Once you know when you’re going to Disney World and have your hotel reservations, it’s time to start working on the first batch of plans you can make, your Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs). There are a lot of different restaurants at Disney World, and while it seems crazy that you’re making dinner reservations almost 6 months in advance of your trip, sometimes that’s what you need to do to get the hard to get ADRs.
How Far In Advance Can You Make Your Dining Reservations at Disney?
Disney lets you make your dining reservations 180 days in advance, but there’s a little bit of a catch. If you have on site hotel reservations, at 180 days out from the first day of your stay you’ll be able to make your first day reservations, and reservations for the next 10 days.
So, if you’re staying at the Grand Floridian for a week, at 180 days from the first day of your hotel stay you can make your ADRs for the entire week. If you don’t have hotel reservations yet (or you’re not staying at a Disney hotel), you can only make your reservations at 180 days one day at a time.
How I Schedule My ADRs at Disney
When deciding when to schedule what at Disney, I start with a crowd calendar. The best ones are probably the ones from Kenny the Pirate and Touring Plans, I usually use Kenny’s calendar.
I’ve made an example week above, Kenny color codes each day based on which parks will have more crowds. Green is lower crowds, yellow in the middle and red is the most crowded park. There are a lot of factors that go into figuring out where crowds will go, for example Extra Magic Hours usually mean that park will be the most crowded that day.
You should decide where to go each day based on what’s most important to you. If you want to get in as much park time as possible and will be taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours, then EMH will decide which park you go to each day. We don’t go to EMH, it’s just too much to get ourselves ready and fed in time to take advantage of EMH.
So, I pick park days based on where the crowds are. The Magic Kingdom is our most important park, so I put those days on my calendar first, and I pick the days with the lowest crowds for the MK. Then I slot the other parks in based on crowds.
Which Meal to Reserve?
My plans really only determine where we’re spending our morning and early afternoon. We head back to the hotel for a nap in the mid-late afternoon, and then we like to be flexible with our plans at night. We might eat a quick dinner at our hotel and then have a quiet night resting in the room. We sometimes head to another park at night, eating there and doing a few rides before coming back to the room for bed.
Keep in mind that most people do quick meals at Disney for breakfast and lunch, and reserve sit down meals for dinner. This means the the “quick service” restaurants are busiest at lunch and fairly quiet at dinner time. We like to avoid the crowds, so our ADRs tend to be for breakfast or lunch. Then we do QS for dinner and it helps us to keep our flexibility.
What’s a PrePark ADR?
There are some breakfasts that can be reserved in park restaurants before the park opens. Yes, they’ll let you in to the park early to head to your meal. It’s really fun to wander around on your way to the restaurant and check out the parks when they’re so empty. This was especially amazing in the Magic Kingdom where Main Street is super crowded (note, due to a change in park opening in December 2016 you won’t experience Main Street this empty even with a prepark ADR).
The main advantage to a prepark opening dining reservation is what happens when you’re done eating. If you finish a little before the park opens, you can get in line for some of the attractions such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom. It isn’t unusual for the cast members to run the ride a few minutes before the park is technically open, so you can sneak in one or two rides before the park gets crowded.
Prepark opening dining reservations also let you sign up for Jedi Training early at Hollywood Studios. As you walk into the park, cast members will make sure you know where to go to sign up. Just be sure you have the kiddo you’re signing up with you, you have to have them with you to put their name down.
When to Make Your Reservations?
When it’s time to make your reservations, you’ll want to wake up early on that 180 day mark! The website opens at 6 am Eastern for dining reservations, you can call starting at 7 am Eastern. I recommend having a basic plan for what restaurants you want on which days, have your credit card already loaded into the Disney website and start with the harder to get reservations first. I always start with Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest as those are the hardest to obtain reservations. I go back and fill in other days later.
What If I Can’t Get the ADRs I Want At Disney World?
Some of the hardest ADRs can fill up completely within just a few minutes of release! But, if you didn’t get that dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table that you really wanted, don’t worry, there’s still hope!
Disney doesn’t always release all of the available dining reservations at 180 days. More will be released later on, especially if that restaurant is involved in an event such as special seating for a nightly show. People also change their plans and cancel later. Keep checking back on your own or use a reservation finder (Touring Plans and Mouse Dining both offer this service).
Note that since you can cancel up to the night before a reservation without penalty, a lot of people hold on to their reservations until the last minute. You’ll have a lot of luck finding your desired reservation the night before and the morning of that day.
What Are the Best Restaurants?
That’s a whole other topic, it turned out to be a whole other post! You can check out all of my restaurant recommendations for kids at Disney World!
Don’t forget to check out all of my Walt Disney World Trip Planning Posts!
Images: Empty Main Street is mine, rest are via HarshLight.