OK, let’s say you win the lottery and decide to take the kids to Disney World on a whim, except you have to go NEXT MONTH because of holiday breaks or work schedules. But you heard that you have to make dining reservations 180 days in advance! Everyone says this! I read it on Pinterest! Vacation is ruined!
Except it’s not, and you can go next month (or next week! or tomorrow!) and still have a great time, I PROMISE. It just takes a little bit of strategy and know-how. I’m here with both for you.
First, keep in mind that there are literally 368 dining locations at Disney World (as of today, in May 2017), with more to come. I promise there are lots of those that are really great! There are several “look-alike” dining reservations that are similar in theme or experience to those tough reservations, but usually are easier to get.
Second, AFTER you make those alternative dining reservations we discuss below, then you STILL may get one of those coveted, hard-to-get reservations you really want. Why? Because people cancel! Some of the hardest of hard-core Disney vacationers book several options for dining on all the days of their vacation, and then change them as schedules change and they get more information. In particular, I recommend checking (and re-checking) for hard reservations 24-48 hours in advance of your desired reservation. Why? Because Disney asks for 24-hour cancellation notice (or they can charge you $10/person!). Things happen, people cancel and times open up. It’s worth a try! (Shameless plug: this is where a travel planner can help you out! You can continue to vacation while we can keep searching for those reservation cancellations for you!)
And between you and me, I have found a LOT of great reservations on the SAME DAY before. So don’t sweat!
Here’s what I’m not suggesting – don’t wait to make ALL YOUR DINING reservations until you get there. That is just madness, and will add stress to your vacation. While you can get those last-minute reservations sometimes, do not COUNT on getting them. As mentioned above, book an alternative option for now. You can change it later if you see something you REALLY WANT open up, but you will still love these options!
If you didn’t get Be Our Guest try….a Signature Dining (2 Credits) Experience
To be honest, there really isn’t anything else like Be Our Guest at Disney World, which is why it’s so popular and that’s why I have it listed at #1 on the Tough ADR To Get List. But if you don’t get your BOG dinner reservation, and you are on the Plus Dining Plan, that means you can free up an extra Table Service credit! Try doing all Quick-Service at the Magic Kingdom (we love Pecos Bills and Columbia Harbor House), and save your TS credit for that day, and use it for a 2 TS Credit meal (aka “Signature Restaurants”) that you may otherwise have skipped. My choice? Tiffins at Animal Kingdom, any day of the week! But I also love California Grill, Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue and Monsieur Paul’s. There are 17 different Signature Dining options for 2017, choose one and make it a special event!
BUT – do not miss a stop for a snack in Gaston’s Tavern! It’s not quite as magical as the Beast’s Castle, and doesn’t serve full meals (so no reservations, either), it is perfectly detailed and a huge hit with any Beauty and the Beast fan.
If you didn’t get Cinderella’s Royal Table try…. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
In truth, it can be tough to get exactly the time and date you want for Akershus, too, but it is definitely an easier get. The food is arguably better than Cinderella’s Royal Table, you get a BUFFET (yes, please and thank you) and you’re still in a castle-style banquet hall….just, you know, one in Norway instead of Fantasyland. It’s obviously super royal because it’s right there in the name. The princesses that can show up at *either* are Cindy, Snow, Ariel, Belle, Aurora, and Jasmine, but that’s always subject to change, so be sure you have some back-up meet and greet options if your kiddo has a favorite that they might miss.
If you didn’t get Chef Mickey’s…. try The Garden Grill
Personally, I prefer Garden Grill over Chef Mickey’s EVERY time. It gets overlooked a lot because the decor needs a makeover – it’s relatively plain, and feels a bit like a Denny’s restaurant, except one that rotates….for some reason. But the combination of the excellent character interaction here AND the excellent family-style food (I like all-you-can-eat without my having to get up from my chair) make this a better choice. (We also had some of the best service we have ever had at Disney here – we love you, Staci!) And you can often get truly last-minute reservations or even walk-ups during slower times.
