Walt Disney World Wish List: Fix the Mess with Dining Reservations
(Editor's note: Updates below)
Just about everyone who's planned a Walt Disney World vacation has faced the frustration of trying to get dining reservations for their trip. Getting an ADR [advance dining reservation] isn't tough for just the most popular table-service restaurants around the resort — even getting into average restaurants can challenge Disney visitors.
Many fans have blamed the emergence of the Disney Dining Plan for the difficulty. By locking users into a per-determined number of table-service meals, certain versions of the dining plan encourage users to book those meals early to ensure that they get what they've paid for, limiting availability at these restaurants for other diners. But some fans have wondered if there are additional factors in play. It almost seems as if many ADRs are being hoarded before the fans who would use those tables get a fair chance to book them.
Disney World fans, you're not being paranoid. It appears that there are people gaming the ADR system. Disney management could earn an enormous amount of goodwill from its loyal fans by cleaning up this mess and taking steps to ensure that ADRs actually go to the people who will use them... and not to middlemen who are trying to sell these reservations, or access to them, instead.
Does getting into Be Our Guest really need to be this difficult?
A quick Google search will return several websites that claim to be able to obtain ADRs for Disney World visitors, for a price. Sites such as Disney Dining Buddy, Dis Dining Agent, and WDW Table Finder say that they can get hard-to-book reservations for restaurants such as Be Our Guest and Cinderella's Royal Table, typically for about $7-8 per ADR.
How could a ADR reseller do it? There are several possibilities. The same way that ticket brokers/scalpers (take your pick) get seats to popular games and concerts. A reseller could employ people or automated bots to hit Disney's website the moment that reservations become available, booking as many as they can. Then the reseller could either transfer the ADRs to their customers or tell the customer when they are canceling them, so the customer can book the ADR as soon as it drops back into the system.
(*Update: Snapping up reservations and distributing them to your website users is nothing new. One group did that with the reservations for Cinderella's Royal Table in the early 2000s, which eventually prompted Disney to require credit card deposits, and even prepayments, for some WDW ADRs. The group making the Cindy's reservations did not charge the visitors to whom it transferred the reservations, but it did gain control over the restaurant's seating by creating an artificial scarcity of seats.
From multiple reports, Dis Dining Agent appears to be one service that is reselling reservations it has made. Disney Dining Buddy does not resell reservations, but notifies clients when reservations re-enter the system. WDW Table Finder also writes on Twitter its computer system monitors Disney's for available openings, then informs its customers when they become available.
No matter how these individual services operate, Disney could save its guests the hassle of having to constantly search its reservation systems -- or paying someone else to do that for them -- by implementing a more fair reservation system that is truly first-come, first-served. We will get to that in a bit.)
Disney's taken a hard stand against the reselling its admission tickets, lobbying the Florida legislature for anti-scalping laws and changing its ticket media to make transferring tickets nearly impossible. Why should Disney then just look the other way when some people essentially "scalp" ADRs?
Disney could end this practice swiftly, if it wanted to. For its guests' sake, it should. Here is what Disney can do immediately:
- With a single court filing, Disney can shut down businesses that use the trademarked word "Disney" in their business or domain name.
- Disney can make clear with a notice on its website and in spiels to telephone callers that selling ADRs is forbidden and guests who do so will forfeit their ADRs and their tickets and be banned from park property permanently.
- Disney also can make clear to its cast members that any CM who sells ADRs or assists in the selling of ADRs will be terminated immediately and placed on a no-rehire list.
With a bit of technical effort, Disney could take the following steps, as well:
- Disney could require a valid ticket for the date of the reservation in order to make an ADR, as it does with Fastpass+ attraction reservations. This step alone would reduce the volume of months-in-advance reservations being made, making more reservation times easier to get for more guests.
- Disney could limit the number of ADRs that could be made by each ticket holder, further restricting over-booking.
- Once a restaurant is "sold out" on a specific date, Disney could maintain a wait list of reservation-seekers, then assign cancelled ADRs to them in order of their initial request. This would cut off one way that ADR resellers use to transfer reservations to their customers (*Update - and make irrelevant pay-per-use services that constantly monitor Disney's website for ADR openings). Again, a valid ticket for the date of the reservation would be required to make the ADR.
A Walt Disney World vacation represents a major expense for the resort's visitors. Those guests shouldn't have to face extra charges to pay off middlemen who are exploiting or even have helped create a shortage of ADRs. So we're adding a better, more honest ADR system to our wish list for the resort.
Yes! I can't get a BOG reservation 6 months in advance in November! Usually one of the slowest weeks of the year. I can't imagine what people go through to get them during the busy times. Thanks for posting.
We have traveled to Walt Disney World at the end of August for a few years in a row now. We stay on property and book our ADR's exactly 180 days out (with my husband logging on at midnight of the 180th day out!). With this method, we have never had a problem getting the dining reservations we wanted, but we do go to the extreme. I had no idea this was even a problem! Disney should definitely address this problem; I think your suggestions are great ones! Somebody at Disney, get on this!
