Dining,  Disney Tips,  Planning Information

Advanced Dining Reservations & Disney Dining Plan – Planning 101

Dining at Walt Disney World is just as much an experience as any of the attractions or shows. It adds to the overall experience of your magical vacation. When planning, be sure to mark your calendar for your specific Disney Dining reservations date (more information below), so you can ensure you are able to book all of the restaurants you’d like to try.

I understand booking dining 180 days (6 months) prior to your vacation seems a bit ridiculous. But trust me, those 6 months go by fast, and when you are finally on your vacation you’ll be glad to have taken the time to book them months in advance. This is especially important if you are visiting Walt Disney World during busy times. You will be surprised how difficult it might be to walk up and get a seat without waiting an extensive amount of time (again, during busy times). And let’s face it, Walt Disney World is busy all of the time nowadays. It’s best to book ahead, you can always cancel or change your mind.

Have a trip coming up and wondering how it all work? Continue on for details.

ADVANCED DINING RESERVATIONS (ADRs)



WHO CAN MAKE DINING RESERVATIONS?

All guests visiting Walt Disney World can make dining reservations.


HOW FAR IN ADVANCE CAN I MAKE DINING RESERVATIONS?

  • For on site guests: Dining Reservations begin online at 6:00AM 180 days prior to Day 1 of your vacation. You can book your reservations for the length of your stay.
  • For off site guests: Dining Reservations begin online at 6:00AM 180 days ahead of the planned day you want to eat at a particular restaurant. In other words, if you are staying off site for 6 days, you will need to be prepared to be ready at 6:00AM for each day that you want to book a dining reservation. You cannot book for the length of your stay on Day 1 like onsite guests.
  • Phone lines open at 7:00AM. Be ready to call in case there are website issues, which has happened from time to time. The number is 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463).
  • Some dining options require a credit card on file for the reservation. Please have your credit card handy in case you need it. You can also save your credit card on file in your profile online.
  • There are several dining options that will require payment upfront to reserve your date/time. Many of the special event options require upfront payment.
  • There are dining packages available for certain late-night park shows. For example, in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, The Hollywood Brown Derby and Mama Melrose’s offers priority seating to view Fantasmic if you choose that option. Tiffins and Tusker House at Animal Kingdom offer priority seating to view Rivers of Light. Those options are available to you.

WHAT IF I CAN’T GET A RESERVATION THROUGH THE DISNEY DINING RESERVATION SYSTEM?

If you have trouble obtaining a dining reservation using the Walt Disney dining reservation system, you can try searching Open Table (opentable.com). Some of the dining locations throughout Walt Disney World (many in Disney Springs) can also be found on Open Table, and there is often availability. Be sure to search in both places.

Open Table does not have a 180-day rule for booking a dining reservations. However, I recommend strongly that you book your dining reservations through Walt Disney at 180 days and whatever you were not able to book, you can then check Open Table. I would consider Open Table a back up option.


HARD TO GET RESERVATIONS

If you are staying on property, remember your entire scheduled stay (up to 10 days) will open for booking at the 180-day mark. You do not have to book dining reservations chronologically, jump around and book the highest priority reservations first, then go back and do the rest.

If you’re staying offsite, you will have to book your dining reservations one day at a time for the entire stay. This may be a slight disadvantage for you. 

There are many dining locations at Walt Disney World where getting a dining reservation is challenging. Know of these ahead of time and be aware of this as you plan and prepare for booking your reservations.

Here is my list of historically hard to get dining reservations:

  • Be Our Guest
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table
  • Akershus
  • Chef Mickey’s
  • ‘Ohana
  • Bon Voyage Breakfast
  • Storybook Dining at Artist Point
  • Oga’s Cantina
  • Generally any character dining option
  • Generally any signature dining option (such as Victoria & Alberts)

Prioritize these! Book these first and then go back and do the rest. You may have a better chance at booking some of these by taking care of them first.


GET CREATIVE!

Try for reservations during non-peak times. Naturally, securing a reservation during standard breakfast, lunch or dinner times will be a lot harder. Go for off peak times. This is especially helpful when you are traveling in larger groups.

