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The Most Popular Disney World Restaurants (And Alternatives When They’re Full)

Chef Donald

You guys remember when we covered the Top Ten Disney Dining Tips, right? Overwhelmingly, the tip that was mentioned the most by Disney Food Blog readers was making Advanced Dining Reservations for high priority meals at Disney parks and resorts.

While this might be obvious to many, not everyone knows which Disney restaurants fill up the fastest when it comes to reservations. Having a little frame of reference on this might be extremely helpful as you’re planning your Disney dining and trying to determine what meals are high priority for you. So, I’ve prepared a little primer on which Disney restaurants are the toughest to book, along with great alternatives if you don’t happen to get your favorites!:

1. Le Cellier

Le Cellier Steakhouse has been, for years, one of the toughest tickets in Disney World for both lunch and dinner. Seriously, I have heard Le Cellier cast members mention more than once that they’re continuously booked up for lunch and dinner 6 months in advance, with walk-up reservations rarely an option. In my opinion, this is due to three things:

  • Reputation: Rarely does the restaurant get a bad review, and it’s become such a phenomenon among Disney fans that you almost have to try it just to see what the fuss is about.
  • Restaurant size: The place is tiny and fills up fast, so fewer tables = fewer reservations.
  • Honest-to-goodness quality: Le Cellier has excellent service and the food is great more often than not.

Le Cellier's Famous Cheddar Cheese Soup

Alternatives: What do you do if you don’t get that Le Cellier table? While I do love Le Cellier, I’m not sold on the idea that it’s the best steakhouse on property. If steak is what you’re craving, consider Yachtsman Steakhouse in Disney’s Yacht Club Resort or Shula’s Steakhouse in the Dolphin Resort — both nearby. If you’d like a great steak for one table service credit, Kona Cafe in Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Kouzzina over on Disney’s Boardwalk both have great offerings.

If you need your Le Cellier fix and you need it now, there is the possibility of grabbing some famous Cheddar Cheese Soup, Breadsticks, and Moosehead Beer to go!

2. Character Meals

One of Disney World’s biggest draws for families is the promise of meeting Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and all their pals. One of the most efficient ways of doing this is by attending a character meal, so it’s no wonder these seats are so coveted. Some of the most popular in Disney World are Cinderella’s Royal Table (Cinderella and Friends), Crystal Palace (Pooh and Friends), Chef Mickey’s (Mickey and Friends), Tusker House (for breakfast — Donald and Friends), and the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Storybook Breakfast (Various Princesses). Here are a few reasons why you want these reservations:

Princess Aurora at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

  • Characters come to you: This is a big bonus when you realize that the alternative means waiting in endless lines to get a quick “love and shove” from one character at a time.
  • Characters come in droves: You can cross a bunch of the big names off your autograph list in the space of one meal. Most character meals include three or more characters.
  • Air Conditioning: You’re capturing Junior’s first meeting with Mickey in the relatively relaxed, air-conditioned environment of a restaurant versus the over-crowded, overheated Florida/California theme parks!
  • Getting a reservation in a park before it opens guarantees that you will grab a bunch of autographs before the Disney day has even officially begun, putting you ahead of the game when it comes to saving time later in the day. Also, this tactic means you’re already in the park and first in line for Dumbo as soon as the place opens. Score!
  • Synergy: Everyone gets fed, and you meet characters. At the same time! What could be better in terms of time saved?

Alternatives: If you can’t score a character meal during your visit, consider heading to one of the spots in the theme parks where characters are grouped rather than out on their own.

Epcot has an air conditioned character connection in Future World hosting fab five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, etc.) characters and Magic Kingdom — at the moment — still has a gathering of characters back in Toontown.

As for food — you could always grab a pretzel while you’re waiting for Mickey in the Judge’s Tent! Other than that, my best advice is to dine at Tony’s Town Square and keep an eye on the square outside just in case some characters begin to gather.

3. Pricey Places and Dinner Shows

Interestingly, the other types of reservations you need to act fast to secure are expensive spots, like Victoria and Albert’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and dinner shows, like the famous and long-running Hoop Dee Doo Revue in Fort Wilderness Resort!

Pork and Gratin Polenta from California Grill

These locations are unique and special, which is why they’re so popular. They’re also classic — Disney fans have chosen them over and over again through the years for celebrations and events like proposals, anniversaries, birthdays, and more.

