This past summer, we visited Disney World and had the opportunity to try some new restaurants and revisit old favorites. It was our fourth trip to Disney World in the past decade (check out our adventures staying at the Polynesian Resort and the Contemporary Resort and our adventures at Disney Springs. ) We had previously written about some of our favorite dining spots in this post, but thought we’d share two important updates. This week, we’re sharing eleven tips for making Disney dining reservations and next week we’ll be sharing some of our favorite dining experiences. Note: This post has been fact checked as of December 2022, but Disney is always updating their policies, menus, special events, and pricing, so it’s best to call Disney directly to confirm policies and pricing.
11 Tips for Making Disney World Dining Reservations:
- Book early! You can book dining reservations as early as 60 days from your date of arrival if you are staying on property. I highly suggest marking your calendar and logging on at 7am on the 60 day mark to try and reserve as many meals as possible. (The inventory will be the same whether you call or book online) Because you can book reservations for your entire stay (up to 10 days), you are more likely to get some of the more popular reservations towards the end of your visit.
- Make sure you have created an account on MyDisneyExperience.com. I found it easier to create the account on a computer (versus a phone) to load all my information and then felt more comfortable using the mobile app for making and updating reservations. Save all your personal information and link accounts with everyone that you are traveling with to ensure they are on your profile. Also add your credit card information. This will save valuable time when you want to confirm a reservation; it’s much easier to click and select dining guests and confirm credit card rather than having to type out all the information for each reservation. Note: Everyone, including babies who won’t actually eat anything, count for reservation purposes (even if they are not going to eat). All restaurants must adhere to a fire code in terms of number of people in a space and even infants count towards that number; plus, Disney will want to make sure they have room for a highchair at the table.
- Keep checking the Disney app if you don’t see what you want. People are constantly canceling reservations, especially as the date gets closer, so there’s a good chance a reservation will become available. And do not be afraid to try your luck last minute with a walk up; many times (not during holiday or vacation weeks at peak hours) there is availability.
4. Don’t be afraid to leave (some) reservations up to chance and try a walk up. While Disney has become more scheduled over the years (especially post pandemic), they are people who swear by leaving everything to chance and just walking up and asking to be seated and having great success. As we said in #3, people cancel reservations all the time, and you may just get lucky.
5. Try eating at “off times”. This is the tip that has always worked best for my family. We will often eat at less popular times, and often try and eat two major meals a deal: a late breakfast/early lunch around 10:30-11am and then an early dinner around 4pm. This time frame works really well if you are having a resort day and not going into the parks, and also if your family’s schedule is not typical (ie, you like to sleep in and start your day around 10am or you like to get the kids to bed early, around 7pm). The crowds are smaller, the staff is very attentive, and we usually get more one on one time with characters.
6. Consider whether character dining matters to your family. For our family, we always looked at character dining as a 2-for-1 time saver (eat a meal AND more pleasant photo opt experience with characters). This way, we didn’t have to spend time waiting in line for the characters or using a GeniePlus/Lightning Lane on a Character Meet n Greet. Plus, some of the more popular character dining (like Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary and Hoop-Dee-Doo Review at Fort Wilderness) have photographers who will take great photos of your family and link them to your PhotoPass account. However, if photo opts and meet and greets with characters do not matter to your family, you may not want to spend the money on some of the more expensive character dining options.
7. Consider what type of eaters your family are. Are you more of the grazers or prefer to have a traditional three course meal? Since the pandemic, Disney has changed some of their menu options to serve food more “family style” (larger platters of food for the whole group). However, most restaurants traditionally offer either a buffet, a three course meal, or an a la carte meal. If you have little kids who will eat a small amount, it may not make financial sense to go to a fancier three course restaurant (unless the characters are important, see #6). While planning, check and see if the Disney Dining Plans have been reinstated; they are a great option IF your group are big eaters.
8. Know about allergy friendly locations and meal options. Most restaurant menus now include gluten free and vegan options, and Disney does a great job of accommodating special dietary needs. A few good blogs on gluten free dining here and here.
9. Save time by sticking with one location: Moving from park to park or resort can take up to an hour or longer based on crowds. If you’re spending the day at the park, consider dining in the park or saving your resort dining options for breakfast before you head into a park or for dinner, after you leave the park for the day. We often use dinner as the meal that allowed us to explore various resorts. I love seeing as many Disney properties as possible, and most resorts have several restaurants at every price point. Again, consider eating “off peak hours”, but take note that many resort restaurants close in between services for an hour or two, and some are only open for breakfast and dinner or just dinner (which sometimes cramps my 10:30am breakfast or 4pm dinner style).
10. Let Disney know if you are celebrating a special occasion: Who wouldn’t want Disney characters to sing happy birthday to them?!? When you make a reservation online (or over the phone) you will be asked if you are celebrating anything special. Be sure to indicate if you are, and cast members will recognize it in a special way.
11. Know the cancellation policy: Most Disney dining reservations have a very liberal (some as last minute as two hours before the reservation) policy, but there are some exceptions. The system will alert you to the policy for the specific restaurant when you make the reservation. And don’t be surprised if a couple of restaurants have guests prepay for the meal, like Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom.
As Disney is always updating their policies, make sure to check online for the latest information
Note: There are many social media groups that obsess about dining reservations at Disney properties and have spawned many apps that claim to alert you when popular reservations become available. We have never used these apps (some of the fees seem extraordinarily high) so we cannot attest to their reliability.