There are just some days on your trip when you don't want to go inside a Disney park whether that is because you saved the $$ that day and didn't get a ticket or you just need a bit more relaxes pace for the day. Or maybe you have an evening flight and just want something fun and easy for a morning activity. No matter what lands you in the situation, looking for character meals OUTSIDE of the parks is a great way to experience that Disney magic without ever actually entering the parks. And there are some really great options out there!
Chef Mickey is a hugely popular character dining experience. Why? Well kids of all ages and genders love the characters: the "fab five" of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. The parents love the location. The Contemporary is just a short walk away from the Magic Kingdom, so this is convenient to get to for breakfast, lunch or even dinner, and yet its outside the park so not park ticket is needed to dine here. Also while Chef Mickey's is a buffet, the menu items are Disney classics that appeal to everyone. My only issue with this place is that it is loud and a bit chaotic. If thats your scene, you're all good!
Another great character character meal if you want to stick close to the Disney magic, but not actually enter a park is 'Ohana at the Polynesian. Location is great as it is right on the monorail and has a super fun tropical theming. The characters featured are Mickey, Pluto, Lilo & Stitch. This has a been real hit with the boys in my family who LOVE Stitch, but also can't resist the Mickey & Pluto duo. The characters come around while you are eating like the typical character meals, but they also periodically will have the kids dance around or parade through the restaurant. Food wise 'Ohana was not our favorite. It is "all you care to eat" like most other meals, but the food is delivered to your table in a family-style. The plates have scrambled eggs, pork sausage, Mickey Waffles, and hash browns. Nothing bad, but nothing exciting either. The one additional item that is pretty delicious is their Pineapple-Coconut Breakfast Bread. Overall 'Ohana is great if you want to stick near Magic Kingdom, see classic characters, and save that park ticket for another day.
Bon Voyage Breakfast
Located on the Boardwalk at Trattoria al Forno, the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast features Rapunzel, Flynn Rider (EUGENE!), Ariel, and Eric. The breakfast runs from 7:30am - 11am and offers a menu of prix fixe options. While the restaurant is definitely Italian in decor, the menu is not. However, it is also not a standard Disney character buffet! The options include several egg dishes, but the most enticing to me is the Royale Breakfast of steak, cheesy-egg torte, roasted potatoes and crispy onions! Oh and did I mention the adorable pasty basket? The Bon Voyage Breakfast is perfect for the princess lovers in your family and is a great substitute for Cinderella's Royal Table or Askerhus. The food is definitely better here, but you miss out a bit on the more royal decor and ambiance of the other princess centered meals.
Mickey's Backyard BBQ
One of the often overlooked character experiences at Disney World is the Mickey's Backyard BBQ. One reason this is so overlooked is that its located at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds and can be a bit trek to get to. BUT its worth the trip. First of all, the characters are classic: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Chip & Dale in their hoe-down outfits. Another reason this is so amazing and fun is that the kids get to not just meet the characters, but dance with them and have a more fun, lively interaction. For the adults this is also a win because the live band is fantastic! They are so fun to just listen to while you are eating and the kids are dancing. The food is ok. I dont love it, but this is one of the few character meals where the pricing includes beer and sangria for the adults. Overall this is one of my all time favorite character experiences and cannot recommend it enough!
1900 Park Fare
While this is not my go to choice, the character meal at 1900 Park Fare is also very popular. Located in the Grand Floridian, it is a short monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom, but not in the park. To me the atmosphere is a little less than magical, but the characters can make up for that. At 1900 the characters vary depending on the meal. For breakfast you may meet the characters from Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, and Winnie the Pooh. Dinner is a bit fancier with the characters from Cinderella making an appearance. Both meals are buffet and are nothing amazing. BUT if you care about characters over all else, this is a good option.
And finally to round out our recommended character meals outside of the parks is Minnie's Beach Bash Breakfast at Cape May Cafe inside the Beach Club Resort. Here, as in the other options the characters are Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy in their "beach" attire. The food is buffet with the typical offerings of eggs, sausage, Mickey Waffles, and other assorted pastries and cereals. Nothing fun and unique but nothing terrible either. The locations of the Beach Bash is a bit tricky. While the Beach Club is within walking distance to the International Gateway in Epcot, if you are not staying within walking distance, this can take some real time to get to. I would consider just Ubering to this one to save time.
However one major plus for this is how quiet and low-key this character meal is. If there is one thing I do not like about Chef Mickey's its that the overall crowd noise and chaos can be overwhelming. If you feel the same way, this is a great option for you.
If you are looking for a fun Disney-magic filled way to eat a meal and NOT actually go inside a park, these are an absolute great idea. Just remember those autograph books!
