As UNIGLOBE Ohio Valley Travel’s Magical Concierge, I am always asked about Disney Dining. Much like the need to reserve FastPass+ in advance, clients want to know why they have to book table service meals up to 180 days in advance when they don’t even know what they want to eat tomorrow. And how do they choose from all the options? Again, valid questions! Let’s take a look at them…
First, a brief explanation of the Walt Disney World® Resort dining language. Table Service refers to restaurants in which you are seated and served by a waiter/waitress, at which a gratuity is customary. At some locations you order from a menu and at other venues you help yourself to a buffet with your server taking care of your beverages. Quick Service Dining, on the other hand, are locations where you either order food at a podium and pick it up at the nearby counter or select items cafeteria style. You then, pay for your items and seat yourself; no tip required, much like any fast food establishment. Table Service meals are considerably more expensive than Quick Service meals, but the atmosphere, entertainment, and quality of food make them quite popular. Popular enough to necessitate reservations beginning 180 days in advance. To be clear, only Table Service locations require reservations in advance.
Choosing restaurants so far ahead of your trip may sound daunting, but with a little guidance, you will be happy you took the time to do so. The key to a smooth trip is advanced planning. The more you set up before you even leave home, the less you have to worry about when you arrive. By attending to your dining plans, you will already know at least one point in your day when you can rest your feet and enjoy the air conditioning to recoup for a bit before more theme park exploring. Unlike the FastPass+ which gives an advantage to guests staying at a Walt Disney World® Resort property, there is no advanced booking window provided for on-site guests in terms of booking meals. This means, you are competing with EVERYONE: on-site guests, off-site guests, and Florida residents alike, all who want to make dining reservations for your same travel dates at the same time. Knowing which restaurants you would like to try when the reservation window opens makes snagging a desirable time easier.
In you opted for the Disney Dining Plan, you are allotted ONE Table Service entitlement per night of your stay. (Note- Disney also offers a Quick Service Dining Plan which does not include any Table Service locations, as well as a Deluxe Dining Plan that offers up to three Table Service meals per day.) For most locations, one meal is equal to ONE Table Service entitlement. There are few exceptions in which one meal costs TWO Table Service entitlements. The TWO Table Service meals usually involve either fine dining, a dinner show, or unique dining opportunities. You have the freedom to use your credits however you would like.
For example, if you are staying five nights, you can book your five Table Service meals in several different ways. You may opt to reserve five, ONE Table Service meals to maximize your overall Table Service experiences. Alternatively, you could choose instead to book four Table Service meals- one which costs TWO Table Service entitlements, and three which cost ONE Table Service entitlement. Or you can reserve any combination adding up to five credits. It’s entirely up to you! You can reserve your meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and can enjoy more than one Table Service meal on the same day, should you wish. Maybe you want to dine with Princesses over breakfast at Akershus and dine with them again on the same day for dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table. In this scenario, you will likely have a day of your vacation where you do not have a Table Service meal reserved. That’s ok, you have your Quick Service meals to use instead! This is not to say that you cannot do more Table Service meals than you are allotted- it just means you have to pay out of pocket for any extra reservations above your allotment.
Speaking of paying out of pocket…you can still do Table Service dining without being on the dining plan. You make your reservations just the same (by having your travel agent make them for you or by reserving them yourself through your My Disney Experience account). Reservations require a credit card, but they do not charge anything unless you fail to cancel or show up for your reserved time. (There are a few exceptions that do require full payment at the time of the reservation.) There are, however, a few differences between being on the dining plan and paying out of pocket. A typical lunch or dinner on the dining plan includes an entrée, a non-alcoholic beverage and a dessert. If you are paying out of pocket, you have to pay for what you order. So should you wish to forgo the dessert and/or split and entree, you can stretch your dollars a bit. Restaurant menus and latest prices are available online, so you can decide what you are willing to spend when not on the dining plan. Some of my favorite locations to pay out of pocket include Sci Fi Dine-In for lunch at Disney's Hollywood Studios, The Plaza Restaurant in Disney's Magic Kingdom, and Whispering Canyon Café for lunch at Wilderness Lodge. All have great food and that sense of escape for a reasonable price. I also like to go to places like Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) and just order sides or desserts rather than a main course. This way I get to experience the atmosphere without breaking the bank.
