Top 10 Tips for Hard to Book Advance Dining Reservations at Disney World - Disney Tourist Blog

3 months ago 33

Getting Advance Dining Reservations for the most popular restaurants at Walt Disney World is not easy. In fact, it can be one of the most difficult aspects of planning your vacation, with the toughest ADRs booking up over 60 days out. We’re here to help, with our best tips & tricks for scoring spots at the most coveted spots.

For Walt Disney World first-timers, it might come as a surprise that making Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) is such a challenge. After all, there are literally hundreds of table service restaurants that are bookable two months ahead of time at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the two dozen-plus resorts at Walt Disney World.

On top of that, knowledge is a big barrier to entry. Many travelers are unaware that it’s even possible to make ADRs a couple of months prior to their trips, or the ins and outs of booking reservations. Then there are the Walt Disney World diehards like us who know precisely how it’s done, but do not know where they want to eat so far ahead of time. (The ADR window used to be 180 days–I don’t even know where I want to eat tomorrow, nevermind 6 months from now!) Nevertheless, ADR availability tends to fill up fast for the most in-demand restaurants.

We’ve been documenting the challenges with making Advance Dining Reservations for years, as this has always been a hot topic among Walt Disney World fans. Most recently, What’s Up With ADR Availability? explained the current dynamic, which has morphed over time and become a matter of staffing shortages and reduced capacity as a result (among other things).

However, this is hardly new. There have been controversies around booking, hoarding, and trading ADRs as long as I can remember. (Don’t Google “Howie’s Angels” unless you want to go down a fascinating-but-weird rabbit hole!) Over the years, Walt Disney World has made a number of changes to discourage the practice, yet it still persists to this day. Fortunately, there are ways to “beat” or “outsmart” the competition, and we’ll cover the top 10 methods here to maximize your chances of scoring the exact restaurants you want at precisely the right time!

10. Search by Half-Hour – When searching for ADR availability, you’re given two options: by the half-hour or meal service (brunch, breakfast, lunch or dinner). The easiest way to search, and one we typically use, is by meal service. In theory, this should search for the entire time frame, whereas by the half-hour searches in 4 hour increments (two hours before and after that).

In practice, this is often not our experience. There will be no availability when searching for a particular meal service, but options when we switch over to a specific time. Or, Disney will show us the times they want us to eat, which are often off-hours. (Sorry, but we don’t want supper at 3 pm. This isn’t Bob Evans–there are no early bird specials!)

9. Use the Refresh Method – Along those lines, a great strategy is to toggle back and forth between a meal service and a particular time in order to refresh the ADR availability. This is particularly useful on ADR drop days, when reservations are being loaded into the system or scooped up and released by other guests.

This is actually how we scored our Fantasmic dining package. I just bounced back and forth between times, until eventually getting what we wanted at Minnie’s Seasonal Dine. It’s also great for last minute availability, either on the night before or morning of your desired dining reservations.

8. Change Your Party Size – Since reopening, Walt Disney World has hidden availability for smaller or odd-numbered parties as part of its never ending quest for yield management and revenue maximization. The theory behind this is that a party of 1 only utilizes half the capacity of a table for 2, and is statistically likely spend less. Given the ongoing imbalance between capacity and demand, Disney would thus rather turn those parties of 1 away. Same idea applies for a party of 3, although we’ve seen this less in practice.

The solution to this for odd-numbered parties is to search for your party size, and the size of the table to which you’ll be assigned. Meaning that a party of 3 should search for 4, a party of 5 should search for 6, and so on. During the mobile check-in process (or sometimes before), you can modify the reservation downward to reflect your actual party size. Just be sure to only search for +1 your actual number–going any higher (or lower) is a recipe for problems.

7. Use A Notification Service – There are several ADR finder services, some of which are free and some of which are paid. Our recommendation is TouringPlans’ dining reservation finder, which notifies you when an ADR you want becomes available. It’s then up to you to act fast and get it reserved. This does require registering for an account, but the free basic version will work.

There are a ton of alternative options, some free and some paid. Personally, I’d stick with the TouringPlans option, as they’re well-established and are run by a bunch of passionate Disney fans. (I might be biased, as I got my start working for TouringPlans.) So many other ADR finders have come and gone that I just have a hard time bothering with the rest. I’m sure most of them are fine, though.

