Sunday, March 6, 2016
Everything you need to know about Disney Dining Reservations
I'm in the midst of planning our 2016 Disney trip and wanted to share my advance dining reservation knowledge. This will be our fifth vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida and I can easily say that the dining reservation process has improved over the years. Read along for tips to ensure your vacation is as magical as can be.
Do I really need dining reservations?
This is a common question from first time visitors, especially those with young children. We, like many others, asked this very question as we planned our first trip and decided that no, we wouldn't make dining reservations. With three year triplets, we were unsure of how they would handle the excitement of Disney along with a change to their normal routine and didn't want to make reservations we wouldn't be using. It was also extremely difficult to secure reservations back then. The reservation process was a bit like the Wild West. Guests notoriously didn't show up for reservations as there were no repercussions at the time. It wasn't uncommon to hear that someone had made two reservations for the same meal and then decided at the last minute which one to keep.
After two days of eating counter service meals, we were successful in finding tables by checking in at restaurants. Rich ended up calling the dining reservation number one night and after happily searching the system for him, they were able to provide us with reservations at 1900 Park Fare and The Wave. We have since made dining reservations before our trips and been very happy with our pre-planning.
If you think there's any chance at all that you will want to eat at a table service restaurant, I highly recommend that you make advance dining reservations prior to your vacation. If you plan to stay offsite and bring your own food into the parks or eat only counter service, than no, you most likely do not need to secure dining reservations.
Who can make dining reservations and when?
An adult with a credit card can make dining reservations 180 days in advance. You do not need to have Disney resort reservations or park tickets in order to secure dining reservations. If you're about six months away from the time of your vacation and you don't want to count actual days, simply go to Disney's online dining reservation system and scroll through the calendar of a mock reservation. The calendar will be grayed out for days past 180 days.
If you do have a vacation booked with Disney, at the 180 day mark you will be able to make dining reservations for that first day plus the next 10 days of your vacation. You will need to call Disney Dining in order to do this as their online system doesn't allow for the +10 even if you have your confirmation number in your online Disney account.
Important to note is that online dining reservations begin at 6:00 AM EST. You will need to have an online account so be sure to set that up in advance. If you choose to call, you will have to wait until 7:00 AM EST.
Disney's reservation system will not allow you to book two reservations within a two hour window. So if you make a dinner reservation for 5:00 at one restaurant, you will not be able to make one for 6:00 at a different restaurant.
You will need to provide your credit card information in order to make an advance dining reservation. Disney's cancellation policy may vary depending on the restaurant so be sure you know what the policy is. For many of the restaurants, you have 24 hours prior to the reservation time to cancel. If you cancel later than that or if you're a no-show, you will be charged $10 per person on the reservation. You will not be charged if only a portion of your party shows up. For example, if you make a reservation for six people and dad needs to bring one of the kids back to the hotel and only four of you show up for dinner, you will not be penalized.
Tips & Tricks
Because of this cancellation policy, it is far easier to secure dining reservations. If you weren't able to make reservations at the 180 day mark and you're not finding desirable reservations, keep checking the system. Because of the cancellation policy, other guests are now forced to nail down their plans. I've had success in searching for reservations a few weeks prior to our vacations.
If you plan to dine at Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle at Magic Kingdom, be prepared to pay in full when you make your reservation. The cancellation policy does allow for a full refund if you cancel within the prescribed time frame. If you are using the dining plan, this will eat up two of your table service credits.
Do you want a photo of your kids in front of the castle in Magic Kingdom with no one in the background? Several restaurants open before the parks do and if you have a reservation, you will be able to waltz down a near empty Main Street.