Character Dining Canceled at Disney World
As announced a couple days ago, Walt Disney World will be canceling all existing Advance Dining Reservations, plus Free Dining and paid Disney Dining Plans through next year. Email notifications have started going out, providing additional details–including the impact on character dining and other certain experiences.
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. When Walt Disney World presented its official reopening plans, they stated that character meet and greets would be temporarily suspended. Walt Disney World has since announced that “characters will still be in our parks to entertain and delight you during your visit.”
It’s likely that these meet & greet alternatives will be accomplished via physical distancing. We’re not talking air hugs or plexiglass installed in normal meet & greet locations (a depressing prospect, to be sure). Instead, the more likely scenario is impromptu “Smile & Wave” greeting moments.
“Smile & Wave” (or “Meet & Smile”) greetings are a concept that has been popularized at Tokyo Disney Resort, where they were implemented for a different reason: high demand. There, Duffy is such a rockstar that he and ShellieMay frequently draw multi-hour wait times for (in our opinion) very poor and regimented meet & greet experiences.
The idea is similar to something like the “Move It! Shake It! Whatever It! Roaming Noise Festival” (as we call it) at Magic Kingdom. That gives a large number of guests the chance to see and engage with characters, but without the drawing power of a parade or intimacy of one-on-one meet & greets. It’s an in-between approach that would work perfectly during this temporary abnormal phase.
Since reopening, Shanghai Disneyland has introduced “Mickey Avenue Kiss Goodnight,” “Princess Balcony Greetings,” and “Wave Hello to Your Favorite Mickey Avenue Characters” as alternative character appearances that occur throughout the day.
These are little ‘magic moments’ that don’t appear on a set schedule. This is likely to prevent crowds from congregating, which would defeat the purpose of physical distancing. (Additionally, new stage shows have debuted and indoor entertainment has already returned after only a couple weeks of the park’s reopening.)
We would expect Walt Disney World to take a similar approach. (Perhaps moving to runDisney-style elevated selfie stations in a subsequent phase of reopening.)
Characters could likewise appear above turnstiles as guests enter the parks, on the Cinderella Castle balconies, catwalks in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, World Showcase windows, Main Street USA Train Station balcony (not like the train is operating, anyway) and other overhead locations.
Heck, maybe we’ll get Mickey Mouse perched high atop Spaceship Earth again! (Okay, definitely not–but that’d be something to see and would almost make all those construction walls in Future World worth it. Almost.)
Even before the latest announcement, character dining when Walt Disney World reopened never really was one of the viable alternatives to meet & greets.
For one thing, there is no physical distancing at character meals. They’re hands-on experiences occurring inside intimate environments with minimal control over guest movements. If anything, they’re worse (when it comes to current limitations and safety protocol) than structured meet & greets.
It’s easy to implement a “no hugging” rule on paper, but try explaining that to a 3-year old who sees Belle or Cinderella waltzing around the restaurant and is compelled to run over to their favorite princess. There’s no workable solution to that.
There’s also the practical reality that most character dining experiences are buffets. It’d be possible to convert these to family-style or a la carte meals, but with Walt Disney World already cutting the meet & greet components, it probably makes more sense to just cancel character dining reservations entirely for now.
Guests who booked these are paying a significant premium for the characters, so if an alternate arrangement for these restaurants is possible, it’d be better to open that to new reservations at a later date to avoid bait & switch accusations.
In any case, we now know for sure that character dining is not going to return when the parks reopen thanks to Disney Dining Plan cancellation emails. Here’s sample text of the email Disney began sending out late last night:
As we plan for the reopening of our Disney Resort Hotels and Theme Parks, we are keeping the wellbeing of our Guests and Cast in mind. And we’re here to help you as we introduce new measures focused on delivering an enjoyable and magical experience for everyone who visits.
Unfortunately, these new measures have also required us to cancel any dining reservations, experience reservations and FastPass+ selections you may have made.
