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Top Ten Disney Dining Tips Straight From Disney Fans

Chef Mickey
I put out the call on twitter and facebook for everyone’s best Disney Dining advice (because you guys are the experts!!). A lot of the responses could be combined, conveniently, into what I think is one awesome Top Ten list:

TOP TEN: DINING TIPS FROM THE DISNEY EXPERTS

1. Make Reservations
This piece of advice was mentioned dozens of times: Make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) no matter what…and make them early! We suggest you plan ahead and make dining reservations for your high priority meals 180 days ahead of your visit to Disney World and 60 days ahead of your visit to Disneyland. (To us, they’re all high priority, so we just make all of our reservations as soon as we can.)

For those wondering if going to the parks during a traditionally slow season negates the need for ADRs, it doesn’t. The popular restaurants are always popular, and Disney’s “slow seasons” are getting shorter and shorter. Making reservations usually costs nothing, and can save you lots of time during your trip. Here’s a primer on how to make reservations for Disney Restaurants.

Of course, if you’re dead set against making advanced reservations, here are a few of our suggested restaurants you can still get into without an ADR.

Milky Way Sundae -- Beaches and Cream

Milky Way Sundae -- Beaches and Cream

2. Do Your Research
Lots of folks suggested that an important part of planning your Disney dining is doing research about the restaurants and dining options available. I couldn’t agree more. Check out restaurant reviews, learn from other Disney fans how they handled Dining planning for their vacations, read trip reports, and sift through the posts here on the Disney Food Blog. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to create a seamless Dining strategy that will be enjoyable for your whole family.

One great tip: take stock of the types of eaters you’re bringing with you; make sure you know if you need to plan for fussy eaters, specific eating schedules, food allergies or intolerance, or just plan likes and dislikes, then translate that into your research.

We have plenty of dining reviews right here on the Disney Food Blog, of course, but we also have some great reference information on choosing restaurants when you have special diets to consider. Check out our Disney Dining Reference Page or the “food allergies” section below for more.

3. Coordinate Dining with Park Hours and Extra Magic Hours
This is another research tip, and a great way to make your time at the Disney theme parks go much more smoothly. Disney World posts their park hours on their website six months in advance, and Disneyland posts park hours in advance as well.

Consider which parades, fireworks shows, and events you’d like to take part in, then book your dining based on where you’ll be in the parks and resorts at which times. Remember, if you’re taking Disney transportation, getting from one resort to another might take some time, so allow plenty of travel cushion!

Disney World Main Street Confectionery

Disney World Main Street Confectionery

4. Eat at Unpopular Times
This one’s just about the easiest to plan for and work into your schedule — and it’s probably one that will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of saving time and avoiding crowds! Most folks eat at prime hours: 8AM for breakfast, Noon for lunch, 6PM for dinner, or thereabouts. If you’re eating breakfast at 10:30AM, lunch at 3:00PM, and dinner at 8:00PM, you’re more likely to get a reservation, and you’re more likely to be able to eat without feeling rushed or crowded. This is one of my favorite tips!

5. Be Honest About Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions
Disney parks are renowned for accommodating food allergies and dietary intolerance; no matter what restaurant you choose, it should be able to produce a delicious meal that won’t exclude anyone. Also, many people with food restrictions will probably find that they have many more options at Disney parks and resorts than they have at most restaurants.

If you know you’ll be traveling with a difficult dietary restriction, contact Disney to create a dining strategy that works for you (reach Disney World here, and contact Disneyland at (714) 781-DINE). They’ll reach out to chefs and restaurants to be sure you’ll have creative, delicious food wherever you go.

Also, check out our resources here:

For more info, check out our Disney Dining Reference Page.

Plaza Restaurant in Disney World

Plaza Restaurant in Disney World

6. Be Prepared for Costs
Disney restaurants are expensive. Interestingly, I had one twitter friend mention that the best piece of advice for dining in Disney was to “bring money!” while another gave the advice, “stop whining about money!” Bottom line? You’re paying a premium for the “magic,” but you knew that already.

