The good news, however, is there is almost always a great place to eat. I've worked with families that are heading to Disney in just two days time, and we've always been able to find good reservation times at nice restaurants for each day of their trip. While the most popular restaurants may not be available at that point, there are still very nice options.
But what if you want to dine at one of the most popular restaurants? You need to plan in advance. How far in advance? Read on for suggestions:
Reservation suggestions if you have plenty of time until your trip
Tip 1: Get to know Disney's online reservation system
It's helpful to become familiar with Disney's online dining reservation system. They have dramatically improved their online system - it is easy now to check specific dates, times, and restaurants for availability. Go on and head to https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/ and check it out!
Tip 2: Know when you can call or go online to make reservations
At Disney World, you can make reservations up to 180 days in advance. At some restaurants (for example, Cinderella's Royal Table for breakfast), the closer to 180 days, the better. The most absurd example is if you want an 8am reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table - if so, you need to go online at EXACTLY 6am Eastern 180 days in advance to get it (and you may still not succeed).
How far out is 180 days? You can count manually, but there are several sites on the web that give you the exact date. Here is one.
Tip 3: Know which are the most difficult reservations to obtain
There are certain reservations that are very difficult to get - you likely need to call three or more months in advance, especially if you are traveling during a busy time of year. These popular restaurants include:
- Be Our Guest
- Cinderella's Royal Table (especially breakfast)
- Chef Mickey's (especially breakfast)
- California Grill
- Victoria and Albert's (especially the chef's table)
At each of these restaurants, as soon as you know your dates for your trip, try to make your reservations. Be Our Guest, in particular, has been a challenge (and please take my advice from this previous post, and make a reservation as early in the night as possible to avoid delays).
There's also a "next tier" of restaurants that, the earlier you make a reservation, the better. You can probably get into these restaurants no problem if you're calling two months in advance. Some of these restaurants include
- Crystal Palace
- 1900 Park Fare
- Le Cellier
- Coral Reef
- Fantasmic Dining Package
- Hoop De Doo Revue
All of these restaurants will potentially have availability even just a month in advance of a trip, but the times may start to get odd (dinners at 4:00pm or 9:00pm, for example).
Tip 4: You can get reservations MORE than 180 days out - here's how!
If you're staying at a Disney resort hotel and have a confirmed reservation, you can make all your reservations for your trip 180 days before the start of your trip. That means you can book the really tough-to-get reservations for a few days into your trip, and make those reservations a few days before everyone else!
Restaurant Suggestions for Last Minute (1 week or so in advance)
1) The most popular restaurants will likely have no times available
You're probably out of luck if you want to eat at Chef Mickey's or dinner at Be Our Guest, for example. If your heart is set on these experiences, we'll have to find "next best alternatives" - for example, you can try Be Our Guest for lunch (when it is a quick service place) instead of dinner. Or if you want to meet the classic Disney characters at a meal, you can try Tusker House at Animal Kingdom instead of Chef Mickey's.
Note that some of these "next best alternatives" are actually as good (or better) experiences than the "popular" restaurant, so you're not giving up much.
2) The "next tier" of tough-to-get restaurants may have times available, but they will likely be for odd times of day
Unless it's a particularly busy time of year, you can likely get in to restaurants like the Crystal Palace even just a week or two in advance. However, available reservation times may be odd. For example, checking today (February 13) for one week out (February 20), I see availability at the Crystal Palace, but only at 3:25 and 8:40pm - strange times to eat!
Note that during busy times (like Christmas), these restaurants will likely be completely booked as well. Hopefully if you're traveling during the super-busy times of year, you're planning ahead!
3) You should still have plenty of availability for other restaurants in all areas of Disney World
Even if you can't get into any of these top choices, you will be able to find a good place to eat no matter where you are at Disney. At one week out, there are usually many, many excellent choices still availabile.
Restaurant Suggestions for the Last Second
First, you are likely not going to be able to visit any of the restaurants listed above (and several others, as well). However, there are some great "hidden gems" throughout Disney World where you can have a great meal on short notice. Some of my favorites include:
- The Wave at the Contemporary Resort. "Sustainable" American food. At the Contemporary Resort - a great choice prior to heading to the Magic Kingdom for the Main Street Electrical Parade and fireworks.
- Grand Floridian Cafe. The "casual" sit-down restaurant at the Grand Floridian, but still a very nice setting. Once again a great choice before the Magic Kingdom nighttime events.
- Most of the Epcot restaurants. No, you won't get into Le Cellier or Coral Reef. But there are several interesting restaurants all around World Showcase. Try something different like Biergarten in Germany!
I've been known to call Disney dining reservations on my cell from inside the park (on a busy day, no less), making a reservation for three hours later, because we changed our mind on which park we were going to spend our evening. And I've never had a problem finding something good!
However, if your trip is coming up soon and you haven't made reservations yet, that doesn't mean you're resigned to burgers and fries for every meal! You'll see that there are still good options available!
As always, if you're looking for more suggestions on best dining for your group (or anything else Disney-related), please don't hesitate to contact me!