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    That's My Opinion: Advance Dining Reservations - The Solution?

    Advance Dining Reservations - The Solution? by Steve Russo

    Does Disney's latest change solve the problem of table service availability?

    Read it here!


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    I book all my dining 180 days out and have no trouble with getting a reservation. I'm not a foodie so I book the restaurant that I want to eat at not the food I want to eat. I treat them as attractions and all the food is pretty much good. And having been to Disney World so many times, have a very good idea when we like to eat so the times are easy to pick. I tried the dining plans and found the Tables in Wonderland card is a better deal. I know that is a lot of pre-planning but hey, that's Disney World today. It sure beats walking around wasting time trying to find an opening. The word's out, Disney World is the place to go!!


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    Quote Originally Posted by MajorMickey View Post
    I book all my dining 180 days out and have no trouble with getting a reservation. I'm not a foodie so I book the restaurant that I want to eat at not the food I want to eat. I treat them as attractions and all the food is pretty much good. And having been to Disney World so many times, have a very good idea when we like to eat so the times are easy to pick. I tried the dining plans and found the Tables in Wonderland card is a better deal. I know that is a lot of pre-planning but hey, that's Disney World today. It sure beats walking around wasting time trying to find an opening. The word's out, Disney World is the place to go!!
    But... how do you know where you'll be 180 days in advance? If you book an ADR for an Epcot restaurant dinner but, during your trip, realize that's the only chance to see Wishes or the MSEP? This is especially true when you're there when the MK closes early for the Halloween or Christmas parties. Do you cancel the ADR and take your chances?

    That's been the difficult thing for me. It's easy to book restaurants 6 months in advance but we will OFTEN change our itinerary the previous day - or at the last minute.
    Steve

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    I have never made, nor probably will I ever make dining reservations 180 days in advance. We don't finalize our plans until much closer and I'll let the cards fall where they may. We start to formulate a plan a month or so in advance and we've always done just fine. There's always someplace to eat. You can still plan close to your travel date and have a great time and eat good meals at Walt Disney World. We do it all the time. We have missed out on a few of the most popular places. We still haven't been to Le Cellier or 'Ohana, but it gives us something to keep trying for. Someday we'll get lucky. Same with Cinderella's. The only reason we got in there was because Hurricane Charlie stranded so many travelers on their way to WDW. We were already there and word spread that there were plenty of no-shows! We swooped in and got a walk-in breakfast reservation. I'm hoping that the new policy opens up last minute opportunities like that for everyone.

    I've always said on the boards and in my articles that I'm no fan of the Dining Plan. We had it once. It was actually the first free dining plan offer made. We were on a 10-day trip. So, yes...10 days of free meals was pretty amazing as a cost saving measure. I can't deny that. However, we felt completely tied to the Dining Plan. We ate more. We wasted a lot of food. I can't tell you how many carrot cakes were in our Riverside fridge at the end of the week. We were always checking our credits and basing everything we did around our meals and we hated it. So, I'm no fan and I've never gone back. I prefer a discounted room and less food. Some of our happiest family moments were when we cancelled a reservation and stayed at the pool with a pizza, or decided to stay later in a particular park because the lines were short or we were having such a good time and didn't want to interrupt our fun. The Dining plan doesn't really work for us and our type of Disney vacationing.

    That said, I'm perfectly OK with this new policy because we always made it a point to cancel unwanted reservations no matter what. We always feel that we may be giving another family a chance to dine if we cancel. I do think that a lot of people make these multiple reservations and then DON'T cancel anything they're not going to use. This causes problems for the restaurant staff and their ability to seat everyone and shuts out other guests. So, I think this policy is going to help ease the reservations quagmire a bit. At least I hope it does.

