Thrifty Thursday: Do You REALLY Need ADRs?

“So you’re going to Walt Disney World in 4 months, how wonderful! Have you made your dining reservations yet?”

And so starts a conversation that I have had many times with folks who are planning their first Disney vacation. The puzzled look I usually get in return, as they try to figure out why on earth any sane person would make dining reservations months in advance, always makes me chuckle….because at this point, I don’t have the heart to tell them there have been times that I have gotten up at 6 a.m. for 4 straight days trying to book our dining reservations… and of course, I am doing the same for my clients as well.  🙂

But I completely understand why someone who is not Disney-obsessed would think it odd to be planning where to eat on a vacation that would not be happening for months. But it got me to thinking too, that even among those who do visit Disney World regularly the question of whether to book Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) is a common discussion on Disney blogs, forums, podcasts, and guides.

So should you or shouldn’t you? Many folks like to be “spontaneous” on vacation, and the idea of trying to decide what park you want to visit and where/when to eat at this park 6 months ahead of time just makes their head hurt. I do understand that, because really, how can you know what you are going to be in the mood to eat that far in advance? For many, planning dinners 6 months before takes the “fun” out of it.

However, I am clearly in the “you should” camp, so let me explain why I think it is important for planning to take precedence over spontaneity.

  1. Booking your ADRs in advance will save you time…and time is money. If you start trying to decide where you want to eat dinner at World Showcase one night at 6, and walk up to your restaurant of choice, only to be turned away because they are full…and then repeat this process several times before you find an available spot, you may very well have spent several hours of valuable vacation time trying to find a place for dinner. Time that could have been spend on a ride or attraction.
  2. Booking ADRs may just flat out save you money. If you are traveling during a Free Dining period at Disney World, you will find that most places are booked well in advance, so you run the risk of not being able to eat dinner at any of the table service restaurants if you do not do the same. Free Dining is clearly not a good value if you can’t use it. This holds true, to be honest, for paying for the Dining Plan during any high traffic season: if you can’t find a place to eat dinner, then your Dining Plan table service credits are pretty worthless.
  3. While planning so far in advance seems to take the fun out it, in our experience, it is actually the opposite. Researching the restaurants and discussing our choices adds fun to Disney vacation planning and gives everyone something to look forward to. Even little ones get into the act, especially if there is a special meal (Princess meal anyone?) that they really want to attend.
  4. Which leads me to my last reason for booking ADRs: Who wants to deal with the disappointment of really wanting to do something and not being able to? Taking the time to make your reservation to dine with Cinderella…and then seeing your child’s face light up during the meal…is worth it. Really for any age though, we all have preferences and hopes of what we want to see, do…and yes eat at Disney World. For many dining experiences, and at many times of the year, the only way to insure that it happens is to reserve it far in advance.

Now, can you go to Disney World without making ADRs and have fine dining experiences? Sure you can. People change their minds, reservations open up, and some places are just frankly not as popular as others. Heck, we’ve even changed our ressies during Christmas week, the busiest week of the year! So yes, you CAN wait…but really, why take the chance if you don’t have to?:)

So should you or shouldn’t you? You know where I stand. 🙂 What have been your experiences in booking ADRs? Have you visited without doing so? How did it work out?

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