Disney World Dining — Does It Dictate The Vacation

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Disney World, a magical land than that stimulates the senses and empties the wallet simultaneously has become a dining mecca.   Websites like Disney Food Blog and books like Zagat devote themselves entirely to the gastronomical delights there.   Food plays a leading role at Disney World.  As much as I love to eat in Disney restaurants (some more than others), I am astonished by the number of people who plan their vacations around their Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs).  Does Space Mountain play second fiddle to 6:00 p.m. reservations at Cinderella’s Royal Table?

A fabulous vacation entails a sizeable time investment prior to leaving home.  You are obviously a planner if you’re visiting TouringPlans.com.  I’d even venture to guess that you own a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.  Disney World with its four main parks offers more to do than most families can see in an average Disney World vacation.   The cost of tickets will knock your socks off.  So my question to you is: what’s your Disney World vacation priority?  What makes a fabulous vacation for you?  Do you plan your day around your ADRs?

No matter how you answer the questions, I have a few tips to make the most of your Disney World Dining:

  • Make your ADRs as far in advance as you can.  If you’re one of the lucky ones & have your trip planned 180 days out, make your reservations then.  You will be able to get a table at LeCellier.
  • If you travel more like me and your trip isn’t planned 180 or even 60 days out, be flexible on your dining times.  If you’re willing to eat dinner at 4:30 p.m. you may well get in at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
  • If you aren’t using Magic Your Way Park Hoppers, dine outside of the parks in the resort hotels.   This way you can plan your day around touring the park and not your dinner reservation.  Some of the best restaurants are hidden away in the resorts.  One of the favorites among Touringplans.com writers is Kona Café.  See Kristen’s Kona post.  Kona is one of my all time favorite restaurants on property.  I have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner there.  On my last trip I ate 90% of my meals at Kona.  Flying Fish on the BoardWalk is a real treat too.
  • Check out DisneyFoodBlog.com.  Disney Food Blog.com provides information on everything Disney food in a fun and entertaining style.  Disney Food Blog’s newsletter delivers Disney food news to your inbox.   I love this site.  If I need a little Disney pick me up, I go here.

Please share your thoughts.  How important is dining at Disney to you?  Does your dining dictate your day?  Mistakes you’ve made?  Things you’ve done that you’d definitely do again?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Disney Dining – where does it fit in a Disney vacation?

You can follow me on Twitter @Caroline251

Caroline Baggerly

Caroline has a love of Disney that her family and friends don't quite get. Always ready for a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth or to do research for "The Unofficial Guide".

17 thoughts on “Disney World Dining — Does It Dictate The Vacation

  • February 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    our last two trips, our adrs completely dominated our plans and dictated where we went for parks. both trips included kona (dinner in october and breakfast in december), but clearly future trips must include more kona!

  • February 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I have to say that I am one of those who are STUNNED by the lengths people go to dine at Disney. We participated in the 30% off hour Quick Service Dining while at the World during Christmas week. It totally worked for our family. We have excellent restaurants in Kansas City; but no Mickey. So we can’t imagine traveling to the World and focusing on food. The idea boggles our brains.

  • February 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm


    I couldn’t agree more with your suggestions. For my family, dining does make our trip to Walt Disney World. It doesn’t break our trip if we don’t get a reservation at one of our favorite places, since we know we will be back. We don’t go often enough to have tried every place, so we always try at least one new place for breakfast, lunch and dinner each trip. The fact that they have opened several new places in the past year makes our dining choices better, as well. We also try and use one of the baby-sitting services each trip, so my wife and I get a night out to try one of the nicer restaurants.

    Great article. Looking forward to reading the next one!


  • February 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    We just got back from a January Disney trip. Our last trip was in 2002. We have stayed both off site and at grand Floridian in the past. We choose off site now and with 3 kids can spread out in a 2 bedroom suite at Residence Inn and still have free eggs and waffles type of breakfast and earn Marriott Reward points. Therefore, the dining plan isn’t an option. However, I paid attention during our trip because I have a friend that loves the dining plan. We are more of a “go, go, go” family I guess. On our day in EPCOT, we at counter service Morocco for lunch, croissants in France for a snack, then split 2 counter service Chinese dinners with a couple extra egg rolls for 5 of us, at 9pm while watching the night show. I have no desire to plan my day around food, or spend multiple hours of my trip paying a fortune for 5 people to eat when we can be out in the park DOING something. Maybe once, but not each and every day. Our kids are boys in 8th, 6th and 1st grades so they had no desire for character meals. I just don’t consider dining to be a highlight of our family’s plans. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but based on our last trip and comments from the kids, that is what works for us. Looking forward to hearing other points of view as well!

