All About Advanced Dining Reservations at Walt Disney World.

All About Advanced Dining Reservations Inset

Welcome to a new edition of the First Timer’s Guide to Walt Disney World. In this post we’re talking all about ADRs or Advanced Dining Reservations, and why you really need to take advantage of them for your first, or next, Disney trip.

Before arriving in Walt Disney World for the first time over a decade ago, everything I knew about the parks came from watching the Disney Channel. They did a lot for my enthusiasm, but I I knew very little about the logistics of a Disney Trip. I still had a wonderful time, but the one area where I really wish I knew more about before going was dining.

The Truth About Dining At Disney

What most people don’t realize, or at least don’t appreciate, before heading to Walt Disney World, is the fact that you can’t just walk up to any restaurant in the parks and expect a seat. This is especially true during high season when even the quick service dining venues have strict seating rules and capacity limits. (I’ll explain what a quick service meal is in a second). 

You do have the option of approaching any of the table service check-in podiums and asking if there have been any cancellations. But at best you’ll be given a buzzer and told to stay in the area and wait for a table to open up, and at worst you’ll be turned away. And if you were really hoping to dine at a specific country, or, for example, in the Castle, then being told ‘no’ can really dampen your day!

So this is where the ‘Advanced Dining Reservation’ or ADR comes into play. But before that, let’s take a second to go over the different types of dining options you have to choose from at Disney, and which ones you’ll need Advanced Dining Reservations for. 

What Kind of Dining Can I Find at Walt Disney World

There are three basic levels of dining in WDW, snack kiosks, quick service stops, and table service dining.

Snack Stops

The first is your basic snack bars, these include the ice cream carts, and food stands around the park. There isn’t a dining room attached so you’ll have to find a bench to sit on if you don’t want to eat and stroll.

Quick Service Stops

The second level is what’s called ‘quick service’. Think of it as fast food, Disney Style. You walk up to a kiosk where you order and pay for your meal. You will be given a number before heading over to a counter to pick up your food. Once you have your meal you can find a seat in the dining room. There are plenty of fun and quirky Quick Service stops scattered throughout the parks. Nearly every Epcot pavilion has one. There are also fan favorites like Casey’s, Cosmic Ray’s Café and Pecos Bill’s in the Magic Kingdom. Most of these are your typical hot dog, or hamburger stands though you can usually find something unique in each and every one! But since its kiosk ordering, you don’t need a reservation to get a table. However, in high season you need to order before you’re allowed a seat!

Sunshine Tree Terrace

The Sunshine Tree Terrace, a fun snack stop that does not require an Advanced Dining Reservation

Table Service

So that leaves the last level of Disney dining: table service. This covers everything from Character Dining to signature meals like Be Our Guest or Le Cellier Steak House. These are the places where you check in, are shown to a table and assigned a server. Some of the table service restaurants are buffet style, some are set courses and others are made to order. The options are endless. But because these are all traditional sit-down meals, dining room space is at a premium. These are the experiences that you can book in advance. You can also use ADRs on the Dinner shows like the Hoop-Di-Doo Review, the Luau at the Polynesian or Mickey’s Back Yard Bar-B-Que. Basically, anything with limited seating is counted in the Advanced Dining Reservation system.

In fact, some experiences require Advanced Dining Reservations. These include Victoria and Alberts, where guests are served meals tailored specifically to their tastes.

Signature Dining at Victoria and Alberts Advanced Dining Reservations Required

Signature Dining at Victoria and Alberts, Photo courtesy of Kate K. www.k8ilyeverafterpresents.com

If you aren’t sure where you’re dream dining experience fits in this list, then you can go to Disneyworld.disney.go.com and look it up. So now you know that you need an ADR, but what it is exactly? And what do I need to know before making one?

What is an ADR

 An Advanced Dining Reservation is, as the name suggests, a reservation for a dining experience that you can make up to 180 days in advance. Just like reservations at any non-Disney restaurant, these entitle you to a specific time, at a specific restaurant for a set number of guests. You can even add information about dietary needs and accessibility issues. However, there are some rules that you need to be aware of before you go!

  1. You don’t need to stay in a Disney Hotel to book an ADR. Advanced Dining Reservations are open to all guests regardless of where they’re staying. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of local Disney fans will book a meal in their favorite restaurant just like you would call ahead to your local favorite dining spots!
  2. You need a Credit Card or Debit Card to book. You don’t have to use the card you’ll be using to pay when you’re in Disney or even the card that you add to your magic band. But you do need to have a valid card on file.
  3. If you need to Cancel you MUST cancel 24 hours before your time! This rule is very, very important. You will be charged $10 per person in your party if you fail to cancel 24 hours in advance! This is the same for general no-shows. Disney added this penalty in the last decade to discourage guests from failing to cancel. Because when you cancel, you open up a spot for someone else!
  4. Be on time! Most Disney restaurants will be understanding if you’re a couple of minutes late. That said its best to plan on being there a few minutes before your allotted time. If you are very late it’ll count as a no-show. The time limit depends on the restaurant so make sure you check! Though if you have to you can change your time by going to the restaurant kiosk before your set time, or changing your reservation through the My Disney Experience App. Which leads us to our next section!

How Do I Make Advanced Dining Reservations?

Once you’ve chosen where you want to eat you can start making your reservations. You can do this in three ways.

The first is the My Disney Experience app, which you should download as soon as you know your trip dates. The My Disney Experience is your planning portal as well as your guide map, times guide and general virtual trip assistant while you’re in the parks.

The Advanced Dining Reservation Window

Once you’ve downloaded the app and signed up, or signed in. You can start making dining reservations by choosing the ‘Reserve Dining’ option under My Plans. Enter Your Party Size, the date you’re looking to book for, the time you’d like to dine and then find an option that fits.

You can also go onto the Disney’s website and look up the restaurant you want to book. Looking for dining options through the map on My Disney Experience will also give you this option. On the restaurant page of your choice, you’ll find a calendar bar where you can enter your dates and party size and you’ll be shown available times. Once you find one that fits you can click on it and follow the directions on the site. You’ll need to create or log in, to a Disney account to use this option as well.

The final option is to call Disney directly at (407) 939-5277.

Once you have your reservation, you just have to wait for your date, and time slot to come. Then you approach the welcome kiosk, check in and enjoy your meal! 

What do you do if you can’t get your dream ADR?

If you can’t get your coveted ADR, don’t panic. There is still hope! The My Disney Experience App lets you check on Dining options for even same day reservations! I’ve managed to book same day reservations for Cinderella’s Royal Table and Wolfgang Puck’s formerly of Disney Springs on past trips! So it is possible to catch your dream reservation if you aren’t able to book it far enough in advance.

So always check the app first, and check it often. You never know when you’ll be able to catch any last minute cancellations!

And if you absolutely can not find an ADR you can head to the check-in kiosks. You never know, may get lucky!

But the best way to avoid leaving your dream dining to chance is to book a meal before you go with an Advanced Dining Reservation. That’s it for this edition of the First Timer’s Guide to Wald Disney World. If you have any questions or comments you can drop us a line below! We’d love to hear from you.

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