First things first (this is for the hubby)… ADR= Advanced Dining Reservation. Okay, got that out of the way! ADR planning is an important part of most Disney vacations and, certain times of the year (Christmas, I’m looking at you), is absolutely essential if you want to eat anywhere except Pizzafari. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty talented at getting just the right ADR, admittedly an odd skill BUT super useful for those moments when my sisters say “We want to eat in Cinderella’s Castle on Christmas morning before the park opens!” or that time we first went to Boma and realized we loved it so much we just HAD to eat there a second time… on our 4 night trip! SO, here are some of my best ADR PLanning Tips for scoring the dining schedule of your dreams!
This is the most basic of my ADR Planning Tips, but it’s also the most essential. You can book your ADRs 180 days FROM THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR STAY. Let me say that again, 180 days from the first day. That means if you have a 5 night vacation from August 1-6 this year, you can start booking ADRs on February 3. BUT, here’s the key, you can book ADRs for the duration of your stay meaning you can book them even for that last day, August 6, even though on Feb 3 you’re 185 days out. Make sense? I hope so, I know this can be a little confusing, but the point is
This is sort of a natural extension of the first tip, but worth it’s own discussion. There’s definitely flexibility in this category depending on the time of year, but generally, some restaurants are harder to get reservations for than others. Here’s a general list (if you have more to add here let me know in the comments):
- Signature restaurants in general book up more quickly because, well, they’re signature which means special and delicious and more popular
- In particular, Le Cellier seems to be harder to get than others (even if this Disney blogger has refused to shell out the $$$ since it went from a one dining credit to two dining credit establishment… also since she became gluten intolerant and can’t eat allllllll the cheddar beer soup)
- Cali Grill, especially during the fireworks viewing time, can be hard to get, for obvious reasons
- Any time you’re thinking about a pre-park-opening ADR, it’s going to be tougher. Crystal Palace, Cindy’s Table, Tusker House, maybe even The Garden Grill?
- Actually, I’m just going to give Cinderella’s Table it’s own spot on this list!
- Anything during “free dining” booking periods
- Be Our Guest, it’s new, it’s awesome, and it’s cheaper than TS (table service). I had walk up success once but most of the time it’s completely booked up
- Beaches and Cream (I still get sad thinking back to the day when they started taking ADR’s and all walk up availability went away forever, okay not really, but almost).
I left Victoria & Albert’s off this list even though it’s quite possibly the hardest ADR to get on average through the year if not simply because of the vastly limited seating. V&A’s has their own reservation phone number to call separate from the main Disney number. I’d still advise using the online or app booking, but if you prefer calling here’s the number: 407-939-3862.
This one is only obvious if you’ve played around with Disney’s reservation tool either online or on the app a lot. If you want to, say, book a 6:30 dinner at Yachtsman, and, in the “time” drop down menu say “dinner” it will give you up to 3 options. They have more reservations than that! So the first part of this tip is to put the specific time you want in the reservation tool. The second tip is even if they don’t have 6:30, that doesn’t mean they don’t have other times available.
Also, spend some time playing around with the My Disney Experience App. I use it so many ways for ADR planning. Aside from looking up available reservations (super helpful for the next tip), it’s also a great way to know what dining there is in different places around the world. Once you have your park schedule, you can go on the app and tell it where you’ll be (what park or resort) and it will give you all the food establishments in that park/resort/area.
There are so many more delicious places to eat in Disney than you’ll ever squeeze into one trip, and even though in the real world we might think we need breakfast, lunch, and dinner, that’s never been the case for me in Disney. Most of the time, all my belly can really handle is a light breakfast, a light lunch, a mickey bar, whatever other tasty thing I find, a bite of the hubby’s tasty thing, dinner, night snack. In all of that read: one ADR. Disney food is rich and it’s vacation so you want to enjoy yourself, right? Often, though, that leads to a tendency to expect to be eating more than you’ll actually want to. For that reason, when you’re looking at all the places you want to try, I’d suggest limiting it (for the sake of your belt and your wallet!) to no more than 2 ADRs per day.
Also in this tip is remember you don’t need an ADR for everything! There’s enormous amounts of Counter Service food that definitely deserve a place in you Disney vacation planning. Leave room in your planning for the unexpected hand-sized cupcake or mainstreet popcorn or second mickey bar and save a few things for your next trip (I’m always coming up with reasons for the next trip!).
So lets say you do your best making plans half a year before your trip and your tastes change, your schedule changes, you decide last minute to take a long weekend in Disney (maybe I’m dreaming here), whatever the reason, you’ve missed the 180+ days mark by a marathon. Don’t fear! Just like your plans changed, other people’s plans change too! Take a few minutes to check (stalk) the place you want really until the day before the date of the meal (I’ll get to why in a moment). Using the app is especially good for this (I promise, they’re not paying me, I just love the app haha) because it loads quickly and lets you check when you have a spare moment.
Okay, so why up until the day before? Because (1) Disney charges $10 per person for a reservation cancelled less than a day in advance ($20 per person at some places) and (2) you should always have a back up.
I think this one bears a little attention, especially if you’re an obsessive planner like me. I’ll spend weeks making the absolutely perfect, most logical, most magical plans (I’m not the only one who finds this fun!) but then we get there and you know what? More often than not we don’t follow them. Plans are an awesome guideline and will help you know the best options, but sometimes, the “best” thing just isn’t what you feel like doing, and that’s OKAY! With dining, that pesky cancellation policy I mentioned gets in the way, but within reason you really can change your plans. You might not get the toughies on a whim, but it never hurts to look for other options and it’s always okay to change it up. We do this constantly and our trips are so much better for it. I love the fun of planning more than your average obsessive planner, but I don’t love feeling “stuck” doing anything when I’m in DISNEY! So make your plans, love your plans, and when you want to, let them go!
For all I said about hard to get ADRs and planning and busy times of year, I’ll share this. On our last trip, December 20-26, my mom & pop turned to me and said “we don’t feel like going to Kona Cafe tonight, can you get us in at Yachtsman instead?” Once I closed my slackjaw, I did a little digging and you know what? 5:15 they were sitting deciding which glorious steak they would have while the rest of us headed off for LAVA CAKE I mean dinner. (Addendum to the cancellation policy, I’ve never been penalized because one or two people couldn’t make it to the reservation as long as the rest of us went).
If you want to eat at my new favorite date-night spot on property, Bluezoo, or any of the other amazing spots over at the Swan & Dolphin, don’t use the website/app/Disney hotline. For whatever reason, Disney can’t see all the reservations available (they actually don’t always have the open times right either for these places), so if you call the restaurants directly instead you can often get a reservation even when Disney says there’s nothing available!
If you’re willing to eat at strange times there’s often a 9:30 or 10:00 (we’re talking pm here) spot open closer to the date of the reservation than you’d expect.
You don’t have to eat a full meal everywhere. Say you want to go to Sanaa because you’ve heard the mass adoration for their naan (and their gluten free naan!!) & selection of dips BUT you don’t have room in your schedule for another big meal. Just go and enjoy that one thing, I know it probably feels a little weird to go to a restaurant and not order an entree, or even to go and order one appetizer to share, but seriously, it’s YOUR vacation, it’s OKAY. So if there’s a dish you really want or somewhere you just want to stop in, do it! (Although if you’re not staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge and you do find yourself taking this tasty advice about the naan, I require you to walk over to the Mara and get a pack of zebra domes (the gluten free ones have a solid dark chocolate base instead of cake!!! All the foodie love!) because you can and thus you must haha!).