20+ minutes outside of a restaurant for your table to be ready, apparently. Checking in is extremely easy. You click on your reservation in your plans within the app and as long as your reservation is within the next 20 minutes, you will be given the option to check in. You can then select your party size and any special dietary requirements. You can even add one person to your reservation vs the party size you booked (see post below).
Before reviewing any food in this post, I should note that I have super simple (aka cheap) taste when it comes to food. I live for buffets. If you’ve been to the Chef Mickeys buffet, that is my taste. With that noted, I love the Topolinos breakfast. I typically get scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, and vegetarian sausage. All delicious. I never get tired of it. Nor do I have any desire to switch it up. Again, I’m simple. If I find something I like, I don’t diversify much in the food department.
The meal starts with a bucket of breakfast pastries. There are muffins, croissants, and some other delicious pastries which I don’t know the names of, but they are both adult and toddler approved. See the bucket below. My son literally squeals with delight when the pastries arrive.
The signature Topolinos drink is absolutely delicious. I wish I could drink it at every meal at every restaurant. It’s the orange drink in the glass photographed above. I can’t find it on the menu linked above, but it was not a drink that we have ever been charged for, so it isn’t one of the “cocktails without alcohol.” As far as I can remember, we have not paid an extra charge for any beverages, so I’m surprised to see a price for non alcoholic drinks on the menu. I guess those are only fancy drinks, and we are not fancy people, haha.
My son typically gets the Mickey Waffle dippers that come with a trio of dipping sauces and a choice of two sides. We usually get eggs as one of the sides, so it’s a pretty big meal. All of this is completely free for him. Any kid under 3 can order anything they want and eat for free. This is a big difference between Topolinos and Hollywood and Vine where free infants need to eat off their parents plate.
The modified character interactions are completely sufficient and worth the cost of a character breakfast in my opinion. At this point, I’ve almost forgotten how wonderful character meals used to be, with the lengthy visits from characters at each table, and autograph signings, but have grown accustomed to the current fast paced set up where the characters keep their distance. At Topolinos, the characters come out one at a time, each taking about 5 minutes to do a lap around the restaurant, stopping long enough near each table for socially distanced photos. There is some degree of personalized interaction at times. For example, my son had a Mickey stuffed animal with him on our first visit, and Donald gave him a big stink about not having a Donald stuffed animal, which was cute and absolutely delighted my son. After each of the four characters does a lap separately, all four come out for a celebratory song and dance together. Then there is a ten minute (roughly) break, and the rotation starts all over. During a 40 minute meal we usually see the full rotation twice.
Compared to Hollywood and Vine, the Topolinos character rotation has a bit more of an organized feel to it. The is something about the music, the artistic theming, and one character coming out at a time, that gives it a very clean feel. Not a big difference, but we prefer it a little bit over Hollywood and Vine (ignoring food and price for now, which makes us prefer it a LOT over H&V).
Last, but not least, the service at Topolinos has been consistently phenomenal. We have always been seated promptly and our waiter has arrived immediately after we are seated. We have had exceptionally pleasant waiters, some of which have been so kind as to suggest ordering more for our free toddler because “why not?!” The food comes out quite quickly (as breakfast food should, I guess), so all in all we are usually in and out in about 40 minutes I would say. I even had one meal with just me and my son where we were done within 30 minutes, because we are pretty efficient eaters, and that included seeing all four characters. Time is of the essence in Disney, so I appreciate character dining options that don’t have you sitting around forever waiting for the characters to come around, or waiting forever for your food and/or waiter. I’m not one to rush through eating by any means, but I don’t like sitting idly in a restaurant when rides are calling to us (it’s that tri-state area fast-paced mentality I think). In normal times, we usually budget an hour for character meals since characters tend to take longer making the rounds to every table during non-covid modification dining.
Pricing: $55/adult, $36/child, kids under 3 eat for free and can get a special little bowl of mac and cheese
Pre-covid, Garden Grill typically already made our list of must-do character dining once-per-trip since it is convenient to our typical Epcot resort location, and is a nice family style, all you can eat meal of what I consider Thanksgiving-type food. Again, I’m not an adventurous eater, so I like safe, simple options, and this satisfies that requirement by including mashed potatoes, green beans, Mac and cheese, and stuffing. The comfort food of champions.
