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Tips from the DFB Guide: Disney Dining on Your Arrival and Departure Days

The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013 — offers tremendous insight into dining at Walt Disney World, and I’d like to share one more of the valuable Disney Dining Tips found in the DFB Guide!

And don’t forget — today’s the last day of our Grand Launch week! Pick up your copy of the Guide for $4 off using code “2013.”

Chef Mickey is a good place to start your vacation (or say farewell until next year)!

Dining on Your Arrival and Departure Days in Disney World

Arrival and Departure days at Disney can be a lot more tiring than you imagine. For many of us, these are half-days that require creative planning.

Annual passholders can easily hop into a park for a half-day, but if you hold a regular Magic Your Way ticket, you probably want to reserve it for a full days of Disney touring!

We recommend using these half-days to explore the wonderful dining opportunities outside the theme parks.

  • Downtown Disney has some great restaurants and the chance to stock up on a few souvenirs while shopping.
  • Visiting the Boardwalk resort is a fun adventure with dining available on the waterfront or at nearby resorts (Yacht and Beach Club; Swan and Dolphin).
  • Inexpensive and hearty food can be found at Trail’s End Restaurant at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. The kids won’t be disappointed if you opt to stay for the campfire with Chip and Dale.
  • We love visiting the monorail resorts – Disney’s Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary. These are fun options for first and last day dining as you get a glimpse of the Magic Kingdom! Before or after your meal, go ahead and ride the monorail for a full circuit trip!

Chicken and Waffles are a fun menu item at Trail's End Restaurant

Best of all, each location that we’ve mentioned offers quick-service and table-service restaurants so you can plan a first-night splurge or a last day budget-friendly diversion.

Arriving Late at Night on Your First Day?

Arriving on a late flight? Midnight eats can be found too. There are three counter-service restaurants open 24 hours a day in Disney World, like the Gasparilla Grill at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort!

Want to know more about your options for first and last day dining in Walt Disney World? We’ve also got great info on how to time your reservations according to your airport arrival or departure schedule. None of us want to book an Advance Dining Reservation only to find out that we need to be at the Disney Magical Express pick-up location half-way through the meal…

Find it all here in the The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World® Dining 2013!

Where does your family dine (or plan to) on your first and last Disney days? Let us know in the comments below!

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22 Comments

  1. Brenda says:

    On departure day (no matter what time we leave) we go to Ghiradelli’s for one last sundae then to Earl of Sandwich for some on the road sandwiches and snacks. When I plan our trips I always try to make the first dinner fun and special. Our new favorite is Narcoossees at the Grand Floridian. It is fun to take the boat to Downtown Disney (Port Orleans French Quarter is our fav resort !) then take a bus to a monorail stop then monorail to the GF and saunter over for a relaxing dinner and a great view of the fireworks!

  2. Amy says:

    We’re planning on having afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian on our arrival day, and I’m lobbying for a Ghirardelli trip later (fingers crossed). Totally agree with your monorail resort idea–we’re planning on a last hurrah breakfast at Chef Mickey’s on our departure day before we head to the airport.

  3. Claire Gregory says:

    We are some of the aforementioned annual pass holders, and we like to take full advantage of them!! So we arrived on Leap Day this year and headed straight for Plaza Restaurant at Magic Kingdom, that way we could at least say we were in the Kingdom for some of the special celebrations. Then on our last day we had a great breakfast with Mickey and Stitch at Ohanas. Having stayed at Bay Lake Towers it was easy to drop our luggage at the airline counter and jump the monorail over to Polynesian. And just because we’re greedy we also made one last hit at the Magic Kingdom to pick up some more Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards for my 5 year old, who is obsessed with that game!!

  4. Denise says:

    We actually don’t plan meals for either our arrival or departure days. I’ve learned through a few trips trail and error that planning meals on the day of arrival just doesn’t work for us. Our timing is off after traveling all day and figuring out when we’ll be hungry after arriving is difficult. Especially when your day has contained various inflight snacking!

    Another trip, we had a very “6 yr old is super crabby” meal at Ohana’s on arrival day because here we were at Disney and he could SEE Magic Kingdom, but we were making him suffer through a table service meal before getting out to the park! I think it was after this trip I swore off arrival day table service. We arrive, we check into the hotel, and then we go to a park. If we’re hungry we get snacks or counter service, if we’re not hungry it doesn’t matter!

