Using Disney's website to find and make the best dining choices at Walt Disney World
Written by Anthony Murphy
One of the most popular experiences at Walt Disney World is dining at its more than 250 restaurants. With four parks, more than 30 resorts, and Downtown Disney, you can find dining options for every taste and group. While you still can call 407-WDW-DINE for reservations, Disney has released My Disney Experience which allows guests to plan out their entire trip online -- including dining (and even attraction times for guests staying in selected resorts who get access to FastPass+).
Making dining reservations online is a great option for all guests: both first timers and veterans. The website allows you to filter restaurants based on price, location, and cuisine, which allows first time guests to really get a visual idea of the reservation that is lacking over the phone. It also allows veterans to skip much of the fine print that is stated with every reservation (park admission is not included, etc). I hope to give advice that will allow you to get into the restaurants you want and find good alternates, if needed.
The dining reservation site allows you to filter under the following parameters: Parks/Resorts, Price, Cuisine, ratings (based on TripAdvisor.com), and Disney Dining plans. This is also the place to make reservation for the dinner shows and special dining events such as character dining. Many of the more popular restaurants require a $10 security fee which will be charged if you don’t show up. They do give you ample time to cancel so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but that's good to know.
The website has become pretty user friendly, but I have a few suggestions/rules for you to get the most out of your search:
1. Book Early: Probably the biggest tip that lots of guests miss, you get to make the dining reservation 180 days before the day you arrive. If you stay at a Disney Resort, you can start making reservations for the entire trip. Non-resort guests would need to wait at least 180 days before each day. As with everything with theme parks, the earlier the better!
2. Choose your date and time: If you know that you want to go for a fun lunch on Monday or a romantic dinner a Saturday night, the website allows you to filter down and show the only restaurants that have available seating at the date and time. I would suggest choosing a rough time instead of going with the Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner choices. I find them very subjective and if your time is not available, they will give the next best time. Sometimes this is only a half hour off.
3. Choose your location: If you know you are going to Epcot or another park, just put that information into the filter and it you will see all the dining options available around that time. This is especially helpful for Epcot, which has the most restaurants that take reservations.
4. Check for events: Depending on when you go, there might be special events going on at the parks. While these are usually not to miss, they tend to make reservations a bit tougher. This is mostly at Epcot, but is usually on the weekends. This is a good tip to avoid crowds too.
5. Keep checking back: Don’t see the restaurant available on the day you want? Keep checking back to see if there is an opening. Many reservations change so there is usually a good possibility that there might be an opening if you are persistent and keep checking.
I know that the Disney dining experience can be a little daunting, but here is my family’s time tested strategies for getting reservations:
Magic Kingdom: Quite possibly the toughest in-park dining reservations to get because this park has two of the most requested reservations in all of the Disney Parks: Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest restaurants. If you request them on the first days you can make reservations, you usually can get them. Cinderella‘s Royal Table is prepay so it is important not to miss this reservation. Magic Kingdom does have some other excellent alternatives including Liberty Tree Tavern, Crystal Palace (good character dining for older kids and adults), and Tony’s Town Square Restaurant.
Epcot: As mentioned, this place has the most restaurants that take reservations. I would suggest looking at selections early just to give you more options. The only restaurant that is notoriously crowded is Le Cellier. If you really want to dine at a steakhouse, I would highly recommend Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club Resort. Another great find is the new Hacienda de San Angel (Mexico). We try to get the 8:15 reservation so that we can watch and listen to illuminations (the restaurant is right on the lagoon with huge windows and music played inside the place). Lunch usually gives you the most options for reservations. Lunch usually is less expensive and offers specials. Our usual “go to” restaurants that are usually walk up or easier to get reservations are: Nine Dragons (China) and Biergarden (Germany). Epcot also has princess dining in Norway which is a good alternative to Cinderella’s Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom. Plus Mom and Dad can get an “adult beverage”.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Advanced reservations are not usually needed. If you know the date you are going to DHS, book a reservation. I recommend 50’s Prime Time Café or Sci Fi Dine In. Hollywood and Vine Character Dining is here and is a very popular option with Disney Junior aged kids.
Disney's Animal Kingdom: Because there are so few table service restaurants at DAK, we usually look for reservations at this place first when planning a trip. Besides character Dining, the only three options are Yak and Yeti, Tusker House and Rainforest Café. Rainforest Café is common in our area of the country, so we try for the Yak and Yeti. Advance Reservations are usually not hard for this park, but walkups are nearly impossible
Walt Disney World Resort Hotels: Many resorts offer great dining options which also include Character Dining and Dinner Shows. We try to stay away from the Magic Kingdom Resorts because reservations tend to be tough. One of our favorites near there, though, is the Hoop de Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness Resort. It is all you can eat (and drink) with live singing and dancing. If you have teenage kids (or no kids), Hoop-dee-Doo revue does have an 8:30 show that is usually less crowded, less expensive, and a little looser (the jokes are a little more suggestive, but still PG). The other great area to check from restaurants is the Epcot area. Many do not know, but there is a secret entrance that connects Epcot to the Beach Club and the Boardwalk. In fact, you can take a boat directly from Epcot to these resorts. They are full of some of the best kept dining secrets and reservations are usually not too difficult. These places also make a good alternative to Epcot if it is full.
Dining is a big part of the Disney experience, but make sure that you enjoy the food and have fun. Disney World has many dining options that allow you to experience the ambiance, food, and time with your family. Feel free to leave questions and comments in the section below. I would love to hear about your dining experiences!
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