For many Guests, Dining at Disney is a huge part of their trip. For others, it is purely a necessity. My family and I fall in the middle of those two groups. There are some restaurants that we could eat at on every single trip, like ‘Ohana and Flame Tree Barbeque, yet many meals are a more forgettable experience and just necessity. Regardless of what camp you find yourself or your group in, the options around Walt Disney World are almost limitless. There are literally hundreds of food options, so it certainly can be overwhelming and a lot to know!
To help you figure out what is going to be best for your trip we’re here with all kinds of information, terms, and tips to get you through it all.
Disney Restaurant Categories and Other Terminology
As mentioned in our Resort Guide, Disney loves to categorize things. Their food is no different.
Table Service: These restaurants are what most people typically think of when you discuss dining out. You’ll be seated at a table with a waiter or waitress coming by and serving you there. This category also includes buffets/family style, character meals, and dinner shows.
Counter or Quick Service: These locations operate similarly to a fast food restaurant outside of the parks. You’ll order at a counter and then wait to be served there. The only exception for this is breakfast and lunch at Be Our Guest. Whether you order ahead on the app or as you enter, you’ll be served at your table.
Signature Dining: These are the most expensive and typically considered best table service restaurants at Walt Disney World. They’re typically a bit more upscale than most table service restaurants making them natural choices for celebrating special occasions.
Dinner Shows: There are currently only 2 dinner shows; Spirit of Aloha at Polynesian Resort and Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness Campsites. Both offer all-you-care-to-enjoy family-style servings with drinks, including beer and wine. There are multiple categories of seating with commensurate pricing. The shows also tend to be popular with reservations quickly filling.
Carts and Kiosks: Beyond the restaurants, you’ll find these dotted across the parks serving favorites like Mickey Pretzels, Churros, Popcorn, and Turkey legs. During one of the many festivals at Epcot, you’ll also find specialty food booths serving all manner of delectable foods.
Dining Plan: This is the Disney version of a pre-paid meal plan. The level of the plan you purchase or possibly receive as part of a limited-time promotion will determine the number of credits that you receive. Those credits may be used for Counter Service, Table Service, or Snacks at the various locations. There is extensive debate amongst Guests whether the plan is worthwhile or not. As with so many things it ultimately comes down to how you see the value and want to vacation. We’ll be sharing an article focused on this soon. Be sure to check back.
Mobile Ordering: This is a function found within the My Disney Experience App and allows you to essentially pre-order your meal before even arriving at most Counter Service locations. You’ll submit your order and prepay using either dining plan credits or a credit card. Then when you arrive at the location tap the “I’m here” button and then you’ll be notified when your order is ready. This is incredibly handy when seating is difficult or you’re part of a large party.
Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR): Disney’s version of a dining reservation to secure your party a table at some of Disney’s most popular restaurants. Guests can make ADRs at the 180-day mark of their check-in date, starting at 6 AM EST online and 7 AM over the phone and can book them for up to 10 days past their check-in date. Use our reservation calculator to determine what that date is. For some of the most sought-after locations, availability disappears quickly.
So… now what?
Now that we’ve thrown a bunch of terminology at you we can get into what it means to you. We’re not going to go into any detail on the Counter Service, Kiosks, Mobile Ordering, or Dining Plan in this article. We’re going to focus on the ADRs and associated restaurants and implications of them.
The budget is often front of mind, so we’ll start there to get it out of the way. The truth is, cost from one person to the next will vary greatly. It really depends on where and what you’re eating. Primarily QS meals or kiosks will be less expensive than nothing but TS meals. Still, we’re often asked how much to budget for a trip. If you elect to buy the dining plan, this is simplified, and you’ll need a minimal budget for a few items that may not be included with your plan. But assuming you’re not going that route, here are some general prices to use. Adults can plan to spend about $20 per Quick-Service meal, about $40 per Table Service, and roughly $80 per Signature or Character Dining meal. Children (which Disney defines as ages 3-9) will typically be about half that cost. If you’d like to be more exact, Disney lists all of their menus and prices on their website.
We’re going to assume that you have already created your My Disney Experience (MDE) account. If not, go here to the My Disney Experience website.
