All the things that you never realized you needed to know about dining at Disney. Yes, it's that complicated!
Walt Disney World Resort is an incredibly large place with close to 300 restaurants. With that many options, you would think finding a place to eat on the spur of the moment would be easy, but it’s not. The most sought-after restaurants and dining experiences at Disney World can only accommodate so many people each day, which means if you want to eat with the princesses in Cinderella’s Castle or Mickey and friends at Chef Mickey’s, you need to plan in advance. Even if you aren’t concerned with the popular restaurants, you’ll still want to make your reservations ahead of time. Nothing can ruin a vacation quicker than a hungry toddler or teenager and no place to eat. Almost all of Disney World’s table service restaurants take reservations in advance, and they do book up quickly. So, unless you want to be filming your own version of a hangry (hunger + anger) Snickers commercial in the Orlando heat, heed my advice.
When to reserve?
Dining reservations for Disney World open up 180 days in advance of the first day of your trip at 6 a.m. EST online and 7 a.m. EST over the phone (407.939.3463). For those staying at a Disney resort, you can make reservations for your entire trip or the first ten days at that 180-day mark. For popular meals, you'll want to plan on getting those reservations made right when your window opens or instruct your travel agent to do so. Keep reading… there's more to it!
Exceptions to the rule?
All dining reservations are supposed to be released at 180 days, but sometimes restaurants hold back because of renovations or menu changes. The Fantasmic! and Rivers of Light packages also aren’t available regularly right at 180 days. If you don’t see any options for a restaurant or package right at 180 days, they likely haven’t been released. So keep checking back or put your travel agent on that task.
How to reserve?
To make reservations online, you need your reservation properly linked to your My Disney Experience account. If you’ve chosen the Disney Dining Plan (read our take the plan here), make sure that it’s linked too, so you don’t have to prepay for dinner shows or specialty meals like Cinderella’s Royal Table. You’ll need a credit card to guarantee your reservations as well. Nothing is charged at that time, but if you don’t cancel your reservation within the specified time (normally 24 hours) or don’t show up, you’ll be charged $10 per person. Disney does make allowances for late flights and sick kids, but try to let them know in advance by calling dining or having your travel agent call, as getting that charge refunded can be a difficult process.
The online system won’t allow you to double book a time; so if your family is splitting up for a meal, and you’re trying to make two reservations for the same time period, you’ll need to make those reservations by phone.
KidTripster Tip: The Disney Dining Plan is only available to on-property guests. However, you don’t have to book the Magic Your Way Vacation Package. You actually can add a dining plan to a room-only reservation, but you or your travel agent have to call to do it.
Where to reserve?
Dining reservations are available for all table service meals. Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom is the only quick service option on that property that accepts reservations. Be Our Guest is quick service at breakfast and lunch only, but those are great options to see Beast’s Castle, if you can’t get a dinner reservation. Breakfast is a bit of a stretch for picky eaters, but lunch is great. You can try the gray stuff (“trust us, it’s delicious. Don’t believe me, ask the dishes!”). Note that the Beast does not appear at breakfast or lunch.
Can't get what you want?
If you booked your trip after 180 days or the reservation that you wanted was all booked up at 180 days, all is not lost. Keep checking for cancellations, because they do happen. The best times to find cancellations are right around final payment time (which is 30 days before the trip) or just a few days before you travel. People change plans all the time and that can be to your benefit. Most travel agents will check at least a few times each day for cancelled reservations, so don’t lose hope!
Former journalist Jamie Farber lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons. Her English degree has somehow led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels.