Tips and tricks for making Disney dining reservations:
When you typically go on vacation somewhere, you probably research where you want to stay and what you want to do. You may look into a few restaurants, and if there’s something very popular you’ll book a reservation beforehand. But many people vacation and just eat whenever and wherever is convenient at the moment.
But if you’re reading this blog post, I’m guessing you’re a planner – so you’ve probably realized that’s not so easy to do for a Disney World vacation.
Sure, you could just try to get quick service meals the whole trip, but even that isn’t always available when you want it with mobile ordering and return times. And like many things in Disney, going to some of the sit-down restaurants isn’t just a meal – it’s an experience. Whether it’s character dining, a fun atmosphere, or unique cuisine, there are a lot of amazing restaurants at Disney World.
It’s also a nice break to be able to sit down for an hour in the air conditioning!
Making Disney dining reservations at the restaurants you want, when you want them, requires planning and preparation ahead of time. In the case of booking dining reservations, that’s 60 days before your trip.
You can often find availability at some restaurants closer to your trip, or even some of the more popular ones at really off times (think like a 3:45 pm dinner). But if you’re after restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table, Space 220, Chef Mickey’s, and others, you’re going to want to do everything you can to increase your odds of booking.
I’ve played the Disney World restaurant reservation game so many times (for both myself and my clients) that I’ve learned a lot of tricks. So I wanted to put together some tips that may help you in getting those coveted reservations!
Top 5 tips for getting the Disney World dining reservations you want:
- Stay at a Disney resort
- Be ready to go on time
- Be flexible
- Have a plan, then have a back-up plan
- Don’t give up
Let’s “dig a little deeper” into these tips.
Stay at a Disney resort
Wait, this is about dining! Why does it matter where I’m sleeping at night?
For those guests staying at a Disney World resort, they get an extra perk when it comes to making Disney dining reservations. Officially, dining reservations open up 60 days ahead of time. So if you’re arriving on October 1st, you’d be able to book dining on August 2nd.
If you’re at a Disney resort, you can book on that date for the entire length of your stay – so if you check in in October 1st and you stay until the 7th, you can book your dining reservations for every day of your trip starting on August 2nd. (This is called the “+10” rule).
If you’re not staying at a Disney resort, you can only book your dining at EXACTLY 60 days before. That means on August 2nd you can book restaurants for your first day of October 1st, but you can’t book any other day. You’d have to wait until August 3rd to book for October 2nd, and so on.
We’ll get into more details later on, but this can be a problem because: a., it means going through the process of booking dining reservations multiple days in a row (which can mean a 6 a.m. wake-up call), and b., it’s harder to get some of the more coveted reservations.
There are a lot of reasons why I think staying at a Disney resort is beneficial, and this is just another advantage to consider when you’re deciding where to stay.
Be ready to go on time
As Scar (and the Boy Scouts) would say, “Be prepared.” If you have a strategy ready to go and you’re awake before booking opens on the first day that’s possible for you, the odds are definitely in your favor.
There are a number of ways you can prepare for your dining reservations. Here are my suggestions for increasing your chances for those hard-to-get reservations by being prepared:
- Know your 60-day mark and be ready to go on that day
- Online reservations open at 6:00 am EST, but they have sometimes opened up slightly early (I’ve been able to do it as early as 5:45 am in the past).
- If you haven’t already, link a credit card to your Disney account. You need a credit card to secure the dining reservations, and if you put it in ahead of time that will save one step.
- Disney’s IT is not always the best, so I’ve encountered glitches before. If you can, I’d have your account logged in on both a laptop and a phone if possible. Sometimes even a different web browser will help (for example, if Google Chrome isn’t working, try Firefox). Just be aware that you can’t make reservations on two devices at once (it will only let you book one at a time). But it’s good to have a backup in case one is giving you issues.
- If you have a large group (like 8 people) and nothing comes up, try to see if you can book two reservations for 4 people each. You’re not guaranteed to sit with each other, but when you check in you can request to be seated together, or at least next to each other, and Disney will do their best.
- If you’re not sure of the names of all the guests who will be joining you (or you just don’t want to spend the time adding it in the moment) you can leave those blank as long as you have a “lead guest” name. You can then add or change the names of the guests dining with you later on.
- If you have an idea of which dining reservations are harder to get, try to book those first.
Be flexible when making Disney dining reservations
Like most things with Disney, I’ve found that flexibility is key. My advice is general is not to overplan and be a slave to a specific itinerary, and that includes dining reservations. If you want all of the popular restaurants at the time dinner times, you’ll have to be very lucky for it to all work out perfectly. Some flexibility here will really help a lot.
The key to flexibility – #1
If you can, one of the best things you can do for those difficult to get dining reservations is plan them towards the end of your trip (if you’re staying at Disney resort). It’s more likely that you’ll see availability towards the end of your trip, since Disney resort guests can start making reservations for their whole trip on check-in day.
So people who are checking out the day you are checking in may have been able to book reservations for that first day a week ago.
Example: you arrive on October 1st and stay until October 7th, so you can make reservations for your whole week starting on August 2nd. But another family who has a stay from September 25th-October 1st was able to make dining reservations for October 1st back on their 60 day mark for their whole trip – so they could book dining for your arrival day 5 days before you could, on July 28th.
The further out you can go, the less competition you’ll have. So if you can, aim to try and get the harder reservations later in your trip.
The key to flexibility – #2
Look at “off” dining times. Everyone typically thinks of getting dinner around 6pm, for example. Or if Magic Kingdom opens at 9am and they want to do breakfast before the parks, those 7:30-8:00am times will be difficult to grab.