Plan before ADR or ADR before Plan?
In our Planning Timeline, we’ve outlined key milestones for planning your trip. Dining reservations take place significantly earlier than FP+ and potentially earlier than you have park tickets or even a room reserved. Depending on your vacation style, you could let destiny determine your plans and just roll with whatever is available. This is a fine approach and can still be quite fun. If you want to be a bit more proactive, we can get into a bit of a chicken or the egg discussion. Will you plan out your days in the park and/or tickets (days and/or Hopper) based on the ADRs you’re able to get? Or, do you want to plan your park days, hoping for FP+, and target your ADRs around that? There isn’t an absolute correct answer here. What is your preference?
My personal preference is to generally go with ADRs first. One part because they happen earlier in the timeline and, to me, it seems simpler to just address things in sequence. Also, one part that ADRs for certain restaurants (we have a list of highly popular ones down below) are incredibly difficult to get. While some attraction’s FP+ are also certainly high in demand, ultimately there is more opportunity for the attractions. Whether it be days, rope dropping a park to reduce wait, catching it at the end of a night, or just accepting an extended wait in line. Regardless of approach, attractions have more capacity, thus more opportunity. Dining is limited, sometimes higher demand, increasing the scarcity.
Still, it is good to at least have a general idea of your other plans. Also, there is an advantage to having your resort stay booked and linked to your MDE. Your ADR window opens at 180 days until check-in and is also open for your entire stay, up to 10 days after check-in. This essentially creates a 190-day window for you if you’re staying 10 days on the property. This creates a huge advantage for getting some of these reservations.
This is also a good time to explain that ADRs don’t operate the way a typical reservation might at home. Disney doesn’t reserve specific tables for specific times. In practice, it is best to think of these as times that you’re placing your name on a waitlist. You’re likely to still wait, usually about 10 to 20 minutes, after arriving at the restaurant.
Booking Your Disney Restaurant Reservations
Because of how the reservation windows operate we generally suggest you start from check-out and move towards check-in with your reservations (this is also a good approach for your FP+). You’ll have overlap with fewer people at the close of your ADR window than you will at the opening. No worries though, that’s what we’re here for. As one of the free services we provide, we’ll be happy to take care of these reservations for you! No need for you to be awake and on the computer or phone at 6 AM the day your reservation window starts. Let us do it for you!
High Popularity ADR: In our experience, there are certain dining reservations and activities that reach capacity quickly. If you’re wanting to experience any of these, listed below, we strongly suggest you make them a priority at the opening of your 180-day window.
- Beaches and Cream (Beach Club Resort)
- Be Our Guest Restaurant (Magic Kingdom)
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (Disney Springs, Magic Kingdom, and Grand Floridian)
- California Grill (Contemporary Resort)
- Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort)
- Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s (Grand Floridian)
- Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom)
- Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue (Fort Wilderness Campsites)
- Le Cellier (Epcot at Canada)
- Oga’s Cantina (Hollywood Studios)
- ‘Ohana (Polynesian Resort)
- Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Epcot at Norway)
- Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White (Wilderness Lodge)
- Bon Voyage Breakfast, Trattoria al Forno (Boardwalk)
Current Signature Restaurants are: Be Our Guest (dinner service only), The BOATHOUSE, California Grill, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Citricos, Flying Fish, Hollywood Brown Derby, Jaleo by Jose Andres, Jiko, Le Cellier, Monsieur Paul, Morimoto Asia, Narcoossee’s, Paddlefish, STK Orlando, Takumi-Tei, Tiffins, Topolino’s Terrace (dinner service only), Victoria & Alberts, and Yachtsman Steakhouse
Overwhelmed Yet? Let Us Help YOU!
Heyday Travel Company can plan a Disney vacation that’s perfect for you. We are a free Disney travel planner with expert knowledge of the entire Disney catalog and Universal Parks destinations. No matter where you want to go, our experienced team is excited to help you make it happen. We provide our service at no charge, so you’ll only have to pay for the vacation itself. If you want help planning a Disney trip that’ll make your dreams come true while also fitting your budget, let’s talk!