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.
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:
- 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!
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.
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.
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).
- 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!