You’re more likely to get a 4:30pm dinner than a 6:30pm one, so try looking at those off times as well.
Quite honestly, time at Disney is so different than your daily life that you may not find yourself getting hungry at your normal times anyway. If you have a big breakfast, you may not be hunrgry again until 4pm, so an early dinner could be a good idea for that day.
Or you may want to leave room for snacking! Disney has some amazing snacks to try as well. If you’re in Magic Kingdom, stop by Sunshine Tree Terrace and get the citrus swirl (my personal favorite – I’m not saying there have been a few times that I’ve had a citrus swirl for breakfast, but…)
Have a plan, then have a back-up plan
You may have gone into your 60 day mark doing everything I mentioned, but you still don’t see availability at some of the restaurants you want to eat at. Here’s where it’s helpful to not only have a plan, but have a back-up plan. There are a few ways to create your back-up plan:
Book it on a different day. You may have a beautiful spreadsheet already with your park days planned out, and you need to do Magic Kingdom on Tuesday because that’s what you planned… but Cinderella’s Royal Table only has availability on Thursday.
Be willing to consider a back-up that puts you in a different park than you originally planned. In our example – go to Magic Kingdom Thursday instead of Tuesday. That might mean switching around park days (luckily that’s easier to do now for the most part). It might mean using a park hopper ticket to be able to do Magic Kingdom for at least part of that day.
The ability to switch your park days around is a huge advantage, and luckily there are few things that make this difficult these days. Starting on January 9, 2024 you don’t need park pass reservations, so that doesn’t tie you to a particular park. This is also the day that park hopping can happen at any time, so you could go to a park at 9am for breakfast and then head elsewhere by 10am.
The reality is that you don’t have much tying you down at this point in your planning. Some people will say that Magic Kingdom is better on a Tuesday rather than a Wednesday or whatever, but quite honestly the difference is usually so minimal that I don’t think it matters. The only exception is potentially avoiding Epcot on the weekends during Food and Wine Festival.
Consider a different restaurant. I know, I know… your daughter has to eat in the castle with Cinderella and the princesses! If it’s just not working out though, keep in mind that there are other options. Did you kow there’s a restaurant in Epcot called Akershus which does a princess character meal? It may not be in the castle, but you still get to meet a bunch of princesses. Plus it costs less than Cinderella’s and the food is (marginally) better. While it’s still not the easiest reservation to get, it’s at least easier.
There may also be restaurants you haven’t heard about that deserve your attention. If I’m being honest, some of the places you hear mentioned the most are pretty overrated. Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, breakfast at Ohana… they’re all fine, but there are so many great options that I prefer at Disney. Even when it’s a place I do really enjoy – if I can’t get a reservation I’ll try something new.
One way to find some of the better restaurants is to look outside of the parks. Most of my best meals have been at the Disney resorts or Disney Springs. If you can’t get Le Cellier, try Yachtsman Steakhouse instead (it’s walking distance from Epcot).
Or try something totally different than what you were originally looking to book! There are some restaurants where I’ve had an amazing experience (often more than once ) which I think are completely underrated.
Especially if you’re willing to try slightly more adventurous cuisine (though it’s still Disney, so nothing too crazy) you can find some hidden gems. I can give you a few recommendations of my favorite places that are a little “easier to get”. Look into Tiffins at Animal Kingdom, Jaleo at Disney Springs, Sebastian’s Bistro at Caribbean Beach resort, Ale and Compass at the Yacht Club, and Kona Cafe at the Polynesian.
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Don’t give up
If you’re really set on getting a certain place but it’s not available, don’t give up hope! I’ve had a lot of luck, especially in the last year or so, getting reservations closer to my travel dates.
So keep checking back every so often. People will cancel as their plans change and things pop back up. I’ve actually had the most luck getting reservations just a few days before my trip, or even the day before. Once people arrive at Disney they realize they’ve overbooked themselves or their stomachs) and may cancel. Or, Disney feels confident they have enough staff to book some additional tables.
Another option you can consider if you really want to nab that reservation is a service like MouseDining.com. They have a system where you can put in what you’re looking for, and they’ll alert you if anything opens up. With the free version you can put in up to 5 requests and get an email if there’s an opening. The paid version allows for more options and you can opt for a text message alert.
With this you do have to be quick, because those reservations may get snatched up by someone else before you get there. I’ve had it work out for me a few times though. And just getting the alerts that there was availability showed me just how often things are coming and going, even after your 60 day mark.
Finally, a majority of the sit down restaurants now offer a walk-up option on their app. If it’s available and you’re close enough to the restaurant, you can join the walk-up list and get a text or alert through the app when it’s your time to dine.
You can also try the old fashioned way and actually talk to someone at the check-in desk to see if there’s any walk-up availability (even if it doesn’t show up on the app). I’ve found most of the time they’ll redirect you to the app, but there have been occasions at certain restaurants where they were happy to take my number and text me when there was a table ready. In particular I’ve been able to do this a couple of times at Sanaa.
At the end of the day, make sure to be prepared, follow these tips, and just do your best. Hopefully it will work out for you!
By the way – even if nothing works, don’t let the stress and pressure of planning the “perfect” Disney trip get to you. There’s no such thing as perfect, so just pick one or two restaurants that are your priority and do your best to get those. There are a lot of incredible places to eat in Disney – you may just discover a new favorite that you never would have tried otherwise.
Do you have any of your own tips or tricks for making Disney dining reservations?