Honey, Where Are We Eating Tomorrow? How Far in Advance to Book Dining Reservations at Theme Park Restaurants

by on June 14, 2009 69 Comments

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Walt Disney World has not been immune from the U.S. recession.  In-park merchandise sales have slowed, and high-end resort bookings are lagging.  And while park attendance hasn’t suffered all that much, Disney executives have noticed that people are more likely than before to book last-minute trips to Orlando.   Trips that might have been booked six months or more in advance during better times are now being booked six weeks out, and more frequently than ever within 14 to 30 days.

The Unofficial Guide staff noticed this pattern early In 2009, when we began receiving emails asking for recommendations for good park sit-down restaurants that families could book within 30 days of their trip.  Using dozens of volunteers with free long-distance phone plans, and access to the online Advance Dining Reservation system used by Disney travel agents, we began building profiles of each theme park restaurant, showing how many days in advance (on average) that restaurant filled up for various meals.

To check availability, we asked Disney’s systems for a table for four people at each restaurant.  Our dining times were 8 am for breakfast, noon for lunch and 6 pm for dinner, give or take 45 minutes either way.  (That is, if we ask for a 6 pm reservation at Tusker House and Disney told us that 6:15 pm was available, we counted that as “available.”)  We also measured breakfast and lunch availability for locations serving those meals. We surveyed each restaurant for a week, with our 90-day reservation window extending through Labor Day 2009.  Our results are shown in the chart below.  All meals are dinner unless otherwise noted.

ADR Lead Times for June 2009

Not surprisingly, you’ll need to book  Canada’s Le Cellier steakhouse a full 90 days in advance.  Le Cellier consistently gets top marks from our readers and demand for tables far exceeds supply.  Interestingly, however, Epcot’s Coral Reef restaurant also requires dining reservations about 90 days in advance, too.  While our readers (and dining critics) don’t give Coral Reef’s food particularly high marks, Coral Reef’s popularity might be explained by noting that it is one of the few non-ethnic sit-down restaurants in Epcot, it has relatively few tables, and it’s the only dedicated seafood restaurant in any Walt Disney World park.

Slightly farther down the list, the Magic Kingdom’s three Cinderella meals all generally need to be booked within 80 to 85 days of your trip.  Breakfast here used to be the hottest ticket in the parks, but price increases and additional capacity at lunch and dinner have made tables much easier to get.  Rounding out the list of most popular dining locations is the Crystal Palace’s character breakfast, the surprisingly good Tusker House character breakfast and dinner at the Garden Grill.

It’s possible to snag reservations at Germany’s Biergarten buffet within three weeks of your trip, which is surprising because it’s well-regarded by both our dining reviewer and readers. Tutto Italia, which was exceedingly difficult to get into when it was L’ Originale Alfredo’s di Roma, now requires less than a month of lead time to reserve.

A couple of notable restaurants appear toward the bottom of the list, meaning it’s possible to get a prime-time dining reservation at these locations within a ten days of your trip.   When the characters left Liberty Tree Tavern, for example, so did the customers.  (We wouldn’t be surprised to see the characters return.)  Also good for last-minute reservations are Epcot’s Bistro de Paris, Tokyo Dining and Restaurant Marakkesh.   In fact, these are some of the restaurants we’ll try for walk-up reservations when we’re doing in-park research and haven’t made other plans.

Bringing up the rear is World Showcase’s Nine Dragons, at the China pavilion, and most of the sit-down restaurants at the Animal Kingdom.  Nine Dragons may be one of the most disappointing restaurants in all of Walt Disney World, with expensive, uninspired food.  Regarding the Animal Kingdom’s diners, we think this is less a statement about the restaurants than it is a comment that people don’t need to hang around until dinner to see the entire park.  As attractions (and hopefully some nighttime entertainment) are added to the Animal Kingdom, dining reservations may be more difficult to get.

photo by IceNineJon

Posted on June 14, 2009

69 Responses to “Honey, Where Are We Eating Tomorrow? How Far in Advance to Book Dining Reservations at Theme Park Restaurants”

  • This has been such a helpful post. I make my ADR’s on Friday and was trying to figure out which restaurants to ask for first. You answered my theme park ADR’s. Will you have a post on the resort restaurants as well? Thank you for all your research!

  • Great stuff Len, all your hardwork makes it easy for my family to plan all our trips!!!

  • Interesting to see Le Cellier overtake Cindy’s breakfast as the first ADR to ask for. Any ideas, Len, on when the online ADR system will be up and running for us regular folks?