Overall, these spots are unerringly high quality. Hoop Dee Doo will always be funny, raucous, and a great place to bring the whole family. Victoria and Albert’s will never falter on delivering incredible service and outstanding food quality. California Grill will forever surprise you with new dishes along with continuing to serve the outstanding favorites that made it a classic — and watching the fireworks show from the window while you’re sipping your wine will always keep ‘em coming back.

Alternatives: If V&A’s and Cali Grill are full, I can highly recommend other favorites like Jiko in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Citricos and Narcoossee’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. While these are still quite popular and offer a wonderful, quality dining experience, they don’t fill up as fast as those mentioned above.

I’m afraid there’s no substitute for Hoop Dee Doo Revue, but the Trail’s End Buffet in Fort Wilderness and a visit to the Chip and Dale campfire might console your sorrows! Also, Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge might offer some of that raucous hilarity you were hoping for.

Fireworks Hot-Spots

Speaking of fireworks, there are other spots that you need to book early for just that reason. For the Magic Kingdom fireworks show, ‘Ohana in Disney’s Polynesian resort will always book up fast. And for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth in Epcot’s World Showcase, be sure to snag your Rose and Crown Dining Room reservations quick like a bunny.

Also, as of September 2010, you’ll be able to fight for window space with others at La Hacienda de San Angel, the newest restaurant opening in Disney’s World Showcase.

Rose and Crown Dining Room Potato and Leek Soup

Of course, nobody guarantees you a great table for the fireworks, so your best bet is to book a reservation about 1 hour before the show is scheduled to begin, show up early to the restaurant, put in your request for a window or patio table, and wait.

Alternatives: If these hot spots are a no-go for your reservation calendar, consider grabbing a Dole Whip from Captain Cook’s and heading to the beach of the Polynesian Resort for the Magic Kingdom fireworks.

And if Illuminations is your goal but the patio seating didn’t pan out at Rose and Crown, head over to Tokyo Dining for some sushi and a partial view of the fireworks!

Top Tips For Snagging Your Elusive Disney Dining Reservation

  • Book Reservations As Soon as Possible: Either call 407-WDW-Dine or book reservations online at DisneyWorld.com exactly 180 days before you wish to dine at a particular restaurant (to figure out the exact date, plug your dining date into the PS Calculator). If you’re staying at a Disney on-site resort, you can book 190 days out as long as you provide your valid resort confirmation number. Get online or on the phone as early as possible in the morning (phone lines open at 7am EST sharp).
  • Meats Grilling at 'Ohana

  • If you’ve missed your 180 day window: Continue to check online or call daily to request your elusive reservation. Folks cancel trip and dining arrangements often, so you never know what you’re going to get.
  • Don’t give up hope: Even when you’re in the Disney parks and resorts you could still score a “walk-up” reservation! (Even at Le Cellier, it doesn’t hurt to ask.) Any restaurant or concierge desk should be able to let you know if a particular restaurant has any openings that day, or you can simply head to the restaurant you’re hoping for and ask at the podium if there are walk-up tables available. You might have to wait a while, but it’s worth a try — especially during slower seasons!

For more info on booking Disney dining reservations, check out our Disney Dining Reservations page. To research Disney World table-service restaurants, head over to our Disney World Table-Service Restaurants page.

What are your tried and true tips for getting the reservations highest up on your to-do list? I’d love to hear any insights about actions that have worked in your favor!

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32 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I think its worth mentioning that most of the time the breakfast character meals are usually the better value than the lunch or dinner character meals, and there can be some cool unadvertised perks as well.. Like a crystal palace breakfast before rope drop and you get to walk to the restaurant and see a totally empty MK in daylight which is pretty cool (and rare).

    I can also attest to the Le Cellier being hit or miss on ADR’s. I scored a Lunch reservation for a busy time of the year on the first try, yet for the fall during value season (and the free dining) I cannot get an ADR for this place to save my life.

    I cant speak for many other places you mentioned AJ however with the fireworks location, I’ve heard (not personally experienced) that if say you book a 730 ADR at rose and crown, and your done eating by 830 or so, they will NOT let you stay for Illuminations unless you are continuing to order or eat. I would guess this is true at other firework dining locals but I thought it worth tossing out there.

  2. Kelly says:

    A few tips of my own :) Cape May Cafe is an excellent character meal, but it’s much easier to get an ADR for than the rest.

    Keep in mind that if people are going to cancel packages, they’ll do so at 45 days out, so check when YOU are 45 days out and see if anything opens up.