    I do agree with you Steve. I think the Dining Plan is the root of this evil, but I want to really blame the "few bad apples." I think that guests took advantage of the system and now Disney had to react, the same way that they turned a blind eye to the refillable cup abuse for years and now we have computer chips in our cups. If people weren't filling empty popcorn buckets with soda, this probably wouldn't have happened. I always applauded Disney for the refillable mugs. $11 or $12 for all my drinks for the week and a souvenir cup to take home was a great deal. People abused it and now it's changed. The same with the reservations. My guess...once again, just MY guess...is that they had complaints from guests and from the restaurant cast that this was a problem and there was too much abuse. So, they had to react. I hope it changes things for the better and I can finally have a cup of Cheddar Cheese Soup at Le Cellier!


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    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    But... how do you know where you'll be 180 days in advance? If you book an ADR for an Epcot restaurant dinner but, during your trip, realize that's the only chance to see Wishes or the MSEP? This is especially true when you're there when the MK closes early for the Halloween or Christmas parties. Do you cancel the ADR and take your chances?

    That's been the difficult thing for me. It's easy to book restaurants 6 months in advance but we will OFTEN change our itinerary the previous day - or at the last minute.
    I know what you mean, and sadly I have found that planning a successful Disney World trip has become an art form of sorts. But with all the info from this great site and others on the web, figuring out details is possible. It's a bummer taking out the spontaneity of a trip, but at the cost of an unsuccessful trip, I'll stick to a schedule. Example: this years trip I had to factor in the Halloween party, the Food and Wine Festival, an Epcot tour, the Festival of the Masters, and the Christmas Party on top of the staples like the MSEP and Fantasmic. It can be done and I fear the future is looking more crowded and daunting. But when it comes to Disney World, it's worth it!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by cbarry View Post
    I have never made, nor probably will I ever make dining reservations 180 days in advance. We don't finalize our plans until much closer and I'll let the cards fall where they may. We start to formulate a plan a month or so in advance and we've always done just fine. There's always someplace to eat. You can still plan close to your travel date and have a great time and eat good meals at Walt Disney World. We do it all the time. We have missed out on a few of the most popular places. We still haven't been to Le Cellier or 'Ohana, but it gives us something to keep trying for. Someday we'll get lucky. Same with Cinderella's. The only reason we got in there was because Hurricane Charlie stranded so many travelers on their way to WDW. We were already there and word spread that there were plenty of no-shows! We swooped in and got a walk-in breakfast reservation. I'm hoping that the new policy opens up last minute opportunities like that for everyone.

    I've always said on the boards and in my articles that I'm no fan of the Dining Plan. We had it once. It was actually the first free dining plan offer made. We were on a 10-day trip. So, yes...10 days of free meals was pretty amazing as a cost saving measure. I can't deny that. However, we felt completely tied to the Dining Plan. We ate more. We wasted a lot of food. I can't tell you how many carrot cakes were in our Riverside fridge at the end of the week. We were always checking our credits and basing everything we did around our meals and we hated it. So, I'm no fan and I've never gone back. I prefer a discounted room and less food. Some of our happiest family moments were when we cancelled a reservation and stayed at the pool with a pizza, or decided to stay later in a particular park because the lines were short or we were having such a good time and didn't want to interrupt our fun. The Dining plan doesn't really work for us and our type of Disney vacationing.

    That said, I'm perfectly OK with this new policy because we always made it a point to cancel unwanted reservations no matter what. We always feel that we may be giving another family a chance to dine if we cancel. I do think that a lot of people make these multiple reservations and then DON'T cancel anything they're not going to use. This causes problems for the restaurant staff and their ability to seat everyone and shuts out other guests. So, I think this policy is going to help ease the reservations quagmire a bit. At least I hope it does.

