There are many things to consider when planning your Disney vacation: when to go, where to stay, what to do. All of these will affect your trip, both in terms of how much you spend, as well as how you make the most of your time. And since time is money, you don’t want to forget about meal planning, because your meals may be a major part of your trip! So make the most of them with careful planning.
If you want to have some meals at table-service restaurants, these take the most planning, because most of them need Advanced Dining Reservations. These can be made as early as 180 days out, and for some popular restaurants, you need to make those reservations as soon as possible!
When you plan your ADRs, think about your potential itinerary, such as which parks you will visit on each day, and which parks you want to spend the most time in. Spread your table-service meals out over the days of your trip – table-service meals at Disney can be a lot of food, so don’t bunch them all close to each other. You’ll be way too full! Remember that table-service meals, particularly character meals, also take up quite a bit of time, so plan enough space for these experiences into your itinerary.
It’s important to have a time cushion around your ADRs. ADRs do not guarantee you a table upon arrival, but rather guarantee your group the next available table, so it is always a good idea to plan to arrive early for your ADRs so you can check in and have your name on the list. ADRs also need extra time if you want to be at a restaurant during special entertainment – for instance, La Hacienda de San Angel and the Rose and Crown have views of Illuminations at Epcot, and California Grill and ‘Ohana have views of Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. Make a reservation for about an hour before these shows begin, and plan enough time to arrive early. Request seats by the window and be prepared to wait. If you are visiting a restaurant at a Disney resort, and are traveling there from another Disney resort, give yourself lots of time – at least an hour, preferably more – to arrive because you will likely have to transfer buses or other transportation.
Even though quick-service meals can afford to be more spontaneous than table-service meals at Walt Disney World, I am all about planning strategy – even for this. Quick-service meals (with the exception of breakfast and lunch at Be Our Guest) do not require any reservations, but at peak meal times the lines for these restaurants can be formidable.
Eating at off times is one of the best line avoidance tips for quick-service restaurants. At noon, most lunch spots will have very long lines at their counters because, well, noon is lunch time. If you can visit a little outside of normal meal times, such as 11am or 1:30pm, you will find shorter lines and less competition for tables. If you plan to eat later than usual, bring some snacks with you, just in case.
Consider also going off the beaten path. Quick-service restaurants that are more visible will typically be more crowded. It’s rare to see Casey’s Corner empty, since it’s right on Main Street facing Cinderella Castle. Venture further to Columbia Harbour House, somewhat hidden in the back of Liberty Square, and you will find shorter lines, sometimes even at peak meal times.
And be sure to know your options! Building a quick-service meal into your itinerary that everyone will enjoy is easier if you know what’s available. Peruse a park map, or even browse some menus if you’re looking for particular food items. Try to pick restaurants convenient for your day plan, as well. If you plan to finish your morning tour of rides and shows in Frontierland, it’s going to be a bit of a hike if everyone wants to eat at Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland.
Whether you are planning to relax with a table service dinner or are looking for a quick lunch on the go, careful planning ahead will help you make the most of your time and money!
I’m Elizabeth, and I’m a planner, a vacation enthusiast, and quite the nerd. Even better, I’m dedicated to helping you plan an unforgettable vacation without all the stress. I like to say that I specialize in nerd travel – to me, being a nerd has always meant being unashamedly passionate about the stories I love. This is why I love planning for my favorite destinations – these are places that can take you right into the world of your imagination and make it real. If you’re just a grown-up kid like me, you’ll love these destinations, too. Whether you’re imagining fairytale castles or adventures with wizards and dragons, I can help you make it happen! I’m putting all that I’ve learned about vacation planning and my nerdy love of fantasy to work for you, so that you can write your amazing vacation story. Visit my blog NerdTravelPro.com to learn more about how you can get help planning your next adventure, and come visit me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for even more vacation fun and tips. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start planning.