6. Multiple Devices, Computer Priority – Before your ADR window opens, my strong advice is to login to disneyworld.com on your computer and the My Disney Experience app. Sure, this all goes down at the crack of dawn, so there might be the strong temptation to do this all while lying in bed. But there are few better ways to cut your teeth on the Walt Disney World planning machine than by setting up a veritable command center, ready for every contingency.

If you’re really serious, go into private browsing, login, and open a new tab for every single restaurant you want. From there, start making your ADRs in highest priority order. If something goes wrong–and let’s be real, this is Disney IT, so something probably will–switch over to the My Disney Experience app or a different device and keep rolling.

5. Stay On-Site – Anyone can book ADRs for Walt Disney World table service restaurants up to 60 days in advance. However, on-site guests can make ADRs for the duration of their trip (up to 10 days) up to 60 days prior to their resort check-in date.

This makes it easier to make all of your ADRs all at once rather than day-by-day. More importantly, the head start can be hugely advantageous in booking the most difficult-to-score Advance Dining Reservations, such as Chef Mickey’s, Story Book Dining at Artist Point or Akershus, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Space 220, Topolino’s Terrace (breakfast), California Grill, and others. By the time the 60 day mark rolls around, many of those will already be gone!

4. Book “Backwards” – This works in tandem with the length of stay Advance Dining Reservation perk. If you make your ADRs in chronological order (meaning day 1, 2, 3, etc.), it’s possible you’ll miss out on the toughest reservations if you want something with really low capacity or you’re visiting during peak season dates.

As such, the best approach is to make your ADRs in order of difficulty, and to the greatest extent possible, backfill your vacation with those hardest-to-book Advance Dining Reservations. For example, if I were doing a weeklong trip and wanted to dine at Story Book Dining at Artist Point, Space 220 Restaurant, Be Our Guest Restaurant, Turf Club Bar & Grill, and Skipper Canteen, I’d do Artist Point first for day 7, Space 220 second on day 6, Be Our Guest next on day 5, and the last two whenever.

This is not a hard and fast rule, so don’t build your itinerary or trip plans with Advance Dining Reservation difficulty at the heart of your plans. If it works out to be more convenient to do Story Book Dining on night 5 instead of 7, you’re probably fine. Just don’t expect to get it on the first night. (This only applies to those staying on-site, since off-site guests must reserve day by day.)

3. Look Early – It wasn’t too long ago (a little over a decade!) that the only way to make ADRs was by telephoning Walt Disney World bright and early at 7 am, hoping you had just the right call cadence to get through to an operator. From there, it was a rush to get through your list as quickly as possible, hoping you scored seasoned, speedy Call Center Cast Member. While that’s still an option, it’s a terrible one. No one reading this internet-based weblog should be doing that.

Instead, use the Walt Disney World website or My Disney Experience app. Officially, here are Advance Dining Reservation drop times according to Walt Disney World:

Reservation availability for select Walt Disney World restaurants typically begins each day at approximately 5:45 AM (Eastern). Please be aware that if you cancel a restaurant reservation, your previously scheduled reservation time will immediately be made available to another Guest. All newly introduced dining events—such as special dining experiences and dessert parties—can typically be booked beginning at 7:00 AM on the day their offers become available.

Unofficially, I’ve gotta give those times a bit of side-eye. While it’s possible that some normal ADRs will be preloaded into the system at or before 5:45 am, you’re far more likely to have success most days at 6 am. Conversely, if you wait until 7 am for a newly-introduced dining option…you will miss out! Instead, you’ll want to be online by 5 am for new releases–and sometimes even that is too late.

2. Look Last Minute – I’ll be honest with you: it is exceedingly rare for us to follow any of our own advice here. The big exception is newly-introduced dining, which we almost always reserve. Beyond that, I’ll book (or sometimes just browse) at the 60+10 window when we’re eligible for that. Otherwise, we usually do not make ADRs over a month in advance.

Fortunately, many restaurants are not dropping all of their ADR availability ~60 days in advance right now. My assumption is that this is happening due to staffing–restaurants release a conservative number of reservations two months out, and then open up more as the dates draw nearer if Cast Member scheduling allows. On top of that, many Walt Disney World visitors hoard ADRs, and cancel their unwanted ones the night before to avoid being penalized. (Some of these people likely are not hoarders, but have their plans change–this happens to us all the time.)