    I do agree with you Steve. I think the Dining Plan is the root of this evil, but I want to really blame the "few bad apples." I think that guests took advantage of the system and now Disney had to react, the same way that they turned a blind eye to the refillable cup abuse for years and now we have computer chips in our cups. If people weren't filling empty popcorn buckets with soda, this probably wouldn't have happened. I always applauded Disney for the refillable mugs. $11 or $12 for all my drinks for the week and a souvenir cup to take home was a great deal. People abused it and now it's changed. The same with the reservations. My guess...once again, just MY guess...is that they had complaints from guests and from the restaurant cast that this was a problem and there was too much abuse. So, they had to react. I hope it changes things for the better and I can finally have a cup of Cheddar Cheese Soup at Le Cellier!
    Don't wish too hard. A friend just posted a photo of his Cheddar Cheese soup at Le Cellier with the caption, "$10 and it's not even half full". Sigh...
    Steve

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    Steve, what I do is wait until the Disney calendar has been published, carefully select what seem to be the best days for each park, and then make my ADRs. So far this has worked out for us, and I've never had to cancel or change a reservation ... knock on wood!

    Wait, there was one reservation we had to cancel at Olivia's at OKW because Helena came down with a bug that required a visit to the doctor. But that's been the only time.


    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    But... how do you know where you'll be 180 days in advance? If you book an ADR for an Epcot restaurant dinner but, during your trip, realize that's the only chance to see Wishes or the MSEP? This is especially true when you're there when the MK closes early for the Halloween or Christmas parties. Do you cancel the ADR and take your chances?

    That's been the difficult thing for me. It's easy to book restaurants 6 months in advance but we will OFTEN change our itinerary the previous day - or at the last minute.

  9. #8

    My problem with the DDP is there's a missing link. I don't understand why they can't make the reservations on your behalf via the DDP system. DDP users should not use the regular reservations system. The situation is similar to that of a cruise ship. Reservations must be made in advance, but it should be linked to your account. If you don't show up, there is some penalty, but the impact is not on other guests who don't have the plan. Thus, a certain amount of reservations should be allocated to DDP users and everything else is opened to regular guests and walk-ins.

    If DDP user don't show up, they lose the ability to reserve another table service reservation using the same allocation; however, since they must still eat, any casual service restaurant is permitted.

    The plans should be more flexible in that table service and casual service should be less different in food quality. I love the faster service in casual restaurants without the long wait service, but many times I prefer better tasting food. There should be some blending of preferences. Thus, Disney should probably come up with some new dining choices. How about more buffets? How about a casual service line in some restaurants?

    The WDW restaurants have changed for the worse with the reservations system. Overall quality gone down. Individual preferences went out for crowd herding.


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    Quote Originally Posted by arnoldvb View Post
    Steve, what I do is wait until the Disney calendar has been published, carefully select what seem to be the best days for each park, and then make my ADRs. So far this has worked out for us, and I've never had to cancel or change a reservation ... knock on wood!

    Wait, there was one reservation we had to cancel at Olivia's at OKW because Helena came down with a bug that required a visit to the doctor. But that's been the only time.
    Arnold,
    That's exactly what I do. Unfortunately, 180 days is (for me) to much time. We often change our minds. Lately, it also seems Disney is changing park hours fairly regularly and within just a few weeks.
    Steve

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    How about more buffets?...
    The WDW restaurants have changed for the worse with the reservations system. Overall quality gone down. Individual preferences went out for crowd herding.
    NO!!! Not more buffets! I abhor buffets!

    I don't think the restaurants have changed for the worse because of reservation systems - but because of the dining plan. Because on the plan, they have to make all meals 'about' the same cost, otherwise the restaurant margin is too small if people eat too many of the 'most expensive' items and not enough of the 'least expensive' item. And on the dining plan, people gravitate towards the most expensive item, because they want to get their money's worth. I haven't looked at the latest menus - but for a while Coral Reef was sadly lacking in the seafood dishes on the menu -- I think entrees of one fin-fish and no shellfish - at a seafood restaurant?!!

    The other thing with 'free dining' vs a 'room discount' -- it makes a huge difference on your savings if you're a solo traveler of a pair, vs a full room of 4. Since I'm RARELY a full room of 4, it would be cheaper for me to get the discount and pay out of pocket for the dining plan, if that's what I really wanted.
    Cathy

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    The WDW restaurants have changed for the worse with the reservations system. Overall quality gone down. Individual preferences went out for crowd herding.
    The reservation system hasn't driven these changes. They have been driven by the Dining Plan and the need to cut margins in order to still profit off of those using it.

