Many Disney guests agree that the most important Disney Dining Tips lists include one specific piece of advice:
Making Advance Dining Reservations is an absolute must when it comes to planning.
While many seasoned Disney travelers are aware of this, there are lots of folks who visit the parks and are stunned to find no tables available at their top restaurant choices. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us at one time or another…and we’ve got solutions for you!
Today, we’ve updated our list of the most popular Disney restaurants and terrific alternatives if you can’t score a table at your coveted spot!
Let’s take a look at the most elusive restaurants to book these days…
Dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant
From the time that they first announced the restaurant’s soft opening until now, we have heard from many readers who haven’t been able to secure a spot at Magic Kingdom’s other castle restaurant (the first being Cinderella’s Royal Table, of course!). Here are a couple of reasons why:
Newness: The biggest reason for this remains the relative novelty of the place. Be Our Guest and all of New Fantasyland are still a hot ticket in Walt Disney World since the expanded land’s grand opening in December 2012.
Incredible, Immersive Themeing: The impeccable themeing means that stepping into Beast’s Castle is truly like climbing through a portal into Beauty and the Beast (the original or the live-action version!). You almost expect to look down and find your plate come to life!
Novelty: The French-inspired cuisine that’s served at Be Our Guest is unlike anything else available in all of Magic Kingdom. In addition, Be Our Guest was the first place in formerly-dry Magic Kingdom to order beer and wine, and that added to the location’s novelty.
So, what to do if you can’t get a reservation at Be Our Guest?
How about these options instead…
- Lunch at Be Our Guest: This one’s easy! Go to the restaurant for a lunch experience. The meals at lunch are counter service and don’t require reservations, so anyone can get in on any day! Plus, I actually like the food better at lunch than at dinner…and it’s significantly less expensive. Plus plus, the restaurant serves alcohol at lunch too! The best part: ordering your lunch here secures you a spot to roam and explore the Beast’s Castle to your heart’s content, which means you can check out all three dining rooms (you’re seated at dinner, so less incentive to roam). At the moment, the Rose Gallery Dining room is often closed during dinner, so lunch is the best time to see the whole castle.Currently, lines can be long to get in (head over around 10:30am or after 2pm to avoid the worst of the lunch crowds); but with Disney experimenting with FastPass options for Be Our Guest lunches, things may change soon.
- Cinderella’s Royal Table: Another option (although it’s very popular as well) is Cinderella’s Royal Table. This restaurant also gives guests that feeling of dining in a castle among royalty (princesses move from table to table throughout the meal). And we’re thinking that with the added capacity that Be Our Guest provides, securing other sought-after reservations just might be a little easier.
Chef Mickey’s and Other Popular Character Meals
Another hot ticket in Disney World are character dining experiences. While there are many to choose from, a few in particular are extremely popular — and therefore much harder to book.
Some of the most difficult tables to get are Chef Mickey’s, featuring the Fab Five characters — Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto; Cinderella’s Royal Table, home to Cinderella and her Princess friends; Crystal Palace, where you’ll find Winnie the Pooh characters; and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, another spot for Disney Princesses.
While getting this reservation can be difficult, there are several reasons that we think you should persevere and book a character dining experience:
No Waiting in Character Autograph Lines: Rather than wait in line after line in the parks (and hope your wait doesn’t include a break time for the character), the characters come to you! And often, they’ll make the dining room rounds more than once, which provides plenty of time to capture that cute photo op.
Get Lots of Character Autographs at Once: And it’s not just one character. All of the character dining options feature lots of characters at the same time, so you’re sure to mark many of your must-have encounters off your list all at once.
Climate Control: One of the biggest draws to character dining is the comfy atmosphere. Usually, character autographs come only after a long wait in the hot Florida sun. But a character dining experience takes away that discomfort. That’s right — we’re talking air conditioning! Meeting Mickey where it’s nice and cool, versus sweltering and sunny, can make for a more relaxed experience.
Special Access to Parks: When you make your reservation before the theme park where the restaurant is located opens, you have the added bonus of entering the park ahead of the crowds. This makes for some really special photo ops, too, and will put you ahead of the game in terms of ride waits and Fast Passes! Although moving the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show to the Cinderella Castle stage has complicated this a bit, wonderful photos can still be had!
Disney Multitasking: Eating + seeing characters = accomplishing two important Disney to-dos at the same time! This is a great way to maximize your time while still enjoying your vacation!
But what if your favorites are booked? Fortunately, there are lots more character dining experiences to choose from. If the above restaurants are already full, you still have options.
- Tusker House: Check out Tusker House in Disney’s Animal Kingdom for breakfast or lunch, where Mickey and friends are dressed in cute safari gear! (Don’t forget to look into Rivers of Light dining packages as well!)
