The spectrum of Disney vacation goers is wide and varied. It ranges from the most laid-back and carefree sort to the uber-commando types. If you’re like us, you probably fall somewhere in between, trying to balance relaxation with getting to see as much as possible. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to make sure you get to enjoy your Disney vacation is to plan it! On Trip Tip Thursdays, we delve into the planning process and give a few tips for newbies and commandos alike.
Whether it’s the first trip or your 100th, we all feel like Super Bowl winners when we book our Disney vacation. Getting your vacation booked can be an overwhelming experience, with some major decisions to make about where to stay, when to go, and how to get there. You feel like you’re on top of the world once you’ve figured that out, but the planning has only just begun.
After the “When, Where, and How” comes the subject of “What”, as in “What restaurant reservations do we want to make?” We all have to eat, and that’s no different at Disney. In the planning hierarchy, dining reservations are pretty high up. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that someone altered their travel plans because they found out they could get a reservation at a highly-coveted restaurant on a day they weren’t originally planning on being there. Yes, it can be that serious.
To the first-time visitor, or even someone who just hasn’t been back to Walt Disney World in a long time, this can be very overwhelming. After all, how can you be expected to know where and when you’ll want to eat before you get there? The reservation system starts taking reservations at 180 days prior… that’s 6 months!! I still remember the days when you made your dining reservations at the park once you arrived. Back then, it meant getting to the park early to make sure you got a good time. Today, it means getting up early on the first day you are able to make a reservation and being on the phone or online to check availability.
It may feel like a lot of pressure, but ultimately, you don’t have to make any reservations if you don’t want to. There are many counter service restaurants where no reservation is needed. But if you really want to get a table at a particular restaurant, I’d advise you to make that reservation as soon as your able to, because the prime seating time slots at the popular restaurants go fast.
So how do you decide? Where do you start?
Fortunately, there is a wealth of information out there to help. One of my favorite resources is AllEars.net. Not only do they have a list of all the Walt Disney World restaurants, but they also have transcripts of the menus as well, and they do an excellent job of keeping the menus up-to-date. So, you can choose restaurants that have a variety of foods that you know you and your family will enjoy. The Disney Food Blog is another great resource for detailed restaurant reviews.
There’s a ton of information out there to help you in making a decision. Some people may try to tell you that you should do this, or that you shouldn’t do that, so it’s important to make sure you get a variety of perspectives so you can make an informed decision. This is as true for Dining as it is for anything else.
Once you’ve got an idea of the restaurants you’d like to make reservations for, you’ll need to decide what day and what time. Assuming you are making your reservations right at that 180 day mark and all slots are open to you, then I would take into account your park strategy. You may or may not have a park strategy, and that’s okay. Just to illustrate what I mean, I’ll use ours.
Our park strategy is what I would call, “Morning EMH”. EMH stands for Extra Magic Hours. Those are times when parks might be open earlier or later specifically for guests staying at a WDW resort. We are DVC owners, so we almost always stay on property and are eligible to take advantage of EMH. So our park strategy is this: We look at the dates we will be there, and see if any of the parks have early morning EMH on those days. More often than not, we plan to hit those parks that do. On the other hand, we avoid parks if they have late EMH. Why? It’s because we have two very young children. There’s no way they can stay up late enough to take advantage of late EMH at any park. On the other hand, our children are usually up early and the early EMH allows us to get a few attractions in before the park gets too crowded.
So, if we see that two of the four theme parks have EMH during our stay, then we can plan to be at those parks on those days. The other two we fill in around that. If we have enough days in our stay to work in a “day off” from the parks in the middle, than we do that. If we can hit our favorite park, The Magic Kingdom, more than once, then put us down for that too!
Now, armed with your park strategy and your list of preferred restaurants, you can go online at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/ or call 407-WDW-DINE to make your reservations.
The online reservation system opens earlier (6am ET) than the phone system (7am ET). Try that way first if you can. However, the system can be quirky sometimes. If you don’t see what you want, then by all means, call and speak to a live Cast Member. When calling, choose the option that says you are in the Orlando area, even if you aren’t. That will skip a few automated questions and get you to a live CM that much faster.
A perk of staying at a Disney Resort is that you can make 10 days worth of reservations at 180 days from your check-in day. If you are not staying at a Disney Resort, you’ll need to make your reservations each day.
As the saying goes, “nothing is set in stone.” This includes your reservation. A number of things could happen in the system to cause your reservation to get lost or canceled. It’s happened to us. Having your confirmation number handy can make it so much easier to resolve any potential problems. Your confirmation number may also be needed to gain access to the theme parks if you are dining inside before the park officially opens. So write it down, in multiple places, and keep it with you.
Imagine if you could just walk up to the entrance and say, “I know the park isn’t open yet, but do you mind if I go in and take a look around?” Of course they won’t let you do that… unless you happen to have a reservation. That’s one of the reasons I recommend a reservation for breakfast inside the park before it opens, if possible. Getting into the park early gives you great photo opportunities with very little people around. It’s almost like having the park to your self!!
In addition to the theme parks, many of the resorts have excellent restaurants and are very convenient to get to. By making a reservation at a resort restaurant, you’re not necessarily committed to a particular park that day. Leaving a theme park for a short while to take a break and have a nice meal can re-energize you for the rest of the day. A basic ticket will allow you re-entry to the same park you left. So when you look at the list of restaurants available at a given theme park, take note of the nearby resorts as well.
A few things to note:
- If participating in the Disney Dining Plan, please consult your plan guide for a list of participating restaurants.
- Some restaurants require a credit card to make a reservation. Should you need to cancel, make sure you do so at least 24 hours before your reservation so you won’t get charge a no-show fee of $10 per person on the reservation.
- Multiple reservations on the same day cannot be within 2 hours of each other
- Leaving one park to dine in another will require having the Park Hopper option on your tickets.
In my opinion, Disney does a great job of providing guests with a wide variety of dining options. They are also very good about handling requests of guests with allergies or other dietary needs, so be sure to let them know. However you choose to plan your dining at Walt Disney World, I hope this has helped.
So what are your Disney Dining tips? We’d love to hear them. Tell us in the comments below!