If you’re using the Disney Dining Plan, your cost is already budgeted into your vacation package most of the time. If you’re winging it, we like to budget around $50 per adult, per day for food. This allows us to enjoy a counter-service meal along with a high-end table-service meal each day. We usually don’t spend that much, but we like to budget on the safe side just in case — since the food blog came around, our food expenditures have been slightly higher ;-)

Portobello Appetizer

Portobello Appetizer

7. Look for Discounts
There are lots of dining discounts available for those willing to seek them out! Specifically mentioned by several of our twitter and facebook friends was Tables in Wonderland — a fabulous program available to Disney World Annual Passholders and Florida Residents.

Don’t forget that there are often plenty of discounts available at restaurants around the Disney parks and resorts as well. You don’t have to stay on property to eat!

Our Disney Dining Reference Page has more information on dining discounts in both Disney World and Disneyland.

Dole Whip Float

Dole Whip Float

8. Try the Disney Dining Plans
The Disney World Dining Plans can save you plenty of cash in some circumstances, and they most certainly take all the guesswork out of budgeting for your dining. For those who want their Disney trip pre-paid with no spending surprises, Dining Plans are the way to go.

For the past couple of years, Disney World has been offering free dining as an incentive during the Autumn months; this can be a great money-saving option (but not always!). Be sure to check out Disney’s other vacation package and room-only discount codes on offer to be sure the Dining Plan will save you serious dough. Note: If this seems like a headache, call a great travel agent to check the options and pricing for you — that’s what they’re there for! And it’s usually free… .

In Disneyland, doing the math is a little easier. Disneyland Dining Plans are more voucher programs than money-saving plans. The main bonus to getting a Disneyland Dining Plan is that your food will be pre-paid and you don’t have to worry about budgeting while you’re in the parks.

9. Try New or “Under the Radar” Restaurants
While we all love the classics, it’s always fun to try new places! And you get to benefit from the great bonus that relatively unknown restaurants are…unknown! It’s easier to get reservations, the restaurants won’t be crowded, and you’ll probably feel less rushed and more relaxed.

Some of your very own Walt Disney World Moms Panelists shared some of their favorite “underrated” Disney World restaurants with us in an interview last year. Go check it out!

San Angel Inn

San Angel Inn

10. Miscellaneous Suggestions
I couldn’t NOT include some of the many wonderful, more specific suggestions I got from you guys, so here are the ones I could capture:

  • Breakfasts/Buffets:
    • Book breakfasts in the theme parks before the park opens — makes for great pictures!
    • Book breakfast as late as possible so that you can skip (and save costs) on lunch.
  • Try Resort Restaurants like ‘Ohana, Yachtsman Steakhouse, and Hoop Dee Doo Revue. Not all of your dining has to be in the theme parks.
  • Allow enough time to enjoy your meal. You’re rushing around all day, so be patient and flexible with meal times.
  • Eat at the “Kids’ Restaurants”…even when you don’t have kids!
  • Consider ordering or bringing bottled water. Many guests dislike the taste of city water they’re not used to, and Disney’s bottled water pricing is high.
  • Don’t forget your Dole Whip, Mickey Rice Krispie Treat, and Mickey Premium Bars!

Thanks again to everyone who contributed their thoughts and insights into what can make your Disney Dining Planning go smoothly, and your Disney trip a wonderful experience!

If you have other tips, tricks, or stories about Disney dining planning, please share them in the comments section below. The more info, the better!

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

31 Comments

  1. Great list AJ! Doing your research is very important overall in making the right choice where to eat and is one of the most important things you can do at WDW!

  2. Janna says:

    I completely *heart* this list, AJ!

    A big part of planning and research for me is looking at the menus. My older son is extremely picky (and, unfortunately, is a Disney ‘adult’ at age almost 11) and I have to plan around what he will/won’t eat. This is particularly tricky on the dining plan (he eats off the kids menu and my 3yo son eats off the adult menu).

