Diehard Disney fanatics know firsthand that Walt Disney World Resort holds many unique claims to fame. Aside from boasting four phenomenal theme parks, two wonderful water parks, a versatile variation of Resort accommodations, and some of the most renowned attractions the world over, the Disney dining scene is also pretty popular and praiseworthy, to say the least. In following suit with all the diverse distinctions, Disney World is so famous for the dining designations to be enjoyed throughout the Parks, Resorts, and over in nearby Disney Springs range in many different formats, cuisine presentations, and of course, the experiences themselves. Some of the more unique options, such as enjoying a Disney Character dining experience, a meal at an intricately themed table service establishment, or one of those remarkable signature restaurants, are admittedly far more coveted. And to secure a spot, dining reservations are absolutely imperative. But how can you be certain you will, in fact, be able to even reserve a table at those desired venues? Here are seven of the best Disney dining reservation tips for you to follow.
7. Book as Far in Advance as Possible
Did you know that Resort Guests may book a Disney World dining reservation up to 60 days in advance? This should give you plenty of time to plan accordingly for those Disney restaurant experiences you desperately want, as well as how said reservations will fit into your perfectly orchestrated touring plans. For instance, if you are looking to make a reservation at an establishment located within a Disney Theme Park, do take note that you will also need a reservation to the Park in addition to valid admission in order to enter. Making an advance dining reservation does not automatically secure your Disney World tickets, so you’ll need to take care of obtaining both in a timely fashion.
Even if you have opted for Park Hopper, it is my recommendation that you make those dining reservations only for the actual Park you reserved primarily. Things are forever changing, and who wants to risk setting a dining reservation for the Park you hope to hop to, later on, only to find out that, for whatever reason, you are unable to? Play it safe and avoid any messiness in having to cancel, reschedule, and potentially lose your already-secured reservation. Just stick with your reserved Park.
6. Use a Reservation Finder or Travel Agent
Have you ever heard of a restaurant reservation finding service? Yes, they exist and have actually grown considerably over the last several years, particularly in places where popular dining reservations are in high demand. The way these services work is that you sign up (usually through an online platform), enter in your criteria (venue, time, date, party size), and then receive notifications as comparable options become available. Dining reservation finders normally charge on a per-wanted reservation basis, although each site has its own terms, conditions, and individual plans. Pricing options may vary considerably depending on which service you use. Also, take note that even though they do all the work in finding you a reservation time slot alert, they do not automatically do the booking for you, so be prepared to act fast when you get notified.
Another option for those who are too busy to browse around on their own, scouting out preferred availability, is to call on the assistance of a trusted travel agent. Many travel agents get paid for their services through commission, so having one search out and secure restaurant reservations would, in most cases, come at a very minimal fee or may even be free. There are several travel agents that specialize in Disney vacation planning particularly, and because this is what they do for a living, they may be the best ones to recruit for the task of negotiating and locking in experiences that go beyond what the unseasoned common man could ever hope to do.
5. Choose Less Traditional Meal Times
Sometimes securing a spot at the desired dining venue is only a matter of changing up the date and time you’re probing for. If you can be a little more flexible in the way of scheduling, it could go a long way in making all the difference. For instance, most Disney World restaurant venues start serving lunch as early as 11 a.m. and continue such operations through the 3 p.m. hour. Dinner may begin as early as 3:30 p.m. and continue on until 11 p.m. So, if you can get beyond the traditional mindset of a noon lunchtime or dinnertime ranging between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., you just may luck out!
Also, be mindful of the season in which your vacation is set. It goes without saying that availability tends to be more profuse during the off-season as opposed to when crowds are heavier. And then there are also those matters of dining at a time when a major event you’ve already seen or done is taking place. Unless you’re opting for a venue known for optimal parade or fireworks views, like Tony’s Town Square at Magic Kingdom Park or California Grill over at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you may find dining at a time when everyone is otherwise preoccupied viewing the aforementioned the best plan. For example, search for a reservation to the windowless Teppan Edo or Biergarten during EPCOT’s Harmonious fireworks spectacular (usually around 9 p.m.).
4. Reserve Third-Party Restaurants Directly
There are several dining venues throughout Disney World and Disney Springs that are actually run by third-party restaurant groups. Some well-known examples include The BOATHOUSE, Raglan Road, Chef Art Smith’s Home Comin’, Wine Bar George, Maria & Enzo’s, and so many others. And it’s at these venues that Guests may actually place a reservation directly through such restaurants’ independent websites by utilizing a separate online platform. Sometimes this can actually be quicker and more up-to-date since you are dealing directly with the restaurants themselves in real-time.
3. Check and Re-check the MyDisneyExperience App
Don’t throw in the towel just yet, even if you did not score a table at one of your preferred venues. Keep checking and re-checking the status of an establishment you really want via your MyDisneyExperience App, ever mindful of the fact that Guests are consistently modifying their vacation plans from their end. And this, of course, includes the dining reservations someone else may have made and has since had to alter or cancel altogether. Because Guests are given a particular timeframe for when to cancel a preexisting reservation and not be charged a $10 fee per person, you just may even be able to find a now-available reservation block up to a day or two beforehand!
2. Join the Walk-Up Waiting List
Over the last few years, Disney has introduced Walk-Up Waitlists at their vast majority of onsite table service restaurants. So, if all else fails and you still didn’t secure an advance dining reservation at your preferred venue, there still may be last-minute hope! Assuming that you are spending the day in the location you wanted to dine at, and you can afford to be flexible in that day’s schedule in regard to attractions and experiences you’ve already booked, go ahead and take a chance. Log into My Disney Experience and see about joining the Walk-Up Waitlist if it is not yet at capacity. It’s worth a shot!
1. Speak to a Cast Member
Ah, that lost art of actually communicating with a live human being! This may sound old school, but it’s a viable last-ditch effort you should keep on the table. Go ahead and actually call Disney directly. Ask to be connected to a live Disney Cast Member you can actually confer with. Or, you can call those third-party restaurants directly at their listed numbers. Sure, it may be a long shot in these times of automated answering/redirecting services or exclusive online contact forms, but still, try. From my personal experience, more times than I can count, it’s far more efficient and reassuring to actually speak to a person. What’s more, technology isn’t foolproof, and hiccups in the system can happen. This is all the more reason to go the human route.
Disney dining is forever changing and forever developing. And while the Disney Dining Plan remains on hold indefinitely, you have to do what you can by planning accordingly. But rest assured that in all instances, Disney will do the utmost to make all your dining dreams come true and all those mealtimes magical.