Of all the things people wonder & worry about when it comes to Disney, I think ADR's (Advance Dining Reservations) seem to be the thing that sends people over the edge. Tell a first timer that if they want to get in to eat with Cinderella or Stitch, they have to plan their meal 180 days in advance and watch that look come over their face. I actually call it ADR Stages of Shock.
Stage 1: They laugh, thinking you're pulling their leg.
Stage 2: They then look at you like you've escaped from a "quiet place" with padded walls.
Stage 3: Is a mixture of anger & panic usually identified by a gruff "Are you serious?" and a high pitched "How am I supposed to know what I want to eat 6 months from now??!!"
Stage 4: Pure terror. This is where they have visions of everyone in their family yelling at them for ruining their vacation by making them eat at Casey every night (Sorry Casey fans-I just can't call those things hot dogs-I'm a New Yorker).
Alright this is where you have to kinda talk them off a ledge for a minute. And that's what I am going to try and do in this post. Talk all you panicky folks down and help you with a strategy for making your ADR's a painless experience.
So let's address Stage 3, since it's the real heart of the issue. You don't have to decided what you want to eat 6 months from now, you have to decided where you want to eat 6 months from now. What's the difference you ask? Well to decide what dish you want to have 180 from now is crazy. What if you're not in the mood for pasta when vacation time comes? Also with seasonal menu changes, the dish you choose might not even be on the menu when you get there. Now true-if they have the ingredients and you ask nice, they will usually accommodate you-but that's a big "If". So instead of asking you to pick your meal, Disney is asking you to look at some menus, or read some reviews, on their site or unofficial ones, and choose restaurants you might like to eat at. So say you look at Citricos menu or Chef Mickeys normal buffet offerings and you see a few dishes that look good to you. Or maybe you're even sold by the theme or activities that go on there-like characters who appear there. So you go online to the reservation system or call (or tell your travel agent and they do it for you) and check for a time when you'd like to have a meal there. You enter your time 6:30 pm and look-they have a table for 6:40 at Chef Mickeys. So you hit confirm you and get a confirmation number. Hey! Wait a minute-you just made an ADR for 6 months from now! Now wasn't that easy?
Ok so now that you see it's really not that big a deal to make reservations so far ahead, let's talk about some other fears & concerns people have about ADR's and some tips as well.
What if I change my mind when the vacation comes?
They put you in Mickey jail. No-not really. If you change your mind-call and cancel. Now it's true some restaurants & dining experiences have a 1-2 day cancellation policy. While some of the restaurants do not charge any fee to miss or cancel a reservation, Disney's has started penalizing no-shows, for many of their most popular restaurants. You will be required to leave a credit card on file for any restaurant that has this policy in effect. If you do not show up for or cancel in the right amount of time, a per person charge will be applied to your credit card. The charge varies by restaurant-for instance Akershus Princess Dining is $10 per person. So if you're scheduled to eat at Chef's de France later that week, but change your mind and/or plans-make sure to call and cancel your reservation. Plus-it's the polite thing to do anyway. Now, Disney is sympathetic to the fact things happen, so if little Suzy gets queasy on the Teacups and you don't think you want to push the issue of taking her to eat-call them and tell them your issue, they are always there to help.
What if I find another restaurant I like before I leave for vacation? What if a reservation opens up in a place that previously didn't have an opening?
If you're like me, you're constantly going to be going on and checking to see what's available, or if that 7:00pm table at Le Cellier opens up. Not a problem-just call and cancel the conflicting reservation you no longer want.
What if the dish I had my heart set on isn't on the menu when I get there?
There is always the possibility that with seasonal menus, certain promotions & crowd volume, you might not see the dish you were eyeing 6 months ago when you get there. But I will tell you that if the ingredients are available, and it's a reasonable prep time & if you ask, you might be surprised to hear the chefs will recreate the dish for you. Now I can't guarantee this-and neither will Disney. But it never hurts to ask. But this is why you should choose restaurants based on the style of food they offer rather than 1 particular dish.
Lastly a few tips:
1) Start planning early. And I don't just mean the actual booking at 180 days out-I mean start looking around, reading menus & reviews to get an idea where you might want to dine. This way when it's time to book, you have a plan.
2) Do your homework or talk to someone who is knowledgeable in Disney restaurants. Learn about the restaurants you will be booking at. You don't want to make a mistake like finishing dining at California Grill and leave only to find out later that you could have either stayed or gone back to watch Wishes from the observation deck.
3) What do you do when you can't find an ADR for a restaurant you really want to try? Keep trying. Try odd times, like late at night, mid-afternoon during a work week, early morning, weekends. I have gotten very hard to come by reservations by doing this. Also, if you're working with a travel agent-let them do the heavy lifting and call at weird hours and multiple times a day lol.
4) Plan your ADR's around events, parades, fireworks, park openings/closings(to be in the parks with very few other people and get some great uncluttered pictures) etc.
5) Don't forget which restaurants have a cancellation penalty.
6) Try different times in the day. If you can't get into dinner at Le Cellier-try for lunch.
7) NEVER give up an ADR UNTIL you have confirmation for something else you want.
I hope this has relieved some of the anxiety that comes along with making Advance Dining Reservations. It's really not as bad as it seems. You got this. And if you're still not sure-you can always use a travel agent to help you. It's 100% free. There is never a charge to you. Master the Way of the ADR and you too can be the hero responsible for happy pictures like these :)
Have fun & Happy Eating!