Friday, August 15, 2014

Disney World: Restaurants and Advance Dining Reservations

Disney Restaurants:  My Reviews
There are plenty of places to eat all over Disney World:   in the parks, at the resorts, and in Downtown Disney.  In true Disney style, many of them offer a unique atmosphere and interesting food choices.  We have only eaten at a few restaurants at Disney, but I can't really think of any bad experiences.  Here are a few reviews from what I can remember.

Cape May Cafe (character breakfast)
In 2011, my dad treated us to a character breakfast at Cape May Cafe (located in the Beach Club resort) featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy who are all dressed in beach attire.  The breakfast was a pretty standard buffet breakfast (nothing fancy), but from what I remember, there were lots of different options and plenty of kid-friendly offerings.  The characters here were GREAT!  They interacted with Audrey so well, each one spent plenty of time at our table and she just loved them!  Cape May Cafe is slightly less popular than Chef Mickeys (I haven't been there yet), so it is a little easier to get a reservation here when you want to have a meal with Mickey and friends.  All character meals are expensive.  The food is probably not worth the money, but the characters were a lot of fun and most people come for the characters not the food.

Crystal Palace (character dinner)
In 2012, Daniel's parents treated us to a character dinner at the Crystal Palace located in Magic Kingdom.  This is a dinner buffet with characters from Winnie the Pooh (Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet were there for us).  Again, I don't remember there being anything special about the food.  But it was a big buffet with plenty of choices.  At the time, Audrey really loved Winnie the Pooh, so this was a great way for her to meet those characters.  I'm not sure if this would be as much fun with older kids who have outgrown Winnie the Pooh.

Dinner reservations aren't too hard to get here, but during free dining at least they will probably be pretty booked.  The most popular reservation time is the 8:00 am pre-opening breakfast, as this allows people to get into Magic Kingdom before the rest of the crowds!

Whispering Canyon Cafe
Daniel and I ate lunch at Whispering Canyon Cafe (located in the Ft. Wilderness Lodge) last December.  It's a fun restaurant, where the waiters interact with you and do silly things, like bringing LOTS of ketchup to your table if you ask for ketchup.  We just had sandwiches with our lunch, but everything was really good!  On a Sunday in early December, we did not need a reservation here for lunch as we were able to just walk right in and get a table.  I'm not sure how crowded it is at other times of year.  Dinner is probably more popular here.

Raglan Road
Daniel and I also ate at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney on our vacation in December.  We made the mistake of showing up on a Saturday night with no reservations.  We were able to get in and eat, after an hour and a half wait!  Since it was just the two of us hanging out with no plans, this worked for us.  But it would have been pretty easy to get a reservation here, if only we had planned ahead.  I don't recommend just showing up here without reservations.
The food was worth the wait though, as it was all good.  Daniel had shepherd's pie, and I had baked potato soup and a salad.  My soup was really good, possibly the best baked potato soup I have ever had (and it's a favorite of mine, so I've had it lots of places!).

I think those are all the table service meals we have eaten at Disney.  I know we had a quick service lunch at Pecos Bill's at Magic Kingdom, and it was pretty good.  We also ate a quick service lunch at Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios.  It is modeled after the Pizza Planet arcade in the Toy Story movies.  If you look, you will find lots of horrible reviews for Pizza Planet.  But I don't remember it being bad.  I think our pizza was decent, and it is a fun atmosphere, especially if you have a Toy Story fan in your group.

Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs)
I am typing this blog post after checking once again for dining reservations for our upcoming Disney trip.  It's possible that I sometimes check the Disney website multiple times a day in hopes that I will be able to get a reservation for the right restaurant at the right time.  It's a little ridiculous!  But that's the way it is at Disney World!  Somehow they have convinced me (and thousands of others) to play their game and make our restaurant reservations SIX MONTHS  in advance.

You can make reservations 180 days before your arrival date for all table service restaurants at Disney World.  For some of the more popular restaurants, it is essential that you DO make your reservation during the first minutes of your 180 day window, or else you may be out of luck.

We are going during free dining, which means everyone is trying to get the best, most popular and most expensive restaurants to take full advantage of their free meals.  So if you book your trip during free dining, and if you care about getting into popular restaurants, be ready to make your reservations online 180 days in advance.  I got up early (5:00 am) 180 days in advance to book my reservations for our trip which was originally scheduled for November.  I got every restaurant I wanted, at the exact times that I wanted.  It was perfect!  And then we changed our trip to September, and I lost all of my reservations.  I have been obsessively checking online for open reservations, and gradually I have been able to find most of them again.
Here are the reservations we have right now (subject to change as I am still on the lookout for openings at a few places):
  • Dinner at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort (this is a super popular reservation so if you want to eat here, book ASAP!  This is a buffet meal with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto)
  • Lunch at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot (a princess character meal that includes a free photo and a princess parade with all the princesses; there are usually five princesses that greet your table.  Belle, Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are common.  This is Norwegian food, with a cold meat/cheese buffet and made to order hot entrees)
  • Lunch at Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios (a character buffet with Disney Jr. characters, currently Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Jake, features a dance party with the characters)
  • Dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian resort  (a character buffet with Cinderella characters.  Word is that these characters are a lot of fun, especially the stepsisters!)
  • Lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom 
Most of our meals are character meals, because those meals are expensive.  So with free dining, I feel like we are getting the best bang for our buck.  Plus our girls, specifically Audrey, really enjoy characters, and meals are a great way to meet them up close and personal without waiting in long lines.  Most of the character meals are buffets, which wouldn't be my first choice.  But with kids, buffets are a nice option as they offer lots of options.

I'm still trying to get a dinner reservation for Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom.  This is THE hot ticket right now, as everyone wants to eat there!  It is a Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant, built to look just like some of the settings in the movie.  For lunch, it is quick service, which means you don't need a reservation.  So if we can't get a dinner reservation, we will try for lunch there.  Because lunch lines get really long, Disney offers a Fastpass for Be Our Guest at lunchtime, if you are staying on property.  This Fastpass is usually available 28 days before your trip, and you can get it here. It allows you to skip most of the line, and you can even preorder your food ahead of time.

I'm sure that there is much more to be said about food, restaurants and Disney world, but this post is more than long enough!

Up Next:  Touring Strategies


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