Until FT4RL2, I didn’t even realize that making reservations at Disney World was a thing people did (thanks to Leslie from Trips with Tykes for giving me one more thing to obsess about!). So I’ve been anxiously awaiting the 180 day mark to make dining reservations. In preparation I enjoyed reading my favorite food blogger’s Disney series, though in the end I had to make decisions based on a party with a 6 month old and a 3 year old (and two grandparents!).
I started this series as a first time Disney planner – this is the first time I’m going as an adult in charge of the itinerary. I learned a few things along the way to making dining reservations (I started out doing things the hard way), so this post is about how I went about making Disney dining reservations and some ideas I have to streamline the process for beginners.
Deciding where to eat
I’ve honestly forgotten all of the links that I’ve read to figure out where to eat. I started just by googling “Disney dining toddler” and went from there. I basically just wanted to get a feel for what was out there and which restaurants are the toughest to make reservations at.
What I ended up doing was just deciding what types of meals I was looking for and choosing places to eat based on that. I considered putting it out to Twitter but decided against it – when I get inundated with stuff on my timeline I have trouble processing it. Instead, feel free to inundate me in the comments with recommendations!
So these were my priorities – a character meal (or two), something fun at Epcot, a date meal for my wife and myself, and other than that overall fun experiences for M. I figure H, the six month old, isn’t going to care.
I ultimately decided on Chef Mickey’s for the character meal – I’m sure there are less crowded meals but I think the combo of a monorail ride plus meeting characters is going to be big for the toddler. Also, Jess and I are slightly concerned that she might be scared by them (she loved Hello Kitty at LAX but was younger then). What I did was book Chef Mickey’s for lunch on our first day and then I also reserved a breakfast at Chef Mickey’s towards the end of our trip. That way, if she keeps bugging us about seeing characters we can go back. Right now she only really knows who the mice are, so it’s not like I have to take her to see princesses or any other random characters – so I decided tried and true is the way to go. Apparently Chef Mickey’s features the Fab Five – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Goofy.
For a fun meal at Epcot, I booked a lunch for us at the Biergarten in the Germany pavilion at Epcot. This was mostly for nostalgia reasons, a throwback to our time in Germany this time last year. The Biergarten features a live music show which I figure M will be into and it should be loud enough to be suitable for H. It was a toss up between this and Via Napoli – I ultimately decided that the Biergarten will be a more fun experience overall for everyone. I ended up making a dinner restaurant at Via Napoli for another time just in case.
For the date meal, I went with Le Cellier in Epcot – a steakhouse featured in the Canada pavilion of all places. I really went for this just because everyone seemed to say it was really difficult to get reservations at. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a challenge. I booked a 7 PM dinner for us in the hopes that we can step out at 9 PM to see the Illuminations show. I figure you can’t really screw up a steak, right? I also thought that out of all the fine dining experiences available, avoiding a tasting menu could save a lot of time. Finally, this is a good way for me to spend more time at Epcot nerding out.
I booked a couple of other random reservations – T-REX and Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe for a couple of dinners and Be Our Guest for lunch. Out of those three, I’m only really wed to eating lunch at Be Our Guest – I think M will really enjoy eating in a castle (and I know Jess will enjoy the Beauty and the Beast atmosphere). Overall I’m just trying to eat at Disney branded places that will blow M’s mind.
Balancing dining reservations with an overall itinerary
If you’re thinking “Man, he seems to have made a lot of dining reservations”, you’re right. The issue is, 180 days out, I still don’t have a clear picture of what parks we are going to be in on what days. You can’t double book reservations, so what I tried to do was spread out reservations to give us maximum flexibility when I finally drill down what parks we’ll visit on what days. So for example I have two reservations at the Biergarten for two separate days. You have to cancel before 24 hours in order to avoid a $10 charge per person.
There was one decision I made before making dining reservations. I had to decide whether to book restaurants at parks on Extra Magic Hour days or not. The benefit of Extra Magic Hours is obviously the time in the parks for people staying at Disney Resorts only, the drawback is in general those days tend to be more crowded overall (or so I’ve read). Ultimately, I decided to avoid Extra Magic Hour days. My reasoning is, with two kids under the age of three it’s going to be tough to get to the early morning hour, and with bedtimes at 8 PM (which we’d push for like fireworks maybe one night), it’s pretty much pointless for us to stay in the parks until 10 PM.
I am still deciding, however, about whether to get park hoppers on our tickets. We don’t really need it by any means, I’m likely seriously overestimating M’s stamina, but spread out over a six day ticket it’s only $10/day. Would it be worth $40 (4 adult tickets) for Jess and I to go to Le Cellier on a day we’re not at Epcot? Or to sneak into the Magic Kingdom just for the fireworks at 8 PM? Something I’m still deciding and the subject of another post one day.
I also didn’t make any reservations for Hollywood Studios – I’m starting to lean towards not going at all. The kids are just too young at this point (though that’s another argument for park hopper – I could just run over there and ride the Tower of Terror, the only ride at that park I remember from my childhood, haha).
Why I shouldn’t have made reservations online and just called
OK, so I’m kind of stupid. For a few nights, I was logging in at midnight every night to make dining reservations. This is a great time for me to mention that Disney’s website sucks, at least for me. I get all these timeout issues and half the time I tried to make reservations I’d get this error:
I’d have to keep refreshing and trying again until available times showed up. I also am stupid in the sense that I really, really hate talking to human beings. This is kind of unfair to the “magical” Disney staff since every time I’ve called they’ve been amazing, but I really didn’t want to call and make reservations.
So, 180 days before the first night we are going to be at Disney, I logged in and made a reservation. The next night, I logged in and made reservations for the next day of our trip. I did this for four days straight, but I noticed that some restaurants were already booked or only had weird times (like 1:20 PM at the Biergarten).
Pros like Dia and Haley already know what I did wrong. If you have a reservation at a Disney property, you can make dining reservations for your entire trip starting 180 days from your first night. Woops! Now, I’ve since realized that when logged in, you can see this online:
I took this screenshot on July 14th, so technically I should have only been able to book up until 1/10. Now the kicker is, I always thought I was logged in, but my session just kept timing out and the Disney website doesn’t prompt you to log back in.
Anyway, do yourself a favor and just do what I did when I figured this out. Bite the bullet and call in. A friendly representative helped me book four dining reservations in about ten minutes for the entire back end of my trip. As long as you know what restaurants you are looking for and what times, this is a much more streamlined process.
I think I’ve probably overbought into the hype of Disney dining. I’m likely going to cancel some reservations before we get there, but it was an informative experience to book dining to say the least. I think this is really helping me to frame our trip – I’m starting to drill down on which parks I want us to visit on which days. Just don’t do what I did and book day by day – call in and do it all at once!
Other Posts in this Series