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.
A Palatable Perk: The Disney Dining Plan
Over the years, Disney has dished up a number of changes to its popular dining plan, which first debuted in 2005. What was once a relatively simple system, aimed at making the Disney dining experience less complicated and more financially palatable to its guests, has since evolved into a diverse lineup of customized dining plans with a broader appeal than ever before.
For those of you who may already be familiar with Disney's dining program, be advised of these changes worth noting: (1) Refillable mugs are now included in the basic Disney Dining Plan. Each person in your party receives a single mug that can be refilled unlimited times with soda, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate at quick-service establishments only at the Disney resort hotel where you're staying. (2) The Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan now allows for only one snack per day, rather than the original allotment of two snacks per day.
For those of you not yet familiar with Disney's dining program, here's the lowdown. The Disney Dining Plan (or plans, as there are currently five from which to choose) is an option available exclusively to guests of the official WDW hotels who book a Magic Your Way vacation package. When you book your package, you can choose one of the five add-on dining plans and then enjoy the convenience and savings during the duration of your Disney vacation. Each person in your party is allotted a certain number of credits for a select number of meals and snacks (depending on which plan you choose) that can be redeemed at any of the participating WDW restaurants (there are over 100 to choose from throughout the theme parks and Disney resorts). When you've finished your meal or are ready to purchase a snack, you simply present your key card and let the cashier or server know how many meals (or snacks) you would like to redeem (and for what age -- this is important, as each member of your party is allotted meal credits based on his or her age). Your key card keeps an electronic record of how many meals and snacks you are allotted per adult and per child, along with how many you have already redeemed. Your receipt will include a printout of your remaining balance -- in other words, the number of meals and snacks you have left.
The Dining Plans -- Disney offers five different dining plans; which one is right for you depends on the type of meals you prefer to eat, the type of establishments you prefer to frequent (quick counter-service eateries and snack spots, casual sit-down restaurants, or fine-dining establishments), the amount of money you wish to spend on dining out (with prices ranging from $35 to $230 per adult per night, and from $12 to $161 per child ages 3 to 9 per night), and how many meals you actually intend on eating at a restaurant (as opposed to in your room or possibly elsewhere).
The Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan ($34.99 per night per adult, $11.99 per night per child) includes two quick-service meals and one snack per person, per night (based on the length of stay, for everyone in your party ages 3 and up). Also included is a single refillable mug for each person in your party (good only at quick-service establishments located at your resort hotel).
The basic Disney Dining Plan ($51.54 per night per adult, $15.02 per night per child) includes one quick-service meal, one snack, and one table-service meal per person, per night (based on the length of stay, for everyone in your party ages 3 and up), plus a single refillable mug for each person in your party.
The Disney Deluxe Dining Plan ($85.52 per night per adult, $23.79 per night per child) includes three meals and two snacks per person, per night (based on the length of stay, for everyone in your party ages 3 and up), plus a single refillable mug for each person in your party.
The Disney Premium Plan ($169.99 per night per adult, $119.99 per night per child) includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks per person, per night, plus a single refillable mug for each person in your party. In addition, guests may participate in unlimited recreational activities, take in a Cirque du Soleil show, enjoy unlimited admittance to Disney's supervised child-care centers, and opt to join select WDW tours.
The Disney Platinum Plan ($229.99 per night per adult, $160.99 per night per child) includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks per person, per night, plus a single refillable mug for each person in your party. In addition to enjoying all of the perks included in the Disney Premium Plan, guests can sit in reserved seating at Fantasmic!, take a fireworks cruise (either Wishes or IllumiNations), indulge in a single spa treatment, and get personal itinerary planning.
Additional Details -- To help you decide which plan is best for you and your family, keep in mind that a quick-service meal includes an entree and a nonalcoholic drink at breakfast, or an entree or combo meal, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic drink at lunch or dinner.
A table-service meal includes an entree and a nonalcoholic drink, or a full buffet, at breakfast; and an appetizer (for children ages 3-9 only), an entree or combo meal, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic drink, or a full buffet, at lunch or dinner.
Snacks are defined as a novelty ice-cream bar, ice pop, fruit bar, single-serving box of popcorn, single piece of fruit, single-serving bag of snacks, a 20-ounce bottle of soda or water, a 22-ounce fountain drink, a single-serving carton of milk or juice, and a 12-ounce cup of coffee or hot chocolate or tea.
The dining plan can be used for character dining experiences, which count as one table-service meal per person (gratuities not included). One exception to the rule: Dining at Cinderella's Royal Table counts as two table-service meals per person -- and in this case, gratuities are included.
The dining plan is also applicable to signature dining and dinner shows, but note that a single signature meal counts as two table-service credits. A signature meal consists of an appetizer (for children ages 3-9 only), an entree, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic drink. Gratuities are not included.
If you feel like staying in, the dining plan includes the option of in-room dining and pizza delivery. An in-room dining meal, which counts as two table-service credits, includes an appetizer (for children ages 3-9 only), an entree, a dessert, and a nonalcoholic drink. Pizza delivery, which also counts as two table-service credits, includes two nonalcoholic drinks, a pizza, and two desserts.
The dining plan is not available to guests under the age of 3. However, tinier tots are allowed to share from an adult plate without incurring an extra charge. Or, if you prefer, you may simply purchase a separate meal outright, with the price of the meal added to your bill. Guests between the ages of 3 and 9 who are on the dining plan are required to order from the children's menu when one is available.
Gratuities are generally not included (unless otherwise indicated). For parties of six or more people, an automatic 18% gratuity will be added to your bill. An automatic gratuity charge may also be added to your bill for items that are not included in the dining plan (alcoholic beverages, appetizers, and so on).
If you are unsure whether a given restaurant, quick-service eatery, or snack cart participates in the plan, simply look for the Disney Dining Plan symbol. You can also consult your Disney Dining Plan brochure, check the official WDW website, or ask the Disney dining agent when you book Advance Dining reservations.
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.