What if I just booked a trip that is only 3 months away?
This happens often. Sometimes it’s not possible to know when you are available to travel 6 months ahead of time, or maybe you are just an on the fly type of person. Whatever the reason, when you book your trip less than six months out, you are immediately within your dining reservation window. If you booked with UNIGLOBE Ohio Valley Travel, I am immediately available to help you secure your reservations. It may be unlikely to get the most popular locations, but you will have still have plenty of excellent dining options. And perhaps the times may be less that desirable, but those off times do have advantages in other ways. For example, dining times available may be much earlier or later than you would normally eat. The 5-7pm reservation times will likely be taken, but that also means short standby lines at the attractions during those hours, so eating at off times isn’t all bad!
But what if I have my heart set on one restaurant and I don’t get it?
First, keep trying. People end up having to cancel their trips and thus their dining reservations all the time. Periodically log into your My Disney Experience account and see if anything has opened up. Good times to check are 30 days before your vacation as this is when final payments are due. If a party has to cancel their vacation (and thus their dining reservations) this is a likely time. Also check 24 to 48 hours before your anticipated dining date. Depending on the restaurant, guests must cancel either one or two days prior to their reservation to avoid being charged. See if you can snag any cancelations! Another alternative is to ask at the podium when you arrive at the parks. There may have been some “no shows” that freed up a table. Last, if you don’t get to dine at the place you wanted, it’s ok; you are still at the most magical place on earth! Make the most of your trip and focus on all the beauty around you. It’s likely that your second choice restaurant will be a pleasant surprise that you weren’t even counting on! Don’t let the disappointment ruin your vacation.
One last note before I get to suggestions. You do not have to do Table Service Dining to enjoy your Walt Disney World® Resort Vacation. If you are only going for a few days, you may prefer to spend your time experiencing the plethora of attractions Walt Disney World® Resort offers. (Likewise if you are on a tight budget.) Table Service meals enhance your vacation by allowing you to slow down, relax, enjoy a meal and digest before your next adventure, but it’s not a must. It totally depends on what your expectations are and how you choose to spend your time and money.
So what are some of these fantastic restaurants I am going on and on about? Let’s start with the most coveted locations that fill up VERY quickly at the 6 month point. If any of these locations are on your list (and they most likely are!), you really must book early if you have your hearts set on dining there. Whether for the character interactions they offer or the ambiance of the theming, the following restaurants are exceedingly popular with guests. I’ll save WHY these are such fantastic choices for another post.
For now, here is a list of wonderful considerations (with Table Service entitlements required for each) for your review and your next trip to Walt Disney World® Resort:
The Character Meals: Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom (2) Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway Pavilion, EPCOT (1) O’Hana at the Polynesian Village Resort (1) Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort (1) Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios (1) Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom (1) 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort (1) Garden Grill at EPCOT (1) Tusker House in Animal Kingdom (1) Unique themes: Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom (1) 50’s Prime Time Café at Hollywood Studios (1) Sci-Fi Dine-In at Hollywood Studios (1) T-Rex at Disney Springs (1) Dinner shows: Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review at Fort Wilderness (2) O’hana at the Polynesian Village Resort (2) Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Village Resort (2) Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness (2) Fine dining: La Cellier in Canada Pavilion, EPCOT (2) California Grill in the Contemporary Resort (2) Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort (2) As always, customers of UNIGLOBE Ohio Valley Travel receive free Magical Concierge Services. I am here to help guide you into the perfect fit for your party’s unique needs, wishes, and appetites! Happy Planning!