Throughout my time as a Cast Member at Walt Disney World and now as a planner for Mouseketrips, there has been one overwhelming guest theme. No guest can seem to get the elusive dining reservation. They stare longingly over the barrier at Chef Mickey’s. They wait outside of Be Our Guest to try to hijack someone’s leftovers. They try to con their way into Le Cellier through bribes and trickery. Sadly, none of these are effective methods at A. Acquiring the perfect picture with the fab five, B. Trying the Grey Stuff because it’s delicious, or C. Eating so much pretzel bread you just don’t have room for Filet Mignon. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Should have made a reservation 180 days prior to your check-in.
Now, planning a Disney trip for the first time without doing any research or having any help is the ultimate recipe for disaster. So if you are reading this article, you’re probably two steps ahead of the competition. That means that when you see someone’s face pressed up against the glass, it will be from your table at Narcoossee’s, not outside in the cold (sometimes Florida evening can be as shockingly cool as 60 degrees).
Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts regarding your Disney Dining experience:
- DO book your dining reservations as far in advance as possible. 180 days in advance if at all possible. Have your travel agent call at 7 AM to book for you, or you can even call yourself at 407-WDW-DINE.
- DON’T add the Disney Dining Plan without making enough reservations to make it worth while. If you are staying 7 nights, you should book at least enough to take up 6 table service credits of dining, though 7 is better.
- DO have a back-up plan if the restaurant you were hoping for isn’t available. Have alternates.
- DON’T yell at your Travel Agent or Disney Operator if the restaurant you are looking for is unavailable.
- DO call back to check for cancellations. Like the elusive white deer, these do happen from time to time.
- DON’T stand outside at the podium and harass the host/hostess. It will get you on YouTube but going viral isn’t always a good thing. And it likely won’t get you into the restaurant you are looking for, anyway.
- DO try out the hidden gems. The secret to Disney Dining is that if a restaurant isn’t performing up to par, it is removed and replaced in no time. Ask celebrity chef Cat Cora or the good people at Spoodles. This means all of Disney’s restaurants are basically excellent, though some are hyped a bit more than others. Try something like Sanaa, 50’s Prime Time Cafe or the Yachtsman Steakhouse.
- DON’T book more dining than you can handle. If you book breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every day you are at Disney, you’ll likely have to be rolled onto your departing Magical Express bus like Violet was rolled out of Willy Wonka’s factory. Disney portions are NOT small. Deluxe Dining Plan participants may find this out the hard way, but it is a great plan if you plan on doing one Signature Restaurant or Dinner Show every night, and maybe a character breakfast in the morning.
- DO book your reservations geographically, especially if you don’t have a Park Hopper pass. What does this mean? As wonderful as the food at Epcot is, you should be aware that if you eat there every night, you’ll likely be viewing Illuminations every night. It’s wise to have a sort of strategy when booking your dining. Book something in Epcot on night one, something in Magic Kingdom on night two, and something in Hollywood Studios on night three.
- DON’T forget that some of these places have a great view of fireworks shows i.e. The California Grill’s view of Magic Kingdom or La Hacienda’s view of Illuminations. These are a great way to guarantee a comfortable seat for those precious shows. Just make certain to make your reservation approximately an hour before showtime or you’ll have to eat extraordinarily slowly.
- DO ask the Cast Member on the line or your Travel Planner for advice regarding dining reservations. They have probably tried lots of the restaurants you have questions about and may know of hidden gem alternatives.
- DON’T forget about your Quick Service options. You might be surprised at the variety you’ll find, especially at the resorts. For example, Port Orleans Riverside has a build-your-own pasta bar that is cooked right in front of you.
- DO make an 8am reservation at Crystal Palace or Cinderella’s Royal Table, because they let you into the park before it opens. Walking down Main Street U.S.A. while no one else is on it makes you feel like you are, in fact, Walter Elias Disney walking through your very own creation.
- DON’T forget that you can possibly get an early or later reservation at these choice restaurants. Those times are often overlooked because everyone wants to eat at 6:15pm.
- DO verify that your Tables In Wonderland card is accepted at your restaurant of choice before making a reservation. It is not accepted everywhere and there is nothing so disappointing as bringing out that shiny card at the end of your expensive meal only to have it denied.
- DO book a Disney Cruise, because you don’t have to make any dining reservations.
Those are just a few of my suggestions to make the most out of your Disney Dining experience. What suggestions do you have?