(Written by Meghan B./Photos Courtesy of Walt Disney World)
Quick service vs. table service, making reservations vs. walking up, yes or no to a character meal, these are just a few of the multitude of questions that can come up when considering dining at Walt Disney World. Before you get too overwhelmed by the boundless dining options Disney has to offer, check out these tips on how to plan a magical Disney dining experience.
Do Make Advanced Dining Reservations
If you are planning on dining at any one of Disney’s table service restaurants, especially if you plan on attending a Disney Character meal, advanced dining reservations (ADRs) are a must! You can begin making ADRs 180 days out from your travel date. It is highly recommended that you take advantage of this because popular restaurants, like Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table, book up months in advance. The closer you get to your vacation, the harder it will be to find reservations for most restaurants and character meals. It is not likely that you will be able to just walk up and get a table without a reservation.
Do get a Disney Dining Plan
The Disney Dining Plan is an add-on to the Magic Your Way vacation packages, which include room and park tickets. The Disney Dining Plan is only available to those guests that will be staying at a Disney Property Resort. Not only can the Disney Dining Plan save you money, it can also take the guesswork out of having to budget for your dining once you arrive at Disney World. When you choose to add the Disney Dining Plan, you are essentially pre-paying for a certain number of meals and snacks. For each night of your stay, each guest over the age of three on your reservation gets an allocation of quick service meals, table service meals, and snacks, the number of which depends on which dining plan you choose. Disney offers three dining plan options: the Quick Service Dining Plan, which provides two quick service meals and one snack per person, as well as one resort refillable drink mug per person. The Basic Dining Plan gives you one quick service, one table service, one snack, and one resort refillable drink mug per person. Finally the Deluxe Dining Plan offers three meals (quick service or table service), two snacks, and one resort refillable drink mug per person. The Disney Dining Plan can end up saving you up to 25% on dining at Disney World.
Do a character meal
It does not matter if you are two or twenty-two, everyone has a favorite Disney character, and where else but at Disney can you enjoy a meal with your favorite characters! Whether you are visiting Disney with your kids, your friends, or your significant other, you should attend at least one character meal while you are there. Some younger children may be scared of the characters and this is a great way to get them used to seeing the characters all over the parks. The characters come around often enough that the younger kids really start to relax around them. The character meals also grant you access to a group of characters that you would otherwise have to scramble from one end of the park to another just to see them all! Not to mention you do not have to stand in long lines to pose with the characters when you see them during a meal. If you happen to be childless while at Disney, you should still partake in a character meal! They are fun and get you into the Disney spirit! Who doesn’t want to feel like a kid again when Mickey finally approaches your table and you have his undivided attention for those few moments?
Do Speak Up
Disney parks are well known for accommodating food allergies and dietary restrictions and/or intolerances. No matter what restaurant you choose, the chef will ensure they create a delicious meal that won’t exclude anyone or their needs. Once you are seated at your restaurant, your server will usually ask you if anyone in the party has any food allergies or dietary restrictions. If they do not ask, be sure to speak up and let them know. The chef will then visit your table to discuss the food allergy or dietary restriction and will come up with a meal that accommodates those needs. Disney is renowned for their world-class service, so of course this would extend to their restaurants. They are going to do everything that they can to ensure you have nothing less than a fantastic meal.
Do Eat at Unpopular Times
Most people would typically consider breakfast to be around eight or nine in the morning, lunch at noon, and dinner around six or seven in the evening. It makes sense that these would be the busiest times at the quick service restaurants as well as the more difficult times to get reservations at the table service restaurants. Go ahead and change up your dining schedule when visiting Disney. You’ll have better luck getting reservations if you eat breakfast at 10:30 am, lunch at 3, and dinner 8. Not to mention, the quick service restaurants will be a lot less crowded during off times, so while everyone else is eating lunch at noon, you can saunter right on up to all of your favorite rides!
Don’t forget to make a reservation!
Yes, reservations are so important that they bear repeating! Things have changed at Walt Disney World. A few years ago, it wasn’t as necessary to plan your meals ahead of time and you had a fairly good chance of walking into a restaurant and being seated. However, that all changed with the introduction of the Disney Dining Plan. Now that more and more guests are taking advantage of the pre-paid Disney Dining option, the table service restaurants and character meals are booking up a lot more quickly. To have the best chance of getting in at the restaurant of your choice, it is highly recommended that you make your reservations as soon as it hits the 180 day mark before your vacation.
Don’t be afraid to try something new
You can find a wide variety of restaurants at Walt Disney World that offer an expansive array of cuisine. Everything from Irish Pub fare to Moroccan delicacies can be found around the Walt Disney World Resort, and nowhere does this hold more true than at the World Showcase in Epcot. The World Showcase alone offers eleven different countries, each offering a broad spectrum of dining. Disney does not disappoint in the food department, so what better place to try something new!
Don’t forget to leave enough travel time to get to your dining destination
Whether you are eating at a restaurant that is in the park you are attending or you are traveling somewhere else within the Walt Disney World resort, make sure you leave yourself enough travel time. For example, if you are attending the Mickey’s Backyard BBQ dinner show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, you are asked to arrive 30 minutes prior to show time. Not too bad, right? However, once you arrive at the resort, there is a twenty-minute motor coach ride to the pavilion. So you would want to leave about 90 minutes early in order to arrive on time. If you are dining within the park you are attending that day, you want make sure you leave yourself enough time to walk to where ever it is that you are dining.
Don’t forget about the resort restaurants
Most Disney guests are so preoccupied with eating in the parks that they forget about the restaurants at the different resorts. I’ve found some of the best restaurants at the various Disney resorts. The Whispering Canyon Café at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge offers its famous bottomless skillets, chuck wagon favorites and sassy cast members that make it an all time favorite of mine that I return to every vacation. The Kona Café at Disney’s Polynesian is my favorite place for a hearty breakfast before I hit the Magic Kingdom! Want to experience the best seafood buffet you’ve ever had? Try the Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. These are just a handful of the amazing restaurants that are waiting for you outside of the Disney Word parks.
Don’t forget to cancel a reservation
With advance dining reservations becoming more and more difficult to get, Disney has instituted a credit card guarantee at most of the more popular restaurants and character meals. At the time of making your reservation, you are required to give a credit card in order to hold the reservation. If you do not cancel within at least one day of your reservation, most restaurants will charge you $10.00 per person in the party. However, there are some restaurants, like Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, that will charge you the full price of your dinner show if you do not cancel with sufficient notice or do not show up all.
Dining at Walt Disney World should be as magical and memorable as the rest of your vacation. With this knowledgeable advice, you will have no problem planning a dining experience you and your family won’t soon forget!