Understanding Advance Dining Reservations
What It Is and How To Use It
Advance Dining Reservations, previously called Priority Seating, is an important dining concept at Walt Disney World. Advance Dining Reservations do not apply to every restaurant though. At Disney World, there are two types of restaurants---table service (where you have a server) and counter service (where you order and receive your food at the counter). There are many different types of table service—buffet, family style, or traditional—and all table service restaurants use Advance Dining Reservation system.
The name would indicate that you have a reservation, however, except with a few exceptions, you don’t have an actual reservation. Advance Dining Reservations are a call-a-head seating system. You pick a slot at a time the restaurant thinks they will have a table available and they seat you as close to that time slot as possible. Disney does ask that you show up 10 – 15 minutes prior to your scheduled time.
The exception to having an actual reservation is when you have to give a credit card number for your reservation. In some cases, such as Cinderella’s Royal Table or any of the dinner shows, the credit card is charged in advance since the meal is a set price. In other cases, like California Grill, there isn’t a charge to your credit card unless you don’t show then is a nominal fee. Even at these restaurants, it can take a while after your actual time before you are seated, especially at the restaurants that just require a credit card hold.
Advance Dining Reservations can be made in two ways, by phone Disney at 1-407-WDW-DINE or online at Disney’s website. Advance Dining Reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your dining date if staying offsite. Onsite guests may make dining reservations 180 days in advance of check-in, plus an extra 10 days out. Onsite guests staying more than 10 days will need to keep calling back for dining reservations extending past 190 days of check-in until the day they wish to dine on is at 190 days out.
It is important to plan out your dining in advance. Each restaurant has a limited number of seating’s for various party sizes at each time slot. It is not unusual to have some popular restaurants fill up at 180 – 190 days out. These restaurants include Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, Le Cellier, but it can happen at can restaurant. Additionally, during busy times like Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and when Disney offers free dining, even less popular table service restaurants can fill up. You may be left with minimal to no table service choices any day of the year if you do not choose your dining in advance. If you are on a dining plan that includes table service, you will lose money on those table service credits.
If a restaurant you prefer is filled, keep trying. People change plans all the time and slots will open up. Most notably, at 45 prior to your dining, slots open up because that is when Walt Disney World packages must be paid for in full. Sometimes people find that they are unable to pay for their trip and cancel, leaving dining spots open. Do not wait until 45 days out, but know there is always hope. While a long shot, it is possible to walk up to a restaurant on the day you wish to dine and find availability from those that no-show or cancel at the very last minute.
While it is certainly a courteous gesture to cancel any reservation you know that you won’t make (even the day of since it is all computerized) so that it leaves a known open spot for someone else. Additionally there may be a penalty if you find yourself unable to make your ADR at the last minute--any ADR for signature, character and other popular restaurants not canceled 24 hours prior to the reservation comes with a $10 charge per person on the reservation (if all people are not on the reservation, you might not all be sat and will have to pay the penality so don't not book everyone "just in case."). The exception to that is where you must pay in advance or put a credit card hold on your reservation. Those reservations must be cancelled 24 – 48 hours in advance to avoid a no-show charge, which can vary by restaurant.
Hints Tips and Tricks to Making Advance Dining Reservations
There are a couple of secrets in making Advance Dining Reservations. First, when you may start booking your reservations at the 180 day mark is different online than through the phone system. The phone lines open at 7:00 AM Eastern time and the online system starts taking reservations at 6:00 AM Eastern time (a whole hour earlier). Second, there is a different inventory in the phone system than online. If you can’t get a reservation you want online, call and vice versa. You might just get lucky. Third, try booking a popular restaurant at the end of your vacation. Many people whose vacations started before yours will have booked those restaurants with their 10 extra days so the further out you book, the better your chances. Although, it is rumored that some inventory is held back until exactly 180 days out. Finally, while searching online, you will be given up to three choices in a two-hour window of your desired time slot, you might have better luck if you try picking times at the quarter hour marks rather than on the hour or half-hour. Less people think to look at 12:15 than 12:00 or 12:30.
Once you have your Advance Dining Reservations, be sure to keep a list of all your confirmation numbers. You might just need them when you get there. This is especially important if you have an Advance Dining Reservation for a restaurant in a theme park, like Crystal Palace, before the park opens for the day; you might just not be allowed in to make your dining reservation. It is also a good idea to check, either online or by phone, that all your Advance Dining Reservations are in place a few days to a week prior to your arrival.
Remember, Advance Dining Reservations are for table service restaurants only. There are many good counter service restaurants to eat at while visiting Walt Disney World, especially in the World Showcase at Epcot. So, if you do miss something, you are not out, unless you spend money on the Disney Dining Plans.