Eat in a castle while you schmooze with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or other Disney-dubbed princesses-that’s the come-on that makes thousands of parents shell out big bucks to enter the fairy-tale fortress that is the center of the Magic Kingdom.

For years, Disney World and Disneyland had costumed characters such as the Country Bears, Mickey and Minnie, Goofy and a handful of others walking around the parks. But as I remember, when my kids were young, it was hard to get any of these two-legged creatures to stand still long enough to snap a picture.

When the Disney execs realized there was real money to be made in having their characters pose for pictures with tourists, and then charge for the pictures, the costumed denizens became a whole lot friendlier. It was only a small marketing step beyond that to start inviting Mickey and Minnie, Chip and Dale and other cartoon folk to breakfast with the customers at various venues. And the crown jewel of all these eateries is Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom with a bevy of princesses (which now include Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and others) in attendance. Many of the youngsters, or at least the girls, come already dressed up in a variety of costumes so they feel at home with the Disney-dubbed princesses. Boys get fake swords so they don’t feel left out of the whole “princess” deal.

Visitors have a choice of breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the price for breakfast is almost as high as for lunch of dinner, the breakfast has the advantage of placing you right in the center of Disney World, at least an hour before the park officially opens. It also means you can get the character meet-up out of the way before you get started on the rides.

Using the “time is money” theory, my daughter booked the Cinderella’s Royal Table at the castle on a Wednesday. Using several websites and the handy book “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World” she discovered that there are certain days when no other patrons are allowed early access into the park. Moreover, you can book the Character Breakfast 180 days before you arrive. Since only 120 people are accommodated at each seating, reservations are absolutely necessary.

Luckily, my grandchildren were one and-a-half and almost three, so they were able to get in free. The price package has kids of three and above paying the children’s fee while at the age of ten you are considered an adult when it comes to admission. The package includes an official photograph (obviously the ones accompanying this article are of the amateur family variety) a decent breakfast for the grownups and a chance to walk through a genuine fake castle. Prices have gone up since we visited in 2007 and now hover in the $42 to $44 range for adults depending on the season and around $30 for kids who are three to nine.

Dinner, of course, is also a possibility and at only ten dollars more may make sense. A lot depends on the age of your children as to what meal you choose. Since my grandchildren were quite young (and therefore free) and had to have naps in the afternoon, the breakfast made the most sense. It also got them into the park early enough to enjoy the rides before the lines became tedious. We had also booked off season because school schedules were not a problem.

If you don’t want to waste your precious (and costly) theme park time cavorting with dressed-up actors, Disney has found a solution for that too. There are character dining possibilities outside the perimeter of the park so you don’t have to spring for an admission ticket in order to have the experience. For instance you can join the tea party at the Disney Floridian with Alice and fun and games around 4 in the afternoon. Or have breakfast with Stitch and Lilo at the Polynesian Resort.

The dining with characters remains a popular package at Disney World, recession or no recession. Check out all the options at www.disneyworld.com.

Enchanted Castle Photo Credit: MasaneMiyaPA