One of the more recent additions to the Walt Disney World Theme Parks are the interactive quests that you can participate in at each park. These are awesome! They get the kids involved and interested in areas of the parks where they otherwise might be bored or not as into the attractions such as the World Showcase at Epcot. Well at the Animal Kingdom, they have the Wilderness Explorers.
The Wilderness Explorers has been around for years, but only recently have both my boys been old enough to understand and truly engage with the cast members. and THEY LOVED IT! If you are unfamiliar with it, the concept of the Wilderness Explorers stems from the movie Up, where Russell is in search of his final badge for his Wilderness Explorers Club when he meets Mr. Frederickson, the protagonist of the film. So in Animal Kingdom you get a chance to join the Wilderness Explorers and tour through the entire Animal Kingdom Park in search of badges which you must then earn from the cast members.
The starting point to pick up your Wilderness Explorer Handbook and earn your first badge is the "headquarters" located on the bridge between Oasis and Discovery Island. From there you will travel to different posts throughout the park on a self-guided pace to earn over 30 badges. Some of the badges include the Ecology Badge, the Hiking Badge, the Asian Culture Badge, and the Dinosaur Badge.
Each Post is marked with a small wooden sign that coordinates with the badge itself you can find in your Field Book. Another hint is to look for Cast Members carrying orange satchels. Those are carrying the badges and so they can help you find where you are looking for. Each badge took approximately 5-10 minutes to do and to be honest a lot of that time was spent trying to find the different stations!
Here is one tip that would certainly have helped us going into the Wilderness Explorers is that some stations close BEFORE the park does. There are 4 badges located over at Rafiki's Planet Watch which closes around 4:30pm. So if you are working hard on collecting every badge, I encourage you to make sure you look at the times at the different locations and prioritize the ones with earlier closing hours.
And did I mention, this activity is FREE? Making it a great way to spend time with your kids, explore the Animal Kingdom, and save some money in the process!
Overall, we truly enjoyed this activity! My children found it fun (and dare I say it, educational!) and we were encouraged to explore areas of the park that we had otherwise ignored and passed by without much thought. And it was FREE! I really can't ask much more than that!
UPDATE: On our most recent trip to Animal Kingdom, once again our kids begged to be Wilderness Explorers, and really how can I not say yes? This time they were flat our insistent on collecting every single one of the badges. So we set of to do just that, and a little over 6 hours later, they did it! They collected every single badge. The best part was that the Wilderness Explorer Leader made a huge deal out of it and announced it to everyone near by. The boys ate it up! Again, this is really a super cute and fun thing for kids of all ages.
On our last trip to Walt Disney World, I wandered over to the Boardwalk for my first time. I can't believe it was my first time visiting this charming area. Located behind Epcot, and accessible through the International Gateway, the Boardwalk transports you to another time, the Mid-Atlantic coast at the turn of the century to be exact.
The wooden walking path along the waterfront facing the Beach Club Resort and the Yacht Club Resort is lined with several eateries and entertainment.
The Boardwalk eateries include the Boardwalk Baker, the ESPN Club, the Pizza Window, and a few others. Two that we were drawn two were the AbracadaBar and Ample Hills Creamery.
AbracadaBar is truly a unique and well-themed spot. It is clearly for the adults in the group as it centers around the bar area. But the theming of this lounge is spot on! Immersed in turn of the century magician and illusionist props, the lush darkness of AbracadaBar is as intoxicating as the alcohol. Ourselves, we went with a classic French 75 which was made to perfection. We did not eat here, although I wish I had now! But the menu looked amazing featuring charcuterie and cheese plates.
Ample Hills Creamery
We headed to the Boardwalk area with Ice Cream in mind! With both Ample Hills and Beaches n Cream located in the area, it was a tough choice, but Ample Hills won out pretty much only because of its proximity to AbracadaBar. The atmosphere of the creamery compared to AbracadaBar couldn't be more opposite! Instead of dark and lush, the creamery is bright, fresh, and cold. It was also extremely cheery and I adored the cartoons and descriptions of the ice cream flavors. I highly recommend getting the Ice Cream Flight which allows you to choose 6 different ice creams and get two mini scoops of each. This was perfect for us as we could not decide on flavors!
I will definitely be heading back to the Boardwalk during our next trip! But perhaps I'll give the Bakery and Beach and Cream a try! Really you can't go wrong!
Disney World is famous for many things, but it is not always known for offering truly great deals. Except when it comes to the Japan Pavilion at Epcot. Not only is the Japan Pavilion one of the most beautiful and tranquil, their "Pick a Pearl" shop is actually a great value for the experience and, ultimately, the pearl.
