Guest post by Melissa from PrincessRants.com
How to Get Every Advanced Dining Reservation ADR you want at Walt Disney World!
When I share with my friends my strategy for making Advance Dining Reservations, they always look at me like I’m crazy. But inevitably when their own trips to Disney World come around they wind up lamenting to me about how when they called for reservations to Cinderella’s Castle or Hoop De Doo Review they were told that the restaurants were booked up.
If you’re wondering to yourself “who is this person and why should I listen to her about making dining reservations at Walt Disney World?” I don’t blame you. But on our 2013 trip we were able to book not one, but two reservations for Be Our Guest Restaurant (which is still really hard to book), Cinderella’s Castle, California Grill (in the first week post-refurbishment), and many, many more. In 2013 we had over 25 Table Service ADRs for our trip, and in 2015 we had the same success, booking over 30, including Cinderella’s Castle for the week it opens after refurbishment!
For those of you unfamiliar, ADRs are “Advanced Dining Reservations”. Disney World restaurants begin taking ADRs 180 days in advance. I wrote a bit about the different steps in trip planning earlier in my Trip Planning 101 post. The big disclaimer from that post that is worth repeating here is that I’m not saying this strategy is right for everyone— I’m definitely a type A over planner, and my level of obsessive pre-planning would probably drive some folks bananas. I know there are lots of families that like to be very flexible and un-scheduled on their vacations. I’m just not one of those people. I like to know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, and ensure that everyone gets to do as much of their “wish list” as possible. Dining is a big part of our Disney experiences, I’m a big believer in family meal time and many of our favorite memories were made at a character or castle meal. Scheduled meals make a great break from the park, and an opportunity to relax in AC while still technically participating in the Disney experience (especially when we’re talking Character meals). I know that table-service restaurants aren’t as important to everyone, but if experiencing a particular venue is critical to you, I’ve got some tricks that might help you out.
So, with that caveat, I’d like to share with you my “secrets” for getting every dining reservations on our wish list:
STEP 1: HAVE A PLAN
You need to make your trip itinerary in advance. I start this months in advance and have the “ideal” schedule buttoned up at least a week in advance of the ADR date. Our plan goes through several revisions as I get feedback from the rest of the family going on the trip. Together, we try to imagine how the days will go, and what risks there are (i.e., the nuts and bolts of getting from place-to-place, meals timed too far apart or too close, etc.). We research travel options between parks to make sure that our expectations are reasonable when making reservations for the same day at two different locations.
Each trip has its own goals: is this your first or only trip to Disney World and you want to sample everything available? Is this a fifth or sixth trip and you want to experience new things? Build those goals right into your “ideal itinerary”. For our upcoming trip, one big goal is to spend more time at the hotel pool — we tend to “go commando”, that is spending all day every day in the parks. On our last two trips we spent precious little time in the pools and always regretted that after we’d left. On this trip we are staying at the Beach Club for the purpose of being able to swim at Stormalong Bay! while the kids are still little. So, I scheduled dining on several days that will “force” us to go back to the hotel for some meals, hoping that this will “make” us take time to swim, too. We also made the decision that we wanted to focus on exploring the hotel we are staying at more than hopping between hotels. So, for instance, though Narcosee’s was at the top of my husband’s wish list, we removed it and researched restaurants like of the Flying Fish and the Yachtsman Steakhouse that are at or near where we are staying. On a future trip when we have the opportunity to stay at the Grand Floridian we will be sure to focus on the Grand Floridian’s restaurants like Narcosee’s and 1900 Park Fare! Taking extra magic hours and expected crowd levels (thanks to Kenny’s crowd calendars!) into anticipation, I laid out the following trip plan:
Oh, by the way, here’s a little extra tip: Because you are able to make your ADRs ten days out from your check-in date, you have the greatest booking advantage on the days at the end of your trip. So, if it works into your plans, try to schedule the hardest to get meals/experiences for the end of your trip.
STEP 2: ASSESS DIFFICULTY
The hardest restaurants to “get” are the signature dining locations and the character meals. But there are some restaurants within that elite list that are just downright impossible to get. These include:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table (Cinderella’s Castle)
- Be Our Guest Restaurant (Belle’s Castle)
- The California Grill
- Hoop De Doo Review
- Mickey’s Backyard BBQ
- Chef Mickey’s
- La Cellier
- Victoria and Alberts
- Fireworks Viewing Locations (Rose and Crown, California Grill, Tomorrowland Terrace, etc.)
I make a new spreadsheet with just the dining locations, dates, and “ideal” times. Any restaurants on the above list then gets tagged with a #1 by them. All other character dining or signature dining get a #2. Everything else gets a #3.
Remember, this ranking isn’t about how much YOU want to go to the restaurant OR where it falls in your trip chronologically, but rather how hard it is to book.
