Hello friends! As promised from my post earlier this week, I am sharing my dining reservation strategy with you. I’ve been using this method for many years now, and I find it to be the best, most efficient way to plan my time at WDW.
Here are the two firm truths about planning a WDW vacation – short or long. 1.) Walt Disney World is expensive. 2.) Walt Disney World is gigantic, with hundreds of options for things to do. If you don’t at least spend a little time planning your trip before you go – you will end up wasting precious time. Using the WDW Blog Disney Vacationing Theorem we know that Truth 1 + Truth 2 = THE ULTIMATE TRUTH. See below:
WDW is Expensive + Nearly Infinite Ways to Spend Your Time =
TIME IS MONEY!!
Like my lesson for the day? It’s true. I promise. But here’s the deal – I’m not saying you have to pre-plan every minute of your trip. In fact, I frown upon that. Over-planning is a great way to be miserable during your vacation. You can’t control everything at Disney World. Buses run on loops. Attraction queue line times fluctuate. It’s all about balance. Your planning should have structure – but not be overly full. And your plans should be FLEXIBLE.
When I start to plan my WDW vacation I start with my Table Service dining reservations. Why? Disney World restaurants are not like regular restaurants. Availability is limited, reservations do fill up and a stand-by wait time can be hours. MAKE RESERVATIONS. And make them early. You had better believe I am online or on the phone 180 days out from my vacation to make dining reservations. If you do that, you can usually have any restaurant you want at any time you want.
As you know from my last post, my upcoming trip was short notice. As soon as we had booked our room we got working on planning and making said dining reservations. Here’s how I go about it.
First, I make a chart for the number of days I am going to be on vacation, and I include a bisection for each of the four main theme parks: Below the WDW Vacation 2014 block I have 7 spaces down the left side of the paper, one block for each of the days on my vacation. Across, to the right of the WDW Vacation 2014 block I have 4 large blocks for the 4 main theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Once I have the grid in, I start to fill in the blocks across for the 4 parks and the blocks down with the specific dates of my trip.Once all the dates are filled in, I visit Disney’s official website to find out what hours each of the 4 parks are open every day. AND most importantly, what the Extra Magic Hours are for the days of my vacation. Extra Magic Hours are extra times, either before a park opens or after it closes that are available ONLY to guests staying at a Disney Resort Hotel. EMHs (Extra Magic Hours) are a great way to visit your favorite attractions with lightened wait times. I place morning EMHs above the parks regular hours, and night EMHs below. I also highlight the EMHs so I can see them apart from the regular park hours. I do this because I almost always take advantage of the EMHs when they are offered. You’ll also notice Epcot is divided into two. That’s because Future World (FW) and World Showcase (WS) have different hours. Once everything is filled in, I take a look at the chart with a PENCIL (so you can make changes) and circle what park I think I’ll visit on what day. This is almost always dictated by the EMHs. Above you can see that on Friday, May 9 the park hours aren’t filled in. This is the theoretical day I arrive at WDW. I won’t go into the parks that day. Instead I’ll hang by the pool, go shopping at Downtown Disney, visit Disney’s Boardwalk, or buy tickets to Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach.For me, this all comes down to what parks I love and the EMHs. On Saturday, May 10 I circled Disney’s Hollywood Studios because it has morning EMHs. I then drew an arrow over to Epcot because I’ll probably finish my day there. Same thing happened on Wednesday, May 14. I chose to take advantage of the morning EMHs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but have myself jumping to Animal Kingdom that afternoon.
Once I have this tentative plan sketched out in pencil I consider my dining reservations. Typically my family will eat at one Table Service Restaurant a day, and eat at Quick Service spots for the rest of the day. Usually our Table Service picks are for dinner, but now and again we’ll go for breakfast or lunch. This is where the WDW Blog Vacationing Theorem comes into effect. To make the most out of your time you want plan your Table Service dining reservations to be in the park you’re visiting that day. If you’re in Animal Kingdom for the entire day, but you have dining reservations at Epcot, you will lose time traveling to Epcot, which could take up to an hour. If you had dinner at Animal Kingdom you could spend that hour visiting an attraction or two.
So for example, on Sunday, May 11, I circled Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom has evening EMHs, so I would plan to be at MK all day and night. So logically I want to make dining reservations for a Magic Kingdom restaurant. On Wednesday May 14th, I have morning EMHs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then plan to hop over to Animal Kingdom to finish the evening. I should plan to make Table Service reservations for breakfast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or dinner at Animal Kingdom. Lunch reservations could be made at either park, depending on when I want to hop from one to the other. Since Animal Kingdom closes early (6 PM), another choice would be to have dinnerat my Resort Hotel after Animal Kingdom is closed.
Once I have planned what meal I want to eat in what park, I start looking for reservations. If you’re calling 180 days in advance, you shouldn’t have any problems snagging what you want. If you’re like us this year, planning a short notice trip, you just need to be a little flexible with your times and restaurants. We had no trouble making satisfactory reservations for our upcoming trip in June. Once I have my dining reservations made, I like to highlight the block where they occur, and write the place and time off to the side (PINK). I also marked my park visiting plan in purple. This paper becomes my go-to physical reference for what’s going on, before I leave for my vacation. The My Disney Experience Application on my phone (or on Disney’s website) is my digital copy. The My Disney Experience App really makes it easy to see what you have going on each day. Love it.
Here’s a recap of my Table Service Dining Tips:
- Reserve Early! – You should be prepared to make your reservations 180 days out from your vacation, or as soon as you can if you’re planning a last minute trip. This will grant you the most choices.
- Plan to eat where you’re playing! This is where my chart is useful. If you’re going to be in Epcot – eat in Epcot. This will save you the most time. (Again referencing the WDW Blog Vacationing Theorem stated above.)
- Keep your times consistent! If you make reservations for dinner every night, make them for about the same time. This will keep your body from going haywire.
One last word: the strategy listed today is really all about time and making the most of it. It doesn’t factor in other dining considerations such as character dining. If you have kids who would love Mickey & Friends character dining – find a place that does that! But be logical about it. If you’re at Magic Kingdom, make a reservation for Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary. Yes,The Contemporary is outside of Magic Kingdom, but it’s right next door just a short walk or Monorail ride away. You won’t waste much time in transit.
ABOVE ALL, be prepared AND be flexible. Have a game plan going in, but be prepared to change. On my last trip to WDW I probably changed or canceled at least 2 of our dining reservations. Maybe you wind up wanting to spend more time at one park over the other, or you decide you want to just cut your day short and go back to the hotel for a pizza and a swim. Go with it!
P. S. Just so you know, the chart I made up for this post was just an example chart. It was much prettier than my charts usually end up looking when in process. See below for my working draft of our upcoming trip… Needless to say, I made a nicer draft in the end.