I don’t know about you, but half the time I barely know what I want for dinner at noon.  However, when planning a trip to Walt Disney World, I have to know what I want to eat a whopping six months before I get there or I’ll be relegated to bread, water and Mickey Bars.  I don’t want that to happen to you, so here’s a little guide to Walt Disney World advanced dining reservations and what’s absolutely needed, what’s nice to have and what you can hold off on until you arrive.

The Basics

Yes, you read that right.  You can start making your dining reservations at Walt Disney World 180 days before you arrive.  After you rip open the Christmas presents, it’s time to start thinking about what you want for lunch on your summer vacation.  A little cuckoo, no?  It’s not as bad as it sounds, actually.  Although I still don’t know what we’re doing for dinner tonight, I do know that my next trip won’t be complete without a heaping bowl (or four…don’t judge) of strawberry soup from 1900 Park Fare, and I’ll need to get my grub on at Garden Grill.  Love their salad!  Gotta balance out those four bowls of strawberry soup.  For a new traveler, however, it may be a little more difficult when you’re not sure what your choices are or if you’ll even like the offerings.  More on that later.

Garden Grill
Garden Grill

Once you decide what you’ll want to nosh on during your trip in six months there are a few ways to make those coveted reservations.  The easiest way is to ring 407-WDW-DINE and chat with a cast member.  You’ll offer up your preferences, and they’ll do the leg work.  If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, you can also make reservations via the Walt Disney World web site by going directly to the restaurant’s page or by searching your dining options.  If you’re a club level guest guest or using your favorite resident travel agent (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), you’ll shoot them your list of requests, and they will be up at the crack of dawn to try to secure your reservations.

1900 Park Fare
1900 Park Fare

After your reservations are confirmed, all that’s left is that six months of pesky waiting.  Unless you flip out before your trip and then decide you had it all wrong.  Now, I tend to keep all my reservations until the week prior to my trip even if I’m having second thoughts because while you can easily cancel a dining reservation if it doesn’t suit your needs or appetite anymore, if you decide you really do want  that lunch full of comfort food at 50s Prime Time Cafe but have canceled your reservation, you’re at the mercy of walk-up availability or someone else’s cancellation.  If you’re committed to a trip without the chicken pot pie, though, make sure you cancel at least 24 hours prior to the reservation!  Disney will assess a cancellation fee to the credit card used to guarantee the reservation of at least $10 per person for no-shows and cancellations within 24 hours of the reservation.

50s Prime Time Cafe
50s Prime Time Cafe

Get Park Wise: Disney resort guests are able to make reservations 180+10 days out from their arrival date.  What that means is that once you call in you can make reservations for not only your arrival day but ten days after.  Non-Disney resort guests will have to try for reservations 180 days before each meal they wish to reserve.

Now that all that is out of the way and you’re an expert on the ins and outs of advanced dining reservations, let’s find out where you really need them.

Need Reservations: Character and Signature Dining

By all means, if you know where you want to eat during your entire trip, make all your reservations as soon as possible.  Otherwise, (ahem…important info for new planners I referenced earlier) I highly recommend guests book these restaurants as soon as they’re able.  If you have your heart set on breakfast with a princess or dinner with Donald, your best bet is to be on the phone as soon as your reservation window is open.  While not all character meals are sold out at 180 days, they are among the first to lose availability.  Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella Castle and Chef Mickey’s in Disney’s Contemporary Resort are quick to book, so if those are on your list, make them a priority when you call or check online.  While not a traditional character meal, Be Our Guest is also #1 on many travelers’ wish lists, so if it’s on yours, make it your first request.

Cinderella's Royal Table
Cinderella’s Royal Table

 

In addition to character meals, signature restaurants are also very popular.  While Le Cellier doesn’t seem to have the pull it used to, if the Canadian restaurant is a must-do for you, it’s best to plan ahead.  California Grill, especially after its recent re-imagineering and with its incredible views is always hard to find as you get closer to your travel dates.

Get Park Wise: With Disney’s somewhat young cancellation policy, these reservations are not quite as hard to get as they used to be as guests are more likely to cancel a reservation to avoid the fees.  If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying.  I’ve had luck with guests looking for coveted reservations by searching again near the 45 day mark because this is when vacations can be canceled without penalty.  If they’re canceling their entire trip, the dining reservations tend to get canceled, as well.

Akershus
Akershus

Would Be Nice To Have Reservations: Themed Dining

There are many restaurants at Walt Disney World known for their experiences, atmosphere and great food, and the highly themed restaurants such as the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Hollywood Studios and ‘Ohana’s Hawaiian all-you-can-eat dinner at Disney’s Polynesian Resort are sought after spots for Disney fans to indulge.  It’s not crucial to have these booked at 180 days, but you’re more likely to get a table at these types of restaurants with a reservation as opposed to walking up when the mood strikes.

Yak & Yeti
Yak & Yeti

 

Get Park Wise: Not having much luck getting a reservation?  Expand your time search, and you may be better off.  Consider a brunch instead of a breakfast, a 2:00 lunch or an early or late dinner (i.e., not at 6:00 or 7:00 when everyone else is trying to eat).

Spur of the Moment: Everywhere Else

Aside from those categories, most other eateries around the resort tend to be easy to book or often have walk-up availability.  We have a lot of luck in the World Showcase grabbing a meal at the restaurants that don’t fall under the above headings on the fly such as Via Napoli in Italy, which, by the way, is a great place to save a little money, as the pizza can feed a family of three or four for about $30.  Table service restaurants at the resorts also tend to offer more last minute reservations or walk-ups, as they are off the beaten path.  Olivia’s Cafe at Old Key West consistently gets good reviews from my guests and offers pretty decent prices, as well.

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This is definitely not an all-inclusive list of must-have advanced dining reservations, so I’d love to hear your opinions!  Have you had consistent luck with walk-ups at certain restaurants?  Can you never seem to snag a reservation for others?  Share your Walt Disney World advance dining reservation tips in the comments!