Disney World: Dining Reservations

Dinner Entree at Cinderella's Royal Table

So, Disney World... I never thought the D word would find a place on my blog, but when you have kids, you are forced to adapt! My oldest has been begging us to take her Disney for nearly 2 years. My plan has always been to go once our youngest no longer needs a nap, but I caved. After all, there’s no tired like Disney tired, and we have a great reclining double stroller.

I found planning our first Disney trip to be ten times more daunting than planning our first trip to Asia—there are just so many things to know, pre-bookings to be made, timelines to keep track of, and rules to know. I honestly didn’t even know where to start, but for me, planning a trip is as much fun as actually going on it. So, I dove headlong into this planning adventure, and after going through the entire process, I have a ton of tips to share that I learned along the way. Hopefully, they will help simplify your trip planning experience.

I wish I had a week or two free to get my thoughts down, but I have a feeling organizing all of this info is going to take a while. So, I plan to post my tips as time allows, and once I’m done, I’ll organize them into an easy checklist within one post with links to each individual tip's details. Today, I’m going to start off with my favorite topic—Dining Reservations!

Disney has become a bit of a foodie destination. There are options for an eclectic range of tastes across various price ranges. Disney has everything from high-end ten-course tasting menus to corner hotdog stands. In addition, the park hosts several food festivals throughout the year. Along with the famous Food & Wine Festival, Disney puts on a Flower & Garden Festival and an International Festival of the Arts annually at Epcot, both focused around global tasting menus.

On our trip, I very much enjoyed the non-scheduled freedom of visiting Disney’s quick service options, as well as tasting around the world at the Flower & Garden Festival going on at Epcot. However, pre-booking at least some sit-down dining reservations prior to your trip is key for a number of reasons. All restaurants, with the exception of Quick Service*, require reservations at Disney. That’s not to say that some restaurants (particularly those in Disney Springs and on the Boardwalk) will not potentially take a walk-in if they have availability, but the most popular reservations can actually fully book at the 180 day mark—or before. This includes favorites like Character Dining, Hoop Dee Doo Review, the Sunday-only California Grill Brunch, and many of Disney's best culinary experiences. To avoid disappointment, knowing where you want to eat before your dining reservation window opens is key.

Left: Akershus Hot Platter; Center: Ohana Breakfast (Served Family Style); Right: Kid's Meal at Trattoria al Forno's Breakfast

You can officially begin booking your Disney dining reservations online at 6am EST 180 days prior to the beginning of your Disney vacation. However, how you go about pre-booking your dining reservations depends upon where you are staying:

If Staying at a Disney-Owned Property (Excludes the Marriott-owned Swan/Dolphin, Shades of Green, Disney Springs area hotels, and those off-property):

If you are staying with Disney, dining reservations open 180 days prior to your trip. You can book your reservations for the entire trip at that point, up to 10 days (if you are going for longer than 10 days, you will need to make your reservations for those days on each subsequent morning as Disney opens that date for dining reservations). So, if you want a particularly coveted reservation (ex. Cinderella’s Royal Table at the castle), you have a better chance of getting it if you plan that particular experience for later in your trip. This is because people who have earlier trip start dates that intersect with your dates have already had a chance to book those dates. Start with the reservations that you think could potentially sell out first and work your way down in popularity. If you can’t get the one you want, book an alternate option and keep trying over the next few months. Reservations are cancelled all the time (I have tips on that farther down).

You can begin making reservations at 6am EST online and 7am EST by phone (407-WDW-DINE (939-3463)). So, obviously, booking online gives you a head start. You will need a credit card to hold your reservation. A handful of signature dining experiences—like Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Hoop Dee Doo Review—also require payment up front. To expedite the online booking process, prior to your 180 day mark, ensure you have a Disney account set up with a credit card linked to it. You can set up a Disney account here (click on "Sign In or Create Account" at the top of the page). If you have an account, to add your credit card, login and go to "My Disney Experience" at the upper right of the Disney World website. Click on "Profile" and find "Payment Method" located at the bottom of the page to add your credit card. To ensure you get access to the 10 day booking window for your trip, you must also check prior to your 180 day mark that your hotel reservation is tied to your online Disney account. (Go to "My Disney Experience" at the upper right of the Disney World website and select "My Plans" from the drop down; once the page loads, if you do not see your reservation, hover over the "Resort Hotel" icon on your dashboard and select Link a Reservation--you will need your confirmation number to add the reservation).