For those who are unfamiliar, Garden Grill is located in the Land within Epcot. The Land is the building that houses Soarin. It is a restaurant that oddly is on a very slowly rotating platform that rotates 360 degrees per hour (I believe). The rotation is barely noticeable. I am someone who is very susceptible to motion sickness, and I am not the slightest bit impacted by the movement of the restaurant.
Again, we checked in via the app. I won’t repeat myself with all of those details, because the process is the same as at Topolinos. Both times we ate at Garden Grill in August and December, our table was ready within 5-10 minutes of checking in on the app. Again, we received a text when the table was ready.
The meal itself is basically the same now as it was before Covid. It was always family style, meaning they bring the full menu to the table in big servings and everyone shares. You can then request more of any item you particularly enjoyed. We also got a special plate of mac and cheese for our son (again eating free as a two year old). While I am a picky, weird eater, my significant other (sure, we will call him that in this post) is the biggest eater of all time, and at the end of the week he said that Garden Grill was his favorite table service meal of the trip, food-wise. This guy loves his food, so I go to him when it comes to actual food reviews. He is less impressed by scrambled eggs, and more impressed by bountiful plates of meat, I guess. The good thing about these meals, is that you can truly get your money’s worth when it comes to stuffing yourself with food (which is part of why I have always been conflicted about meals like this, as someone who doesn’t want to gain 20 lbs on every Disney trip). Baby daddy-wedding canceller takes full advantage of that and eats round after round of food brought to the table, which is a testament to the deliciousness.
The main change currently is that they are only seating guests on the lower level of the restaurant, and the characters are going around and visiting tables on the top level. This allows it to feel as though they actually visit each table, moreso than at Topolinos or Hollywood and Vine where they simply walk around the room. The characters come out in duos: Mickey and Pluto, and Chip and Dale. They stop above each table long enough to interact with each group and take photos. During a 45 minute meal we saw each set of characters at least twice.
I mentioned in an earlier review of our August experience at Garden Grill that we had pretty slow service that basically negated all of the good aspects of the experience. Our waiter never checked in with how we were doing. We had to hunt him down to get the check. We waited and waited and waited. Well, that experience was completely reversed when we dined there again in December. Our service was comparable to the service at Topolinos: quick and friendly. Our waiter was awesome and checked in frequently. It was the normal, high quality Disney dining experience that we have come to expect over the years. I’m writing our August experience off as a fluke and assuming it was an exception as opposed to the new norm.
Similar to Topolinos, we’ve had no issues paying with Gift Cards, Magic Bands, you name it. They accept Annual Passholder discounts quite readily. No payment issues at all.
Hollywood and Vine
Pricing: $55/adult, $36/child, kids under 3 eat for free off of a family member’s plate
In December we were able to add a third character dining option to our rotation (back in July and August there were literally only two options, how insane is that?): Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studios. My son was excited to add this one to the mix because we hadn’t been seeing much of Goofy in the parks since the reopening. The Characters at Hollywood and Vine are Minnie, Mickey, Goofy, and Pluto, dressed in a theme based on the season. There was a Halloween theme for awhile, then a Christmas theme. Right now the theme is just “Silver Screen Dine” and then it shifts to Springtime, then Summertime, before returning to Halloween.
The restaurant itself is still its bland old self, consistent with pre-covid (I was never a huge Hollywood & Vine fan). The theming has always been kind of blah to me. The big change here is that it used to be a buffet, but is now a hybrid of family-style and just a normal meal. It is a little weird. The salad is family style, and then each guest can pick an entree from the menu. The menu is pretty limited, which is the big complaint I keep seeing from everyone who visits. For the price you pay, you don’t have a ton of options. You also don’t quite feel like you are getting your money’s worth like at Garden Grill where it is a true family-style meal with large shared portions at the table.