    I also recommend to other families to be sure and check the price of adding an extra day to your tickets…often times adding one more day is VERY cheap (especially if you already plan to buy 6 day or more tickets). It’s often not much money to add a day so you can go enjoy an evening at the parks on the day you arrive.

    On departure day we always take early flights, so no time for dining. We usually wait and get a snack once we’re at the airport.

  5. Chuckie says:

    Chef Mickeys is perfect for Arrival days the food is so so but the location is amazing! I love Pulling Into the contemporary via the monorail on the first day it really starts the vacation off with some magic!!! You can’t go wrong with Earl of Sandwich on departure day :)

  6. Sharon says:

    We have a tradition for arrival dinner. We find that we are tired after a full day of air travel so Beach Club’s Seafood Buffett is close and convenient and we have been going there for at least the last 10 years on arrival night. We make reservations ahead of time and walk over from the Yacht Club or Boardwalk. Easy. Then we can take a walk around Boardwalk, back to the hotel to unpack and sleep. Our family has gotten bigger over the years and the buffet still works now that we have grandkids.

  7. JoAnn says:

    The first day of my trip to the World in 2010 was spent at Downtown Disney with dinner at Pollo Campero.

    My original plan for last year’s trip was to also spend the day at DTD on my first day before dinner at Chef Mickey’s. I was planning on paying for lunch out of pocket since all my dining credits were accounted for. Then one day it hit me that it would probably be cheaper to add an extra day on to my park hopper and use my snack credits for lunch at the F&W festival. I paid $5.36 to add the day. It probably would have cost me about $10 to buy lunch out of pocket.

    Lunch in the parks on my last day before relaxing by the pool until it’s time to get DME.

  8. Jill says:

    On the last day we like to dine somewhere in Downtown Disney since we are usually there shopping anyway, the kids like T-Rex or Rainforest. This most recent time we went with Rainforest at Animal Kingdom though. Not mom and dad’s favorite but the kids love it. For the Arrival day we like to hit up Ohana’s for supper the food is great and they have a kids parade we either watch the fireworks from our table or outside. Great way to start our vacation.

  9. Melanie says:

    First day could be anywhere for us, but the last dinner we have is at Chef Mickeys. Never a let down & always good food & great character experiences.

  10. Jill D says:

    we always fly in super early and plan on having the first day to relax and get settled in the hotel. We usually don’t go to a park the first day, but rather plan on exploring the hotel (POP) and then going to our first table service (usually at a monorail resort). This way we can see fireworks and enjoy the surroundings of the parks. Next morning we are ready to bust a move early!

    On the last day (boo hoo) we check the luggage and have bell service hold our carry-on, then go directly to downtown disney! We try not to buy any souvenirs until the last day to leave something special. Finish up our snacks and we are on our way home!

  11. Wendy says:

    We’re still trying to figure out what our “tradition” arrival/departure meals are. We’ve done lots of different things so far. But I think most often on arrival day, we head to DTD for Earl of Sandwich! Our trip in Oct this year, we are planning for breakfast on departure day at Crystal Palace (AP holders this year!) – LOVE that puffed french toast!

  12. Niki M says:

    We get as early a flight as possible on arrival day since it’s only a 3 hr flight for us. Then we have at least a half day to hit a park. This time we’re staying at BW and just walking in the back door to Epcot. We’ll have all the counter service restaurants in the World Showcase to choose from! We always just grab a counter service breakfast at whichever resort we stay at on departure day before hopping on the Magical Express.

  13. Shayne says:

    We usually don’t make ADRs for arrival and departure days, unless we’re arriving early in the day, then we’ll make a dinner ADR. Beaches & Cream was our arrival AND departure day meal on our last trip. Otherwise, we’ll usually just eat counter service those days.

    Now that they’ve opened a Pollo Campero about 2 minutes from my house and I’ve discovered that I love it, I’m thinking a trip to DTD for some Pollo Campero might be a good option. :)

  14. Kristina says:

    Our tradition seems to be Rainforest Cafe in DTD then on to Ghiradelli for a sundae. This year I booked our ADRs for Rainforest on arrival day but then air fare dictated that we arrive a day earlier (but late in the evening) so we’ll just do Ghiradelli and skip the dinner.
    It is also our tradition to have breakfast at Crystal Palace on the day we depart. It’s bitter sweet – my favorite breakfast restaurant on my least favorite day :( a good way to soften the blow of going home.

  15. Patty says:

    As crazy as it sounds, our last meal is usually lunch at the resort counter service before the Magic Express back to the airport. I’m the lunatic (although last time I gave this project to my brother) ordering and having packed to go all of our remaining snacks and counter service meals. I’m completely disorganized and rushing before the Magic Express arrives. The cast members have always been incredibly patient with me.

