Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Character Meals..."Where it all began"

What Walt Disney World Vacation would be complete without at least one visit to a Character Meal?

If you are looking to sit down and have a meal in the company of Live Disney Characters, choices abound! There is a meal to suit nearly every taste...from dining at Cinderella's Royal Table in the presence of princesses to an African Style Safari with Donald and the gang at the Animal Kingdom's Tusker house, the choices range far and wide.

Today's trip back in time will take us to where it all began, the character breakfast that is, on a fun filled journey aboard The Empress Lilly Riverboat.

Located on the banks of Lake Buena Vista, The Empress Lilly, currently home to Fulton's Crab House, was at one time home to four restaurants and five separate lounges.

The Baton Rouge Lounge, had a full bar and live entertainment, performed by The Riverboat Rascals, who brought Dixieland Jazz and singalongs to guests.
Other lounges included, The Starboard Lounge, The Promenade Lounge, The Texas Deck Lounge and The Empress Lounge.

The restaurants were known as "The Steerman's Quarter's", a steak house which was located on the aft section of the Main Deck, "The Fisherman's Deck", obviously, a seafood restaurant, forward on The Promenade Deck, The Captain's Table, where private groups would be able to hold their events and the flagship restaurant known as The Empress Room was also located on the Promenade Deck and offered a more lavish dining experience.

While I remember quite a bit about the Empress Lilly, lounges not withstanding as I was just a boy at the time, the thing that we loved most about dining aboard her was the "Disney Character Breakfast"!

Located in what I believe was The Steerman's Quarter's Restaurant, this was the very first character meal available at Walt Disney World. Not a buffet, like so many today, it offered a plated, served meal available at either one of two seatings each morning.

The atmosphere, at least in my recollection, was for more festive than the character meals of today. Perhaps it was the fact that it was a one of a kind experience back in those days...or perhaps it was just one little boy's perception of the experience.
Mickey shaped balloons were everywhere, we would each receive a felt Disney Character Breakfast pennant as well as souvenir cups emblazoned with Captain Mickey himself.

The following photos are from back on August 26th, 1981, while we were aboard The Empress Lilly to celebrate my brother Frankie's 8th birthday.

The characters seemed to spend a bit more time " getting to know you" back in those days. Walt Disney World was a much smaller place and with only one park to visit during a 10 day stay, we certainly seemed to take more time to enjoy the little things The World had to offer.

Now, don't get me wrong, I still absolutely love to take my little ones to the character meals...heck, even before my little ones showed up, I always made time for at least breakfast with Mickey.

I will, however, always have a special place in my heart for the meals I had aboard the beautiful Empress Lilly. Meals that took place in a simpler world, in simpler least for me!


  1. What a great post! I love those "old school" REAL Mickey balloons... Thanks for the memories.

  2. I remember this breafast well!! They didnt give cups out when I went only the pennant. Donald got into a fight with the waiter at our table, Donald was going to throw a glass of water at him. The waiter grabbed my mom to shield him from Donald. It was too funny we still talk about it. It had to be 1986 or 87.
    It was great there was so much interaction with the characters, more than an wave and a photo op.

  3. I have one of those felt pennants from the character meal hanging on my wall :) Good memories from when my girlfriend worked there during her time on the college program. My DH & I also were fortunate enough to dine in the Empress Room on our honeymoon (a gift from above mentioned girlfriend). We were completely overwhelmed with the level of service and the richness of the meal. Wish our 'older and wiser' selves could experience it now, so we could fully appreciate it without feeling like country bumpkins.

  4. Tony,

    I am nominating this post for the most awesomest post of the year *not* posted at Imaginerding.

    Fantastic shots! You can actually see the rarely photographed interior of the Empress Lilly. Theme Parkeologists will be salivating all over the world!!!

  5. Hi Tony;

    Thanks for confirming a long suspicion of mine that the original incarnation of the character breakfast was held in the Steerman's Quarters. In later years it moved upstairs to the third floor Captain's Table / reception area, which is the version I attended in the early 90's. No felt pennants by then!

    - Christine