If you didn’t get ‘Ohana try…. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
OK, hear me out on this one, because I understand that they are not really the same experience. But you get really really good food, all-you-can-eat family style AND you get a super fun family dinner show. There’s no show at ‘Ohana! (Except for Auntie Kau’i’, who I do really love, but it’s not exactly a full show.) Also, between you and me, ‘Ohana’s dining room is in desperate need of a refurb – yes, I’ll say it – and the show and experience at Hoop-Dee-Doo is like nothing else at Disney World. It’s worth the trip out to Fort Wilderness! Go early or stay late and explore Fort Wilderness, because there’s lots to love there.
if you didn’t get Victoria and Alberts…. try Tiffins
Oh, did I already mention Tiffins? That’s because Tiffins is, hands-down, the very best meal I have ever had at Walt Disney World. (This is one reason I have mentioned it twice in this blog post!) I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve never eaten at Victoria and Albert’s, because it’s expensive and I have a kid and they don’t let any kids under 10 in there. But I believe those who say it’s really amazing. But Tiffins? Tiffins is not only more my style of dining, it’s also currently a pretty easy reservation to get. I was able to get SAME-DAY reservations a few months ago! My guess is that as people start to hear more praise about it (and walk past it more on the way to Pandora, now that it’s open) it may be harder to get. But for now, since it is pricey, and 2 dining credits, and relatively new, it’s a “hidden gem”. It’s worth it, just trust me. And if it feels expensive, just consider: it’s cheaper than V&As!
And if for some reason you can’t get a reservation, you can walk in to the Nomad Lounge at Tiffins for a delightful small bites and cocktail menu all its own.
If you didn’t get Le Cellier Steakhouse…. try Yachtsman Steakhouse
Yes, there is a dress code at this one, sorta, but if you like steak, this is your good alternative. It’s really only a short walk away from Le Cellier as well, and I LOVE getting out of the parks and walking around the Boardwalk/Yacht and Beach Club area to get to the Yachtsman Steakhouse at (no surprise here) Yacht Club. It’s still a pretty popular options though, so if you can’t get this one when you want (and you are okay with not using the dining plan), then head just a LITTLE farther down the walkway to Shula’s Steak House at the Dolphin Hotel.
If you didn’t get Sci-Fi Dine-In…. try 50s Prime Time Cafe
This is another case in which I prefer the “secondary” option to the first, more popular one. I think the food is MUCH better at 50s Prime Time Cafe, and the experience itself is a lot more fun for us than at Sci-Fi Dine In. The wait staff are SUPPOSED to be kinda rude and tell you to get your elbows off the table and chew with your mouth closed and eat your veggies ans such so just go with it and have fun. Ask for a TV table if you and your family (of 4 – they don’t seat more than 4 ) still want the screen time that Sci-Fi offers. Or if not, just load up a bunch of 50s TV shows on your iPad and prop it up at the end of the table? If anyone does this, let me know, because I think it would be hilarious.
If you didn’t get Via Napoli…. try Blaze Pizza at Disney Springs
There are several alternatives around Disney World if Italian food is your thing (Mama Melrose, Il Mulino, Tutto Italia to name a few), but if you’re here for the pizza and the cost savings, make time for Blaze Pizza instead. Not only do they offer truly excellent pizza (and each person can create their own so nobody can complain!) , they are a quick-service dining option, and requires NO dining reservation. Save that Table Service credit again!
If you didn’t get your Fireworks View Dinner try…..getting a margarita.
No, really. It’s still highly possible to see the fireworks with a drink and/or food in hand without a dining reservation. If you are on a kid-free date night, show up early and grab a seat at the open-seating California Grill Lounge, which offers not only drinks, but the same menu as the restaurant. (Kids are allowed, but smaller ones may struggle more in the lounge-style seating, especially if you go an hour or more earlier than fireworks in order to grab a spot.) If casual is more your thing, get a margarita and some chips and salsa or tacos to go from Choza de Margarita (opening soon!) or La Cava del Tequila in Mexico, and munch away during Illuminations. Or get real crazy and get a Dole Whip spiked with rum and watch Happily Ever After from the Polynesian Village Resort beach!
(TOP SECRET TIP: You can eat EARLY at California Grill and still come back and watch the fireworks from the cat walk later! Just bring your receipt to the check in desk and they’ll let you up.)
See? I told you that you didn’t have to worry so much! You’ll have a great time and the food will be great! I promise!
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