VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
Anyone who knows me knows how much I like Disney World and food. When you bring those things together, I experience zen. Of course, that is despite the frustration that can come with trying to book the most popular advanced dining reservations on property. Right there, I gave away the fact that I’m somewhat of a Disnerd. No one else would call it “property.” In any event, the sheer challenge of snagging those out-of-reach reservations has motivated me to polish my skills. I’ve been in training ever since I began booking these semi-all-inclusive vacations with the Mouse in 2009.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Decide whether to get a dining plan. Not everyone needs to invest in Disney Dining. Those who stay at non-Disney hotels are not even eligible for one. If you’re planning to visit other parts of Orlando, you might not want to buy into any of the dining plans. You have three main options – Quick-Service, Dining, and Deluxe Dining. They are progressively more expensive. Quick service includes 2 quick-service meals and 1 snack per person (ages 3 and over) per night of your trip. Dining allows for 1 quick-service meal, 1 table-service meal, and 1 snack per person (ages 3 and over) per night. Deluxe Dining is for those who are serious about what they eat (and are willing to eat a lot). It includes 3 table-service or quick-service meals and 2 snacks per person (ages 3 and over) per night. All the plans also provide a refillable mug for the entirety of the trip. (You can refill the mugs as often as you’d like with soft drinks in the food courts in the resorts and not the theme parks.) Keep in mind you don’t need reservations for quick-service restaurants, but you do for everything else. My family and I go for the gusto; it’s Deluxe Dining every time.
- Check out the menus. Disney Dining can be very competitive. Do a little research online, and you’ll probably read stories of double and triple booking to hold reservations for the same time at multiple places or working phone lines and the online booking site to snag hard-to-get reservations. Sometimes, people get caught up in the frenzy. They don’t even know what food is being served, but they know people want reservations here badly, so they just go for it. Instead of following the crowd, follow your own belly. What do you want to eat? Look at the menus and make your picks. Recognize that menus are subject to change, but they should give you an idea of the type of food you’ll find at a particular place.
- Plot your ideal reservation schedule. Now you can go a number of different ways here. My husband and I work everything else around our dining reservations. But some people prefer to work the dining reservations around fast passes and other scheduled entertainment. Just realize that you won’t be able to easily arrive at a reservation at Magic Kingdom when you have fast passes for the Safari at Animal Kingdom an hour earlier. Try to make reservations for places that are near where you plan to be on that day and time. Yes, planning a Disney vacation nowadays requires great commitment and might be more complicated than it was for me to plan my wedding in Italy and vow renewal in the United States.
- Take advantage of all the time you have. Disney allows resort guests to make dining reservations six months or 180 days in advance of the trip. People take these dates seriously, so you have to as well. Guests can hop on the phone at midnight exactly 180 days ahead of the first day of their trip to start making reservations. You still have a chance at not getting the reservations for which you wish. But it improves your odds. Often, I’m in Italy with my husband’s family 180 days away from our Disney vacation, so I use the time difference to my advantage. At 6 a.m. Italian time, I’m up and running and figuring out where tables are available.
- Be strategic. I check for the most difficult-to-get reservations first. Two years ago, I was keen on getting a dinner reservation at Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom. It was nearly impossible to get a reservation then because it was still relatively new. To be honest, it’s not so easy nowadays either. I checked for dinner times for every day we were going to be there. And I scored a dinner reservation – for 13 people – no less for one of our last days there. That meant we were going to Magic Kingdom that day, and I would make all other reservations accordingly. I also often seek Chef Mickey breakfast (or now brunch) and California Grill reservations in the first batch, too, because it’s another one that you can easily lose.
- Realize all your options. Some people don’t realize that they can use their meals to partake in signature dining experiences. We sign up for Deluxe Dining, which provides us with a lot of food. If we reserved reservations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday, we would have little time for anything else and we’d probably be able to roll home from Florida to New Jersey. Instead, we use up two meals per day by going to signature restaurants for dinner. Places, such as Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian cost two meals as opposed to one. So, if you reserve that and a character breakfast in the morning (almost all of which costs just one meal), you have used your three meals per day. Then, you can use those snacks for treats if you need something to hold you over between meals. Believe me, those snacks are yummy and are often more filling than a meal.
- Be careful about making changes. Lots of people tweak their reservations constantly. Or try to come up with ways to double book. (It has become much harder now that online booking refuses to allow it.) And if you miss a reservation (without canceling at least 24 hours in advance), you will be charged $10 per person. It’s real. Don’t let the veterans fool you. In the last few years, Disney has begun enforcing the rules because too many people took advantage of the system.
- Just eat!
NOTE: I have family members who currently work full-time for Walt Disney World, but I have always paid in full for Disney Dining and it in no way influences my opinions.