    • Hey AJ, I’m not sure on the ADR for regular folks. I mean, the technology is there, but I think Disney is going to want to prevent people from making ADRs they don’t intent to keep. Not sure how they’re going to do that.

  • Len,
    We got great advance reservations for the beginning of July. We got great eating times for the popular character dining experiences and we are not staying on Disney property. Does this mean less people are coming to Disney when we are? Are the crowds going to be the same as you posted from the crowd calender? I love your website and I got the book.

  • I called @ 7 am last saturday to book my ADR’s exactly 90 days out first one i asked for was Le Cellier couldn’t get anything besides an 8:50 reservation.

    • Hey Firemanx,

      I think the Disney resort guests who had their 90-day window come up about 10 days ago may be taking all those Le Cellier spots. Just a thought.

      • Agreed. That 90-day + 10 went the wrong way for us for Le Cellier. Definitely favors those with long bookings. The fairest thing they could do is make it an absolute 90-day booking window. You’d have to keep calling back, but at least it would be fair.

        • I agree with you 100%. We’re going for 14 nights so we had flexibility and actual 90 day windows. I was able to get Le Cellier for my 11th day, but not my 5th. I know why Disney is doing this, but I think it is unfair to people with shorter vacations.

  • As a member of the WDW Moms Panel, I’ve found this info invaluable. Len rocks the research yet again!

  • Love it, Len! Great stuff. One thing that would be great is if you could breakdown exactly how the ADR system works for reservations at the top places. IE, like firemanx on the comment above. On the ‘lead time’ podcast, Matt mentioned something about 100 days if you are staying on site. From what I understand, you have to wait until 90 days out from the first day of your disney booking, and then can reserve for 90 days + 10 extra days. But it could use some clearing up.

  • by Reid Hutchison on June 14, 2009, at 2:54 pm EST

    Excellent to see this detail. Given the reduction in Fantasmic showings it would be good to see the dinner package included.

  • Very interesting! Could you maybe do the same for the resort restaurants as well though please?!!

  • Awesome information Len. Once again an invaluable tool for all us Disney maniacs! lol Love how you break it out – wonderful!

  • Interesting Len. We get a lot of comments from people about the relationship betweeen booking dining and crowd levels. This is a good example of how the relationship is not very strong. It looks like the time required to book a dining reservation depends greatly on the restaurant and less so on the crowd levels.

    • Thanks Fred! I don’t think the relationship is that strong either. I mean, if the AK and Studios restaurants started booking up months in advance, I might become suspicious. But that’s unlikely.

      I haven’t yet checked to see whether there are restaurants in the middle of the chart that are more indicative of crowds. Again, I don’t think so.

  • Great coment! I was impressed that Cinderella was not the first online. If things contiun that way, I might be able to take my daughter to eat there at her B-day…

  • Problem with your chart? Crystal Palace dinner seems low on the list, looks like 55 days …

    Great research. Thank you for all the hard work and continuing innovation.

  • I feel that the Nine Dragon restaurant is a sleeper. Just came back from WDW (end of May) and had dinner there. The food was very good and the server was excellent. He even pointed out a new full dinner option that could be used on the dining plan that included an appetizer and soup. He even boxed the dessert to go. I don’t remember his name, though.

  • When I made my ADR’s for late August early September my first try at Le Cellier was a failure so I switched it for Teppan Edo, no problem. That was about 95 days out for me. I then made Le Cellier at 7 AM the next day for day 11 of my trip. I’m going to Crystal Palace on day 2, and could not get any breakfast except for 9:20 AM. I then switched to 11:30 lunch about 1 week later, and two days after switched it to 1:15 lunch.

    I have walked into 50’s Prime Time twice this year, Janauary and May. Although there were only two of us. Wait both time was about ten minutes.

  • Great article, thanks! I’ll add my name to the request for resort restaurants too.
    With the TA online booking system – once you make an ADR does it block further ADRs for the same time?

  • I have been to Disney twice in recent years- once in April of 07 and once in Jan. of 08. Both times I did not make any dining reservations before we left. There were only 2 of us on each trip. Each morning we would go to the front desk at our hotel and make our dining reservations for the day. During the Jan. trip we never had any problems getting the restuarant or time we wanted. During the April trip we only had a problem once- the night we wanted to eat in Downtown Disney. Granted during both our trips we ate at casual restaurants like 50’s Prime Time, Yak & Yeti, and Marakkesh but we’ve been very lucky.

    So if you happen to be in Disney on a day you don’t have a reservation, don’t worry, I’m sure you can find something!

