By Jill E. Cooper
As far as summer vacation destinations go, Walt Disney World defies all the traditional demographics associated with theme parks. This magical destination is not solely for teens and young families. No, this world-class resort attracts retirees, newlyweds, professional athletes, multi-generational reunion groups, conference attendees and families of every shape and size. Despite the stunning diversity in this group, I can almost guarantee that high upon the souvenir list of all of Walt Disney World’s visitors is a picture with “the big cheese” himself, Mickey Mouse.
Coming home from Walt Disney World without a photo with Mickey is like returning from Paris without the requisite shot of you in front of the Eiffel Tower. So, what’s the best way to get that picture with the mouse that started it all? Let Mickey Mouse come to you while you experience a sumptuous meal on the fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Known for its extensive buffet with food to please even the pickiest of eaters, Chef Mickey’s is my favorite place to score a photo with the world’s most famous mouse. Here, you don’t have to stand in line under the Florida sun to get your one-on-one time with your favorite character. He and several of his very famous friends rotate from table to table through the entire restaurant. Just minutes outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom, this restaurant is in the center of the magic but since Chef Mickey’s is not found inside one of the theme parks, no admission ticket is required. All you have to do is enjoy your meal, gaze upon the iconic monorails as they pass overhead and keep your camera at the ready so you’ll be prepared to capture that quintessential Disney souvenir when Mickey arrives at your table. Advanced dining reservations are highly recommended and can be arranged by calling (407) WDW-DINE as far ahead as 180 days in advance of your vacation.
If you’d rather be photographed with the Disney princesses or a mischievous alien, then book reservations at one of the other Disney resort restaurants. At ‘Ohana in Disney’s Polynesian Resort, naturally, you’ll say aloha to Lilo and Stitch. The food here is served family-style and exhibits a delightful tropical flair. The views of the Magic Kingdom from this restaurant are enchanting. When the friendly cast member seats you, be sure to request a table near the windows so that you can bask in the glow of the distant castle.
Cinderella, her handsome prince and her hysterically funny stepsisters can be found next door at 1900 Park Fare in the midst of the splendor of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Here, too, the flexibility of an extensive buffet offers diners a wide variety of delicious options for breakfast or dinner. So, if getting the ultimate photographic souvenir is on your to-do list for your next Walt Disney World vacation, consider a delightful character dining experience outside the theme parks. It is an incredibly fun and hassle-free way to interact with the characters you have traveled so far to meet.
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Jill E. Cooper has been an aficionado of the Disney theme parks since age seven. She is a happy addition to the 2011 Disney World Moms Panel. She and her small family have recently added Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney vacations to their portfolio of magical Disney travel experiences.