Finally, I sort the list by the priority ranking. Easy, right? You’ll notice that there are very fancy meals that aren’t on the priority 1 list, like Ohana or the Perfectly Princess Tea Party—- though these are really awesome experiences, they don’t book up like Cinderella’s Castle does, so even if they’re high on your to do list they still get a #2.
I’ll put notes next to certain reservations, for instance if the meal HAS to be at a particular time, or if there are alternate dining options that would be OK, or if it is contingent on another experience we have planned for the day. This minimizes the amount of thinking on my feet that I have to do at 6AM. If what I want is booked up, I can check out my notes for alternates and snag one of those real quick so I’m not completely shut out.
A note about duplicate reservations: Disney’s system is set up to kick out reservations for two restaurants at the same time. They did this because people were booking a couple restaurants so that they’d have choices on the day of their trip. This is a great change to ensure everyone has a fair chance to experience Table Service dining. BUT if you’re in a situation like I was in 2013 where you are making reservations for a large group of people, you might wind up needing to make two dinners for the same time slot. (For instance, the first night of our stay my family wanted to eat at TREX and my cousins’ family wanted to eat at Ohana, so we planned to go our separate ways, but because we were staying in a suite with the same reservation # it made making those reservations really hard.) What we found was that you can schedule any number of reservations so long as they’re an hour apart— so you can schedule a dinner reservation for 5pm and another for 6, but you can’t schedule two dinners for 5 pm. Make sense?
NOTE: when you call up and speak to a representative they can sometimes over ride the system for you, but that takes time and as you will see shortly when making your ADRs every minute counts.
STEP 3: DIVIDE AND CONQUER AND PREPARE
How many adults are in your group? Divide your dining list up by that many. In my case, there is myself, my mom, and my husband. Each person gets a #1 priority reservation that it is their responsibility to book, then we divide up the #2s and #3s. If there are competing #1’s and #2’s I will at this point put them in sub-order of what we want to do most.
Each person making reservations needs to have their own Disney.com account (login/password). Before reservation day I make sure that each person logs in and practices making a reservation— you can cancel it right afterwards— to make sure we are all aware of what the steps and process are, and to pre-fill in the credit card information. This saves crucial time the morning when you’re trying to get those priority #1 reservations. (I’m not going to do a tutorial of the Dining Reservation system here because it could change, suffice to say that you need to get in there and play around with it yourself until you are confident that you know all the steps involved, what/where/when to click, and can make reservations quickly.) Remember to save a credit card to your account ahead of time because the system requires a credit card # to secure the reservation and you don’t want to be held up by having to type in the number on the morning of!
Make sure you remember to link your Disney.com account to your hotel reservation (if you haven’t already), or you won’t be able to book those all important 180+10 dates. You do this by going under “My Reservations” and entering your reservation number.
My reservation assignments:
My husband’s reservation assignments:
Here’s and extra little tip I discovered this time around: in the Disney website there is a “wish list” function. If you add the restaurants you will be making reservations at to this wish list it acts as a quick links when you are making the reservations, shaving crucial seconds off your booking time. You laugh, but those seconds can make the difference between getting Cinderella’s Castle AND Belle’s Castle or just Cinderella’s Castle—- seriously! You could also use your web browser to bookmark the pages for the restaurants you want. Anything that makes it easier for you to get to the next restaurant on your list.
STEP 4: ADR DAY! 5:30AM – 6:00AM, PRELOAD YOUR MVP!
Disney has started sending out magnets to remind folks when they can start booking their Advance Dining Reservations. It’s 180-days prior to the first day of their trip. If you’re not sure what day that is for you, you can always refer to Kenny’s calendars, which helpfully contain the calculation for you. We refer to this as “ADR DAY!!!” and it’s circled on our calendar multiple times.
I am not a morning person. I mean, I am really REALLY not a morning person. I’m more like Anna on coronation day. But on ADR day I am up at 5:30 AM. I splash water on my face, I do some jumping jacks, gargle some black coffee, and fire up my laptop and login to the Disney site. I pre-load my MVP reservation for the day/time I want, even though the system will say “you can’t make a reservation at this time). As soon as the clock strikes 6:00, I hit “submit” again on the page and am able to book. Because we have three adults, we were able to book Belle’s Castle, Cinderella’s Castle, and California Grill all by 6:05 AM. If I were doing these by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to get to California Grill until closer to 6:30 and by then the reservations may have all been gone. No, seriously!
If you are particularly ambitious you could hypothetically set up two laptops side by side and log them both into one Disney account to speed up the process even further. I experimented with this yesterday and found that I could be logged in simultaneously and could make reservations from both machines but I could not hit “submit” on both machines simultaneously. As long as I alternated when I was hitting the submit button, I was able to load up the next restaurant and search for the next ADR on my list as I was finalizing the previous reservation on the first reservation on the other laptop. The Dining reservation site has some weird lag and load times, and the process of finding your restaurant, logging your desired date and time, and finalizing the ADR can take up to two minutes per reservation. As I already said above, getting or missing a high priority ADR can come down to seconds.
