Cinderella's Royal Table or
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall?
So you want to dine with the Disney princesses while visiting Walt Disney World? Well, you have two main options: Cinderella's Royal Table in Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, or Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at the Norway Pavillion in Epcot's World Showcase. I see this question a lot on the web so I thought I would chime in with my own thoughts based on our family's experiences.
The reality is that both of these are pretty good and your decision may very well be made for you based on where you are staying or which park you happen to be visiting. You really can't go wrong with either one; however, there are differences and I do have a definite preference. If you are up the in air about which one to do and you will only be visting one of them, then read on for some thoughts and observations.
We have done both of these (many times), so here is my ranking and reasons why:
1. Cinderella's Royal Table (Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom)
In my opinion, if you want to dine with Disney princesses, there is no better spot than right inside Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom. I am surprised to see that this is often even a point of debate and even more surprised to see that many people recommend Akershus over Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT). But that aside, in our experiences with both of these, Cinderella's Royal Table is the hands-down winner.
For starters, the mere fact that this dining hall is inside Cinderella Castle is reason enough. The vast majority of Magic Kingdom visitors just walk right through the castle, or marvel at it from the outside. How cool is it to dine inside the castle? Well, pretty cool. A lot of people don't even know that this dining option exists and if you have young children, there's no denying just how magical this experience can be. The truth is that you are not going there to enjoy a fine meal or to look for a value meal, you are going there for the one-of-a-kind experience of dining inside Disney's iconic castle and getting quality one-on-one time with five Disney princesses. The fact that the food is actually pretty good here is an added bonus. (Yes, I have read others' opinions on the food, but in my view, it is not bad at all. In fact, we enjoy it.).
Before entering the castle, you check in with attendants downstairs at the back of the castle. The pre-dining entry process at CRT is a well-oiled machine compared to Akershus. You check in, you wait until you are called and on every occasion we were taken right at our scheduled time. You then go inside, where you are greeted by Cinderella. She is your hostess (it's her castle after all) and you get a picture with her and she welcomes you to your meal. The resulting official photo is part of your package price and they will deliver the final copy to you at your table (you can also take your own pictures at the same time).
After meeting Cinderalla, you walk up a spiral flight of stairs until you come the royal dining room, where you are greeted by attendants and seated. The room is well adorned with all the trimmings and huge windows that look out over the Magic Kingdom. On every visit, we have found the food at CRT to be very good--so no complaints there. (On one occasion we had a relative with us who could not eat gluten. The CRT chef came right to our table, spoke with our relative, and prepared a great custom meal especially for her. Now that's service folks.) Little princesses receive a commemorative magic wand and wishing star and little princes are given a small (plastic) sword (to protect the princesses, they are told). CRT also seems to have the princess process down to an art. Throughout your meal, announcements are made to alert royal guests as each princess is about to enter the dining hall. The princesses circulate throughout the dining area spending quality time with each party and giving your little ones lots of attention and photo opps. The service is efficient, the princesses are charming and the whole experience has been pretty good for us each time we have visited. Our daughter is a big fan. At CRT the princesses are consistent each time we have visited. With the addition of Enchanted Tales with Belle in the New Fantasyland, we have not seen Belle at Cinderella's Royal Table anymore (she is much too busy with her new duties). The most recent line-up that I have seen (Spring 2013) was: Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, Jamine and Aurora.
Cinderella's Royal Table is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a reason that this is the hottest dining ticket in Disney World. If you haven't tried it and you like Disney princesses, I would recommend that you do.
2. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway Pavillion, Epcot)
Similar in many ways to Cinderella's Royal Table is the princess experience at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, which is located at the Norway pavillion at Epcot. From the outset, the one thing that I notice to be different at Akershus is the check-in experience. It seems to be much more disorganized here and we have waited at least 20 minutes past our scheduled time on more than one occsion. There is no convenient place to wait and it's pretty hot in the sun or wet in the rain when you have to stand around. The other families were equally disgruntled by the wait and the attendants at Akershus seem to be more flustered than the regal approach at Cinderella Castle. I have never experienced a wait like that at Cinderella's Royal Table.
The exterior area is nice enough, but it's not Cinderella Castle. So on a straight-up comparison basis, Akershus cannot compete in that regard.
Once you do get inside the experience is similar; however, I would note that at Cinderella Castle you get the feeling that you are dining somewhere very special based on the surroundings. At Akershus, we feel that we are dining in a restaurant done up in medieval design. It's nice, but it's not comparable to the castle in the Magic Kingdom. You are first greeted by a princess who is your hostess for the meal. Since this is no one's castle in particular, the princesses rotate and you never know who will be attending until you are there -- this can actually be a positive if you go several times. You get a photo taken with your princess hostess and this official photo is delivered to you later at your table. Akershus is a nice castle experience in terms of decor and trimmings, but it is a cut below what you get inside Cinderella Castle. Still, it is well adorned in typical Disney style.
One area that Akershus is better in our view is that your appetizers are at a buffet area and the selection is very good -- including shrimp for the lunchtime meal. This is a cut above CRT. Once again, the service inside is good and the princesses circulate from table to table, meeting and greeting each royal guest. We find Akershus to be a bit more restaurant-like and less of the regal dining hall feel that you get at Cinderella's Royal Table. So we find the experience to be a notch below the overall feeling and delivery at the Magic Kingdom. Children do not receive a wand or sword like they do at CRT.
All in all, the princess meals at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall are good, it's just that compared to CRT, they are not quite as high-end in terms of the overall experience. It's the little touches and of course the location that make Cinderella's Royal Table our choice as the better of the two at Walt Disney World. I would recommend both of these experiences, but if you are equally torn between the two, then I would say CRT is the place to be.
~ Mike Belobradic (Originally posted, December 2011. Updated April 2013.)