Disney dining planning and execution

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My partner and I are going on a week-long Walt Disney World trip this winter! I am so excited. Sept ’15 we went to the Magic Kingdom just for one day, and before that I hadn’t been to WDW since I was a child. Our upcoming trip is basically my first full-fledged Disney experience in over a decade so we are trying to be on top of planning to make it as magical as possible.

We are staying on site in a Disney Vacation Club villa at the Animal Kingdom lodges, which means we can book dining 180 days in advance of the first day of our trip for the length of our stay. This day recently happened, so read more below to find out our trials and tribulations!

Do you have any tips or tricks when it comes to advance dining reservations at Disney? How the heck are people snagging dinner at Be Our Guest?!

Did we buy the Disney dining plan?

  • We did not end up purchasing the Disney dining plan, which is available to those who stay on property. Ultimately I felt you would need to eat quite a lot to make it worth it, and I can be quite peckish. I didn’t want to feel pressured to be eating a lot and making the most of our dining plan credits, so we will be paying as we go along.
  • I see the appeal — to have most or all of your food prepaid so once you arrive on vacation there’s no money changing hands. My workaround for this is simply that we plan on buying Disney gift cards (slightly discounted with your Target Red card at Target, or at Sams club)  in the months leading up to our trip that will cover most of our dining expenses, so it will still be prepaid effectively but the Disney gift cards allow more flexibility.

Character meals and packages — are they worth it?

  • This really depends on what you want out of your Disney vacation and your budget.
  • I definitely like meeting characters. I think it’s part of the magic. However I do want my dining to generally highlight the food, so I really only considered character meals where I was excited about the food. You’ll note a clear lack of popular places like  Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Table on my list below and that’s nothing to do with characters and 100% because the dining options didn’t really pique my interest.
  • Packages for VIP to parades or nighttime shows can be worth it if you really want to see the show and think the price is a good value. Check out menus ahead of time to guess what you might order. If you’re going to spend $40 anyway on food and a package is $45 I definitely think it’s worth it. To me an extra $5-$10 is totally worth my time of not sitting for an hour before a show to get a good seat.

The plan

  •  We browsed the Disney food blog and utilized their amazing restaurant search tool to narrow down what we wanted. I also looked pretty extensively at the AllEars WDW menus as I can be a bit picky, or certainly if we are going to pay a set price for a buffet or prix fixe menu that I will definitely eat my fill.
  • I really enjoy using meals as a time to sit down and relax, so we planned for about 1 table service meal per day.
  • Knowing our rough schedule we decided to aim for:
  • There wasn’t a lot of “strategy” in picking where we want to dine. We aren’t big breakfast people so we won’t be doing an early breakfast in a park to enter early. But there were a few considerations:
    • The Fantasmic! dining package we figured out would be a good value as I wanted to eat at Mama Melrose’s anyway. In this package you get an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic drink, plus a VIP seating voucher for the Fantasmic! show for $45/adult. I had read great reviews about the steak here, which is already $33, so it’s not much of a stretch to easily eat $45 worth (Calamari, for example, is a $12 appetizer). I also really wanted to enjoy at least one nighttime show without fighting crowds or showing up an hour early.
    • Tusker House also has generally amazing reviews and you get to meet some of the Fab Five characters in safari gear, which I thought would be so cute. The strategy here was really aiming for a late breakfast time. 1) so we can hopefully snag Kilimanjaro Safari fastpasses for the morning when the animals are more active, and 2) so we can maybe run into the lunch buffet and sample both breakfast and lunch foods.
  • Disney kindly sent us an info packet and the backpage told us the day we would be able to start booking, but you can also use this planning calculator to determine the day. Reservations open up at 6AM on that day for dining!
  • The night before we created a spreadsheet where we put the name of the restaurant, the date we want to go in the format Disney uses to we can copy/paste (mm/dd/yy) instead of scrolling through the calendar, the approximate time we want to eat, and the link to that specific restaurant.
  • We made sure we knew our passwords for our Disney accounts, as well as had a credit card in our My Disney Experience profiles as you need a credit card to reserve dining (they don’t charge you except for a few very special meals like the Hoop Dee Doo Review and Chef Mickey’s; the credit card is for in case you don’t show up then they charge you a no-show fee).
  • We both had our laptops charging by our bed, ready to go.
  • Set our alarms for 5:45 and had an anxious night of sleep!

Results

  • Sometimes, but not always, we found we had to log out and log back in to the Disney website for it to recognize that we were in fact staying on site and we should be able to book 180 days from today PLUS the rest of our trip.
  • We started trying a couple of minutes before 6AM but found it opened up truly at 6AM.
  • Success: We were able to snag Tusker House at 10:35AM (breakfast ends at 10:55 so this should be perfect!), and lunch at Via Napoli.
  • Failure: Literally every Bon Voyage Adventure breakfast morning was booked completely for our entire stay! There were also no times on the day we want to go to Hollywood Studios for the Fantasmic! package at Mama Melrose’s. Interestingly there were several times at the two other participating restuarants (Hollywood & Vine and the Hollywood Brown Derby). So I booked this package at the Hollywood & Vine instead.
  • Mixed: We have 5 day park hopper tickets, so 1 day per park plus a flex day. We were unable to get anything for Be Our Guest on our planned Magic Kingdom day. We were able to get a lunch reservation for our flex day. I would prefer dinner, but I have never been to Be Our Guest and it looks amazing so I will consider this a semi-success.
  • Additional bookings: on our planned Magic Kingdom day we are also doing Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party. I have read that many quick service food places shut down so I feel it’s imperative for us to eat a big dinner to sustain ourselves through the party! Nothing is worse than being hangry and only being surrounded by sugar. The hope was to get a Be Our Guest dinner on this day, but that did not pan out. So for now we have a 3:20 reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern (this is during dinner interestingly, I would’ve guessed it was lunch time), as well as at 5:10 reservation at The Diamond Horseshoe. We’re keeping both options for now but will cancel one (or both?) in due time.

Persistence is key (I hope)!

  • There are two dining packages that are currently being offered, but end before my trip to WDW. I called and essentially Disney has not (publicly) announced if these shows will continue. I am going to keep checking on the Disney blog as well as the dining reservation pages for these:
    • The Rivers of Light dining package for breakfast at the Tusker House. This is currently listed at $39 and normal breakfast at the Tusker House is ~$30-$35. So for an extra few bucks you get reserved seating at the Rivers of Light show. Right now you can only book this through September, but I’m hopeful more days will open up and we can snag this. Similarly we can go for a late breakfast to hopefully eat breakfast and lunch foods.
    • The Music of Pixar Live! and Fantasmic! dining package at Mama Melrose. For just an extra $5 compared to the Fantasmic! only dining package you also get a reserved/VIP ticket to the Music of Pixar live. I love Pixar films and scores–I used to put them on all the time when I was studying in college–and I just think this would be such a special experience. Right now the Music of Pixar Live is only going through August 27th. Fingers crossed that changes!
  • A couple of days later I was able to swap my Hollywood & Vine Fantasmic dining package for a Mama Melrose’s Fantasmic dining package. Hooray!
  • Still nothing yet for the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast or dinner at Be Our Guest. But I’m going to keep checking back because cancellations occur!
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