The Secret to Save on Character Dining at Disney

Today’s article sharing our secret to save on character dining at Disney is a partnership with the Swan and Dolphin Resorts.  All experiences shared and opinions are those of my families.

When traveling to Walt Disney World, most families plan well in advance.  They map out where they are going to stay, which parks they plan to visit, where they plan to eat and as the trip gets closer, fast passes! The planning can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip because it allows you to pick and choose what you think your family will enjoy most, how you can get the most for your budget and really anticipate the trip.

Planning can also be quite stressful when it comes to Disney.  Even if you are traveling in off-peak season, the popular restaurants can truly be hard to get a reservation at during normal hours.  Character dining is especially hard to get into with a larger family.  When we found out we would be traveling to Florida about a month out, I wanted to so badly get a character dining reservation and although I did make two, neither were really times our family would normally eat at.  Having dinner reservations at 8:00pm might work for some families, but for ours, that is bed time and the kids are done by then.  Ultimately I cancelled the two reservations I made.

Pros will tell you there are lots of tricks to try to get your dream dining reservations, other than frantically checking several times a day for a cancellation, but I have a trick myself!  Did you know that there is character dining at the Garden Grove Restaurant inside the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel?  I had heard it in passing but really had never looked into it myself.  That has since changed!  Get this, you don’t even have to have a reservation to get in!  Yep, you can walk up to the restaurant and get into same day character dining.

So what can you expect?

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are on Disney property, but not officially owned by Disney.  The Garden Grove Restaurant is a large circular room with a giant oak tree in the center, to resemble dining under a tree in Central Park.  The tree is immense in size and decorated with twinkling lights and white paper lanterns.  The atmosphere was very relaxed, which I always look for when dining with the children.

Our dining reservations were for dinner and we were there when the restaurant opened at 5:00pm.  At that time, there was only one other family seated in the restaurant.  As it got a bit later in the evening the restaurant did fill up, so my suggestion would be to go as early as your family is able.

For dinner you are given a menu with four main courses to choose from and the children were given cute wheel menus.  After taking our drinks, we were able to speak with the chef about our food allergies and place our orders.  I choose the roasted organic chicken half that came with steamed vegetables and a roasted head of garlic.  It was a large enough portion that I was able to share the chicken with my girls.

Bryan chose the prime rib dinner with a baked potato and Austin choose a pizza.  As you await your main course, you are able to walk up to the salad bar to make your own salad.  In the center of the station is a chef waiting to chop it if you wish, add special toppings like nuts and dried fruits and your dressing.

There is also a soup station and a beautiful bread station with various types of rolls and artisan breads.  I’m not a huge fan of buffets, but my children love it when they are able to make their own choices and add as much or little as they would like.  The buffet station was kept very clean and constantly filled while we were in the restaurant.

Dessert!  The dessert station was filled with beautiful treats.  It is actually the first thing you see when you enter the restaurant on the left side and clearly I understand why.  Who doesn’t want to start with dessert first?!?  It was filled with delicious treats like cake pops, cupcakes, keylime tarts and all kinds of chocolatey treats.

Character Dining at the Swan Hotel Allergen Friendly Dessert

My excitement quickly became a ball in the pit of my stomach.  I knew as yummy as they looked, the girls and Caleb wouldn’t be able to enjoy any.  With their food allergies it can be a challenge when we are dining out.  I had gotten up to snap a few photos and came back to the table to find a plate they had made for the kids full of cups of two toned chocolate pudding that was dairy and gluten free.  Score!  And they also brought a full bowl of delicious fresh berries for them to enjoy with them.  On the occasion when we are on vacation, I will let a little balance go out the window, Addie loved it so much she ate three of the mini cups and the others both had two.  They were all incredibly happy.

So while we do want to have yummy food for dinner, it really isn’t why we go most people seek out character meals, they really go for…

The Characters!

Character Dining at the Swan with Pluto
Character Dining at the Swan with Pluto

Why do I suggest going early to dinner so it is less full?  This is the reason!  My children really got to spend a great deal of time with Pluto and Goofy during our dinner because there were not as many families there when we started our meal.  About 5:15pm the characters came out one at a time, Pluto first.  He spent a good 10-12 minutes with the children.

I was slightly concerned with how my youngest would handle them but since he is a lover of all things Mickey and the Clubhouse gang he was smitten.  Truly smitten.  He hugged and hugged his leg.  He kissed and kissed his noise.  Yes, that shinny spot is the residual from his kisses.  His giggles were contagious as he petted Pluto and rubbed his whiskers.  Their smiles beamed and in that moment I thought, this is exactly why we do what we do.

The characters come out one at a time with a cast member accompanying them.  Goofy came out next and was taller than my children expected.  He was in true character and was a true Goof!  He performed magic tricks with the help of an air vent and a napkin and danced with the children.  They carried on conversations with them as if they were best buds without Goofy even uttering a word.

Each time the character left our family the baby cried.  It was sweet but each time got a little louder and more prolonged.  He wanted his friends all to himself.  The characters make their way around the restaurant all night visiting with each family along the way.  Because we were there initially when the restaurant was not full, I would say we easily spent 30-40 minutes with the two combined.

Okay, so I know what you are thinking, they can’t possibly be the real characters?

But I assure you THEY ARE!

They are the real deal.  They come over from Epcot from what I was told and do change occasionally, so it isn’t guaranteed that it will be Goofy and Pluto.  You could also meet Chip and Dale or even Minnie and Donald.  Mickey doesn’t make any appearances here, which I was slightly worried the children would be upset about, but they weren’t!

Pluto and Goofy were truly amazing with the children.  Our waiter was phenomenal on anticipating our needs and being available with anything we could possibly need.  I couldn’t have asked for a better evening, it was perfection, with the exception of the tears from my little guy.

The Specifics

Garden Grove is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday a Seafood Buffet is offered.

Characters are only present for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and each evening for dinner.

Reservations of course are always preferred.  You can make reservations online or by calling: 407-934-1618


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