On the morning of your 180 day mark, login to your account and go to "My Disney Experience" and select "Reserve Dining" from the drop-down. Search for the restaurant you plan to book first, select it, and be ready to click "Check Availability" on its page at exactly 6am. From there, select the available time you wish to book and follow the system prompts.

Note: You can also use the My Disney Experience app to book your Dining Reservations. From the home screen, simply click on the "+" icon at the bottom center, select "Reserve Dining," and follow the system prompts.

If Staying at a Non-Disney-Owned Property (Includes the Marriott-owned Swan/Dolphin, Shades of Green, Disney Springs area hotels, and those off-property):

If you are not staying at a Disney-owned property, you will have to book the dining reservations for your trip at the 180 day out mark for each day of your stay. Unlike those staying with Disney, you do not get to book your whole trip at the 180 day mark, so you are at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of availability. When trying to snag a highly coveted reservation, your best bet is to try to pick dates that the location may be less crowded (ex. a Tuesday vs. a Saturday at Magic Kingdom for Cinderella’s Royal Table). If you don’t have your heart set on a specific park itinerary up front, you could also try each day to see if you luck out getting your top pick(s) and go from there.

You can begin making reservations at 6am EST online and 7am EST by phone (407-WDW-DINE (939-3463)). So, obviously, booking online gives you a head start. You will need a credit card to hold your reservation. A handful of signature dining experiences—like Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Hoop Dee Doo Review—also require payment up front. To expedite the online booking process, prior to your 180 day mark, ensure you have a Disney account set up with a credit card linked to it. You can set up a Disney account here (click on "Sign In or Create Account" at the top of the page). If you have an account, to add your credit card, login and go to "My Disney Experience" at the upper right of the Disney World website. Click on "Profile" and find "Payment Method" located at the bottom of the page to add your credit card.

On the morning of your 180 day mark, login to your account and go to "My Disney Experience" and select "Reserve Dining" from the drop-down. Search for the restaurant you plan to book first, select it, and be ready to click "Check Availability" on its page at exactly 6am. From there, select the available time you wish to book and follow the system prompts. You will need to repeat these steps for each of the subsequent days until you have completed your trip's bookings.

Note: You can also use the My Disney Experience app to book your Dining Reservations. From the home screen, simply click on the "+" icon at the bottom center, select "Reserve Dining," and follow the system prompts.

Left: Cheese Plate at Wine Bar George; Center: Shrimp Francese at Il Mulino; Right: Clock Strikes Twelve at Cinderella's Royal Table

Additional Key Tips and Details:

If You Don’t Initially Get Your Top Picks:

Some Character Meals and specialty experiences are highly coveted and thus can be difficult to snag, particularly if you are staying off-property or if the meal falls toward the beginning of your trip. The good news is, a lot can happen in 180 days, and reservations free up all the time. You just have to be ready to grab them when they do! One tool I found extremely helpful was Mouse Dining. You can create an account for free and set up to 5 alerts for dining reservations. If a reservation for one of your alerts frees up within an hour before or after your selected alert time, you will get a text/email (Note: this feature is free, but if you wish to set more than 5 alerts or avoid manually resetting your alerts after each time you are notified about an availability, they charge a fee; I did not feel the need to utilize those extra features.) You can’t monitor Disney’s availability all day every day, so this tool is quite helpful, but it can have a significant delay. There can be a few minute to a few hour gap between availability popping up on Disney’s website and when an opening alert is received--sometimes by the time I got the alert, the reservation was already taken. So, just keep in mind that the Disney website will still always be your fastest and most accurate avenue to availability.