Once I’ve made the ADR, I log the time and the confirmation number in my spreadsheet. If the time I’m able to get is way off from what I wanted, I flag that ADR but I don’t fuss with it until I’m all done with the rest of my list: once I’m all done I’ll go back into the system and try to adjust it to get it closer to where I wanted. An example of that is the reservation we just made for “Fantasmic Dining” at Mama Melrose’. We wanted a dinner time (5:00ish) but the only reservation I could get was 3:45, so I took that but then afterwards I went back in and tried to move it later, but I didn’t want to waste time fussing over one reservation when I still had a big long wish list to get through.
STEP 5: AT 7:00AM SPEAK TO A PERSON / EVENTS
I understand that not everyone can/wants to make reservations online, and I respect that. But making online reservations does give you an advantage. I’ve seen for myself reservations that were available at 6:00 online are no longer available by 7:00 when the phone lines open up. I try to get everything I possibly can within the 6:00-7:00 window, and then at 7:00 I’ll call up the phone lines and get those last tricky reservations and the Events reservations.
When calling at 7:00, the advice I’ve read is that you should start calling at 6:55 and keep hitting redial until it goes through because they might actually open at 6:59. (IMO, this just means your clock was slow, because I’ve never gotten through before 7:00 on the button). A good tip that’s worked for me, however, is that when you reach the recording and it asks whether you are in the Orlando area, go ahead and say that you are. This doesn’t put you into a different queue, but it does let you bypass some scripted marketing stuff and gets you into the queue that much faster. Remember what I said about seconds? Try WHOLE MINUTES! This tip could make the difference between getting right into a rep or waiting a long, long time on hold.
Events (like the Pirates League and Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique) can’t be booked online and so these have to wait until 7:00 when the phone lines open up. Something to keep in mind: if you call Disney Dining they can only help you with making Dining reservations, but if you call the Event number they can do BOTH events and dining, so you should call them if you need to make both types of reservation, otherwise you’re going to have to sit on hold twice (once for Events then, at the conclusion that that call, you’d have to call Dining and start the whole process over).
Booking the Events at 7:00 after making the dining reservations at 6:00 online worked well for me since several of the experiences we want are tied to meals: for example, we wanted to time the BBBoutique makeover for only a few hours before dinner, and certainly if we hadn’t been able to book the dinner at the castle we wouldn’t have wanted to book the Boutique. Same story with the Pirate League appointment and the Pirate and Pals Fireworks Voyage reservation.
The experiences tend to take longer to book because the representative has to read through all the details and gather payment and attendee ages, etc. for each event, so be sure that your dining is all done first before you start booking these.
I’m happy to report that for the second trip in a row we were able to get everything on our wish list at the times that we wanted by following the above steps. The entire process took about three hours, however— I was up at 5:30 and wrapped up with the experiences cast member at around 8:30! When ADR day falls on a weekday, I usually schedule to take the morning off and get into work late.
I wait until AFTER the 180 day mark, once the reservations are set, to add up how many Table Services we need and to make a decision about which dining plan we’ll get (if any). You can add the Dining plan to your trip up until 48hrs before check-in so I prefer to know exactly what I’ll be spending based on the reservations we got before I commit to the Deluxe or Standard plans.
But what if you aren’t able to get everything you wanted on ADR Day? There are a few reservations that we had to keep calling about— they’re not making reservations for Cinderella’s Castle yet because of the refurbishment, and they don’t have the schedule for the Pirate and Pals Fireworks Cruise, so this is where persistence comes in. If you have one or two important reservations that you weren’t able to get (either because of refurbishment or because they filled up) you should keep calling, at least weekly if not daily. You don’t need to call at 6am, but make sure you are calling regularly (even and especially right up to the day before and the day of your desired ADR) because people do cancel reservations all the time! I’ve had two experiences booking ADRs for restaurants that are closed for refurbishment, which I’ve written about over on my blog, in case you need some tips on what to do if the restaurant you want is closed (but will reopen during your trip).
I tried to be as thorough in describing my process as I could be, but it’s definitely possible I might have missed something or been unclear. If you have questions, feel free to ask! I wish you all the best of luck in scheduling your Disney Dining! 🙂
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melissa has a new blog called PrincessRants that covers all things princessy—- from Disney Trip Tips to Costume Reviews, Crafts Projects, Frozen-themed Parties, App Reviews and more! If it’s got a tiara attached to it, chances are she’s seen it / done it / and has thoughts to share!
She has written here on my blog previously about her experience attending the My Disney Girl’s Perfectly Princess Tea Party.