  • I couldn’t find Crystal Palace Lunch on the list. Did you lump that with breakfast or dinner?
    Also interesting that the extreme edge of your window includes three weeks of Free Dining. You might try again a month after the first sampling to see how things change, or maybe wait until the 90-day window covers all of the Free Dining period. Although free dining usually causes a spike in ADRs, I’m curious to see if that will hold this year, since many people appear to have taken their only (or their extra) trip during spring to get the 7-for-4 deal.
    Great data – number geeks like me love this stuff!

  • I’m been avoiding calling for ADRs because of the lousy call service I had back in April trying to book for my July trip. While the service of the operator was much, much improved, the Disney computers were acting up. In a 60 minute call, I managed to only get three mid-July ADRs, but at least they were good ones at good times (Le Cellier, Chef Mick and Crystal Palace). They advised they were having computer problems off and on all morning, so I’ll try to call later or again Tuesday.

    • Disney began implementing a new ADR system in May and they have had considerable problems with the system according to the operators I have spoken to. I believe these issues are what is causing the delay in rolling the system out to the general public as well.

  • This is great! too bad it wasn’t posted when I made my ADR’s about a month ago. Now if we could get the same info on the restraunts at the resorts. Beside LeCellier, O’hana seems to be the hardest one to get.

    Thank you for all your great info! I wouldn’t do Disney without ya’ll!

  • For our first family trip to WDW in May, we chose the Deluxe Dining plan. (Which led to my husband using clever terms like “the wonderful world of Dining! Walt Dining World…. ”
    I – being the OCD, anal retentive person that I am – made 3 different charts of our week, outlining the parks that we wanted to attend on each day (based on avoiding Xtra Magic hours, and using best days from the guide).
    The deluxe dining plan allowed us to have a bizillion character breakfasts and dinners. Yes, it was too much food, MUCH too much food – but it let us be extravagant on our first big vacation.
    On each day, I listed the places we wanted to eat for each meal, along with second choices in case the reservation wasn’t available.
    On my other weekly charts, I had a few scheduling options, to make it possible for us to have the reservations we wanted — for example, if we wanted to go to Epcot on Tuesday evening to do Le Cellier, but it was full, we could potentially go to Epcot on Wednesday evening….. blah, blah, blah.
    Each evening leading up to the big day when I could call for reservations, I would feverishly go over the plans, looking for other, better options than those I had come up with.

    Finally, with a red pen, I wrote priority numbers next to the reservations. Le Cellier was #1, Teppan Edo #2, O’Hana #3, etc.

    My husband would walk by and mumble things like… “freak…” (But he said it lovingly….. 🙂 )
    The day I could call, I was up at 5:30 a.m. — getting full of coffee so that I could think effectively. At 6:59 I began dialing — my heart was pounding. (Hmmm. I guess I AM a freak.)
    You know, I got all the reservations, including scads of character breakfasts. We did intentionally do early times, since our kids need early bedtime, so that may have had something to do with the successful outcome.

    Of course, my children ate NOTHING at Disney World. I, on the other hand, ate everything and then some. Thank God for elastic waistbands.

    Le Cellier was our favorite food. ALL the buffet breakfasts were incredibly, surprisingly delicious. Best scrambled eggs in the world!!!!!!!! We loved the food and atmosphere at O’Hana — and the hula teacher lady is fabulous. I do a really good impression of her by now, having told our Disney tales over and over and over to helpless relatives. Teppan Edo was good, but not spectacular. Coral Reef, sitting right next to the tank — big fun!

    Anyway — make some charts, have options for yourself when you call, and call early!!!!! IT’S SO EXCITING!!!!!!! I want to go again. Next time, though, my husband is going to make me cook at a cabin at Fort Wilderness.

    • So Coral Reef was good, Chris? And if you liked ‘Ohana, you should really try Tusker House on a lazy morning when you can sit for, you know, three hours and eat. Fab. U. Lous.

      • I confess that I liked Coral Reef. It’s sort of vaguely reminiscent of a seafood place that would have been au courant in the early 90s, but even so, my sea bass was pretty tasty for lunch. It wasn’t inexpensive, but I’ve gotten to the point where on-vacation-money just doesn’t compare to money-in-the-real-world. It’s too painful to contemplate.

        (We had a perfectly adequate lunch at Sci Fi several years ago, too, so my food stanards are admittedly low.)

