This is the fourth post in my series about Travel Hacking Disney. This post will focus on how to make the most of the Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) system. While you can’t really “travel hack” the ADR system, I will give some tips as well as our experience with the system.
Eating at Disney
There are a few different types of Disney restaurants:
- Snack Shacks ($)
- Counter Service ($$)
- Table Service ($$$)
Snack shacks are places where you can grab a turkey leg, churro, pretzel, beer (if you’re in a park other than Magic Kingdom). Counter service consists of ordering at the counter and then tables are first come first serve. Table service consists of waiters taking your order and the food is served at your table.
Counter service restaurants are pretty much always available. They typically don’t get full. Therefore, they do not accept reservations with the exception of Be Our Guest for lunch. There are some great counter service restaurants such as, Columbia Harbour House Restaurant in Magic Kingdom.
However, table service restaurants can be a 20-50 minute wait if you do not have an advance dining reservation. Some popular restaurants won’t even take day of reservations.
You can book ADRs up to 180 days in advance. Some advance dining reservations are extremely difficult to get (read more here). All you have to do is log into your Disney World account and use the find reservations tool. Here it will list all the restaurants that accept reservations and the times that are available. Even if you don’t know for sure if you want to eat a particular restaurant, I would suggest booking it since you can always cancel it later. Just be sure to cancel it before the cancellation fee kicks in.
Our ADR/Dining Experience
For our 5-day Disney adventure, I booked four ADRs:
- San Angel Inn Restaurant – Dinner
- Teppan Edo – Dinner
- 50s Prime Time Diner – Lunch
- Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater – Lunch
I originally had Be Our Guest booked for dinner, but our trip dates changed slightly and I was unable to modify the time so I had to cancel it.
About 3 weeks before our trip I was perusing the Disney World site and I noticed that 2 seats opened up for Be Our Guest – Lunch. I immediately booked these seats and ended up cancelling our dinner at Teppan Edo.
Dining at Disney World was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. For all of our ADRs, we were seated within 5-10 minutes. On top of the four ADRs that we enjoyed, we also ate at several counter service restaurants. The food was delicious at pretty much every restaurant. We also found that at many of the table service restaurants, if we split an appetizer and entree we could save a lot of money while still being quite full and content. We technically saved even more by paying for these restaurant experiences using Disney gift cards.
The one downside about ADRs is that I felt like it forced me to “over-plan” our Disney trip. For instance, the park we visited on a given day was kind of based on where our ADRs were located. If you have park hoppers, I would definitely suggest planning a couple days with no ADRs to give you some flexibility. After all, the counter service meals are just as yummy.
There was one night that we didn’t have any ADRs. It was past 7pm and we were hungry. We decided to walk over to Epcot and see what the wait would be at some of the table service restaurants. The couple places we were interested in eating were over 30 minute wait. Therefore, we decided to go back and eat at a small counter service French bakery, which turned out to be a great decision. Not only did we save money, but the sandwiches were delicious.
If you’re looking at eating at some of the top restaurants at Disney World, you’ll have to jump on the ADRs as soon as possible. However, if you don’t have any particular preferences you may want to consider primarily eating at counter service restaurants and only making a couple advance dining reservations