March 5, 2015

Disney Planning - Part 3: All Things Dining

Nothing really compares to dining at Disney World.  The food is both amazing and plentiful.  But, like so many this at Disney, to get the most out of the experience, you need to do some planning.  If you are just joining me on this adventure, be sure to check out my post on pre-planning here.  You can also check out my post on having a Disney planning meeting with everyone going here.  As you approach the 180 days (6 months) mark from your trip, the next step is to make Advanced Dining Reservations or ADRs.  If you choose to stay on-sight, you can make these reservations 180 days before the day you check-in and make them for up to 10 days of your trip.  If you are staying off-sight, you can make them 180 days before the date on which you are making the reservation.  This is yet another perk of staying on-sight.  You can begin making reservations at 6:00am eastern time on that date online and at 7:00am eastern by phone.  Here are some of my answers to questions I hear frequently.

Who Needs a Dining Reservation?

If you would like to eat sit-down meals, you need dining reservations.  By sit-down meals, I am referring to meals where someone takes your order at a table and brings you food.  You can certainly sit down and stand-up meals, now called quick service.  The difference is ordering at a counter versus a more traditional restaurant.  Don't get me wrong, you can get some super delicious quick service meals at Disney; however, if you really want to experience the best of what Disney dining has to offer, schedule some table service meals.  If you are using the Disney Dining Plan, you will probably want to schedule one per day.  You get a lot of food.  I would not advise putting table service meals back to back.  The exception would be if you choose a meal that cost 2 credits, such as Cinderella's Royal Table or one of the dinner shows.  In that case, you would likely have a day without a table service meal.  Regardless, if you want to sit down for dinner, make Advanced Dining Reservations.

How do I decide where to eat so early?

I know that in real life we don't decide where we are eating 6 months from now, but in the world of Disney it is essential.  You don't just walk into a sit-down restaurant and Disney and expect to get a table without a reservation.  Even for a small group it is rare and for a large party like ours...forget about it.  Start with what parks you are visiting on which days.  You can waste a lot of time park hopping just for a dining reservation.  Your best bet is to schedule your sit-down meal that the park you will be visiting that day.  Consult the Disney calenders to see if there are Extra Magic Hours that may influence when you visit each park and decide on an order.  Once you have that, you can start choosing restaurants.

There are a lot of choices for dining at Disney.  Consider what is important to you and what kind of eaters your group is.  Even if our group splits up during the day, we like to eat sit-down meals together.  It is a great way to catch up if we have not been together all day.  Make sure you choose places that everyone will enjoy.  Menus for all the restaurants are available on the Disney website.  For us, we are traveling with a toddler who will eat pretty much anything, a tween who is super picky and a couple of adults who would fall in the moderately picky category as well.  We are also all character fanatics, so we are always looking for places to dine with our favorites.

Where is the best place to eat?

This is a loaded question.  There are so many options.  They are pretty much all delicious.  How do you possibly choose?  You can read a dozen blogs like mine and find a dozen different reviews and answers.  Below I will discuss each restaurant we choose and why.  I will also talk about a few that we have done in the past, but choose to forgo this time and why.  Hopefully it helps narrow it down for you.

O'Hana at the Polynesian Resort:  This is one of our favorites.  You can go for breakfast and dine with Lilo and Stitch, but we prefer dinner.  Dinner includes all the meat you can eat cooked in a fire oven at the center of the restaurant, plus super yummy sides.  We like to start a vacation here on our check-in day when we usually don't go to a park.  Get checked into your hotel, hop on the monorail and take it all the way around and then get off at the Polynesian.  You get some great glimpses of Disney from the monorail and a great meal.  This is a can't miss place!

Crystal Palace:  This little gem of a buffet is in the Magic Kingdom right off of Main Street USA.  If you eat here for dinner, you can dine with Winnie the Pooh and gang.  The atmosphere is nice and the place is huge!  The buffet is pretty good and can leave even the pickiest eater satisfied.  Plus, a buffet means that my little man can eat for free since he is under 3.  We have eaten here every trip and always love it.  Even my step-sister, who has been serenaded by a particularly funny waiter here consents to returning.  The Winnie the Pooh characters are soft and cuddly too.  All in all, it is just fun.