- ‘Ohana: This relaxed restaurant at the Polynesian Resort has one of the best views in Disney World, and it also happens to offer an awesome character breakfast meal. Meet Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, and Stitch at ‘Ohana, and enjoy a platter full of goodies (including Mickey Waffles) with your family while you gaze out at Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella Castle!
- Garden Grill: This rotating restaurant is located within the Land Pavilion at Epcot, and it serves up tasty food like roasted turkey and seasonal berry skillets that are All-You-Care-to-Enjoy! Plus, at Garden Grill, some of the goodies on your table might have grown right there in the Land! You’ll meet Mickey, Chip, and Dale, as well as some other friends in their best farm looks!
- Trattoria al Forno: This newest character meal is served up at Trattoria al Forno at the BoardWalk Inn and features Rapunzel and Ariel along with their princes Flynn Ryder and Eric! Themed pastries and entrees are a fun addition to this character meal.
Le Cellier Steakhouse
For years now, Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion has been one of the hottest reservations for lunch as well as dinner.
But try to score a table by walking up to the podium, and you will normally be turned away. There are a few reasons for this, we believe:
Reputation: Word-of-mouth has made Le Cellier a legend in Disney fan circles. It rarely gets a bad review, and many book a table just to find out the reason behind all the raves.
Size: This is an astonishingly tiny restaurant, which means there are few reservations to go around.
Quality: Both food and service are excellent here, with many menu items taking on “cult favorite” status.
In recent years, however, a few things have changed. Dinner became a signature meal in 2011, and in 2012, lunch followed suit. (Read our review of the signature lunch experience here.) That means that eating here will set you back quite a bit (including two table service Disney Dining credits at both lunch and dinner!), even in the middle of the day.
We’ve been wondering if upping Le Cellier’s posh and price factor might mean that more tables become available. And with newer restaurants and dining experiences throughout World Showcase, snagging a table here may prove to be easier than it has been in the recent past.
But what happens if you can’t score that elusive Le Cellier table? While I certainly love Le Cellier, I have to be honest here and say that there are as good — or better — steaks to be had at Disney. If it’s beef that you’re craving, consider one of the following:
- Shula’s Steakhouse: Head to Shula’s at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort when you are looking for the quintessential steakhouse experience, complete with classic dishes and masculine ambiance.
- Yachtsman Steakhouse: Yachtsman Steahouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort offers steaks in a breezy, nautical setting that are served alongside seasonally-inspired sides.
Victoria and Albert’s and California Grill
Many guests who visit Disney World enjoy taking in some of the premium dining options around the resort, like signature restaurants and dinner shows. But the popularity of the two can mean frustration when it comes time for booking reservations.
If you aren’t up early 180 days before your trip, you’ll have slim chances of securing a table at hotspots like California Grill and Victoria and Albert’s. Why is it so hard to get into these coveted restaurants?
Small Number of Tables: Victoria and Albert’s boasts the most exclusive dining experience on Disney property — and the one place where children under 10 are not permitted to dine. The intimate setting has a very limited number of tables and two seatings per night (only one seating each evening is available at the chef’s table). This means there are fewer tables to go around for guests who would like to experience V&A opulence.
At California Grill, the popularity of watching the Happily Ever After Fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom from one of the coveted window tables means booking in advance is required.
A Long (and Well-Deserved) Reputation for Quality: Both Victoria and Albert’s and California Grill have been at the top of the Disney Dining heap for a very long time — and they have the awards to prove it. Both restaurants are recognized by both guests and critics as fantastic.
Offering some of the most wonderful food that can be found at Disney, California Grill and Victoria and Albert’s both focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients and an ever-evolving menu. But if you can’t secure reservations for them, there are still some spectacular meals at other signature restaurants that I have found to be as good as these two.
Securing advance dining reservations can be easier at some of my other favorite signature dining spots around the resort:
- Jiko: Located off the beaten path at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jiko offers authentic flavors of the diverse cuisine of African countries, as well as the most extensive collection of African wines outside of the continent. Sanaa, also located at Animal Kingdom Lodge, is another stellar dining experience.
- Citricos: If you’re looking for something a little closer to the monorail line, check out the fresh cuisine of Citricos. Located at the Grand Floridian, the emphasis here is on the fresh food of Florida with a Mediterranean influence. (If you’re very lucky, you might score a meal Dining with a Disney Imagineer here!
Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue
Are you after dinner and a show? Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort will fit the bill nicely. Be ready to exercise flexibility for this one too, however.
The performances are just as sought after as they have always been for a few reasons, we think:
History: Hoop Dee Doo has been delighting crowds with its fun “hootenanny” since the very earliest days of Walt Disney World’s history.