  3. Nancy says:

    Excellent post with very helpful information. Thanks so much for doing this. This should be a “must read” for anyone planning a Disney World trip!

  4. AJ says:

    Matt — Thanks! Research is king. I always feel bad for folks head to WDW without a plan. I know it’s “freeing,” but I would be more stressed out that way!

    Janna — Great point! Menu research is definitely a bonus. We’re linking to all WDW menus on our upcoming restaurant info pages, too!

    Nancy — Thanks, Nancy! Planning ahead can make all the difference between having a great and relaxing or a bummer Disney vacation… People make fun of my spreadsheets, but they’re for a purpose!

  5. Gray says:

    This is a terrific list of advice, AJ. I agree Research is all-important. I love to review the menus before my trip so I can decide where I want to eat.

  6. Jen in GA says:

    LOVE the blog AJ! Just found it recently thanks to TMFLT yahoo group!!

    –Janna–I SOOO FEEL YA~! My 8, almost 9 year old is stuck with the icky kids menu unless we stick to the buffets. I guess you could say she has a more “mature” palate! She loves to watch all the cooking shows and try all the neat, imaginitive Disney food!

  7. AJ says:

    Gray — Thanks! I think these are all pretty good rules of thumb. Agreed on the menus, too!

    Jen in GA — Thanks for coming on board! Do you and your daughter cook together?

  8. Chip says:

    I have told those exact tips to people countless times. I cant tell you how many times people corner me at various places when they find out I run a Disney website and ask me
    “Got any tips” or “Where can I get a deal”

    Secretly I love it though..makes me feel like I actually know something :)

  9. AJ says:

    Chip — I hear ya! I was really excited to hear everyone’s different tips and tricks for having a great trip full of good dining… Let me know if you have any to add!

  10. EEFoster says:

    Excellent list. This is a must-read for anyone planning a Disney trip!

  11. AJ says:

    Thank you, Erin! Your endorsement is MUCH appreciated!

  12. [...] I like to start out with my absolute favorite website the Disney Food Blog. AJ has been super busy this week with all the Disney news but still found the time find out from you the Top Ten Disney Dining Tips Straight From Disney Fans. [...]

  13. Mark says:

    AJ these are wonderful tips and everyone from the veteran to the rookie would do well to follow them! Great job as usual :D

  14. Sheena says:

    Hi there! That pic of the Portobello app looks soooo good! Where can I find it @ the World?

  15. Heather says:

    Great tips!We us all of these and it always helps with planning our eating each time we go to WDW.We always do our research and keep up with menu changes at our favorite “must eat at” restaurants and are always looking at menu’s of restaurants we are interested in trying.Planning ahead might seem like a pain,but I’d rather do the work beforehand so I have more time to enjoy all the food and fun with my family :)

  16. Bill says:

    Excellent advice, but I do have one complaint and it’s not with the list of tips. It’s great to be able to make your ADR’s at 180 days, and it’s something I always do, but many times the park schedules and EMH’s are not always published 180 days out. It would be nice if park hours, schedules and EMH were consistantly published at least 210 days in advance.

  17. Michelle says:

    Hello, I stayed at the Pop Century twice and the chefs there were wonderful!! I have crazy diet restrictions and they prepared me food to order and were super pleasant and excited to do it for me. For example they made me grilled chicken, steamed green beans and Basmati white rice! I placed my order with the chef and it took 20-30 minutes and it was fresh and delicious, totally worth the wait. I wanted to mention this because I’m sure many people didn’t realize you can get your gluten free and other dietary needs taken care of at a Value Resort in the food court. Who knew! Now that I know I am spreading the food knowledge! Bon Appetite!
    ~Michelle

  18. All excellent tips! The first one reminded me of a family I met in line for Soarin one busy afternoon. They asked me for a recommendation of a ‘nice restaurant’ for dinner THAT NIGHT. I almost fell over, and then explained the whole ‘people make reservations six months in advance’ thing and suggested a few restaurants where they might be able to snag a walk-up table. I still wonder what they had for dinner that night–or if they had dinner at all!