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    Ah yes, I remember the days of same day booking. Way back, like in the 80's, the Spaceship Earth post-show area used to be where you'd book your dining, with the very cool (at the time) technology of being able to see your booking agent. This area moved to the left of SSE - the area is still there, with a couple of trees in front of it.

    While I also think the problem of double booking exists, there's another aspect of the DDP that you didn't mention. With the plan, there are a lot of folks who were previously happy with burgers and fries now enjoying at least one sit-down dinner a day. This has put a huge strain on restaurant capacity.

    Quote Originally Posted by arnoldvb View Post
    Steve, what I do is wait until the Disney calendar has been published, carefully select what seem to be the best days for each park, and then make my ADRs.
    This is the trick, and it works very well for me too. I don't know exactly what I want to eat 6 months out, but I just don't look at it that way. When I have my schedule set, including a nice Disney restuarant almost every night of a trip, I'll look forward to dining there, and can always find something on the menu that appeals to me. I never approach a Disney dinner from the view of what do I feel like eating. I look forward to whatever restaurant I've got booked for that evening, and almost always enjoy the choices that I have. That said, I wouldn't at all mind going back to the same day system, but I just don't see that happening.
    Dan
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    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    But... how do you know where you'll be 180 days in advance? If you book an ADR for an Epcot restaurant dinner but, during your trip, realize that's the only chance to see Wishes or the MSEP? This is especially true when you're there when the MK closes early for the Halloween or Christmas parties. Do you cancel the ADR and take your chances?

    That's been the difficult thing for me. It's easy to book restaurants 6 months in advance but we will OFTEN change our itinerary the previous day - or at the last minute.
    That's exactly my problem. My roommate / best friend and I just got back from a stay at WDW. We're both young adults, so there's even less of a reason for us to plan. We don't have anyone to wrangle but the two of us, so one of the pleasures of going to WDW is making elaborate plans, then completely ignoring them because one of us wants to see the Tiki Room again or Epcot is staying open extra late.

    As a result, it's really hard to find dining reservations. Because of the wonderful advice on this site, I always book ADRs. (It really is just another step to planning the trip, along with getting plane and park tickets.) I also end up canceling and rebooking due to last-minute decisions. What's unfortunate is that even though I'm conscientious about only having one reservation at a time per day, this policy is actually going to make things harder for us. I paid attention to when I'd cancel and rebook during the trip, and it was never 24 hours in advance. More like the morning of. This means there's going to be less flexibility for our trips, because I don't really want to get pinged with a fee. $10 is another drink at the pool bar, after all.

    As far as what the culprit is, I do think it's very much the dining plan. Having those table service credits means that a lot of people who probably wouldn't be able to justify a lot of pricy sit-down meals can indulge every day. Even if there is no net savings, it's a lot easier to justify spending the money when you're not in the parks, contemplating buying another $3.50 water bottle. And since more people are going to those restaurants, not only are reservations necessary, you either have to dine early or deal with a packed and noisy restaurant. (We ended up eating around 4:30 most days, because those were the only spots left, and I honestly liked it better. There were fewer people and it was a lot less overwhelming and noisy.)

    I don't think this policy will ease up the pressure to reserve early at all, but it might make walk-up reservations more than a pipe dream. (Maybe we'll finally get to eat at the Be Your Guest restaurant!) I don't think the dining plan is going away, either. What might be annoying for us, I'm sure is excellent data for Disney and the restaurants, not to mention lucrative financially.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stan4d_steph View Post
    The reservation system hasn't driven these changes. They have been driven by the Dining Plan and the need to cut margins in order to still profit off of those using it.
    Sorry, it is the opposite. How can it be the Dining plan and not the reservations systems especially if the Dining plan encourages customers to use the reservations system for table service and not do more casual dining. The Dining plan has shifted its responsibility.

    The prevalence of table service restaurants in the parks are the problem. Table service requires more reservations.

