At Walt Disney World, you can begin booking your dining reservations 180 days in advance! In this article I will discuss my tips, tricks, and best practices for booking Disney World dining. From when to book to how to prioritize and what to watch for – as the family planner I’ve booked (and rebooked, and searched for) SO many reservations! I can help you work out what to book and when.
In a past article I went deep into “how to plan” for your dining in general (article can be found here). Today I will focus on the booking process specifically for Disney World. There are a few things you need to know right off the bat:
At 180 days prior, reservations open for that day to anyone! You don’t have to have a room booked or tickets or anything – it’s open to all. If you are staying at a Disney resort, at 180 days prior to arrival you can book for the length of your trip (up to 10 days) all on that first day. This means that onsite guests can potentially book all of their dining and have an advantage as they get first crack at times before the general public.
Dining opens online and on the MDE app at 6am Eastern time each day, or you could call on the phone (phone lines open later) but generally speaking I avoid this. Online is so quick and easy – and the app even more so.
You’ll need a Disney account if you don’t already have one with a credit card #, name, phone #, and email on file. This is because all dining reservations require a credit card on file. For most dining reservations, if you don’t cancel at least 1 day ahead and do not show up, you will be charged $10/per person fee for no show. We’ll touch on this again in a moment.
Whether website or app the process is simple! Tell the site (below are screen shots from app) what day/time/how many people. Note: DO include all folks infants and all, and if someone is a ‘maybe’ include them. Easier to show up with less than try to accommodate more at a later date!
Then find a reservation date and time that looks good. I tend to err slightly earlier vs slightly too late as it’s more common for my crew to be HUNGRY, as well as more common to have to wait a few minutes vs being seated immediately. Plus time for food to be ordered, etc. Anyhow!
Once the reservation time is selected on the website you’ll have several screens to go through. App is just one! SO EASY! Just look it through and that everything looks right, click the “agree to terms” and you’re set! You’ll see the reservation in your Disney plans on your account as well as getting an email.
Need to change time? Cancel? NO problem! Just log on and try to change the time/modify or cancel.
A few more details on the booking process…
There are a few more things you should know. First of all, there are a few experiences such as dessert parties and Cinderella’s Royal Table that require you pre-pay at the time of booking. Most of these are refundable (always double check!) though their cancellations can be different vs regular “no prepay” restaurants. Note that if you are on the Disney Dining Plan you can call and they will note this and not require payment in advance.
You should also note that you can not book one reservation within an hour of another. See below for a warning that you’ll see if you try to book two things too close together.
Overall? The process has come a LONG way in being simple, easy, and very user friendly over the years. Disney World makes it easy to make, change, or cancel your reservations as you plan and organize your trip!
Do I really need to book so far ahead?
No, you really don’t for most things. I tend to rebook, change, and adjust my reservations the entire 6 months leading up to a trip! Especially as Disney announces more special events or happenings that make me change my mind about dates/times. In fact as people plan and change plans you will see reservations become available closer to the date. On most trips, the day before I can get quite a few good reservations for my next day if plans need to change.
Note that I said “quite a few”. If you have specific “must do” restaurants on your wish list you can and should book those! Some restaurants (see below) sell out sometimes within minutes of 6am Eastern on 180 day!
Which restaurants are hard to get?
The short answer is, the popular ones. The character dining, the super popular, the special or the new – a lot of times these places book up quickly. That said, on my most recent trip “180 day” I was able to get anything I wanted and the times I wanted – and I waited several hours (being a west coaster, I wanted sleep!) before I began booking. You can’t always guess what will (or won’t) be easy to get so here is a rundown of the restaurants I frequently see unavailable as the days go by and I amuse myself by checking on what is available:
I’ve had trouble finding/booking ideal times for these as weeks roll by…
1900 Park Fare
50s Prime Time
Afternoon Tea at Grand Floridian
Be our Guest (breakfast/lunch)
Evening Show dining packages (Fantasmic, etc)
Liberty Tree Tavern
Note that I haven’t included special events, seasonal, or other things. The basic rule is: if it’s limited and a must… book it ASAP! Also notable that Cape May, Garden Grill, and Hollywood & Vine all have characters but I’ve found them to be the easiest of the character meals to book. In fact I can almost always find them, which is why I did not list them above.
Tips on what to book:
Here are the general guidelines I follow when booking Disney World restaurants.
- If it is a “Must Do”, initially I book it on two different days so that I have a back-up in case my plans have to change AND I have trouble getting another reservation.
- I book at fairly set times (11/11:30 and 6/6:30) for meals, as we tend to skip breakfast.
- I book 2 – 3 breakfasts (girls LOVE breakfast buffets!) and then decide which ones to keep closer to the trip
- I book the evening show “dining packages” if I think I might want them
Basically? It is MUCH easier to cancel a reservation or two at some point vs trying to track down a reservation you really wish you’d made. And don’t forget – as you firm up plans (including making your Fast Passes!) you can always change, cancel, or otherwise alter your reservations.
The real bottom line and rule here is that you’re better off prepared vs missing out because you didn’t do just a little planning ahead!