This morning, I am officially 180 days away from arriving in Orlando for the Princess Half Marathon! I’m arriving Friday afternoon and my husband and son arrive Saturday. We’re all staying for the week after for vacation.
This was the first year we’ve used the online Advance Dining Reservation system. We’ve had our travel agent handle it in the past but she’s being flaky this year so I decided to handle it myself. If you think you’re going to eat a any Disney table service restaurants (i.e. those where you are seated at a table and the waiter comes to you to handle things), I would really recommend reservations as it can be really hard to just walk up and get a table.
The first step is figuring out where you want to eat. In years past, we had a daily park visit schedule planned based on the Extra Magic Hours to maximize our time in each park and based our restaurant choices on that daily schedule. This visit, we’ll be with my two year old so we’re expecting lots of Magic Kingdom time, early meals and lots of flexibility. We’ve traveled enough with O to know that you can never what kind of day you’ll have with a little one, so we have no expectations about what we’ll do each day. We made a list of restaurants based on ease of travel from the Contemporary Resort and toddler friendliness. Think about what your own needs to build your list, as everyone will have different things on their list. The Disney site has menus and descriptions, locations, etc plus there are lots of dining reviews available online.
Then I put my list in order based on what needed to be booked first (because as much as we’d like to, we can’t book them all simultaneously!). Things to think about: What reservation is hardest to get (like Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest)? What reservation is the most “can’t miss” for your family? What parts of your schedule are least flexible, where you have to have a certain reservation on a certain day?
Our list this year:
1. Be Our Guest: Really want to try it as we haven’t done it yet and it seems perfect for the PHM trip! I don’t expect O to want a picture with the Beast but I certainly do! I didn’t really which day we did it, as long as it was after PHM.
2. Via Napoli: This is second not because it is hard to get but because I wanted it for a specific date (Saturday night before PHM carbs, plus pizza and not overwhelming for my little guy since they’ll have just arrived).
3. Chef Mickey: Some sites list this as a hard to get reservation and I specifically wanted it the last night of our trip as a good send off for my guy. It is also at our resort which will be convenient since I’m sure we’ll all be tired after a big week!
4. Raglan Road: We wanted this on a weeknight and early so it would a little less adult than Downtown Disney can be on weekends in our experience. It may not the most 2 yr old friendly, but the bread pudding is to die for!
Our other choices were fairly easy to get and flexible, so I didn’t worry about prioritizing them: Tusker House lunch, Garden Grill, and Whispering Canyon.
Online reservations start at 6 am EST. At 450 central time I was sitting at the computer with a cup of coffee and the Disney site open. I’d logged in through My Disney Experience, confirmed that my son and husband were listed with me and that our resort reservation was linked so we could get the 180 days plus up to ten our stay following that. I also had my credit card in front of me for the restaurants I had that needed that to hold the reservation. Tip: Have everything (website, reservation info, credit card, coffee!) ready to go before the opening time if you have reservations that you need to get quickly!
I found the first restaurant on my list through the search box, entered the date I wanted, the time i wanted (either specific hour or a time frame like “dinner”) and the number in my party and waiting for the 6am EST (5am my time) opening, then clicked Find Table. Prior to the 6 am EST opening, if I clicked Find Table, I got a message saying it was “unable to access reservations information at this time”. This briefly had me worried that the online was system was down, but that message went away after we got past 6am EST, so don’t freak out if you see it! After 6am EST, I clicked Find Table and had a few times from which to choose.
Tip: If you aren’t seeing a time you like, try switching the time in your search field, either to “dinner” if you’ve selected a specific hour or to a specific hour if you’ve chosen “dinner.” For both Tusker House and Raglan Road, changing from the big group (lunch/dinner) to a specific hour got me different time options than I’d been offered previously (even though those times were also within the lunch/dinner time frame). I’m not sure why they don’t offer you all of the times available within a given time frame, but remember this as an option if you’re not seeing what you need. I ended up with 6 pm at Raglan Road by choosing the 6 o’clock hour when I’d been offered only 645, 7 and 730 by choosing dinner.
Click the time you want and you’re taken to a screen where you select which guests to include with the reservation. You cannot associate more guests with a reservation than you selected as members of your party on the first page, so be sure you get that right or you’ll have to start over. Then you enter your credit card information if that’s needed (for example, Be Our Guest and Chef Mickey). I’m glad I checked the “Remember this card” option because it saved me from doing this over and over with other reservations. The last step is to give your contact information, agree to the terms and confirm. It processes the reservation and then gives you a confirmation number. It is always a good idea to make note of these in case there are problems in the future. If, like me, you forget to write it down because your coffee hasn’t kicked in, that number should also be in the email you get and in the My Experience section of the Disney site.
In total it took me about thirty minutes to make reservations for over a week of our vacation. It got slowed down a little about two-thirds of the way through because it kept logging me out for some reason. It would still say “Welcome Jessica” at the top of the screen, but wouldn’t offer me dates for anything other than the first day of my stay (i.e. not the “plus ten”). When I would re-log-in, it would correct itself. I had to do this twice at the end of my bookings. Be sure to try repeating your log-in if things are acting odd. As an alternative, you can wait and call Disney Dining at 7 am EST and have them handle the bookings for you (407-939-3463).
I will say that while I woke up early and did this early this trip, it was primarily because we wanted to try Be Our Guest and knew it could be tough to get. For our other trips, we’ve booked much closer to our actual visits and had some really fantastic dining experiences, so you definitely don’t have to do the early booking and shouldn’t panic if you haven’t done it yet.
I kept notes on a notepad as I went along because I’m a very tactile pen and paper person when it comes to planning, but all of this is also tracked it your My Disney Experience page, which allows you to check from day to day in your trip to see what is booked. My husband and I also share a spreadsheet in Google Drive where we keep all of our info so can both make changes and notes and the info is always accessible online.
Hopefully this will help anyone working through this for the first time! That’s our last big chunk of planning finished, so now I just need to do the half-marathon training bit. Just a minor detail, right? 🙂