1) Research your options. There are 135 restaurants in Disney World, with 70 of them being full-service (reservations recommended) establishments. This is the best list of Disney World restaurants I’ve found with links to menus, details, and reviews. Determine which options appeals the most to you and your traveling companions and make a short-list. While you’re planning, be sure to take into consideration which park you plan on being at each day and the park’s hours.
2) Make advanced dining reservations. This is the most important! Once you have restaurants identified, you’ll definitely want to make advanced reservations. If you wait until you arrive and wing-it, you’ll likely not be able to eat at table service restaurants because they’ll be booked (by people who made advanced reservations!). If you are staying on Disney property, you can make advanced dining reservations 180 days in advance from the first day of your trip. I recommend doing so right at the 180 day mark to ensure you get the restaurants you want, because some of them are wildly popular and you won’t be able to reserve the time you would like if you wait. You can make them online from Disney’s dining website or by calling (407) 939-1947.
3) Book a character dining experience. This is a must if you are traveling with kids. This is a great way to get character autographs and photos, all the while eating at a table service restaurant. There is no standing in line for the characters because they come around to each table for one-on-one interaction. Some character dining options offer Princesses, Mickey and Friends, and Lilo & Stich, to name a few.
4) Book dinner during Wishes or Illuminations to watch the fireworks show. If you make a dining reservation that will coincide with the fireworks at Magic Kingdom or Epcot at certain locations, you have the opportunity to view the show from your table. This will require booking a later dinner – usually shoot for around a 7:30 pm or 8 pm dinner reservation, but by the time your dessert comes, you’ll have optimal viewing of the show. For viewing Wishes, check into restaurants at hotels around the Seven Seas Lagoon. A nice spot is Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian. If you’re in EPCOT, a great viewing spot for Illuminations is the front patio of the Rose and Crown dining room.
5) Book dinner and a show. There are currently three options to enjoy a dinner and show package at Disney World, which includes the Spirit of Aloha, Hoop-dee-doo Revue, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
The Spirit of Aloha is located at the Polynesian Resort and features an all-you-can-eat feast served family style. This dinner show is very similar to a luau in Hawaii.
The Hoop-dee-doo Revue is a musical number complete with Wild West dancing and comedy that the whole family will enjoy. This dinner show is located near the campsites at the Fort Wilderness resort. The cherry on top is unlimited draft beer, wine and sangrias for those over 21!
Another dinner show at the Fort Wilderness resort is Mickey’s Backyard BBQ. This is unique in that it doubles as a character meal. You’ll love the traditional BBQ dinner while enjoying a music-filled hoedown with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Chip ‘n Dale.
6) Eat during off-peak hours. If you don’t like crowds, look into dining during off hours. Off hours is generally after 9 am for breakfast, before 11 am or after 2 pm for lunch, and before 5 pm and after 8 pm for dinner. This will likely reduce your wait times and open the doors to some restaurants that are booked during peak hours. This is usually not advised for families with young kids, due to trying to keep them on their normal schedule. Keeping an even keel in that area is of utmost importance!
7) Research the Disney Dining plan. For some families, the Disney Dining Plan is a great way to save money at Disney World. For others, it doesn’t. I’ve found a handy Disney dining calculator to help you determine if it will be a good deal for you to purchase or not. For me, it usually doesn’t save me any money, but I have heard from many people that it worked out great for them. Some of the pros and cons are:
Pros – Pre-payment allows for easier budgeting, flexibility of dining credit usage, and the option of eating at nicer restaurants.
Cons – Strict requirements to follow, no appetizers on the standard plan, you lose money of you don’t use all of your dining credits.
8) Plan for dining on arrival / departure days. Remember to plan for your meals on your arrival and departure days at Disney World. Due to travel, many people’s arrival day are a half day or less, so that is a great opportunity to explore dining options outside of the parks. Look at the dining options at various on-property resorts because you’ll have access to the Magic Express to take you to another resort for dining. This way you don’t burn one of your park days unnecessarily. On your departure day, you may just opt for breakfast or lunch at your hotel before you leave.
9) Order necessities from Garden Grocer and have them delivered to your hotel. This is such a great idea that someone came up with! Garden Grocers offer delivery of groceries, even beer & wine (!!) directly to your hotel room in Disney World. Now you don’t have to worry about how you’ll get some basic necessities, such as bottled water, your favorite tea, milk, fresh produce, etc while you are on vacation.
I just ordered a 6-pack bottled water, healthy snacks to-go, energy drinks for the early mornings, and some beer for relaxing in the evening — all to be delivered directly to our hotel room at Art of Animation! This is such a great service offering convenience, especially if you have special dietary needs in your family.
10) When all else fails, order pizza. If you find yourself in your hotel room and needing dinner, you can always order pizza to be delivered to your room, via Disney Pizza Delivery. All resorts have made to order pizza that can be your night-cap or dinner in your room if you are pooped after a long day at Disney.