Getting the Best Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations
When planning your Walt Disney World vacation, you might think it’s strange to decide where you want to eat 180 days ahead of time! However at Dsney World, ADR are needed for most (if not all) full-service restaurants. Many of these restaurants are experiences in and of themselves.
Guests can dine inside of a castle like at Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table for the ultimate in Magic Kingdom dining. Or step back in time at 50’s Prime Time Cafe or Beaches & Cream Soda Shoppe. Watch fireworks from a rooftop vantage at California Grill or giddy-up at Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. The best Disney World restaurants are coveted and they do fill up early, even in the “off-season”.
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Do You Have to Make Reservations for Disney Restaurants?
Yes and no. If you want to eat in the full-service restaurants, you’ll almost always need an ADR. A walk-up booking can be unlikely for the most popular locations. If you don’t want to commit to reservations, then it’s totally okay to eat at only quick-service dining locations for your entire trip. I did this when I traveled to Disney World alone with my infant. And the meals I had were great!
So, yes if you want to eat in the full-service restaurants, you’ll need ADR. No, you don’t have to make reservations if you’re okay with eating all quick-service. And of course if you want to dine with Mickey, you’re going to need a reservation!
Why Don’t You Need Reservations for Disneyland Restaurants?
Comparing Disney World to Disneyland, you’ll know that Disneyland regulars very rarely book ADR. Most of the full-service restaurants are easy to dine in as a walk-up. There are a few exceptions, like character meals and Blue Bayou restaurant. And you’ll need ADR during busier seasons and the Holidays.
I’m not sure why Disneyland restaurants aren’t as crowded as Disney World! Maybe because the dining at Disneyland is less “experience”. Perhaps because it’s very easy to leave the parks and walk across the street to restaurants on Harbor Blvd? Or maybe because so many locals tend to pack in their own food and snacks? For more information, here’s how to eat at Disneyland without an ADR.
How Many Full Service Meals Should We Plan On?
Keep in mind that these “dining experiences” often take up a good amount of time so build them in to your trip. I only book 1 ADR per day, usually for dinner. This allows us to eat a light breakfast in our hotel room, grab a quick service lunch whenever hunger strikes and then enjoy our fancy ADR meal at dinner time.
So how can you get that Advanced Dining Reservation for the meal you really want? These are basic tips for newbies looking to grab a few ADR for their trip.
1. Plan Out Your Itinerary
Before you start picking out ADR willy-nilly, you’ll need to plot out your basic itinerary. You don’t want to be booking The Crystal Palace for breakfast at Magic Kingdom on a day you’d planned on being at the Typhoon Lagoon water park.
Likewise be sure to check the times of the attractions you wish to watch before booking an ADR. I almost booked a coveted Be Our Guest dinner reservation but stopped short after checking my itinerary and realized it fell right during the fireworks show we’d planned on watching.
2.Book at 180 Days
Your best bet for getting the reservation you want it is to book the very day that you can, at the very first moment they open the reservations (either by phone or online). This would be 180 days out. That is how you’ll get the most coveted slots like Cinderella’s Table, by being the early bird! You can either book online or call (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463) by 7:00 am ET. Reservations often fill up within minutes of opening.
3. Check the Website Frequently
Missed the 180 day window? You may still be able to grab the reservation you want by frequently scoping out the ADR website for openings. I was able to grab a reservation for 50s Prime Time Cafe five days before my trip just by checking the site several times a day.
4. Search by Meals, Not by Exact Times
When checking for availability, search by meals instead of exact times. You’ll have a greater chance at finding a reservation if you use the more broad “meal times” instead of exact times.
Inside the “Check Availability” box there is a drop-down menu that will say Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (if the restaurant isn’t open for a particular meal, that meal won’t show up in the menu). If there is a time available there will be a button with the time available that you can click to reserve your spot.
5. Use a Travel Agent
Many agents will include booking dining as part of your vacation package. So instead of having to get up before sunrise to make those calls to Disney dining, your agent will do the work for you!
6. Use Touring Plans
If you don’t have time to be constantly checking for open ADR, there’s a site that will help you with that! Touring Plans offers a Disney World Dining Reservation Finder. You just plug in the details of the restaurant meal you want booked and Touring Plans sends you an email when a reservation opens up.
Naturally you have to be the first person to grab it before it’s taken by someone else, but it definitely saves time not having to stalk the website yourself! I used it last month to get a reservation for Beaches & Cream Soda Shoppe. The email came through letting me know there was a reservation available and I was able to immediately go online and scoop up the reservation for the meal time I wanted!
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7. Be Open to Different Times
How many of you would be willing to eat at Be Our Guest if the only reservation is for 9:30 pm on a Wednesday night? What if you had your baby and preschooler with you? I actually have this reservation set for my next visit and for us, it will work out great! Since we come from the West Coast, I keep my little ones on Pacific Time. Therefore a 9:30 pm (6:30 PST) isn’t that late of a dinner for them and we scored a great ADR.
Certainly, some reservation times just aren’t ideal for many families. But if you can be open to dining at a different time you’ll more likely be able to find a reservation. Consider pushing back lunch so you can have a later dinner. Then stay to play in the parks and sleep in the next day. Or if you find an early dinner reservation, eat a big breakfast, skip lunch, have your early dinner and then enjoy dessert later in the evening.
8. Last Minute Find
Even while on vacation, an ADR may open up for something you want on the trip. Many guests overbook and then cancel at the last minute (to avoid any no-show charges). This opens up an ADR for you! I was able to book a last minute Be Our Guest lunch the day we arrived. Keep checking the website on your mobile phone to see if an ADR opens up for the time you want.
Some locations, especially those that are large and can accommodate many guests, may be easier than others to book last minute ADR. Try a location like Raglan Road that’s outside the parks (in Disney Springs) on a non-park day if you’re flexible.
9. Book Ahead and Cancel If You Need To
Let’s say you can’t get the reservation you really want but there is another restaurant that has availability. Consider booking ahead and getting the reservation you can. You can continue to search for the ADR you want. If you can’t get another reservation at least you’ll have something booked! If you’re able to book elsewhere, then you can then easily cancel the first reservation.
Reservations may be canceled, with the deposit refunded in full, by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Each restaurant at the Walt Disney World Resort has its own cancellation policy, so be sure to check your reservation. You’ll want to know if the cancellation window is 48 or 24 hours before the reservation to avoid any fees.
Couldn’t get the Character dining ADR you wanted? Consider at the Sunshine BreakfasTime at Wyndham Lake Buena Vista. The cost is about half what you’d pay at a Disney World restaurant and the best part, no ADR needed!
What Disney World restaurant is the one you most want to dine at?