When we arrived at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in the Japan Pavilion, we headed straight to the Pearl counter to see how long the line is. Sometimes there are many many people just watching, which is totally fine too, but before you sign in, make sure the line isnt too crazy! To sign in, you simply head to the cashier and let them know that you would like to pick a pearl. The cost to pick the pearl is only $18. For the $18, you can keep it or take it home (or maybe lose it...). There are settings that you can purchase to have the pearl set into necklaces, rings, etc., but those obviously cost more. I have heard of people taking the pearl home and ordering a setting from Amazon or eBay. I actually have yet to choose a setting for mine and so I have two pearls just hanging out in my jewelry case!
Once you have paid the $18, you will be given a number. You can browse the Department Store (which I highly recommend. Its one of my favorite shopping experiences in Disney World!) or watch the guests before you choose their pearls. Once your number is called, you will step forward and choose which oyster you would like. Here is a tip: try to pick the ugliest, oldest, nastiest looking oyster in the case. They tend to be the largest and the most exotic!
After you have selected which oyster you would liked opened, the Cast Members perform a short ceremony on the drum and have you help them count to three in Japanese. They will then crack open your oyster revealing a pearl (maybe two!). They will measure it and note if it is an unusual color. At this point you have a pearl!
As I said, I love this experience. Its fun and unique, but also worth the $18 price tag as you get to walk away with a souvenir I don't rush to do the Pick and Pearl every time I'm at Epcot (if I did, I would have a LOT of pearls...), but this is one that I can easily and highly recommend if you are looking for something fun and different to do!
One of the questions I hear most from my friends and other Disney-lovers is why should we stay in a vacation rental like Adventureland Villa instead of on Disney property. And this is a great question. One I struggle myself depending on the trip and I LOVE Adventureland Villa! So I thought today I would break down what are some of the pros and cons of staying at Adventureland Villa vs. Staying On Property. And I promise to try and stay as neutral as I can, but please know I recognize my bias. I hope this helps anyone out there struggling with the same decision!
Staying on Property
SO WHICH IS BETTER?
Well, it completely depends on the length of the trip, how many people are going and how is it that you want to spend your vacation. If you are on a short 4 day trip with just your family of 4 and want to spend as many waking hours in the parks as possible: Then stay on property. The perks they offer will help you get the most out of your short trip. But if you are looking at taking more than 4 people, want space to spread out and relax during your vacation, and want to save some money, too, then check out Adventureland Villa! We would love to have you stay here!
I know what you are thinking! Free and Disney do not go in the same sentence! But there are some really fun sights and activities at Disney World that in fact do not cost a thing (are very inexpensive)
1. Visit Disney's Boardwalk
Located behind Epcot, and accessible through the International Gateway, is Disney Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is a quarter-mile wood, walking path that is designed as a throw back to the great Boardwalks of the Mid-Atlantic coast in the early 1900s. The Boardwalk is made for strolling along and partaking in the atmosphere. There are great restaurants, a dance hall, ice cream shops, midway games, and street performers. The Boardwalk, itself, is free, while food and drink are extra. I am a huge fan of Ample Hills Creamery!
2. Disney Springs
Disney Springs, the transformed Downtown Disney, is now one of Disney World's greatest attractions itself. A mix of boutiques, entertainment, and more eateries than even I have tried, Disney Springs is a great spot to visit for dinner, dessert, or just to walk around and enjoy the outdoor shopping and sights. There are more than 50 shops located at Disney Springs, some selling Disney Merchandise and some more national and international brands. There are 56 restaurants and that doesn't include the delicious food stands and food trucks! My kids would recommend T-Rex Cafe, while I have to say Homecomin' is my favorite spot!
3. Picking A Pearl inside Japan Pavilion at Epcot
While this experience is not "free" and you do have to have a ticket for entrance into Epcot, the Picking a Pearl inside the Japan Pavilion still ranks as one of my top favorite experiences in Disney World and it costs $18. Thats it and you walk away with a beautiful pearl. If you have never done this, check out our recent review of the experience here: pick-a-pearl-at-japan-pavilion-at-epcot.html. The short version is that for $18, you get to search the tanks for the oyster that speaks to you. Once chosen the cast members perform a short ceremony for you pearl as they open it and measure it. **TIP** Go for the ugliest, slimiest, oldest looking oyster. They usually contain the larger or more exotic pearls!
4. Free Soda at Club Cool in Epcot
5. Free Duffy Cut Out at Epcot
Staying in Epcot for one more freebie is a fun activity for the younger kids in your family. Around the World Showcase, there are areas in each Pavilion labeled "KidCOT". These stations have markers and paper cut out of Duffy on stocks. The kids can color them at each country and also get them stamped. My kids love to collect all the stamps around the World!
What are your thoughts?
And if you're ready to start to enjoying Disney and save money, let us know. We're happy to help you book your next stay at Adventureland Villa and help you plan your vacation!
Tara is a Disney-obsessed Mom of two active boys!