Coral Reef:  I have read many mixed reviews on this place, but after eating here for the first time on our last trip, we decided to do it again.  The food is good and the dessert is great!  I will never forget the little piece of chocolate mousse heaven I ate here.  The atmosphere is pretty cool too with a giant wall taken up by aquarium at the Living Seas in EPCOT.  Last time we visited, a giant sea turtle was swimming right next to the glass.  It was awesome.  My little guy love aquariums and fish, so I think he will be enchanted.  There are no characters here, but you can try to spot Nemo and his friends through the glass!

Hollywood and Vine:  Nestled within Hollywood Studios, this one is new to us this trip.  Since, I have not eaten here, I cannot vouch for the food, but we are going for the characters.  At breakfast, you can dine with some Disney Junior favorites like Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, and Sophia the First.  Since we are traveling with a tiny Neverland Pirate, this is a stop just for him.  Luckily, everyone we are traveling with loves him like we do and are willing to have breakfast with his pals. 

T-Rex:  T-Rex is located at Downtown Disney and is a similar experience to Rainforest Cafe.  You are immersed in the prehistoric world of dinosaurs with giant animitronic dinos and scenery all around.  We have done Rainforest Cafe on a number of occasions and decided to change it up and give T-Rex a try.  Plus, little man has a thing for dinos.

Sanaa:  Some of the more adventurous eaters in our group are super excited about this stop at Animal Kingdom resort.  It is one of the newer restaurant at Disney.  It is supposed to be a South African restaurant, but the menu has many options for pickier eaters too.  The husband and I are also super excited about the wine collection, which is boasted as the largest collections of South African wines outside of South Africa.

Chef Mickey's:  Located at the Contemporary resort, it is one of Disney's classics.  You can enjoy breakfast with Mickey and Pals while the monorail zooms by overhead.  Again, this one is new to us, but we are excited to finally give it a try.

Other notables from previous trips:

50's Prime Time Cafe:  This little place at Hollywood Studios will provide your family with stories and laughter for years to come.  Last time we ate here was over 10 years ago and we still talk about it.  The food is delicious comfort food, but the real treat is the staff.  You are whisked back in time to the 1950's at Mom's house.  Your waitress will act as your mother, encouraging you to eat your veggies even if they have to airplane them into your mouth, standing you in the corner for not asking to be excused before leaving the table, etc.  It is truly a hoot!  However, once we had done it once, we decided to try other things.

Teppan Ido:  This is a Hibachi style restaurant in the Japan pavilion in EPCOT.  It is delicious and the chef's put on a great show, cooking your food on a giant flat top right at your table.  We LOVED it and would have done it again, except that the toddler had a major melt down last time we went to a restaurant like this at home and we decided it might be the wisest choice this trip.

Tuskar House:  A great character meal in Animal Kingdom and a delicious buffet.  We ate here for lunch on our last trip and felt that it was the best buffet we had during the whole trip.  You can meet the classic Mickey characters here too, making it a fun stop at animal kingdom. 

Garden Grill:  Situated in The Land pavilion in EPCOT, this place used to be a must do for us.  The restaurant rotates through various agriculture scenes and you are visited by Mickey and friends decked out in farmer attire.  The food is served family style and our first few trips left us very satisfied, the last couple of times we were unimpressed with the food and decided not to return this time.

Wolfgang Puck's:  This is a bonus pick.  It is at Downtown Disney and the Husband and I ate here last time we went.  We ate in the downstairs area which is a little less upscale; however, we had some super delicious sushi, one of our favorites.  It is yummy, but not super kid friendly.

We have always traveled with boys, so princesses have not been a top priority.  However, if you are seeking a princess dining experience, your choices are Cinderella's Royal Table in Magic Kingdom (which will cost you 2 table service credits per person) or Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in EPCOT (which only costs one credit).  We have not done them, but heard good things about both.

Do I Need Reservations for Every Meal?

You do not need reservations for quick service meals.  It might be helpful to have an idea of where you want to eat ahead of time for planning purposes, but you can decide on the fly.  The only exception is if you would like to eat at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom.  Be Our Guest offers a quick service lunch and recently began allowing guests to make Advanced Dining Reservations for this experience.  The line can get lengthy so a reservation would be recommended here.

Good luck on making your dining reservations.  Remember to have some back-up options picked in case you get in the middle of making reservations and find one of your choices unavailable.  If a reservation is not available for dinner, try lunch.  Make sure you pay attention to when characters are available though.  Some restaurants only offer character dining at specific meals.  Next up, I will talk about how we are preparing our toddler for the trip.  See you then!