As a result of physical distancing, capacity in restaurants and availability of dining experiences is very limited and certain experiences such as Character dining cannot be provided.
Because of this, we have also made the difficult decision to cancel and temporarily no longer offer Disney dining plans.
We recognize the inconvenience this poses and we’re deeply sorry. We will be modifying your package to remove the dining plan. As an accommodation, the price of the package will be adjusted to reflect a 35% savings on the room portion. This modified package and price will be provided in a new confirmation. You will receive a refund of the difference in the package price if you have already paid in full or a reduction in amount due if you have not yet made final payment.
There’s nothing you need to do at this time. We will be contacting you shortly with more details about the process to secure new reservations, including our new dining and experience reservation window which will accommodate selections up to 60 days prior to arrival to allow for planning closer to your visit.
At this time, while systems update, we are temporarily suspending all modifications. However, you have the option of canceling your entire reservation at any time. We’re putting a great deal of thought into helping you return to the magic and appreciate your patience.
In addition to the line that “certain experiences such as Character dining cannot be provided,” this should put to bed debate about whether Free Dining is being cancelled or if the 35% off discount is actually real–as we saw in many comments yesterday.
Again, this is an unprecedented time and Walt Disney World is scrambling to develop and implement new polices on the fly. Additionally, Walt Disney World isn’t transparently or consistently conveying all information on its public-facing websites or via the phone. In other words, be patient as information trickles out via official channels and don’t assume what’s published online or what you’re told on the phone will remain accurate.
What remains to be seen is how quickly character dining will return and what, if anything, will happen with those restaurants in the meantime. There are several locations that it would be awesome to see opened as normal table service restaurants again, as their themed design is something special that’s seldom seen by guests without kids.
(Ironically, we have a finished Akershus Dinner Review that’s been sitting in draft form for over 2 months because it felt odd to post…but might have renewed relevance right now.)
Ultimately, not a ton of new or surprising information about the status of character dining, but there was some uncertainty about if these meals would return. This should provide a definitive answer to that, while also (hopefully) providing insight into the types of alternative character greetings Walt Disney World will offer.
While character meet & greets and meals will not be possible in the first phase, it’s safe to say that Walt Disney World will reintroduce both as quickly as possible. These are quintessentially “Disney” experiences around which many families plan their vacations, and Walt Disney World will undoubtedly see trip cancellations because of their absence. That’s never something Disney likes to see, so expect character experiences to return in full force as some as health guidance gives the all clear.
Walt Disney World is figuring this out on the fly (several details have already changed multiple times in under 24 hours since last night’s big cancellation announcement) and is doing so with a limited staff while many people are still on furlough. The info is going to be released in a slow trickle, and specific details are going to change and evolve with circumstances. If you don’t urgently need an answer, just relax, sit back, and wait for the info to come to you—potentially with changes as subsequent updates are made. This can be a frustrating process, but this is an unprecedented time and Walt Disney World is in uncharted waters.
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Are you surprised that character dining is being cancelled? Will the lack of meet & greets or character meals cause you to postpone or cancel your Walt Disney World vacation? Would you like to see some character dining be temporarily converted into ‘normal’ restaurants? A variety of viewpoints are welcomed here, but we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Additionally, please do not debate the efficacy of health safety policies—all such comments (for, against, otherwise) will be deleted. Those arguments are played out and isn’t the appropriate forum for that. (Saying you will or will not visit in light of certain measures is fine.)
Well, my trip is set to December as an alternative. I was thinking of telling Belle a joke “What did the hairy green creature (The Grinch) who hates Christmas steal at a castle she’s living in? A roast BEAST!” and maybe tell her Grinch stories. I don’t mind social distancing rules and lack of physical touch but if there is still no meet and greets in December, that’s a possibility that I will postpone again.
We have a once in a lifetime trip planned for Feb 2021. It will be a huge disappointment to my granddaughter if there are no character meals. It’s also going to be very hard to deal with wearing masks all of the time and if that is still in effect at that time I will not be purchasing the Memory Maker…no point in a lot of pictures if we can’t see our faces.
