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.
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!
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:
- Resources for Gluten-Free diets in Disney World
- Resources for Gluten-Free diets in Disneyland
- Best Disney Restaurants for Vegetarian Dining
- Tips for Eating Healthy in Walt Disney World
- Contacts for Staying Kosher in Disney World
For more info, check out our Disney Dining Reference Page.
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
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.
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!
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:
- 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!