Character Meals: Vol 7 – Tusker House

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At Disney’s Animal Kingdom you can see lots of different animals, but there is still only one place where those animals hug you back (and no, it is not the tigers…trust me). At Donald’s Dining Safari at Tusker House you get to interact with some large, walking wildlife while dining, and I am here to give you my impressions of this wild character meal.

Atmosphere

Tusker House is located in the African area of Animal Kingdom, and, as with everything in Africa and Asia, the building that houses the restaurant is exquisitely themed. You walk up to a worn building that is in need of some touch up work, and heading inside leads you into an African marketplace setting with multiple dining rooms branched off of the main buffet area. Inside the dining rooms are maps of Africa with information about growing regions and exports that this geek found pretty interesting.

My two complaints about the atmosphere are not unique to the Tusker House. For one, the waiting area for checking in is outdoors, and you may be aware of this, but Florida can be hot. I don’t particularly like being really hot and sweaty as I’m waiting for a meal. I will say that Tusker House’s waiting area is covered and has chairs, so that puts it a step above some others.

My second complaint is the noise, which is almost always a problem at character meals. For some reason cramming large amounts of children into an echo-heavy space and introducing popular characters makes sound levels higher. I guess it is just a phenomenon that science has yet to explain.

Characters

Much like the princess meals, Tusker House has a host. Unlike the princess meals, this host is a giant duck. Donald greets each family for a picture just before being seated, and and that is all you will see of the famous fowl. Also, unlike the princess meals, the picture taken with Donald is not included in the price but is (naturally) available for purchase.

Once inside you will be visited by three ghosts…oops, wrong story, I mean three characters: Goofy, Daisy Duck, and Mickey Mouse. Not only are these immensely popular characters, but this represents the only place that you are able to eat with Daisy. That was actually the main reason that my family decided to try Tusker House the first time: my daughter wanted to meet Daisy (and I don’t like character lines). The characters came around very often I felt, even though there were only three of them. There were actually points where I wanted a break to eat and couldn’t keep Goofy out of my face (that was a weird sentence).

All of the characters are geared up to go on safari with their khaki vests and hats. As far as costuming goes, these are far from the worst (Hi again, Cape May!), but they are not my favorite, either. I think the costumes are lost on most kids, and Goofy looks more like a boy scout than anything else. Of course this is all digging for criticism as I would never avoid a character meal based on costuming.

Food

I have eaten at Tusker House twice, once for breakfast and once for lunch. Overall, I really like the food, although the breakfast fare (see the full menu here) leans more toward the standards (as does everyplace on Disney property). For breakfast there are a few interesting items such as frittatas (both veggie and ham and cheese), spiced corned beef hash, beef quiches, and carved honey-glazed ham. I also always feel like even the regular breakfast foods are a little fresher here, but that’s probably just me making stuff up again.

Lunch could not be more different from the other character buffets (full menu) with hummus, a few kinds of couscous, spiced tofu, curried chicken, carved meats, and lots of veggies and other sides. The food is not for everyone, I’m sure, but I really appreciate any effort on Disney property to put out something unique and at least semi-authentic. Any meal where I don’t have to waste energy choking down chicken nuggets and fries makes me a happy tourist.

As an omnivore, I am not always the best resource on things such as vegetarianism, veganism, lactose intolerance, and Celiac’s disease, but Tusker House lunch seems like a pretty good place for all of those. I personally witnessed a Cast Member giving two tours to guests pointing out things that they could and could not eat (one was lactose intolerant, one had Celiac’s), and there seemed to be quite a few options.

Odds, Ends, and Details

Character meals are offered at Tusker House for breakfast and lunch with the same lineup of characters at both. Breakfast will set you back $24.99 (plus tax) for adults and $13.99 (plus tax) for those between the ages of 3 and 9. Lunch is priced at exactly $1 more for each, which seems odd to me, but Disney doesn’t let me set the prices (and they laugh at me when I ask to). As I mentioned above, the picture you take with Donald is not included in the price, but photographers are willing to take a picture with your camera, so have it ready.

Final Thoughts

I am a huge fan of Tusker House, and I would go as far as to say that it is my favorite of the character meals I have done. It has popular characters, good food, and an interesting atmosphere, as well as a central, in-park location that allows for maximized touring. Tusker House is also not a particularly hard reservation to get, at least not compared to the other character meals. I would recommend breakfast to everyone and lunch to everyone who likes to eat a little adventurously.

I’ll see you there!

Other Volumes in my Character Meals series:

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Posted on April 3, 2012

19 Responses to “Character Meals: Vol 7 – Tusker House”

  • Thanks for your review. I am the veteran planner who will be vacationing with some first timers in June. I have this breakfast planned…looks like it is a good choice. Takes some of the pressure off!

  • Our family loved Tusker House! Our first visit was in January, and it was great. We did lunch there, and everyone, including my picky kids, left full and satisfied. I agree about the costuming–its a little lacking (and I thought Mickey looked a little feminine), but you get to see 4 of the fab 6 in one place, and that’s all that mattered to my 4 kids (age 8, 7, 5, & 3). Definitely worth a try if your looking for something different!

  • We’re a family of lacto-ovo vegetarians so I can say Tusker House breakfast is wonderful for vegetarians. In addition to the very solidly done American breakfast standards, there are some very good African-influenced breakfast dishes to sample (e.g. mealie pap and a really good fruit compote).