Cancelling:

Cancelling is easy. Whether you just changed your mind or got a reservation you preferred somewhere else, as long as it’s within the window of cancellation, it’s no problem. You can manage your reservations from Disney’s website (My Disney Experience-->My Plans), their app on your smartphone, or their dining reservation phone line (407-WDW-DINE (939-3463)). If you pre-paid, that amount will be credited back to your credit card. Keep in mind, though, that you must cancel 24 hours in advance (unless instructed otherwise in the fine print on your reservation) or you may be charged from $10 per person up to the full cost of the experience depending upon the particular reservation restrictions. In the event of an emergency, though, try calling to explain the situation to a representative. Disney has a very good customer service policy and may be willing to work with you.

Making More Than One Reservation for the Same Meal:

Note sure if you want to eat an early dinner or a late one? Afraid your FastPass+ reservations (which you can’t book until 30-60 days out depending) may affect your plans? Couldn’t get exactly what you wanted, so you booked your second choice? Technically, you can book 2 reservations (at the same restaurant or a different one), but they must be at least 1.5 hours apart. Just make sure you cancel the one you don’t plan to use within the cancellation window. Remember, though, other people are probably trying desperately to get those same reservations, so cancel the ones you don’t plan on using as soon as you cement your plans out of courtesy.

OpenTable and Reservation Availability:

Some of the restaurants on property are not actually owned by Disney (ex. Il Mulino at the Swan). While you can book those restaurants through Disney, only so much of their space is allotted to Disney bookings. If you find that a restaurant you are looking for is showing as full and it is at Disney Springs, the Boardwalk, or the Swan/Dolphin, check OpenTable for possible availability. That’s how I scored my Mulino reservation.

Children Under 3:

Children under 3 MUST be included in your reservation count. You may not be able to be seated the day of your reservation if you arrive with more people than your reservation was for (including infants). At buffets, you will not be charged for children under 3—just ensure that your server is aware. They can eat off of the buffet like any other children in your party on Mickey. At regular sit-down service, you have a few options. You can order them a children’s meal and pay like you would any other child, you can share with them (from your meal or another child’s), or sometimes, if you ask, your server will provide a small portion of something (ex. a side of noodles with sauce or a pancake) at no additional charge.

Food Allergy Note:

Disney is amazing with food allergies. My daughter is highly allergic to fish, and the chefs were wonderful everywhere we went. For starters, if someone in your party has an allergy, ensure you denote it on the reservation notes when booking (or you can add it to your reservations later by calling 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463)). When you check-in at the restaurant, ensure the host knows and subsequently your server (Disney seems to have this process down pat, but I always felt better double-checking). This kept anyone from bringing any (potentially contaminated) items to the table without the chef knowing. If you are eating at a buffet, the server will bring a list of the items on the buffet with a checklist of what allergens they contain. If you still have questions, the Chef will gladly come and speak with you. If you are ordering off of the regular menu, the Chef will come out to your table to talk to you about your allergy/dietary restrictions and what items are safe and/or can be modified to meet your needs. The process was extremely painless, and I found it exceedingly comforting to know that Disney goes the extra mile to make eating with an allergy as safe as possible. [Note: Disney claims no liability for potential cross contamination in their kitchens in the fine print of their reservations, but they do their absolute best to try to avoid any issues for their customers. If you have a severe food allergy, consult with your allergist and the chef and ensure you are comfortable with the situation prior to consuming anything.]

Now that you understand the booking process, the next logical question is: Which restaurants should I book?

Choosing where to eat at Disney is easily its own blog post (if not several). Whether your interest is character dining, unique experiences, cultural cuisines, or eclectic buffets, there's something for everyone. I plan to tackle this complicated question next, so stay tuned!

*Note: Be Our Guest is an exception to the Quick Service rule. While the restaurant is considered Quick Service for breakfast and lunch, it still requires a reservation (and bookings fill quickly).

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About Me

I would like to say that for as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to travel, that it’s always been in my blood. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I found the thought of leaving the country daunting, but...

 

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