The 60 day mark before your Disney World trip is approaching and now you must decide where to make advanced dining reservations (ADR’s). If you are staying at a Disney resort then you can make your reservations for your entire vacation 60 days before the first day of your trip. If you are staying at a non-Disney resort (and yes this includes the Swan and Dolphin hotels) then you can only make your reservations 60 days out one day at a time. Regardless of which situation you find yourself in, the question still remains… how do you plan your dining?
If you have young children like us you might even be wondering if you should make dining reservations at all. Table service restaurants are certainly more expensive than quick service spots, and if your children are picky eaters it might feel like a bad use of your funds.
There is also the question of scheduling. The more reservations you make, the more you are tied to a schedule. As parents, you have to expect you will need a level of flexibility in your Disney plans. Your kids will absolutely throw you some curve balls that make planning in advance a little more challenging. For instance, a few trips ago my two year old developed an ear infection while we were at Disney World. Fortunately, we were able to get him antibiotics, but this still derailed our plans. We had to cancel several dining reservations and it left us wondering if we had overbooked ourselves in the first place. Especially with dinner reservations. It is a lot to ask of a toddler to spend a long day in the park and then expect them to be able to go back out again for a table service meal. So what are we saying? Forget ADR’s all together? Of course not! We just want to help you be smart about it. You know your kids and their limits. If they struggle out at restaurants in your everyday lives then they will at Disney World, too. There will be Disney magic all around, sure, but it’s not suddenly going to change the personality and behavior of your kids, sorry. Our advice is to be realistic. Your kids will most likely be exhausted at the end of the day. Which is great!! That’s how it should be. Most of your time and energy should be spent on maximizing your fun and days in the theme parks. So making a dining reservation for a late dinner should be out of the question. Trust us from experience, this never turns out well.
The key to dining reservations with little ones is balance. Don’t overdo it. That means less is more. On the trips where we make one or two ADR’s we tend to enjoy our dining experiences much more. The reservations we make are also typically for breakfast or lunch. We find earlier in the day is best for our youngsters, and much prefer an easier and faster quick service meal for dinner.
Pro mom tip: make your breakfast reservation at a theme park restaurant for as early as possible. You will be able to enter the theme park before it opens to everyone else. This used to be our tried and true strategy, but with extra magic hours happening at every park every day and less restaurant selection in the mornings it is not as effective right now. Unless you are staying off property, then it’s still a great strategy because it gets you into the parks at the same time as the resort guests. Currently (March 2022), Magic Kingdom is the only park where you can have an ADR before extra magic hours begin. Park hours do change, so keep an eye on this. Extra magic hours begin at 8:30am for MK, so you can make an ADR for 8am. Take pictures of your family on Main Street and in front of the castle with no one photo bombing in the background! You will likely also finish your meal with enough time to get a ride or two in before the crowds pick up. Currently, Cinderella’s Royal Table is the only table service restaurant serving breakfast at Magic Kingdom. We are hopeful our favorite, Crystal Palace, and many more will be open for breakfast again soon and we can return to using this strategy more!
So yes, we find breakfast to be the best time for ADR’s, but be careful with that! Again, this is one of those situations where you need to know your kids. Ours are super early risers on a regular day. But if your kids are difficult to rise in the morning or if this is their cranky time then you should reevaluate. Perhaps a late breakfast or early lunch would suit better. The last thing you want is to be putting extra stress on everyone (but mostly you) because you have an early morning reservation to make and your family can’t seem to get out the door. Our advice is also to be smart with your reservations. If you are going to Epcot then make your reservation in Epcot or at your own resort before you leave for the park. I know this sounds obvious, but we have actually made this mistake. We made breakfast reservations at the Polynesian when staying elsewhere thinking it would be easy to then go on to Magic Kingdom for the day. No. Don’t do it. There is no resort to resort Disney transportation, so we had to take the bus to Magic Kingdom then walk to the monorail, wait for the monorail, fight a crowded monorail of people trying to get to MK and just… no never again.
Right now it is also important to pay attention to current restaurant offerings. For instance many of the character dining spots do not have characters right now. If you make a lunch res for Crystal Palace you won’t see Winnie the Pooh and friends. So plan accordingly!
If you really want to do a character dining experience, options are limited at this time. We are hopeful this will be changing soon, but as things currently stand your options are Chef Mickey’s at The Contemporary Resort, Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios, Tusker House at Animal Kingdom, Topolino’s Terrace at The Riviera Resort, Storybook Dining at Wilderness Lodge, and Garden Grill at Epcot (Updated March 2022)
Again, with character dining as well, our advice is to choose one. If you really want to do more then try and pick completely different experiences. For instance at Tusker House, Topolino’s and Chef Mickey’s you will see mostly the same characters. Only difference is Pluto at Chef Mickey’s and Daisy at Topolino’s and Tusker House, plus their outfits. If you want to dine with a princess then your only option right now is Storybook Dining.
We are hopeful more and more dining spots will be returning to normal soon, but our advice will remain much the same. Don’t overdo it! Dining reservations are great, and can lead to wonderful and memorable experiences. Some of our favorite Disney moments have taken place at a character dining or special meal. Just be smart when making your choices! Book reservations where you already plan to be and keep in mind what times typically work out best for your family. You can read all the tip posts, but if an early morning reservation is going to lead to a toddler tantrum then please don’t make an early reservation because a blog told you to do it! You know your kids best. Be realistic with planning and expectations. Remember to allow for unplanned moments on your vacation as well, so you can leave room for the magic!