19 October 2012

31 Days:: Eating at the Parks

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Eating at the Parks! There's so many wonderful restaurants, you could easily eat every meal there for a month without ever repeating a restaurant! For Florida residents, Disney Vacation Club members, and Season/Annual Passholders, there's even a program called "Tables in Wonderland" where you can get complimentary parking and discounted meals! You can check out more about that program {here}.

gluten-free Alfredo from Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the West Side

Quick Service and Table Service
There are two types of restaurants at the park- quick service and table service. Quick Service is pretty much like a take-out place- cheaper, basic menus, you walk up to the counter and order, take your food with you on a tray, and find a table in the dining area. Table Service is like a standard restaurant- a bit more pricey, extensive menu, you're seated, and there's a waiter who orders and brings your food. Each resort and park has a mix of both types of restaurants to best suit your needs and budget.

Disney Dining Plan
If you're staying at a Disney resort, you can purchase a Disney Dining Plan (DDP). We did this one year that we stayed on-property, and it was really convenient- just hand your server your "Key to the World" {aka. your room key} and tell them you're on the DDP. Then all you do is sign the check and leave a tip. There are different types of plans- Quick Service only meals, combination of Quick Service and Table Service meals, Meals and Drinks, etc. The different meal plans are {here on the Disney website}- there you can view which restaurants participate in the DDP. This may help you decide whether it is worth it for your family to purchase. We did not do a great job of keeping track of our meals, and so we actually didn't use all of our snacks or Quick Service meals, thus we lost money- so make sure you use them all up!! :)

I actually saved my receipts to see if it was worth it- if you pick some of the priciest sit down table service restaurants, it can definitely save you money. We are actually holding off eating at some of the upper end restaurants this trip, waiting until we stay on property again to take advantage of the DDP. I will admit though, it does add to the Disney experience :)

Be sure to check out what (if any) promotions are running when you book your stay at a Disney resort- often they're offering a free Disney Dining Plan on non-discounted resort stays, in which case- definitely do it!! I know I would :)

Coffee and ice cream at Ghirardelli's in DD

Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR)
For most any Table Service restaurant, you really want to make reservations- especially if you're visiting when the parks are more crowded. Reservations can be made starting 180 days in advance of your dining date, and if you're staying at a Disney resort, you can make them 190 days in advance. There are a few dining experiences that you generally have to call exactly 180 days in advance, as they fill up very quickly (ie. Cinderella's Royal Table or Chef's Table at Victoria's & Albert's). Some restaurants do require a credit card to hold a reservation, and you will be charged if you do not show up or do not cancel within a required time frame.

To make a reservation via the phone...
  • call (407) WDW-DINE
  • NOTE: have your credit card handy if need be 

To make a reservation online...
  • create an account on the Disney website, then 
  • go to any restaurant's page on the Disney website and click on "Make a Reservation"
  • OR go to the {Reservations webpage} and search for a restaurant
To make a reservation on your iPhone app...
  • select your park of choice
  • click on "Dining"
  • then click on "Make a Reservation" 
  • OR click on "Browse Restaurants in the Park," then select a restaurant and click "Make a Reservation"
  • NOTE: reservations that require a credit card must be made online or via the phone
AllEars has an excellent FAQ page all about Advanced Reservations, so please feel free to check it out {here online}. Another great FAQ page can be found {here on WDWInfo}.

Disney's cupcakes with mile-high-frosting!

Meal Times
When booking meal times, if you're able, I'd strongly recommend either eating early or late lunches and dinners- that's what we do. If you eat lunch before 12:00 noon or after 2:00 PM, you'll find the restaurants less crowded. This means you're more likely to get seated without a reservation, have shorter wait times for your table and for your food, and of course a less crowded eating atmosphere! If you eat dinner before 6:00 PM or after 8:00 PM, it will be less crowded as well. We very often eat lunch around 11 AM and dinner around 4:30 PM, and it has worked out beautifully! This is a useful tip also if you're worried about younger children disturbing other eating patrons- just try and avoid the peak eating times if you can. I've made our reservations for non-peak times whenever possible, just in case our then 9 month old gets a little fussy :)

Food Allergies
For many with food allergies, Disney World is a safe haven for vacation like no other! They practically bend over backwards to accommodate food allergies and lifestyle diets (kosher, vegetarian, no sugar, etc). They do not have separate kitchens, so people with very severe allergies may not be able to be adequately accommodated, but they often have separate friers (for gluten-free french fries) or separate waffle irons to avoid allergens as best as possible. On Disney's website {here}, they share more about dietary requests and needs. 

I'll be talking a little more later in the month about how I decide when and where to eat! Tomorrow we'll be talking about restaurants in the Magic Kingdom, so stay tuned :)

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