    For a pricey meal, check out Bistro de Paris. Fairly uncrowded and easy to get an ADR for since it does NOT take the DDP. They have a prix fixe menu that’s absolutely wonderful, WITH wine pairings. Plus, it’s not as expensive as V&A :) Also, I’ve heard that the Flying Fish just started a Chef’s Table. Not many people know about it, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get a seat there!

  3. The secret to a Le Cellier reservation is timing. We always book for the last possible lunch reservation (usually around 2:30). It’s the perfect time to eat because the restaurant is a little quieter, since most people try to eat around noon. And, bonus: we’re usually too stuffed from the late lunch to eat another big dinner, so in a weird way, it helps keep costs down.

    I would also recommend Narcoosee’s for a pricey dinner option. The fireworks viewing is spectacular, and it’s the best view of the water pageant you’ll find in the parks.

  4. DisneyElisabeth says:

    So is the 190 day window confirmed and not just a temporary glitch? We were fortunately able to get what we needed at our 180 day mark online (including Le Cellier), but of course I want to know for future trips if they are permanently switching from 180+10 to 190+10. Thanks for a great blog!

  5. AJ says:

    Mark — Great points! Thanks! On that Illuminations Rose and Crown one, that’s why you have to eat sloooooooooowly ;-) Order drinks. Then appetizers. Then your entree. Then dessert. Then coffee…. . Opinions differ on whether this is acceptable, or just taking advantage of the system, though.

    Kelly — Thanks for the reminder of the 45 day out rule on packages! Very true. Also, Cape May Cafe has to be one of my favorite character meals — it just seems more low key to me than the others. Flying Fish HAS just started a Chef’s Counter, and there’s also one at Citricos, so there are definitely options available that don’t get booked up as fast as the others.

    Disney Chick — Great tip! Booking “off times” is a great way to beat the crowds. We always try to book Le Cellier for 11:30am (right when they open, when most folks are still full from breakfast) or 9:00pm — right at close ;-)

    Elisabeth — As far as I know, the 190 days is still available only to those with a valid Disney resort reservation. Not sure if the glitch is still happening, but my guess is that they’ll announce a permanent change before they official institute it. :-)

  6. Cody says:

    Also a note for all, but mostly Le Cellier. If you try once and you dont get it, keep trying! That has happened to me several times, and after trying and trying I finally got it. For the time and date i wanted… So there is hope of cancelations.

    I also agree abotu Cape May Cafe for breakfast, it is great, and you have some of the ‘important’ fab 5 characters there as well.

  7. Gray says:

    This is a terrific article, AJ! What a great idea to suggest alternatives for those popular restaurants that book fully so quickly. I love it.

  8. Allen says:

    We LOVE Tusker House for a character meal. The breakfast spread is amazing (and filling), pleased every age group at the table and the characters were never far off. Plus posing with Donald prior to entering is a great idea. Second favorite character meal is The Garden Grill (lunch) in EPCOT and this year we are going to Ohana for breakfast.

    As for pricey meals, I got nothin’. We are still dining with a toddler and don’t dare subject other “adults” to her unpredictability! :)

    Disney Chick is absolutely right, we have gotten great reservations for all of our meals by booking the “off times”. The other key we have discovered is CALLING for reservations. The morning of 180/190 days out we call and set up ALL of our reservations at the same time. AND we can ask the cast member questions and sometimes score a choice reservation we may have missed by just doing it online.

  9. We loved Cape May and Tusker House for breakfast. The atmosphere at Tusker House was amazing and so much fun for kids of all ages. The characters there were fun and great with the kids. Cape May was off the beaten path and quiet compared to the other venues.

    Huge fans of Le Cellier and have certainly had our moments trying to get ADRs for them. Of course, I also remember our honeymoon 9 years ago when we just walked in any time we wanted to eat without reservations. When we could not go there in February, we tried Kona Cafe. Did not live up to my Disney dining expectations. The steak I had was good, but nothing to write home about. I think it was just so noisy there and too much going on in the area of the Polynesian for my taste.

  10. James (Disneynorth) says:

    As far as the 190 days is concerned, here is how I have always interpreted it: you can make your first reservation 180 days out from the day that you arrive at WDW. But, you can make all your reservations for the length of your stay, as long as you don’t exceed 10 days. I.E., if you are arriving Oct. 1st, you can start booking April 4th. You can make all your reservations on April 4th for dates from Oct. 1st until Oct. 10th.