Yeah it's very annoying and upsetting at times when we can't book a family meal at any of restaurants we want to visit, months in advance. Really good advice for Disney. I think your tip of requiring valid tickets is an excellent idea and definitely should be required when dining in a park.
I don't think the Disney Dining Plan is really hogging up the reservations. They certainly are a big factor, but anyone can make a reservation with a credit card. While the DDP users can link their plan with the My Experience app and MyMagic+ MagicBand, Disney doesn't rely on having a DDP to make the reservation. Users can call the toll free line or do an online reservation. A DDP suggests they already made an on-site resort reservation and presumes their admission passes will be used on that trip. On the other hand, Fastpass+ reservations are reserved on the admission passes.
Good suggestions for WDW to address this issue, Robert! I didn't realize there were so many ways for guests to get around the reservation system. Last summer I encountered a family who happily brought their wheelchair-bound "grandma" to Magic Kingdom. They hired "grandma" for the day to use the handicapped access services. Sometimes people leave me speechless.
When BOG breakfast times were released for November I knew I would have to be up early. I happened to be up at 1am the day before they were supposed to be released and they already were. So I managed to book 3 tables of 12 fro our group of 36. I advised some friends who were going the same time and they tried at 2pm that same day and they were all gone for the entire week. This is after all of us trying to get some for dinner or lunch at the 180 day mark. I tried at 9am and got nothing 180 days out for an entire trip that is 14 days. Something is wrong with that.
"So I managed to book 3 tables of 12 fro our group of 36"
The real trick with ADR's is to keep trying. We changed our October trip to the beginning of August and hadonly 3weeks to rebook all the dining reservations. I would look 3-4x /day and were able to get all of our original restaurants which included Crystal Palace, Mama Melrose', Akershus breakfast, Via Napoli, Be Our Guest, Tusker House, Nine Dragons and Chef Mickey's. Most were suppers between 5pm and 6:30pm, 2 lunches at 12:30 and the princess breakfast at 10:30am which became brunch. These reservations seem to become available to book around lunch and supper time. So if you do not get what you want at 180days please keep trying, people change their plans all the time!
This is a rather interesting subject to me - I really loved having Crystal Palace breakfast reservations pre-park opening and BOG for dinner and never thought it was a big deal until I saw all the frustration with people who were unable to book these in the subsequent months on various websites. My line of thinking is more about the regular people out there. I feel bad for families that plan expensive, once in a lifetime trips and are not available to have special meals due to people abusing the system. I hope that Disney will consider the simple changes you suggest, because these experiences shouldn't be just for those who are crazy Disney addicts or vacation planner enthusiasts -
The ADR system is a huge problem. I do think the DDP is part of it, which is magnified during times of the year when the DDP is offered free or discounted as part of a promotion. I know Anon will want to banter about it, but it's a fact that many guests on the DDP strive to get the most value out of it. There are websites and forums devoted to getting the most out of the DDP. If people weren't doing it, those websites wouldn't exist, so it's definitely happening. That means the restaurants that offer the most expensive meals for the fewest number of credits will tend to book faster. If there were no DDP, restaurants would book on reputation and monetary value alone.
@Russell: "I know Anon will want to banter about it, but it's a fact that many guests on the DDP strive to get the most value out of it."
Really and truly, while I understand the frustration that people are feeling about not being able to get ADRs, the majority of the suggestions that are being made to alleviate the issue are impossible to implement - at least without causing an immense outrage from guests.
A few months ago, Star Wars Weekends was at Disney's Hollywood Studios. In the weeks leading up to the first SWW, I was on a SWW fan message board where everyone was scrambling to get ADRs for all the special meal events that were being offered. I watched as dozens of people on that message board started to get as many ADRs they could, at as many different times they could. As the days passed, they were still deciding which ADR they wanted and all understood that they had so many ADRs that they could not physically use them all.
I simply don't agree with some of your points Dawn...There's absolutely no reason guests cannot be limited to 1 advanced (whether it be the current 180 days or 90 days or less as I recommended) ADR per day and then allow guests to make additional ADRs the week prior to a trip. There are far too many people hoarding ADRs and making 4, 5, 6, and sometimes more ADRs for a single day, and then waiting until the week prior to decide which ones they want to keep. If you don't think this is happening, go take a look at the popular Disney message boards and see for yourself. Because certain ADRs tend to be more scarce, guests are deliberately booking multiple restaurants all at the same time 180 days out, and then discussing with friends and family a few weeks before they leave to hammer out exactly what they want to keep. It's like a person running through the store grabbing every copy of a hot item and then walking around deciding if they really want to buy it and then dumping it at the register in the re-shop cart. That's an abuse of the system that really needs to stop. The only way I see that Disney can stop that from occurring is either limiting the number of ADRs a person can have for any given day or limit the number of cancellations. I can somewhat see your point about the fact that people's schedules and plans can change, but the lax cancellation policy is what is causing people to overbook ADRs and locking out the system to guests who are not as quick on the trigger.