One slight gripe I had at Hollywood and Vine was that kids under 3 have always eaten free there, consistent with all character buffets, but now they eat free OFF OF THEIR PARENT’S PLATE ONLY. They cannot order their own food. If you order any food for them, you have to pay for it. So it isn’t really family style, since you only get single portions of your entrees, and if you order any extra to share, you have to pay extra. Meh. Questionable. Not a huge issue for us because we just ordered like a little cheap side of mac and cheese for our kiddo and he ate some of our string beans off of our plates, but it rubbed me the wrong way a little bit.
The food we did order was quite good. I got the shrimp mac and cheese (weird, right?) and it was quite good. The first time I actually ordered off the kids’ menu, which is always an option, FYI, but you pay the adult price. The waiter kept giving me a look like I was a big idiot for doing this, but I liked the food on the kids’ menu, so leave me alone! Man-friend got some sort of meat that he loved (the rib of whatever….can you tell that I’m not a meat-eater?) and ordered it again the second time we visited later in the week. He also took advantage of the included dessert. I couldn’t stomach anything further after the entree itself (Disney portion sizes are big, plus I’m always stupid and fill up on drinks). Given that it is the same price for lunch and dinner, I’d recommend saving this one for dinner, so that maybe you’ll have more room for dessert and whatnot since all of that is built into the price. Just a thought. We foolishly did lunch both times. Live and learn.
Similar to at Topolinos, the characters come out in an order, two at a time, on opposite sides of the restaurant. Mickey and Minnie make the rounds first, then Pluto and Goofy. After they have walked past all of the tables, a few minutes later all of them come out together for a song and dance. Again, you will see a few passes of the full rotation during a typical meal.
My opinion is that you are basically paying for the characters at Hollywood and Vine. The food is good, but probably not a $55 meal considering the lack of options and the fact that it isn’t really a bottomless family-style meal like Garden Grill. We like seeing different characters in different places, so it is worth doing once on a trip right now given the lack of other options.
Again, no issues with paying with gift cards or using discounts. I also failed to mention that our table was again ready within a few minutes of checking in on the app both times we visited H&V in December. That whole checking in on the app process is so clutch, I can’t rave about it enough.
Pricing: $42/adult, $27/child, children under 3 eat free
I had hoped all Fall for news of Chef Mickeys bringing characters back on time for our December trip, but sadly when the announcement finally came, the return date was one week after our trip. So as of December 16th, characters are back for breakfasts at Chef Mickeys, our old favorite character breakfast, but we missed out by a week, so I can’t review the new experience. My understanding is that the buffet has been replaced, similarly to how it was replaced at Hollywood and Vine. Hopefully the experience and menu is comparable to that at Topolinos, with kids under 3 truly eating for free and being able to order off the menu.
We’ve always loved Chef Mickeys for the buffet, the characters (Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Minnie, and Goofy), and being able to watch the monorail go by every few minutes. It is the perfect set up for our little vehicle-loving toddler. So, two out of those three things remain, and hopefully the modified menu is similar to the buffet offerings. If anyone can comment on the modified experience at Chef Mickeys, I’d love to live vicariously through someone who has visited recently !
This would be the most convenient character meal for people on a Magic Kingdom day at this point, as it is just one monorail stop from the park (or a 5-10 minute walk over to the Contemporary). You can come and go from the parks without issue when you have a park reservation, so it is no problem to leave MK, get a meal at Chef Mickey’s, then return to MK.
For those who used to collect character autographs at meet and greets: all of the character dining experiences now provide postcards with all of the characters’ autographs on them at each meal, since the characters can’t come around to sign anything.
So the verdict is: the character breakfasts are absolutely worth the money in my opinion. The lunches/dinners are worth the experience, but perhaps only Garden Grill actually has food worth the cost right now, as opposed to Hollywood and Vine. Given that there are no meet and greets right now, these are your best shot at getting the Disney character experience on your trip. This fact, combined with the very limited offerings, make these hard reservations to grab. I explained my frustrations with booking our dining reservations at the post below. Ultimately I was able to get every reservation we wanted in the day or two preceding our trip. I wouldn’t waste your time stalking the dining availability throughout the entire two months leading up to your trip. I’d wait until the week prior (if you are unsuccessful at the 60 day mark), and then things should start opening up as people make last minute cancellations/changes.