As was rumored, the “Free Dining” promotion for travels in August – December 2017 has been released. This promotion is very limited and restricted to a handful of dates. If you are lucky enough to get one of these promotions, awesome! If you don’t, well perhaps it wasn’t meant to be – keep your eyes open for other promotions that may be released in the coming months; perhaps one of the others will be a better fit for your travel plans**. Regardless, if you are headed to Walt Disney World and plan to eat while you are at the resort, you will need a plan. The coveted castle dining reservation is like spotting an endangered species in just the right light of the day. Those who are well prepared snap an incredible photograph, and those who aren’t, scare the poor animal away while fumbling for the camera.
The promotion released this morning offers the Quick Service Dining Plan for stays at Value and Moderate Resort Hotels and the “regular” Disney Dining Plan for stays at Deluxe Resort Hotels. It is also worth mentioning that the dining plan has changed, and no longer includes desert with every meal, the offer is now 2 meals (either Quick Service or Full Service depending on your plan) and 2 snack credits per day.
There are a multitude of way to “do” Disney, but on the two extremes you have: 1. those who plan every moment of the day from attractions (order and timing), to dining, to resort downtime and 2. those who show up to “Disney World” (i.e. The Magic Kingdom), walk right up to Cinderella Castle, and expect to immediately be seated and dine with the princesses…with no advance planning…in July…over the 4th (if you are unfamiliar with the crowd calendars, this is one of the busiest times of the year).
The latter crowd tends to end up journeying right back down Main Street U.S.A., and into City Hall – (otherwise known as Guest Relations) demanding to know why they were blissfully unaware that the “castle” reservation is one of the most difficult to get, and absolutely must be made well in advance of your trip (read: 180 days ahead). This crowd generally has to step back, take a very deep breath, and change their entire vacation strategy – or get a strategy in the first place.
We fall somewhere in the middle of these two types.
180 days prior to the start of a Walt Disney World Resort vacation, guests can begin booking advance dining reservations (also known as ADR’s). We have just passed our 180 day window for our September trip, and I have painstakingly planned, and re-planned our days to fit the restaurants where we would like to dine. I will continue to tweak our plan right up until our trip, as our plans tend to change around based on what the kiddos would like to do. Please remember, all changes or cancellations need to be completed 24 hours before the reservation to avoid a “no-show” fee.
Planning Disney Dining is like a delicate dance, perfectly balanced between the right choices (character, casual, or fine dining to name a few), and right times (trust me, that 9 p.m. ADR might seem ok months away from your trip; in reality, you don’t want your toddler eating dinner at 9 pm cranky and tired) for your family, with whatever ADR’s are available. Obviously, the earlier you book, the better the availability of both times, and restaurants.
Our strategy is pretty simple: lots of food options (buffet) and entertainment (because I like to eat rather than entertain/argue with my children at meal times). We largely book character buffet meals, and though you have to time your trips to the buffet just right, (in order to not miss the circulating characters) this kills two birds with one stone: the kiddos get autographs and pictures and your whole traveling party gets a full
tummy and some down time. I’m not usually a huge buffet fan, but Disney makes it so easy, entertaining, and convenient.
So, how does your family “do” Disney dining? I’d love to hear about your favorite Walt Disney World Resort ADR’s.
*Let me caveat all of this by saying: yes, it is possible (but highly unlikely) to get lucky and totally rack up on last minute ADR’s.
** While Disney does tend to release many promotions throughout the year, planning on getting a discount or special deal is never a good idea – they are not guaranteed and often very limited. Booking your stay with the intention of adding a promotion later tends to lead to aggravation and disappointment.