  • February 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    My short trip visit with Dad was all planned because I got an ADR at Le Cellier last July.

    My visit last year after Thanksgiving was planned first, then we got ADR’s where ever we could. We got into the 2 new Epcot dining places (We enjoyed both of them greatly).

    So I would say that we sometimes plan our vacation around an ADR.

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  • February 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    We book the dining 180 days before and plan the itinerary around them, however as and when the advice changes – as to which park is busy when for example – we are happy-ish to amend or even cancel our bookings.

    Ultimately what we change will depend on how on our priority list something is and how we feel on the day. I’m a planner but spontenaity has to win occasionally.

  • February 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    If you plan far enough ahead (>180 days) and know which park you’ll visit on which day, it’s easy to plan your ADRs around your touring rather than the other way around. We checked the crowd calendar and came up with the itinerary first, and then fit the ADRs to match.

  • February 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    I have seen what can happen when you load up a short trip with ADRs… You tend to feel conflicted in the moments leading up to when you need to run to your meal (especially if the wait at Soarin is below 20 minutes, for example.). Do I pass up the ADR, or do I ride?

    I like your idea of ADRs and Meals at the resorts as a good way to be rid of the conflict and eating with less guilt 🙂

  • February 1, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I have a real problem with the online ADR system. Since it doesn’t require a credit card hold we have found that people will double and triple book their reservations and then simply choose where they want to eat at that moment. We have come up on restaurants at EPCOT that were reported to be booked that actually had lots of seating due to no shows.

    My family and I like to have adr’s especially on hot days to insure some air conditioned down time, but as our adventuring goes we decide on the fly whether to stay with the plan or release our ADR and eat on the go.

  • February 1, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    We have taken advantage of the free dining plan on both our visits to WDW. We run around doing whatever the kids want all day and then it’s me and my husband’s turn to enjoy a nice, “free” sit-down dinner to relax and unwind. If we are having too much fun, we’ll miss the reservation and come up with a Plan B. ADR’s are key to our trip enjoyment.

  • February 2, 2011 at 11:08 am

    When we went in 2009 with Free Dining we upgraded to the Deluxe plan and I would say that Yes, our 8 day vacation was all about the food. When we went in 2010 we again got the Free Dining plan (no upgrade this time) and while we made lots of ADRs we primarily kept it more low key with the focus on the parks. While on our 2010 vacation I thought back to our “food” vacation in 2009 and missed going to all the restaurants but I think the emphasis on the parks the second time around was better. Going forward, we will try to keep a happy medium between going on a WDW “foodie” vacation and a regular “happy family” vacation.

  • February 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I’m in the non-ADR boat. My family doesn’t go to Disney that often (every 5-10 years), so maybe that makes a difference to us. We plan our trips early, but always decide against ADR’s for the exact reasons mentioned in the article. What if there’s only a 30min wait on Soarin, but we’re supposed to be in France in 30min for an ADR? I’m a Type A personality (hence why I LOVE this website) who is always early. I don’t want to have to be anxious about getting to my reservation on time (or 10min early). I’d rather have the rides and attractions be the priority and the food a second thought. Well, at least dinner. I find the snacks at WDW more appealing than a sit down meal. I love the Dole Whips and the rice cream and any pastry from France! These are things I don’t get at home. I live in San Francisco, land of the foodies, I can have a nice sit down dinner whenever I choose. I go to WDW for the mouse!

  • February 2, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I generally do center my vacation around food. I go to WDW and DL about 3-4 times a year (short trips) and I can only take the lame Jungle Cruise jokes so many times, haha! Attractions like Space Mt and Tower of Terror will always be there, but it’s not every trip I get to eat at Cali Grill or Crystal Palace. However, I can understand why some people are anti-ADR, esp if you have small kids. Plus Disney TS can get really expensive! I’m luck to only have to pay for one person.

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