A SHARP LIFE: Meal etiquette for travelers to ‘the happiest place on earth’

When you are at Disney World there are certain things that have to be done before you can officially say that you’ve been to the happiest place on earth. You have to ride the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride because it is an iconic ride, and also thinking about being a Disney employee assigned to this ride will make you appreciate your job. You have to buy your own pair of mouse ears. You have to visit Cinderella’s Castle. And you have to have a character meal, or in our case, around four dozen character meals.

The premise behind a character meal is simple enough. You eat a meal, and while you are enjoying your meal Disney characters come around and greet you. It sounds delightful, doesn’t it? And it was delightful the first few times, but there comes a point at which, and I know this is crazy, you may want to eat.

Character meals are fun, but especially when you have small children they tend to turn meal time into Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest combined with a fire drill. You eat, and try to get the kids to eat between character appearances. So, let’s say Mickey Mouse comes to your table. The kids scream with excitement, the adults hurriedly rush to hand Mickey anything that you want him to sign, such as an autograph book, then you get the kids to squeeze into a picture with Mickey. Mickey goes to the next table, and you have a little bit of time before Minnie, Pluto, Donald, or whatever other character makes it to your table.

The most nerve-wracking part of all of this is actually getting your food if the restaurant happens to be a buffet. The last thing you want is to bring your kids to this meal to meet Cinderella, only for her to come by your table while you are gone. Once she has visited your table she doesn’t come back until she has made her way through the entire restaurant and back again. Even the fairy godmother can’t do anything for you if you miss your chance. As a general rule I think kids (and a few adults) need to learn how to handle disappointment. I think it is good for kids to learn how to react when things don’t go according to plan. A trip to Disney World, however, is not the time for teaching life lessons. Life lessons are for Saturdays — at home.

I freely admit that by the end of our time at Disney I was ready to go back to eating meals where my biggest concerns are spilled milk and a small human impaling a fellow diner with a fork.

No autographs, no pictures and eating.