Advance Reservations at WDW Restaurants
Walt Disney World's Advance Reservations system, while similar to a reservation, is not nearly as rigid. Essentially, the system guarantees that you will get the next available table that will accommodate your party after you've arrived at a restaurant (which should be 5-10 min. prior to the time you've reserved). In other words, a table isn't kept empty while the restaurant waits for you. As such, it's likely that you'll end up waiting anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, even if you arrive at the time you scheduled your meal. You can arrange Advance Reservations 180 days in advance at most full-service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney resorts, and Downtown Disney. Advance Reservations can also be made for character meals and dinner shows throughout the World. To make arrangements, call tel. 407/939-3463; groups of eight or more can also call tel. 407/939-7707. Disney also takes Advance Reservations online at www.disneyworld.com/dining.
Nighttime dinner-theater shows can be booked up to 180 days in advance as well. Be aware, however, that these dinner shows (along with select character dining experiences) require full payment in advance and that cancellations must be made at least 48 hours prior to the time of the show to avoid penalties.
Note: Since the Advance Reservations phone number was instituted in 1994, it has become much more difficult to obtain a table as a walk-in at the resorts' more popular restaurants. I strongly advise you to call as far ahead as possible, especially if you're traveling during the peak seasons. It wouldn't hurt to mark your calendar and enter the phone number into your speed dial either. Amazingly, some restaurants, especially the dinner shows and character meals, can book up quite literally within only a minute or two of the phone lines' opening (7am EST) on that 180th day out.
If you don't make your dining plans in advance, you can take your chances by making your Advance Reservations in person once you have arrived in the parks. You can make reservations right from your smartphone at www.disneyworld.com/dining, head directly to your desired restaurant to see what's available, or stop by one of the following places:
- In Epcot at Guest Relations on the east side of Spaceship Earth.
- In the Magic Kingdom via the telephones at several locations, including the Walt Disney World Railroad station just inside the entrance and at City Hall near the front of Main Street, U.S.A.
- In Disney's Hollywood Studios via the telephones just inside the entrance or at Guest Relations near Hollywood Junction.
- In Animal Kingdom at Guest Relations on the left near the entrance. (Note that Rainforest Cafe here is a verrry popular place, so the sooner you call for Advance Reservations, the better.)
- In Downtown Disney at Guest Services in the Marketplace and at West Side.
Also, keep these restaurant facts in mind:
- All Florida restaurants and bars that serve food are smoke free.
- The Magic Kingdom (including its restaurants) serves no alcoholic beverages, but liquor is available at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney's Hollywood Studios restaurants and elsewhere in the WDW complex. And the selection of liquors and wines available at many of the hotels is both varied and extensive; Disney World, the largest single-site purveyor of wine in the world, employs more sommeliers than any other organization on the planet -- more than 700 of them, including one advanced sommelier.
- All sit-down restaurants in Walt Disney World take American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard, Visa, and the Disney Visa Card.
- Unless otherwise noted, restaurants in the parks require park admission.
- Guests staying at Disney resorts and official properties can make Advance Reservations through Guest Services or the concierge.
- Nearly all WDW restaurants with sit-down or counter service offer children's menus with items ranging from $5 to $9, though in a few cases they're $10 to $14. Some include beverages and sides.
Food for Thought -- So now that you have the facts, here's the real question: Is it worth it? In most cases, the answer is yes. The cost of any given plan is less than you would pay if you purchased all meals on your own, but to determine whether it is truly cost-effective, you need to consider the following:
How many meals do you actually plan on eating out each day? If you plan on dining out only a few times during your vacation, then the dining plan probably isn't for you. If, however, you plan on dining out most, if not all, of the time, the dining plan will definitely save you money in the end.
Will you actually eat three meals a day, or some days will you want only two meals? Do you prefer to eat breakfast in your hotel room (stocking the room with cereal and other breakfast items) on most days (or only some days)? Choosing the right dining plan -- one that includes only the number of meals you plan on actually using -- is the key to saving money. If you know that you will dine out only twice a day, purchase a plan that includes only two meals. Spending on a plan that includes meals that will go to waste defeats the entire purpose.
Also keep in mind that the biggest perks included in the Premium and Platinum plans are not even related to dining; they are reflective of the vacation package rather than the actual dining plan. Consider these only if the added perks are of interest to you. The average guest will generally find the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan and the basic Disney Dining Plan more than adequate; those who enjoy dining out for all three meals should also consider the Disney Deluxe Plan.
When comparing the price of any given dining plan to the amount you would pay at restaurants on your own, the dining plan comes out ahead every time -- but only if you use all your credits.
Only in Orlando: Dining with Disney Characters
Dining with your favorite costumed characters is a treat for many Disney fans, but it's a truly special occasion for those younger than 10. Some of the most beloved movie characters seemingly come to life: shaking hands, hugging, signing autographs, and posing for family photos (most never speak, with the exception of the princesses and a very small handful of others, so forget about conversation). These are huge events -- it's not uncommon for Chef Mickey's to have 1,600 or more guests on a weekend morning -- so make your Advance Reservations (a must!!!!!) as far in advance as possible (when you book your room, if not earlier). Don't expect more than just a few moments of one-on-one, but what time there is will be sure to bring a big smile to your little ones' faces.
The prices for character meals are much the same, no matter where you're dining (with one exception: Cinderella's Royal Table). Breakfast (most serve it) runs $20 to $36 for adults and $11 to $24 for children 3 to 9; those that serve dinner charge $28 to $56 for adults and $14 to $28 for kids. The prices vary a bit, though, from location to location. Note that for character meals inside the theme parks, you'll also have to pay park admission fees and will be subject to the $14 parking charge.
To make reservations for WDW character meals, call tel. 407/939-3463. American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard, Visa, and the Disney Visa Card are accepted at all character meals. For online information, go to www.disneyworld.com.
Note: Lineups and booking requirements change frequently (as do menus and prices). I strongly recommend against promising children they will meet a specific character at a meal. And never mention dining with the characters unless your Advance Reservations are confirmed first; character meals book up quickly, and trying to make Advance Reservations too late in the game (or worse, attempting to walk in) will mostly likely result in disappointment. If you have your heart set on meeting a certain character, call to confirm his or her appearance when making your Advance Reservations.
It All Adds Up -- If you want to take in one of Disney's many popular character-dining experiences or dinner shows, plan on paying a bit extra if you find yourself dining during the holidays. Disney has added an extra $5 (or so) to the price of character meals and dinner shows during select times throughout the year -- including, but not limited to, the days and sometimes weeks surrounding New Year's, Easter, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For details (including the exact dates that Disney's holiday pricing is in effect), check out www.disneyworld.com or call tel. 407/939-3463.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.