    Magic Express always seems to leave us at the airport 3 hrs before our flight, so airport eats are necessary. We make sure we drink everything downstairs before we get to the TSA checkpoint. We have dinner on the plane home. We have muffins for breakfast the next morning, because Mommy needs to sleep. Of course, there are a few rice crispy mickeys saved for a rainy day.

  16. Carol Hawkins says:

    We always arrive midday and try to do a dinner.We have done Chef Mickey’s, Rainforest Cafe at DTDn and T-Rex. At the e of July, 2011 our whole family of 13 went to Walt Disney World and we began our trip with Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. We had 4 kids from 1 to 8 and the rest of us were adult “kids.” Even though it was difficult to get to, it was the perfect way to start our trip. It was a very high energy event that got everyone excited about the Magic Kingdom the next day. In May My husband and I are taking the 2 youngest back again and we are starting our first night at Chef Mickey’s.. We will take a monorail trip around and return in time for the water parade and fireworks. Can’t wait!!!

  17. Patricia says:

    On arrival day, as we’re at Polynesian, we reserve Aloha Show, than we stay at the hotel and have some fun! On departure day we go to breakfast at Ohana, also at Polynesian! So we decide to do things around our hotel!

  18. AJ says:

    Brenda — I love your tradition of Ghirardelli on the last day! Perfect way to end a trip in WDW!

    Amy — The tea sounds like a great way to relax and settle in to a WDW trip. Awesome! Yep, I always used to hit a monorail resort on the first day for dinner. These days things are a bit more mixed, but I still love a Lapu Lapu on the first Disney night.

    Claire — Ha ha! I wonder how many people are going to have to start adding a MK visit on the last day into their itinerary to get those Sorcerers cards!

    Denise — Great tips! When your little one can see the park, but can’t get to it, that’s really hard. Heck, that’s hard for ME! ;-)

    Chuckie — Those are great traditions. I like that you ride the monorail to the Contemporary first thing — a true Disney event!

    Sharon — Perfect! That buffet has something for everyone, so it’s the perfect choice to “grow” with your family!

    JoAnn — That is brilliant!! What a great tip!

    Jill — ‘Ohana was always my first night tradition, too! So relaxing and “vacation-esque!”

    Wendy — It’s good to mix it up sometimes! We were in a tradition of going to Liberty Tree Tavern for lunch on every arrival day, but recently that just didn’t work out for some reason. As it turned out — the sky didn’t fall! ;-) We had a great visit to another restaurant!

    Niki — That’s one of my favorite ways to start a trip — walk into Epcot!! Come to think of it, that’s how my upcoming trip will be!

    Shayne — Well, there ya go!! And then you can stop by Babycakes for some goodies for dessert. :-)

    Kristina — We should do a post about good ways to soften the blow on that departure day! :-)

    Patty — Ha ha! You definitely sound like me! I’m a scatterbrain on every arrival and departure day. And all I ever want to do is nap. ;-)

    Carol — Wow!! I love the idea of starting our your trip with Mickey’s BBQ. And your opening day for this upcoming trip sounds wonderful. Relaxing and fun.

    Patricia — That’s a great idea. Sometimes traveling on those arrival and departure days can be VERY hectic!

  19. Amie says:

    We are going to Disney October 12th-20th and the kids can’t wait! We are staying in the Pirates room at Caribbean Beach Resort and plan on exploring the resort and other areas on Disney on arrival day. The following morning we are having breakfast at Chef Mickey’s then enjoying the pool until dinner at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at the Fort Wilderness resort. Very excited!!!

  20. laura says:

    Cinderella’s royal table for a late dinner the first night. The food is decent but the view of the fireworks is an awesome way to start our vacation (plus, were in the heart of WDW the first hours of our vacation). We always do a few favorite rides then go dine with the princesses. Afterwards we take a night time monorail ride and then hit the resort for bed. Our closing meal is an early resort breakfast and an kitchen sink sundae for brunch. That’s a fun way to end a never-dull vacation.

  21. Ashley says:

    Staying at POR and getting there late afternoon, so we are eating at Boatwrights for dinner, but then heading to DTD for Characters in Flight to get a glimpse of some of the parks before our first full day!

  22. EZSOXFAN says:

    I love that Gasparilla Grill is open 24 hours but the monorail stops service at 10pm. That puts a damper on that plan. :(

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