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Disney Dining Reservations 101: 8 Things You Need to Know!

There are many facets of planning your first Disney Vacation that can seem daunting. Where should we stay? When should we travel? What should we pack? What sort of tickets do we need? They are among the questions I’m asked most frequently when helping Disney “novices” plan a trip. But perhaps the MOST concerning aspect of planning a Disney Vacation is dining. Most people are aware of the need for dining reservations, but many just don’t know where to start! Check out our list of important tips to help make planning your meals in Disney a breeze!

TIP 1 – PLAN AHEAD!

Disney allows guests to book ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations) beginning 180 days in advance of the first date of their reservation for the entire length of their stay. So what does this fact mean for your dining plans? It means that you MUST know where you are going to be eating 6 months before your vacation and book your ADRs accordingly. Having trouble picturing where you’re going to want to eat in 6 months? Sorry about that, but if you fail to make these reservations at T-minus 180 days exactly, you may find yourself eating dinner at 9:30pm or missing your favorite dining experiences altogether. This is especially true for the highly coveted reservations like Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, or Chef Mickey’s.

TIP 2 – KNOW WHAT YOU’RE UP AGAINST

As explained in TIP 1, certain restaurants and certain seatings at certain restaurants are PARTICULARLY difficulty to secure. For example, breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table will book within minutes of the 180 day window opening. The Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s will also be gone within minutes of the 7am release time. Other EXTREMELY DIFFICULT reservations to secure include dinner at Be Our Guest, dinner at California Grill, and any meal seating at Chef Mickey’s. So if you’re heart is set on one of these extremely popular choices, watch your calendar and set your alarm. You’re going to be competing with about 10,000 other people for these ADRs. And don’t say we didn’t warn you.

TIP 3 – CALL DIRECT

Certain restaurants that are not Disney owned (like T-Rex Café, Rainforest Café, and Yak & Yeti, for example) may not have many reservations available in the Disney computer system. But they often have reservations available if you call the restaurant directly. It’s always worth calling these restaurants to see if they have anything in their “in-house” reservation system.

TIP 4 – CHOOSE AN ALTERNATIVE

You had your heart set on Cinderella’s Royal Table but there aren’t any ADRs available during your entire stay. No problem! There are several other princess dining options available in Walt Disney World. You could visit Akershus in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot or 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian Resort. Can’t get a table at Chef Mickey’s? Try Garden Grove or Tusker House. With a few exceptions, there is generally at least one comparable dining choice for any desired restaurant.

TIP 5 – HAVE YOUR CREDIT CARD HANDY

Within the last few years, Disney has converted all of their table service restaurant reservations to “credit card secured” or “prepaid”. For credit card secured, you will not be charged at the time of booking, but you WILL be charged a penalty if you fail to show up for the reservation (generally 10 dollars per person). For prepaid ADRs, the entire amount is charged at the time of booking. If you fail to show up for those reservations, you loose the entire amount. Cinderella’s Royal Table is an example of a “prepaid” ADR.

TIP 6 – BOOK NOW, CANCEL LATER

If you aren’t sure exactly where you want to be on a certain day of your vacation, there is nothing wrong with securing a few extra dining reservations at 180 days out and then cancelling them as your trip draws closer. There is generally a 2-5 day cancelation policy to avoid paying the $10 per person penalty. You are better off booking more than you need farther out, and putting some back into the system at a later date. You might just make someone else’s last minute dreams come true, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to book certain reservations (particularly the very popular restaurants) within the few months before your trip. Just be certain to keep track of your reservations so you can cancel anything you don’t want! (FYI – the Disney reservation system will not allow you to book more than one ADR for the same meal time on any given day. But you could book a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner at three different locations, or all at the same place, if you aren’t sure what time you want to dine.)

TIP 7 – NEVER GIVE UP

So, you failed to heed TIP #1 and now there isn’t a single desired ADR available? Keep trying! People cancel reservations all of the time (see TIP 6). You never know when someone might give up their 6:00pm table for four at Be Our Guest. Continue to check the computer reservation system or call Disney every day, even multiple times a day, up until the day of your desired reservation. You might just get lucky!

TIP 8 – WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BEG

If you absolutely had your heart set on eating at one particular location and despite all of your best efforts you just could not secure the ADR you most wanted, there is no harm in walking up to the restaurant several hours before the desired meal time and VERY POLITELY asking if there is any availability. It helps to explain if there are any extenuating or “special” circumstances. Case in point: During an impromptu visit to Disney in late 2012, we were unable to get reservations at Be Our Guest due to the short notice of our trip. On our last night in Disney we walked up to the restaurant around 4:30pm, and asked if there was any availability for dinner that evening. We were told that they could get us in around 6:00pm! We were ecstatic! As we settled in with our pager on the beautiful castle bridge, we overheard a young couple asking if there was any availability for them, but unfortunately the wait was already much longer by that time. As they turned around to walk away we saw they were wearing “Honeymoon” buttons, and felt like we should offer them our reservation. I approached the Cast Members checking people in for their dining reservations, and explained that we wanted to give them our reservations for 6:00pm. The Cast Members smiled at me and said, “That’s very kind but won’t be necessary. We’ll figure something out!” One Cast Member followed them into the crowd and called them back for immediate seating. Disney Magic at its best!

Do you have any tried and true tips for securing great ADRs in Disney World? Share your experiences below!

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About Jessica Brosnan

Jessica is a mother of one and an elementary school teacher in New Jersey. She enjoys musical theater and loves to cook. Jessica is a Disney Vacation Club member and is perpetually planning her next Disney vacation.