  19. Melissa says:

    With regards to the Disneyland dining plan–I think the general consensus is, don’t do it!
    Yes, it’s a voucher, but the voucher is worth a certain amount of money and they give no change. So you will likely lose money, or if you are very careful, will have to add money of your own.

    If you want to prepay for food at Disneyland, the best suggestion I’ve heard is to get some Disney gift cards with your money ahead of time and use those to purchase your food. You’ll save money in the long run.

  20. Sommery says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, so pardon me if this is a repeat. I just have one thing to add to the note on #8: If you call a travel agent to price things out for your trip, BOOK your trip through that agent. Though their services are free to you, they deserve to get paid for their time. They only get paid when they book trips for people.

  21. Nancy says:

    These are great tips! Since not everyone has been going to Disney with a seasons pass for several years, some of us newbies don’t have a clue that you probably won’t get a decent meal unless you make an advance reservation. When my sons were younger, we couldn’t afford their one day ticket price let alone a seasons pass… In fact, we made our own sandwiches, packed up some snacks and bottled water, and we only ate ONE meal at Disney. There is no way we could buy a seasons pass for four of us. Alas, we also had to eat without reservations. Imagine that!

  22. Jodi S. says:

    I tried to make my resi’s at DL 60 days in advance from the first day of arrival but the CM I spoke with would not let me do the next day… :( I had to call back the next day. GOod thing that their resi’s are not as hard to get as WDWs are.

  23. Nicole says:

    Look over menus before you leave home. Just because a place served something you love does not mean that they still serve it now. Also I look at the menus before I leave home and write in a little note book some places that I know my family will eat at in each park. I have even printed out the menu out and had it in a folder. This way you can just see what the park has to offer and not spend all day walking around for something. I know you can just look this info on your phone, but why waist your battery on that. I had the book last may and was able to help a few other family’s with it. Also bring wet wipes even if you do not have children. Most quick service do not have a chance to clear the tables as fast as we need them. So if you have wet wipes you can clean the table your self.

  24. Dan says:

    If you are staying in a room with a kitchen,
    cooking most meals will save you a considerable
    amount of money. We spent 9 nights in a 1 bedroom
    at Kidani (DVC), ate out for dinner three times, went out for drinks
    and snacks and still saved approximately $1000.00. The dining
    plan is great if you eat alot, don’t want to
    cook or save money. As I said, we saved $1000
    and still had a great time! Just a thought.

  25. Paul S. says:

    Never be afraid to try something different. Now, I’m just as guilty of going to my favorite places, especially when it comes to the quick service places. I will NEVER pass up a chance at FlameTree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom, as well as Sunshine Seasons at the Land Pavillion at EPCOT. I still want to try so many places that I haven’t been to…yet. Be Our Guest at the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom is at the top of my list.

  26. Nikki Amos says:

    Wonderful tips! I’m an extreme Disney planner and this October will be my first experience with the Disney Dining Plan. Made reservations at Ohana, 50′s Prime Time Café and Via Napoli. Not able to get seats at Be Our Guest though (even 180 days out). Have read that if you go for an early lunch that it is just as nice so we are going to try that. Can’t wait!

  27. Jill says:

    My husband and I plan on going to Epcot for the Food and Wine festival next week. A friend of mine said her mom went to customer service desk and got a meal ticket for around $28 and that was all she had to pay for a full day of eating! Apparently all you have to do is look for this little icon on the menus/kiosks and you card will be accepted. I cant find any information about this meal card on line. Has anyone heard of it? It feels to good to be true…

  28. Kristiiina says:

    Now, what’s wrong with Florida water!? Lol, I love our water!

  29. Colleen Grace says:

    If you don’t have reservations, ask. I have been seated without reservations many times. I was once even offered a table at Cinderella’s Castle although that was before they required prepayment.

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