    Make sense?

  11. Mark S. says:

    Another great article, A.J. I have 2 bits of advice to consider for any trip to Disney:
    1. Plan early and often. When time permits, have an overall plan for the trip and make sure you know WHEN you need to take action to book WHAT.
    2. It never hurts to call Disney a week or more earlier than you think you can. Sometimes they change booking windows, and don’t openly advertise it. Most of these changes I learn about from great blogs, like this one. For example, last week, I called Disney just to ask a question. We wanted to book the Illuminations Cruise for our December trip and I couldn’t remember how early to report to the dock for pickup [Yacht Club Dock near Lighthouse 1 hour before Illuminations]. The booking window should have opened in mid-September, since that’s been a 90-day advance rezzie for the past few years. Apparently, they’ve changed this, so NOW you can book this cruise, and presumably most of the other Specialty Cruises on the same advanced window as dining. Moral of the story; never assume things still are as they were for last year’s trip.
    Oh, and a quick suggestion for another tasty restaurant is Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. This a 2-pointer on the Dining Plan, but worth it. Especially if you couldn’t get Cali Grill or Le Cellier.

  12. Mark S. says:

    Oops. Forgot another dining tip in the previous note. We love eating at Yak & Yeti in the Animal Kingdom Park. Our favorite occasion is getting the last [or nearly last] seating of the day for dinner. That’s usually 15~30 minutes before the park closes for the day. The food is uber-yummy, and we’ve had great luck with just walking up 30 minutes before park close and getting a table instantly. Fortunately, we have it booked for the upcoming trip, so I won’t have to walk up this time.

  13. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Fireworks Hotspots: Get quickservice at Captain Cooks (is that the place at the Poly?) and bring it down to the beach. It’s like a picnic. Also, how could you forget the California Grill!

    Kona Cafe as an alternate for Le Cellier is a great suggestion. Disney fans tend to love the place but it is sort of unknown to the general public. It’s very unassuming.

  14. Nate says:

    I’ve never had a problem booking at 180/190 days out (depending on if I’m on property or not). But I’ve only gone in early-March or early-October, and I am always flexible with times. And there’s only two of us. (Four is the biggest table I’ve ever booked.)

    Also, if you stay at the concierge level at one of the deluxe resorts, your dining reservations can be handled by their concierge staff. I’ve only dealt with them once, but all of my reservations were made without a problem.

  15. Amy :) says:

    My boyfriend and I are going to WDW at the end of September – October. It is his first time going to Walt Disney World, (it’s probably my millionth lol) and I really wanted to get us into Chef Mickey’s (impossible), as well as a few other places that he had expressed an interest in going to. I didn’t realize how HARD it is to get reservations!! (I’m used to just winging it) I also thought we would have no problem seeing as how far out our trip still is. I was SO wrong! :P

    So THANK YOU for posting this. We were getting kind of bummed out at all of the rejections we kept seeing on the online reservation page when we would try to book. So it’s nice to read about some alternatives!

    We did get lucky enough to grab Tusker House for breakfast, & California Grill one evening though. Phew! :)

  16. geraldine says:

    its like you read my mind!!!!!!! i was trying to book all of the above LOL and finally got something decent in september woo hoo!!!!!!!! :)

  17. Vance says:

    O’hana for breakfast is our favorite character meal…it’s a lot of great food served family style (so no getting up to go to the buffet or debating what you want off the menu) and we’ve never had a problem getting an ADR…plus you get to see Mickey in his Hawaiian outfit. 1900 Park Fare is also a decent meal with some good characters.

    Totally agree with Kona for a nice steak,

  18. Heather says:

    I’ve eaten at Kona twice & didn’t like it either time. I only went because my mom was dying for the coffee ;)

    Definitely agree with trying walkups! It never hurts to ask! We got Brown Derby this way on a crowded day because we lucked into asking just when they got a cancellation!

  19. [...] My favorite and most creative article goes to AJ at Disney Food Blog where she really gives us some valuable help in our trip planning . The Most Popular Disney World Restaurants (And Alternatives When They’re Full) [...]

  20. Vittoria says:

    Great advice! We actually couldn’t snag a dinner reservation for Le Cellier for our upcoming trip during free dining. I did manage a 2:30 lunch however. I keep trying for dinner but in the meantime, should I be very torn up? I’ve never eaten lunch there before (only dinner)–our favorites are on the lunch menu (Salmon, Strip Steak and Filet Mignon) but does the lower price correspond to smaller portions? How about desserts? Will we even notice a difference?

    thanks!