If you are traveling in a large group, try booking 2 separate dining reservations. It will be easier than trying for a larger number of Guests. When you arrive to the restaurant and check in, let the host or hostess know that you’d like both tables to be next to each other or as close as possible. This isn’t a guarantee, but most often, the accommodation can be made.


USE A COMPUTER/LAPTOP

Use a computer/laptop to make your reservations. I think the reservation process is a bit easier to manage on the computer. By using the computer or laptop, you can also open multiple tabs ahead of 6:00 am (when booking opens) and set up each tab for the restaurants you want. This may help in getting those difficult reservations. They will be all ready to book, you won’t have to search for each one. 


Extra Tips!

  • You may or may not be able to reserve your first choice for dining, or it may not be the exact time you planned, check back daily up to and including the day of your reservation. People cancel reservations all the time, so you may get lucky and get the time/date you originally wanted. The best time to check is 6:00AM when the reservations open for new reservations.
  • Resort restaurants are as wonderful as park restaurants. Don’t forget to consider them when making Dining Reservations. Keep in mind if you dine at a resort you need to allow enough travel time from the park to the resort.

HOW DO I CANCEL A RESERVATION?

My Disney Experience App


Click on the My Disney Experience app and find “My Plans”. In “My Plans”, you will see all of your Dining Reservations and FastPass+ selections.

Click on the Dining Reservation you want to cancel. Click “Cancel” and then “Yes, Cancel” to confirm. Voila, your reservation is canceled.


Walt Disney World Website


Canceling a Dining Reservation on the Walt Disney World website is pretty simple.

Log into your account and find “My Plans”. Scroll to the Dining Reservation you want to cancel. Click on “Cancel Reservation”.


Note: Disney states that you need to cancel your Dining Reservations within 24 hours, otherwise you will be charged $10 per person on the reservation. I have personally canceled well within 24 hours and was still able to cancel without penalty. I would not recommend it, but you may get lucky if you make a last minute decision.


DISNEY DINING PLAN (DDP)


WHAT IS THE DISNEY DINING PLAN?

The Disney Dining Plan is an optional add-on to your Magic Your Way Vacation Package (room and tickets), room only reservation, or DVC reservation. This allows you to pre-pay for your food, allowing your vacation to become similar to an all-inclusive experience. You won’t need to worry about money or what food items will cost throughout the day. Everything will be already paid for.


HOW DOES THE DISNEY DINING PLAN WORK?

Depending on the dining plan that you choose, you will receive a number of dining credits to use each day, for you and every member in your family. The credits will be loaded to your account and you may use them as you wish.

Every member of your party needs a dining plan for the length of your reservation.  If you choose to do a split stay at multiple resorts, you can choose the dining plan for one half of your stay and not the other. You do have that option.

Your credits are good from the moment you check until midnight the on the day you check out. So you can technically stretch your dining credits to an extra day (your last/travel day) if you use them wisely and have time before you travel back home.

The credits you receive will be pooled together and can be used throughout your stay however you choose. For example, if you want to use 10 dining credits one day and 25 the next, you can. You can also share your dining credits with other members of your party – if you have friends/family joining you for dinner that are not on the plan, you can use your dining credits for them if you choose.  The credits are non-refundable though, so plan accordingly.

Not everyone needs to use dining credits at every meal. If there are 4 in your party, and 2 want to use dining credits and 2 want to order just an appetizer, you can do that. Just let the wait staff know at the start so they know how many credits to apply to the check. The balance of your credits will always be at the bottom of the receipt so you can easily keep track. You can also share meals. So if you want to order one meal to share and each get an appetizer, one of the appetizers will be out-of-pocket, the other using a dining credit. Again, just let the wait staff know how you want to use your credits.

Some restaurants will give you more value for your credits than others, but don’t let that dictate where you eat. Eat wherever you want! Overall, you will get your money’s worth from any of the dining location at WDW. But if you are looking to maximize your credits, locations in which the total cost of your Quick Service Meal is above $20 and Table Service is above $45 give you the best return on your investment on the Dining Plan. Generally buffets and character dining locations give you the best value. And the best use of the dining credits for both Quick Service and Table Service tend to be lunch and dinner.

There are multiple ways to check the remaining balance of your credits:

  • Remaining entitlements are printed at the bottom of your dining receipts
  • Ask your Resort Concierge or Guest Relations to obtain them at any time

Gratuity is not included, so be sure to factor that in when planning.


