Tony Pitts / Alamy
Kristin Harmel
November 12, 2014

If you have young children in your family, there are few things better than a character dining experience filled with all their favorite friends from TV and the movies. If you wait until you get to the theme parks, it can take lots of time and patience to wait in lines to meet your must-see characters, but at these specially-designated character meals, they come right to you. The fact that you’re well air-conditioned, well-fed and comfortably seated while you wait is practically priceless. You’ll walk away with amazing photos and great memories of special interactions. Oh, and a note: You don’t have to be a child to enjoy meeting Mickey, Cinderella, or the Ninja Turtles. You just have to remember your own childhood–and to come prepared to be a kid again, even if only for a little while. But definitely be sure to make reservations early; these restaurants fill up really fast.

Chef Mickey’s

This sprawling restaurant, inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort, is the most classic and well-known character dining establishment in Orlando. It features delectable buffets for both breakfast and dinner, and you’ll get to watch the Monorail zip by overhead while you eat. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy all make appearances. 1900 Park Fare at the nearby Grand Floridian is a similar option with different Disney characters.

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Dine inside a fairy tale high above the Magic Kingdom, inside the theme park’s glorious Cinderella Castle. Cinderella and her friends make their way through the dining room to greet their loyal subjects and fellow princesses. The restaurant offers a la carte fare fit for royalty and wonderful views over Fantasyland. If it’s booked, try the nearby Crystal Palace, which offers a character buffet. Theme park admission required.

Dine with Shamu

While not technically a character, per se, SeaWorld’s iconic killer whale, Shamu, is still a favorite with many kids. Sit just beside Shamu’s huge tank and watch him frolic with his friends and trainers while you eat. It’s essentially an up-close and personal private whale show, complete with a buffet meal. Theme park admission required.

Universal’s Superstar Character Breakfast

This dining experience at Café La Bamba at Universal Studios allows you and your kids to interact with characters from Nickelodeon, Hop and Despicable Me while enjoying a nice breakfast buffet. As a bonus, you’ll also receive access to a VIP parade viewing area later that afternoon. Theme park admission required.

Nicktoons Café

This restaurant at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort hosts various meals featuring different characters, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Dora the Explorer. Check the schedule to see which characters appear for breakfast and dinner while you’re in town.

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