Promising Development for Character Dining

Wondering about the status of character dining at Walt Disney World? This post covers which in-park and resort restaurants have returned and what modified meals they’re offering, plus a promising development on taking photos with characters–rather than of them.

For those who missed it, Walt Disney World temporarily suspended character meet & greets back when the parks reopened. In their place, physically distanced greetings have been utilized, with the characters in elevated locations waving at guests or otherwise separated by a barrier. Many of these are quite good, providing engaging and humorous ways for kids to connect with characters. They’re something we’d love to see supplement traditional meet & greets long-term.

Character dining has similarly changed. Many meals remain on hiatus, in particular those at closed hotels or in venues being used for other purposes. Others have returned in modified form, which typically means the characters appear to smile & wave at guests, and also do brief parades around the restaurant every so often. Physically distanced selfies with the characters as they pass are possible, but they’re difficult–and that’s without kids to pose!

We’ve done a few modified character meals since last summer and have mixed thoughts on them. While we very much enjoyed the experiences, our circumstances are also unique. You can see what these are like in our Topolino’s Terrace Modified Character Meal Review or our Good Morning with Goofy & Pals Modified Character Meal Review. (If we were going to recommend any character meal at Walt Disney World right now, it would definitely be Topolino’s Terrace.)

Other modified character meals at Walt Disney World include:

In addition to the character component being dramatically different at all of those restaurants, the culinary component has changed significantly at all but Topolino’s Terrace, Garden Grill, and Cinderella’s Royal Table. Since buffets are verboten, those have switched to family style offerings.

Then there are the many character meals that have not yet returned. Those include some of Walt Disney World’s most beloved restaurants, like ‘Ohana, Cape May Cafe, Artist Point, 1900 Park Fare, Tusker House, and more. Some of those have a good chance of returning when their respective hotels reopen. Others have a chance when attendance increases. It seems realistic that by the end of July 2021 there are at least 3 more character meals operating again at Walt Disney World.

For those not interested in the physically distanced ‘smile & wave’ greetings and parades, we have an interesting development. Disney just announced that Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration at Makahiki Restaurant in Aulani will return on May 7, 2021.

Here’s the most notable detail: “Upon arrival at Makahiki, and throughout the breakfast experience, guests will have an opportunity to take photos with Disney friends to mark the occasion!” During the month of May 2021, the characters will appear Monday, Friday, and Saturday, and reservations will only be available to resort guests.

Just because this is happening at Aulani does not mean a return of photos with characters is on the immediate horizon at Walt Disney World. For one thing, Hawaii has strict rules that require pre-arrival testing or a mandatory 10-day quarantine, and it’s reasonable for Disney to assume that most resort guests are tourists who have been tested.

However, it’s still an assumption and one that won’t prove true 100% of the time. Then again, nothing will…which is sort of the point. Risk can be mitigated to an acceptable level, but never eliminated entirely. It’s also worth noting that aside from some subtle differences–like photos with characters at this meal–Aulani’s health safety protocol is nearly the same as Walt Disney World’s. Some of the website verbiage is identical.

It’s thus hardly far-fetched to think this might be a preview of what’s on the horizon at Walt Disney World in the coming months. Vaccinations are increasing at an impressive rate and are now being offered to Cast Members by Disney Health Services. In terms of risk mitigation, this is more effective than even pre-arrival testing by orders of magnitude.

The significance of vaccinations, particularly for performers, cannot be overstated. There has been a public dialogue about different tools in fighting spread, with things like masks and vaccines often mentioned in the same sentence. They’re both useful, no doubt, but not all tools are of equal utility. If the vaccine is like a bulldozer, a mask is like a large spork.

With vaccine rollout going well, Walt Disney World has already relaxed the face mask rule for outdoor physically distanced photos. (At the intersection of these topics, we’d expect mask rules to exist for non-distanced character interactions when those return.)

This is just the first of many changes to Walt Disney World’s health safety protocol that we can hope to see in the next several months. Expect those rules to be gradually eroded to the point there’s essentially nothing left of them. No matter where you’ve stood in this “debate” before, this should make you happy. These rules will go away because they’re no longer necessary. That’s cause for celebration.

This isn’t to say that once the United States hits X% of the adult population vaccinated, all rules will vanish and Walt Disney World will reintroduce real character dining. There probably is not a magic number, but rather, a totality of circumstances and metrics that Disney will collectively weigh in bringing back character dining, among other things.

(That is, unless Walt Disney World can ensure performers are vaccinated, which would dramatically reduce the risk to them and guests with whom they come in contact. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, though, for the same reasons vaccine passports won’t happen at Walt Disney World.)

Ultimately, this Aulani development is bigger news than it might seem, and potentially foreshadows a similar change at Walt Disney World in the coming months. Although Hawaii over 5,000 miles from Florida, it’s still part of the domestic parks & resorts, and follows nearly identical health safety protocol as Walt Disney World.

Prior to this, I would’ve guessed that normal character interactions would be among the last things to return to Walt Disney World. Not because they’re inherently higher risk than anything else, but because they put Cast Members and guests into direct contact with one another, and usually result in photographic documentation of that. With so much of Disney’s health safety protocol driven by appearances, it thus seemed (to me at least) that character encounters would be among the slower things to return. That could still end up being the case at Walt Disney World, but probably not. More than anything else, this–insignificant and distant as it might seem–should signal that a lot is likely to change in the coming months, and at a relatively swift pace.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Does the modified character dining experience at Walt Disney World worth the money to you? Is not being able to take photos with each character be a dealbreaker for you? If normal character dining returned–but still with masks required for those photos–would you partake? What did you think? Worthwhile for the characters, for the food, or for both? Is this meal something you’d like to try? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

28 Responses to “Promising Development for Character Dining”
  1. Patricia Blanchard April 13, 2021
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