Was going in November 2020, maybe April 2021 but not sure. It depend on if they will be little more relaxed with masks. I can’t imagine trying to enjoy WDW wearing a mask around the park and being comfortable. (No hate messages please, this is just my opinion)
We moved our DVC reservations at Bay Lake Towers from early December to Star Wars Marathon dates in April 2021.
We plan to be traveling with our 7 year old granddaughter who will have serious issues with social distancing. May keep moving reservations out as long as we can without losing DVC points until Character Meals reinstated. If not possible, will let relatives use our points to travel either without kids or with kids who are so young they won’t even no what they’re missing.
Hmm, our dining reservations are still on our Sept. trip. None of them have characters.
No fireworks, no parades, no character meet and greets or dinning…Might as well call it Universal Studios with out the cool coasters. Supposed to go at the end of July guess we will wait another year or two.
I am going to be cancelling our December trip. No parades (think), no character meet and greets or dining, no dining reservations? What would I be going for? Are they reducing prices to accommodate for this SEVERELY limited Disney experience? I doubt it. I love Disney, but i will not be paying Disney prices for seeing characters from long distances and riding some roller coasters. Which is about all that is left from the sounds of things.
I totally agree with everything you said, Jeff. We were taking two of our sons and their families in November, staying at Grand Floridian and The Contemporary, and paying 22K for the experience, without including the costs of extras like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, etc.
We’re all terribly disappointed but would rather wait for the Disney Magic to return (if it ever does).
The last of our dining reservations were removed from our “plans” today. While I understand we are living in a new day, I’m really really sad. The best way I can describe my emotion is that I feel like my “feelings are hurt”. I have that heart-felt sadness, as if I have been let down by a good friend. I have been to WDW and Disneyland multiple times, like many of you, I have some sort of long term relationship with the parks, (in my heart). Maybe we could all use a hug from Mickey or Pooh.
I have two rooms booked for the week of 11/28/20-12/5/20. We received the cancellation email about our dining plan (i should be booking dining today ) but mine does not offer the 35% room discount â€â™€ï¸ I am wondering if they anticipate the experiences coming back by then? I also wonder if they will still do Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party And the Candlelight Processional. It is a huge part of our Christmas experience at Disney. I can live without character dining but Christmas at Disney without fireworks and MVMCP just doesn’t seem right! Any guesses on what the crowds will look like by The first of December?
The 35% is intended to replace the free dining discount, not offered if you had elected to pay for dining plan and had it cancelled. I don’t believe free dining was offered as far out as November so I assume you had a paid dining plan? In that case, you should get a price adjustment to your package to remove the dining plan cost, or a refund if you have already paid in full.
Hey everyone… Just wondering if anyone has been contacted from Disney by email or phone, regarding a resort trip planned mid June through early July. If you have a resort and park tickets purchased, if you have priority access to the reservation system. I was told by Disney today when I called to see if I could modify our dates to when resorts will open, hold off-because, Disney would be contacting me shortly. Just wondering what this might entail. Thanks in advance.
Thanks for the update!
We’d love to go to Tusker House for dinner without the characters so I hope that that option becomes available by Dec.
We’ll be there in December anyway as we have a heavily discounted offsite hotel stay and have tickets for the the new Disney Springs Cirque du Soleil Show.
Thanks again for your hard work.
the cirque show has been cancelled
Thanks for your response, Tom.
I don’t know about tickets for June but they are selling the Drawn to Life Cirque tickets for Dec as I’ve just bought them yesterday from the link at Disney’s website to the Cirque box office ticket site.
Well, that’s why I use real credit cards for purchases like this one. If there is a problem, I’ll just call Visa for a review of the charge.
If you can’t hug or interact with the characters there is no way I will be going to Disney. The whole idea of paying so much money to go there is for those experiences. I will be going somewhere else for vacations until that returns.