The Disney Dining Plan (DDP) was great the first time I used it. But after that, we realized that we were spending more time dining than we wanted. The plan changed a little… The first time, we had full dinners for the plan with Table Service. But the next time, we were told (on numerous occasions) that the vegetables/sides were not included. We’re back to the old plan of just pas-as-you-go.
Some good points, Russell. Some thoughts:
Companies are not "selling" ADRs in the purest sense of the word, meaning they are making a reservation and then transferring it to you for a fee. However, companies are profiting by providing information regarding ADR availability for a fee. This "business model" is as unscrupulous as those that rented disabled people to groups or sell information about WDW that is readily available. They prey on the ignorance/technological incompetence of guests that want to give their kids the world and are willing to pay any price to give their little ones the best WDW vacation they can. The companies go onto the ADR system every day and grab highly desirable restaurants and times. Then they provide their paid subscribers the days and times when those ADRs are released. The companies also scan the available ADRs inside the 180 day window on a constant basis and snatch up dwindling inventory of desirable ADRs, and again provide information to their paid subscribers when those ADRs are released. These "services" are the lowest of the low, yet desperate people making their first and only trip to WDW with their little princesses will do whatever it takes to get into the Castle during peak dinner time.
To limit hoarding, they do need to prioritize reservations by those that have bought admission tickets plus made hotel reservations and/or bought the dining plan. Give those people advance 180 days reservations privileges. Fastpass+ privileges kick in at the 60 day mark. Then, release the remaining restaurant reservations to the day trippers 60 days prior that already bought admission tickets and opened an account on My Disney Experience. The day trippers will have Fastpass+ privileges 30 day prior.
I think you might be on to something with the staggering, Anon. I don't think it'll limit hoarding, but it will lessen competition.
Dawn: You say limiting won't work without saying why it can't work. It's a matter of prioritizing on-site guests and people with pre-paid admission tickets who already decided they will be there. Everyone else will make reservations later like 60 days before. Resort restaurant reservations don't require a ticket certainly, but priority to resort guests is the point.
Here's a crazy idea. CANCEL all ADRs and just make EVERYTHING available to people who walk up to the restaurant at the time they want to eat. Seriously tired of ALL the BS that goes with going to Disney.
I think Anon is onto something. If you're able to lock down what guests can see in the system, it eliminates the ability of outsiders to hoard dwindling supply and/or sell availability information through pinging. If those allowed to make reservation 180 days in advance (personally, I think this should be no more than 90) are required to have hotel reservations and park tickets, they are only allowed to book for the days they're at WDW. If a guest just has park tickets with no hotel reservation, they would not be allowed to access the ADR system until 30 or 60 days in advance (since Disney can't verify what days those guests will actually be visiting), giving confirmed resort guests plenty of time to pick and choose what they want. However, as Anon noted, you need to place limits on those guests so they don't gobble up everything so APs and off-site guests and APs can still get some of the more desirable ADRs. I think Anon's suggestion is rather liberal, and allowing 3 reservations in a single park is a little much...Personally, I would limit it to 1 or 2 TS reservations unless the guests have purchased the Deluxe DDP. On the other hand, booking multiple meals in the same venue on a single trip is something that I don't think you can put limits on. If someone wants to eat at CRT every day of their trip, be my guest. I don't think people making multiple visits to the same establishment is a real problem...Also, I think the biggest problems are with the in-park restaurants, not the resort restaurants. Yes, there are some exceedingly popular resort meals like Ohana and the Hoop Dee Doo Review, which already have their own separate ADR rules. However, most of the resort restaurants are relatively easy to book, and if any limits are placed on the number of ADRs in a trip or in a single day, those rules should be geared towards the in-park table service restaurants. Even California Grill during Wishes has become an easier get after the recent renovations were completed, and Chef Mickey's before MK opening has become a rather easy booking as well.
Actually, Anon, I did say why it wouldn't work - it's not a logistics thing (park passes, etc.) It's a behavioral issue - telling guests that they can't experience two completely different meals just because they are held in the same venue will cause dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction causes less spending and less customer return. Granted, it doesn't seem like Disney is really concentrating on retention right now (FP+, I'm looking at you), but less spending would definitely make them take notice.
In Southern CA, where I live, few people eat at the table service restaurants. It just isn't obsessed over like at Disney World. I was certainly interested in eating at the Blue Bayou restaurant at Disneyland where the novelty was sitting next to the water while the boats leave the docks at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but many people don't care much. Anyone can easily get a reservation a week in advance. Many people choose to eat there at the last minute and you can get a table with 60 minutes or longer of waiting (a waste of time for most).
Hm... let me think about this for a second. Good points...
Disney will not get rid of ADRs, as it would likely impact the sales of the DDPs.
"Think of the DVC people who come for two or more weeks at a time and have APs. Not being able to reserve more than 10 restaurants in 60 days, when paying all that money for DVC, is not going to go over well."
Why not just limit reservations to 3 per day - one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner(all in respective time frames like breakfast 7a-10:30a, lunch 10:45-3p and dinner 3:30-on)?
"Why not just limit reservations to 3 per day - one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner(all in respective time frames like breakfast 7a-10:30a, lunch 10:45-3p and dinner 3:30-on)?"
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