  21. AJ says:

    Hey Vittoria — Lunch at Le Cellier is great, but, yes, you will get smaller portions :-(

  22. Josh says:

    Just out of curiosity, say one was to plan a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort. How much in advance should they make reservations for a character meal? (Also, does it depend on the location?)

    One of the main reasons that the California Grill in the Contemporary Resort is my favourite is because you can view the fireworks from the restaurant which is just amazing!

    Another suggestion that I heard from someone (Maybe you AJ?) is to keep calling every single day until you find an opening, no matter how impossible it seems. I’d truly do that to get a great seat to watch some fireworks!

    I hope not many people now about the “grab a dole whip at Captain Cooks and head to the beach” secret as I may plan on doing that myself I’m there next…

  23. Dawn says:

    We are Disney Season Passholders (not the Florida kind) and I have tried and tried and tried and tried to get dining reservations using their on line system. I’ve tried as far as a year in advance, which is supposedly the “cutoff” time. ALWAYS comes back “not available.” I finally gave up. I’ve walked in to a few places we want – but I figure if business is so good then Disney doesn’t care. So I take my dollars elsewhere. We’ve found some WONDERFUL restaurants in the area that are not Disney places, and we return to them again and again.

    I am rapidly becoming disillusioned with Disney dining – although I note that if you stay at a Disney resort they seem to try harder to accommodate you. If someone knows how to make advance reservations to dine I’d love to learn. We want to take a cruise, but frankly, I’m afraid of running in to the same “NOT available” scenario with everything on board, so we’ve hesitated, thinking that although we are HUGE Disney fans, we may be *very* disappointed. Sigh. Sign me, We LOVEDisney, hate the dining.

    Dawn

  24. Bob says:

    All are very good tips, but lets not give away all the secrets. Our family has worked very hard the past ten years to figure out dinning at WDW. That’s half the fun. We found a few places we won’t go back to and our taste has changed over the years as the kids got older. Remember there is just so much to choose from and so many people Pick what you think sounds good, reserve 180 days in advance (5 am) go on vacation and enjoy. Don’t worry about the diet.

  25. Miranda says:

    California Grill – so good :) <3

  26. Becky says:

    Not sure anyone is looking at this now, but another big character spot is at Animal Kingdom, it’s not air conditioned, but there is Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy over by the Lion King show. They are all decked out in there safari gear I think…?

    Interesting tip about calling in vs. online…as I prefer to use online, but suspect if I really want a place, should try calling….but I had thought they used the same system?

    :)

  27. AJ says:

    Becky — Thanks for the tips! I love the character greeting spot in Camp Minnie Mickey!

    They do use the same system – online and by phone. :-)

  28. jagdrury says:

    Another way to get a reservation is to check in with guest services when you first arrive at one of the parks. They can quickly tell you what is still available that day. Also, check with the concierge in your resort before you leave in the morning. They can tell you availabiltiy in any restaurant in the entire WDW resort. You may end up eating somewhere you never considered before.

  29. mike says:

    Are you sure rain forest cafe isn’t on here? The food is exotically amazing!!!! And the rain forest effect is incredible! I think it is the best restaurant in all the Disneylands (and wdw) combined.

  30. Gwen says:

    I’d love to see a 2013 update to this list :) we are in the process of doing our ADR’s and wondering if getting reservations at the restaurants listed in this post are still the case since new spots have been added since 2010.

  31. AJ says:

    Gwen — great idea!!! We’ll get on it! A lot of them will be the same — places like Cinderella’s Royal Table and Le Cellier are still hot tickets, but now we’ve got to add Be Our Guest Restaurant!

  32. Donopugs says:

    I tried to get Be our Guest exactly 180 days out for a dinner reservation, woke up at 2:45 (california time), so I could be ready on line at 3 am, and reservations are already full! I did not know you could book your entire trip’s stay dining reservations, at the 180 day mark, as I was booking for my sister, who had the WDW hotel reservation. We would have gotten in, otherwise! So it is best for those folks who want to get into Be our Guest restaurant for dinner to book it towards the end of their wdw hotel stay.

    By the way, I had no trouble with obtaining a reservation for Le Cellier at 180 days. Ohana was very, very difficult, and I wouldn’t have gotten a reservation at the 180 day mark. Be my Guest is the hardest reservation to get!

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