Fun for All Ages: A show here is truly a family affair. Kids of all ages will enjoy the music, dancing, and interaction.
Great Food: Unlimited supplies of picnic favorites like barbecue ribs and fried chicken are crowd pleasers, and grown ups can have their fill of beer, sangria, and wine as well. And don’t forget the strawberry shortcake — delish!
Wondering what to do if you aren’t successful in attempts to book the show? Well, truthfully, there’s really nothing that can exactly substitute for the fun that is Hoop Dee Doo. But depending on whether you’re after the down-home food they serve, or the raucous good time, you might be able to come close.
- Trail’s End: For food, head to Ft. Wilderness Campground’s table service restaurant, Trail’s End. Their buffet dinner offers many of the same items that you’d be feasting on at Hoop Dee Doo, and the rustic surroundings convince you that you really have stumbled in from the range. (You can also sit for a buffet breakfast and brunch here!) And of course, be sure to mosey over to Chip n Dale’s Campfire, also at the Fort, for some s’mores, a free movie, and a sing along!
- Whispering Canyon Cafe: If it’s crazy good times you’re after, check out Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. The food is hearty, and the antics of the staff — especially during the dinner hour — will keep you in stitches.
Rose and Crown Restaurant and Other Fireworks Viewing Hotspots
Looking to enrich your fireworks experience by adding dinner to the ticket? Then you’ll probably want to try for a table at California Grill in the Contemporary Resort or ‘Ohana at the Polynesian to watch Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After or maybe to Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room in Epcot for a premium view of Illuminations at Epcot.
But these aren’t surefire bets, either, for a few reasons:
Be Prepared to Wait and Wait: Scoring the right table at a fireworks hotspot can mean waiting an hour or more for a table to open up… even if you have a reservation (nope, Disney cast members aren’t able to reserve a particular table for you when you make your ADR). Is your party up for that?
No Guarantee Even With a Reservation: Not only are these difficult reservations to obtain, but once you’re in the door on your chosen night, there’s no assurance that you’ll have a window view at ‘Ohana or a coveted “just right” patio spot at Rose and Crown. It pays to have an alternative in your back pocket if this is a memory you’re looking to make.
What’s a good plan B?
For other fireworks viewing and dining combos, we have a few favorites other favorites when our first choice isn’t available.
- Narcoossee’s: One of our very favorite spots is Narcoossee’s. The charming restaurant at the Grand Floridian offers incredible views from its dock location, and the wraparound windows give everyone in the restaurant a good Happily Ever After viewing spot.
- The Polynesian Resort’s Beach: For a less expensive option, grab a picnic from Captain Cook’s — or a Lapu Lapu from Tambu Lounge! — and head down to the Polynesian’s beach to take in the magical display out in the open air.
- La Hacienda de San Angel: If it’s Illuminations that you’re after, La Hacienda de San Angel offers incredible views of Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon from its comfortable dining room. The menu of fresh Mexican cuisine and top notch margaritas means that you’ll enjoy the food as much as the view.
Our Tips for Snagging Your Coveted Disney Dining Reservation
We’ve got a few tried and true tips for scoring those hard-to-get reservations, though, so that you hopefully will be able to enjoy the vacation of your dreams.
Book Reservations As Soon As Possible: Either call 407-WDW-Dine, log into your My Disney Experience app, or book reservations online at DisneyWorld.com exactly 180 days before you wish to dine at a particular restaurant. If you’re staying at a Disney on-site resort, you can book 180 + 10 days out as long as you provide your valid resort confirmation number. That means you can call 180 days before you arrive and book dining for the first 10 days of your trip. Get online or on the phone as early as possible in the morning (phone lines open at 7AM ET — sharp).
If You’ve Missed the 180 Day Mark: Continue to check online (via the website or My Disney Experience) 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. Guests have even been known to score day-of ADRs for highly elusive restaurants!
Be Flexible with Times: Consider changing your time and opting for a later or earlier dining time to snag a table. Recently I ended up with a very early dinner reservation — and it turned out to be fabulous! I had my whole evening free, and crowds in the restaurant were very light.
Another suggestion: Split the party up. Rather than seating for a party of six, consider splitting into groups of three or even four and two. You might be seated more easily that way.
Don’t Give Up!: Even when you’re in the Disney parks and resorts you could still score a “walk-up” reservation! Any restaurant or concierge/guest services 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. Alternatively, you can double- and triple-check the My Disney Experience app throughout the day. You might have to wait a while, but it’s worth a try — especially during slower seasons!
What are your suggested alternatives when your favorite popular Disney restaurants are full? Let us know your favorite choices.