With all of that in mind, the two most common times that we check for Advance Dining Reservations are between 9 pm and 11 pm the night before, and 10 am the morning of. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen nothing for many restaurants ~30 days in advance, only to find numerous options for lunch and dinner released the morning of or one day in advance. This is my manual version of an ADR finder!

1. Walk-Up Waitlist – This is perhaps the only Walt Disney World planning site that is vehemently anti-spreadsheet and cautions against over-preparing. We feel strongly about that as fans of Walt Disney World and enjoyers of fun. There’s also the practical reality that everything about planning for Walt Disney World is overly stressful and complicated. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to just wing it and go with the flow. (See our Being Spontaneous at Walt Disney World for a longer diatribe, including the importance of ‘planned spontaneity.’)

We’re also at least somewhat anti-ADR, or at least bemoan the practice of planning where you want to eat months in advance. That’s why one of the biggest improvements of the last several years is the addition of the Walk-Up Waitlist in My Disney Experience. This is one of the few technology initiatives in the last several years that reduces stress rather than adds to it. We regularly see options like Be Our Guest Restaurant, Le Cellier, Garden Grill, Topolino’s Terrace, ‘Ohana, and other hard-to-book Advance Dining Reservations.

BONUS: Use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner – If you’re overwhelmed by all of this–or even if you understand it all but find it daunting–consider outsourcing your ADR-making. One of several great things about using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner–the term for a travel agent specializing in Disney who is an ‘accredited’ graduate of the company’s college of knowledge–is that many of them will make ADRs for you and assist with itineraries.

If you want to take advantage of this service, we’d recommend requesting a FREE no obligation quote from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. (Note that you’ll need them to book your entire vacation, not just ADRs.) They will happy to assist you with the planning process, help you choose the most economical dates, best add-ons, and so forth. Notably, they also monitor reservations and can retroactively apply new discounts if a better deal is released to save you more money.

BONUS: Alternative ADRs – In my experience, Walt Disney World’s popular table service restaurants aren’t always best. To the contrary, many of the most coveted Advance Dining Reservations are a product of hype and FOMO, coast on their legacy, or have non-culinary appeal, like characters or location. Some are thus able to “get away with” serving uninspired cuisine, as they’ll book up regardless. Ask any longtime Walt Disney World fan and they can name at least a couple of restaurants that they believe fall into this category.

For easier alternatives, see our a List of Underrated Restaurants & Hidden Dining Gems at Walt Disney World. Every single one of these serves up great food despite being easier ADRs. Despite their comparative “unpopularity,” you’re more likely to have a great meal at these restaurants. Honestly, that list just scratches the surface. Ask any Walt Disney World fan about their favorite under-the-radar restaurants. While they might swear you to secrecy for fear of these sleeper picks being popular, most will share their favorites. (Hey, it’s better than the alternative–closing completely, the dreaded menu overhaul, or character dining experience transformation!)

Honestly, this last ‘bonus’ pick is my favorite recommendation of anything on this list, and the big reason why Advance Dining Reservation planning has been one of this blog’s blind spots over the years. (We already have dozens of posts about Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, but the handful of ADR resources revolve around working around the system, rather than within it!) We should probably fix that, and this post is a small step in doing exactly that. After all, it’s easy for us as longtime fans to say “don’t worry too much about ADRs!” We’ve dined at almost every single Walt Disney World restaurant, most numerous times.

If it’s your first visit to Walt Disney World, you’re an infrequent visitor, or planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, you understandably have a greater sense of urgency. You also want to hit the highlights, do the popular dining, and form your own opinions about what’s under or overrated. And in fairness, many of the most popular ADRs are fantastic–there are no better character dining experiences than Topolino’s Terrace for breakfast or Story Book Dining at Artist Point for dinner. To that end, hopefully this list helps you make the most of your ADR drop day, and you’re able to score every hard-to-book reservation that’s on your wishlist!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

If you’ve visited or booked ADRs for Walt Disney World in the last few months, what has been your experience? Have you had success at the last-minute (0-3 days in advance)? Had challenges at the 60 day mark? Notice any differences in the dynamic as compared to pre-closure? Think staffing shortages explain most of what’s happening with fluctuations and limitations in Advance Dining Reservations? Agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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