    As noted by the reviewer, the characters and interactions are great — they do a little parade with the kids through the dining room.

    On my most recent visit, I had an absolute stand-out of a server, Neil Auster. He was engaging, extremely funny, and did a great job of orienting us regarding the buffet.

    For what it’s worth, you can skip the photo with Donald to get to your table a bit faster. Though, as noted elsewhere, the Tusker House photo can be added to your photopass CD. http://blog.touringplans.com/2012/03/31/photopass-enhanced-photopass-service-to-debut-april-4th-at-wdw/

    • Neil? Bald and about 6 ft? Camera that squirted water when he wanted to take your picture? He was great. He was our server 6 years ago on our very first trip and we still remember him.

      We have always had a good meal here and walking through a mostly deserted park at 7:45 is pretty cool.

      It seems to me that all of the breakfast buffets are essentially the same, it really depends on what kind of theming you are in the mood for, and for me, this one hits the spot.

      • Yes, that’s Neil. He got me with his “special lattes”. I was laughing for days. In fact, here I am months later smiling at the memory.

  • The banana-cinnamon-pecan bread pudding with vanilla sauce that they serve here is worth the price of admission! That dish is one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten! They serve a similar bread pudding at Boma, but it is not as good.

  • I love Tusker House! My husband and I have gone twice for lunch. I’m vegan, and there was plenty for me as well as for my omnivore husband. I received a call from a Disney chef before my trip, and he was able to arrange for me to have a vegan dessert. They brought us two vegan chocolate cupcakes that were quite good except for the frosting which was excessive and redolent of vegetable shortening.

    The character interactions are fun, but it’s true that it is quite noisy. When I was there in March you could not add the photo with Donald to PhotoPass, but that was before the enhanced service was announced. I got a very nice shot with Donald by giving my camera to the PhotoPass photographer.

  • by Meredith McCutcheon on April 3, 2012, at 6:52 pm EST

    This was a great article. Touring Plans rates this restaurant so low that I was hesitant to try it. After your article, I think we’ll give it a shot!

    • by Meredith McCutcheon on April 3, 2012, at 6:53 pm EST

      Sorry. I meant the Unofficial Guide rates it low. I guess that’s pretty much the same thing :)

      • Thanks Meredith! Lots of Unofficial Guide researchers enjoy lunch at Tusker House. And the cost is usually lower than other WDW buffets. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

  • by Lisa Hayden on April 3, 2012, at 8:19 pm EST

    We went on Saturday (March 31, 2012) and it seemed they didn’t have the kinks worked out of the lunch yet. We always go late and by our 1:15 time the heat had worn us, the waiting masses, the waiters and the characters down more than I’ve seen at any other sites. We waited 40 minutes to get in and by 2:00 the food looked limp. In the course of our hour-long stay we only had one character stop by (Goofy). Mickey came to the next table, unexpectedly left, and though we knew he would return eventually, we left after 15 minutes post-check without seeing him or any other characters–we were somehow left out of the Donald photo op too. My suggestion? I too liked the food variety at lunch but would suggest either breakfast (early) or lunch (early) for these character meals.

  • I absolutely agree. My family really enjoyed breakfast at Tusker House and would definitely return. We scheduled a “before the park opens” breakfast and finished just in time for the safari ride to open. PERFECT!!!

  • I’ve gone to Tusker House twice. Once for character breakfast (Jan ’11), and once for character lunch (Jan ’12). As a vegetarian, I think Tusker House is great. I love getting away from the salad, pizza, and french fry options in the park and found the food at Tusker house to be very good. There are enough choices that my vegetarian kids can also find enough to eat and be satisfied. Our character interactions at the table have been super and the kids love the parade led by Goofy. I do find the photo with Donald a bit unexciting and just make sure I have my own camera ready for the posed shot. As character dining/interaction goes, I’d definitely return to this one.

  • by Aliceinwonderla on April 20, 2012, at 9:55 am EST

    This is one of the best character meals in our book. Open-air market is fun, characters good, more variety of breakfast offerings than other locations. Plus does not cramp our touring since it is right next to Safari.

  • We went back in 2006 for breakfast. I liked that we could get an early meal before rope drop. When we were done with breakfast the safari ride wasn’t far away and we were able to get on with no waiting.

  • Just wondering how much time people reserve in their schedule for character breakfasts? We have a 9:15 reservation. If we’re able to snag a Safari FP for 9:40-10:40, do you think we’d make it out of breakfast and in line for the Safari by 10:40?

    THANKS!

    • We usually try to get 8 am and are done before rope drop at this one. I would arrive early due to the photo, but that seems like enough time. You have no walking to get to the Safari from there.

  • My son and I ate lunch here in July 2013 for the first time. We are looking forward to taking my husband back with us on our next trip. We had a late lunch (1:10). I didn’t find it to be too loud; I would say the restaurant was 75% full when we arrived, maybe 33% when we left. Our waiter was great; he would stop by and give us a heads up for when the characters were headed our way. It allowed us to time our refills at the buffet between characters. I don’t think there was a single food I tried that I didn’t like. My pictures were added to my Photopass+, which also included giving us the printed photos. (The photo sales guy said, “Oh, you get them free.” I just laughed and said, “you mean, pre-paid.” I find Disney likes to call things free that are actually “pre-paid.”)