      • Hi Len! Coral Reef was good enough, you know? And again, the deluxe dining plan meant that it was all paid for, so we weren’t doing the whole “worth it for the money” thing. I got the lobster ravioli and thought it was very good! Admittedly, I was distracted by my boys, who were poo-poohing everything on the kids’ menu. They pretty much made it through Disney on desserts. We had our reservations at Coral Reef at opening time, so we got to sit right by the glass. Very cool. Hard to beat that. (My boys still talk about the two big fish, two totally different types, that swam around and around together. Fred and Barney.)
        Of course we did Tusker House!!!!!! You are talking to the ADR freak here! That was my strategy for getting back to the early safari!!!!!!!! Food was truly yummy. And it didn’t take that long, really. Especially when the kids don’t eat.

        • We *always* stay somewhere with a kitchen (onsite or off). We *always* use it for breakfast nearly every day, and we usually have a dinner or two as well when we decide we’re just too fried to make it to whatever over-stimulating hyper-active ADR we happen to have scheduled for the evening.

          Even if you have to get your supplies at the on-resort convenience store, a dinner of pasta, salad, and a halfway decent bottle of wine is pretty affordable.

    • And seriously about the cooking at Fort Wilderness?

      • Seriously. I will let you know when we go — you can come and have some Kraft Mac and Cheese (it’s the cheesiest). I’ll also be serving “normal” hot dogs, since WDW has “weird” hot dogs. OH! And PBJ made with the right kind of bread and the right kind of peanut butter. I guarantee you it will be a cheaper vacation and that my kids will eat more.

        I will also be drinking heavily, so I might end up putting the peanut butter IN the macaroni and cheese, which might not go over so well.

      • Hey we did Ft. Wilderness three or four times and cooked our meals during our mid-day break. Lugging a full size fish cooler from NJ stocked with food was a blast! No, I’m not a fisherman we bought the cooler just for Disney. Also, BBQ’ing outside the Cabin was always a blast, it seems the friendliest people stay at FW. Frozen pizza while not tasty also works and it’s a lot less expensive. I just wish they had two Bath Rooms. With four daughters that has become a must for us.

    • awesome report, Chris! and yeah, I can relate–I had to wake up a couple of weeks ago from my 90 days out–and I live on the west coast!! Nothing like a 3:30 am alarm!

  • by Chris Humperdinck on June 16, 2009, at 1:14 am EST

    Great work – along with the restroom podcast a while back, it feels like the questions i’ve always had but never asked, are being answered anyways… (are you planning anything with drinking fountains?)

    Pardon the stupid question: do these values represent the point (averaged over the 7 days) where the meal is always (or almost always) available for the rest of the 90-day window?
    Also, would you expect any appreciable differences for another 90-day period? (For a slower interval, would the distribution be shaped the same and would it be scaled up or down at all?)

    • Ah, great question Chris. For almost all restaurants, if we should availability at X days, it means we couldn’t find availability before day X-1.

      The one exception to that is Crystal Palace’s dinner. Of all the dates we checked, they had availability around 33% of the time, but not in a row. To have a good chance of getting a reservation, you’ve got to go 55 days out.

  • …sorry, didn’t answer your second question.

    I think during holidays, you could probably add +10-14 days to anything with a wait between 30 and 89 days (the 90-day restaurants will always be 90-day restaurants). During slower times, you could probably subtract a few days from all but the top restaurants.

  • FYI:

    Disney’s Online ADRs for the public is UP!
    as of TUE JUNE 16th

  • Interestingly, I called WDW DINE again today to make more ADRs. With the online process up and running, I thought it might get tougher to get a phone ADR. I asked for a Teppan Edo one day and when it wasn’t available, a Le Cellier was surprisingly offered by the rep as a substitute, less than 30 days from now. The only downer was not being able to coordinate a Fantasmic dinner package as of yet at DHS. Also, while I was stunned to see the thoroughly average Garden Grill be so tough of an ADR, I considered that it was one of the few character meals featuring Mickey, so that might explain some popularity.

  • by Kathleen Gillespie on November 10, 2009, at 10:34 pm EST

    Would love to see a similar chart for the resort restaurants – are you still working on that, Len?

  • I like the layout of your blog and I’m going to do the same thing for mine. Do you have any tips? Please PM ME on yahoo @ AmandaLovesYou702

  • by Bret Caldwell on August 25, 2010, at 5:46 pm EST

    This is one of my absolute favorite posts on this blog. Any chance you guys have updated it for the 180 day window? Does it scale by 2x, or just add 90 days, or something else? Also, have you re-checked the Coral Reef results (is it consistently popular still?)?

  • I love the style, that your blog will be a bit distinct causes it to become therefore exciting.

  • Hi,

    nice blog with lots of info about eating, would like to know if you have any suggestion for eating in vegas, not in casino please.

  • good post, well done guys!

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