WHO CAN PURCHASE THE DISNEY DINING PLAN?

In order to purchase the dining plan, each member of your family needs to have a valid park ticket for the same amount of day as the dining plan.

Children under the age of 3 can share off of an adult plate, or at buffet’s can have their own plate. In order to buy your toddler their own dining plan, they need their own park ticket. Children under the age of 2 do not require a park ticket, so that is most likely not economical. I would recommend paying for them out-of-pocket.


WHAT ARE FREE DISNEY DINING PLAN OFFERS?

Depending on the time of year you travel, you may get a “free” dining offer from Disney. This is the best value of all. For this offer, guests pay the regular, non-discounted rate for their hotel stay and park tickets, but get one of the dining plans at no additional cost. Keep in mind, if you choose the “free” dining offer, you will not be able to take advantage of hotel discounts – it’s one or the other. Sometimes, the hotel offer/discounts actually ends up being a better deal and save your more money in the long run than if you took the free dining offer. You have to weigh it out.

A free dining package usually requires booking a minimum 3-night stay and purchasing a minimum of 2-day “Park Hopper” tickets for everyone in your travel party. Dates for Free Dining are usually released in April for travel dates in the fall and winter. In 2019, Disney released “free” dining offers 3 times. That is very unusual, but clear that this option draws Guests in, so we may see more of that in the future where it’s offered multiple times a year.

Sign up for my weekly newsletter for all the important details when new Disney Dining offers are released.


WHAT KIND OF SNACKS CAN I GET ON THE DISNEY DINING PLAN?

Throughout the park you will see this symbol, which identifies locations to use your snack credits.

Snacks include:

  • Frozen ice cream novelty, popsicle or fruit bar
  • Popcorn scoop
  • 12 oz. coffee, hot chocolate or hot tea
  • Prepackaged milk or juice
  • Piece of whole fruit
  • Bag of snacks
  • 20 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola®, Sprite® or Dasani® water
  • 20 oz. fountain soft drink

A snack credit is valued at about $5. If there is something less than that, I would recommend paying out-of-pocket. But you can get double your value if you purchase a snack anywhere from $7-10. This would be common at one of the Epcot festivals where food/drink at any of the food booths costs about this much money. In this case, this would be a great way to use your snack credits.


WHAT KIND OF BEVERAGES ARE INCLUDED IN THE DISNEY DINING PLAN?

As of 2018, alcoholic beverages are now included in the dining plan. You can get a specialty drink OR single-serving alcoholic beverage with every meal on the Disney Dining Plans!

Guests under 21 can choose from a non-alcoholic beverage or specialty drink. Guests over 21 with a valid form of identification can choose from a non-alcoholic beverage or specialty drink, or an alcoholic beverage such as wine, beer or a cocktail.

Non-alcoholic beverage includes items such as:

  • Artisanal Milkshakes
  • Fresh Smoothies
  • Premium Hot Chocolate
  • Soda, Coffee or Tea

Alcoholic beverage includes items such as:

  • Beer or Cider
  • Wine or Sangria
  • Mixed Drinks and Specialty Cocktails

DISNEY DINING PLAN PRICING

Here is the pricing for this year and for 2020. You will see an increase in pricing for 2020. This is normal as the prices usually rise year over year.


LEFTOVER DINING CREDITS

I often hear of families that have leftover credits at the end of their vacation. I hear many families on their last day will pay it forward and perhaps pay for the family behind them in line with their credits, or buy snacks and give them to a family in the park. You can also stock up on snacks also and carry them home with you. If you don’t use them, you lose them.


DISNEY DINING PLAN TIP

I think one of the biggest things to consider when deciding if the Disney Dining plan is for you and your family is how much your family actually eats. If you are a light eater, like to be spontaneous, and prefer not be tied down by dining reservations, then the dining plan might not be for you.

On the other hand, if you enjoy Character Meals and buffets and have bigger eaters in your family, you could benefit greatly from the dining plan. You will also have to be willing to have a more strict schedule as you will have to book dining reservations at Table Service restaurants almost daily throughout your stay to maximize the dining plan.

Every family is different.


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