When it comes to Walt Disney World, dining is unquestionably the most stressful thing to plan. At the crack of dawn, 180 days before traveling, many of you will compete for the most-coveted Advance Dining Reservations, committing to where you’ll eat 6 months later. You’ll do this before park hours and Extra Magic Hours have been released, and before you have FastPass+ selections.
If this doesn’t sound absolutely nuts to you, that’s only because you’ve become so accustomed to this nonsense that even the asinine seems everyday. In this post, we’ll make the case for sleeping through that early morning wake up call 180 days before your trip, discussing what you lose and gain by waiting to make ADRs–or not making them at all. Before we delve into this, we want to stress that this strategy is not universally-applicable. This article should be read more as food for thought than imperative advice.
It’s been almost a decade since we made any Advance Dining Reservations 180 days in advance when we had a few must have reservations to score for our honeymoon. In fact, we seldom make ADRs in advance of trips at all, and when we do, it’s usually only a couple of reservations and only a month or so ahead of time. This approach works for us, and we think it could work for you…
Much like Kramer quitting the mail, one day I came to my senses on this, and yelled at my computer screen early one morning after Stitch ate yet another page. “Oh, no, no. I don’t think you get me. I want out, permanently.”
And like that, a new era of our vacation planning was born: one with me getting to sleep more.
First, the downside of fixating on Advance Dining Reservations so far in advance of your trip is that you’re doing so blindly. You won’t know park hours, where you’re going to be able to score FastPass+, or in which parks Extra Magic Hours are occurring. From our perspective, each of these things is more important than ADRs.
As we discuss in our Most Difficult for Advance Dining Reservations post, one work-around to this is the controversial practice of booking ‘spare’ Advance Dining Reservations as a contingency. While this doesn’t bother us in the least (for the reasons discussed there), we’re also not competing with you for those ADRs.
From our perspective, booking FastPass+ at the 60 day window is much more essential. This is only likely to become truer as more third party hotels are added to this pool, and as things become more competitive with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and other huge scale additions for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Planning and reserving a table once at the 180 day mark, then changing those plans again once park hours are released, then changing those plans again once FastPass+ selections are made is a hassle. Rather than doing that, we like to start by making our FastPass+ selections at the 60 day mark in coordination with park hours, and then making ADRs around those.
By that time, some sought-after Advance Dining Reservations will undoubtedly be gone. Dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant is the big one that’s likely to be unavailable. There are several others that might also be tough. The point is, you won’t have everything as an option.
However, when I search for Advance Dining Reservations 60 days from today, there are over 100 restaurants with availability, including Be Our Guest Restaurant at breakfast or lunch, ‘Ohana at breakfast or dinner, and Akershus. The only choices that were unavailable were Artist Point, Capa (weird, but okay), Cinderella’s Royal Table, and various speciality experiences like tea and Dining with an Imagineer.
If I were willing to put more than 2 minutes of effort into my searching, I’m almost positive I could toy with days or times a bit and get into every single restaurant at some time or another during the day. The only possible exception is Storybook Dining at Artist Point, as that’s only at dinner and it still has that “new character dining experience” smell.
Arbitrarily, let’s say that even at the 60 day mark, we were to get shut out of 3 restaurants. For every restaurant you can’t book because of no availability, there are 10 more good alternatives that you can’t book due to a lack of time. Seriously, there are dozens of great restaurants at Walt Disney World, and vacation duration is your biggest “enemy” (well, and cost) in terms of ability to do them all. If one you really wanted is unavailable, choose a similar alternative.
This might sound like pretty flippant advice, but it’s really to underscore the wealth of options and great alternatives more than anything. We witness people getting so stressed out over ADRs, and it’s really not necessary. Unless you have a huge party or there’s a popular character meal with your children’s favorites that is absolutely essential, your options at or inside the 60 day mark are generally pretty good.
Additionally, dining flexibility at Walt Disney World is becoming greater. With new restaurants opening seemingly every week at Disney Springs, and more also being added to hotels, most restaurants have more openings now than they did 5 years ago. Longtime fans (us included) often grouse about how visiting is becoming less and less spontaneous, but that’s not the direction things are trending with regard to dining.
Certainly, if you compare today to 1987, there’s more planning involved with dining. However, if you compare today to 5 or even 10 years ago, it’s markedly easier. Not only is the online system (when it’s working!) a comparative breeze over calling, but last-minute availability is more abundant. Even in the parks, you’ll now see signage advertising same-day reservations for restaurants.
To be honest, unless we are on the Disney Dining Plan for the express purpose of saving money (and thus, keyed in on certain restaurants to review), it’s exceedingly rare for us to make ADRs even a day in advance. We roll out of bed and shower (second step optional), get on the bus, look at our FastPass+ selections, see which restaurants are available, and book based upon that while en route to the park.
We’d never recommend that a first-timer do this, but as regulars who are flexible with where we dine, it works for us. Even same day, we’ve never found fewer than 2 options in each park that we really like. (Our favorite restaurants in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom are almost always available day-of.)
Look, we enjoy planning for Walt Disney World trips, and we obviously highly recommend that you plan. Not only is it essential for saving time and being prepared, but it’s a fun way to build anticipation and hype for your trip. With that said, not all types of planning are good.
When it comes to making Advance Dining Reservations some six months in advance, it seems stress is the most common accompanying emotion. You compound this stress with that of FastPass+ selections and the inevitable modifying of other plans. Over time, in pursuit of the “perfect” daily itinerary changes, there’s also the tendency to develop sky-high and totally unrealistic expectations.
This certainly doesn’t happen to everyone, and veteran Walt Disney World planners may already know how to thread this needle to ensure they experience all of the joys of planning without the headaches, stress, and unrealistic expectations. Other veterans may dislike this degree of planning, but view it as a necessary evil.
This is pretty common, and one of the reasons we stress the concept of ‘planned spontaneity’ in our Being Spontaneous at Walt Disney World post. It’s easy to get so caught up in the fear of missing out that you don’t stop to think, missing out on what? Just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s essential (or even good!), and quite often the less popular alternatives provide unexpected delight (or are even better!).
With all of that said, ‘sleeping’ on Advance Dining Reservations is not one size fits all advice. For some people, this approach will create more uncertainty and stress. For others, convoluted and meticulous planning is part of the ‘getting hyped’ process. We are hardly suggesting our approach is the only one, or even the best one, for everyone.
Rather, we’re offering a different perspective on Advance Dining Reservations, and one you’ll probably seldom read on a Walt Disney World planning-oriented blog such as this one. The point is, opting out of the mad dash for ADRs at the 180 day mark is entirely possible, and in most cases, the negative ramifications will be insignificant. Whether potentially missing out on a reservation or three in exchange for less hassle is a trade you want to make is a personal question, and one we can’t really answer. We do know that, for us, it’s a no brainer.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Are you zealous about making all of your Advance Dining Reservations at the 180 day mark, or do you take a more laid back approach with planning meals? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Think this could work for a first-timer to Walt Disney World? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!