    Disney offers 3 choices, each with their price points. If Disney has a hard time profiting from its highest priced dining plan (and it is silly to expect patrons to not use certain food choices), then the problem is it stuffs the reservations system, which in itself cannot be managed.

    Disney needs to fix the reservations systems to better service its guests. Thus, it needs to offload the DDP patrons to its own separate system that can be managed and controlled. If the DDP gets too crowded, less plans should be offered. Strict control by letting the DDP to manage restaurant reservations should be key. If a patron want to deviate from the plan, they should be allowed that opportunity.

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    The quality is definitely going down. As is the ambiance. I was at the Brown Derby last week and it was horrible. Noisy, crowded to the point that my anxiety made it hard to speak to my traveling companion, horrible service. This might just be in my head, but while the waiter doted on the family next to us with all the kids, he didn't even speak to us while he was serving our drinks. The food was still delicious, which is more than I can say for the Coral Reef, which I used to love (I've noticed the lack of seafood -- how is that a thing?), but I don't know if I'll be going back next time.

    It puts a crimp in our planning, but my friend and I are probably going to stick to the less popular Epcot restaurants and odd times. The best meal we had all week was at Via Napoli around 4:30, when the place was actually only about 1/3 full.


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    steelmuse, it just goes to show that like any restaurant on the planet you can have a good experience or a bad one. I just had the best meal of my trip at the Brown Derby - great food, great ambiance, and a terrific waiter. And while I've had so-so meals in the Coral Reef, I just had another great one about 2 weeks ago. I do think the quality of the WDW sitdown restaurants went down for a while there after the current DDP went into place, but I think it's made great strides in the past year or so, and is now overall pretty good.

    Dan
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    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    Arnold,
    That's exactly what I do. Unfortunately, 180 days is (for me) to much time. We often change our minds. Lately, it also seems Disney is changing park hours fairly regularly and within just a few weeks.
    Steve, I guess we've been lucky so far in not having Disney change park schedules on us. We'll be checking in on Thanksgiving day for a week with Selene and family. Not the best timing, but demanded by varying school and work schedules. Of course, I'll report on what happens.

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    Every once in a while Disney will add an event or change hours to the point where I will now want to change my plans. And then it's all about what I want to do. Is it more important to get into the MK to see the fireworks that were just added, or is it more important to keep my dining plans in Epcot? As you said, it doesn't happen often. But when it does, then I just decide and go on with it. It's not like it's a life threatening situation!

    Dan
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    Sometimes the less popular restaurants can be the best. We've gotten reservations at the Grand Floridian Cafe easily both times we've been there and both times it's been delicious. Once we were staying at the Polynesian, walked over and after dinner hopped the monorail over to MK, nice and easy, no brainier. Last month we took the Epcot monorail over to the MK monorail and had another excellent meal before heading into the MK for Wishes. Two for two, great experiences and never a problem getting a reservation there. This place gets overlooked.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    Sorry, it is the opposite. How can it be the Dining plan and not the reservations systems especially if the Dining plan encourages customers to use the reservations system for table service and not do more casual dining. The Dining plan has shifted its responsibility.
    Reservations existed before the large-scale use of the Dining Plan, and these problems were not prevalent then. The Dining Plan definitely is causing a lot of the shortage of ADRs though.

  22. #21

    I guess dining reservations just don't bother me. Sure, I grumbled 10 years ago when we stopped being able to get same-day reservations or walk-up seating, but we now enjoy the planning of our dining.

    Of course, we're not the typical WDW visitor. DVC members and passholders, so we're never feeling the need to "maximize" a day in any particular park. We're not concerned about missing something in order to dine. We don't use dining plans and we don't eat at more than one table-service restaurant per day.

    We also don't feel that reservations have any effect on our spontaneity. If we have a lunch reservation, we'll go to that park in the morning, then, after we eat, we might head to a different park. With dinner reservations, we don't worry about which park we start the day in; we just head to the park where our reservation is in the late afternoon.

    And, yes, the quality of dining did drop noticeably after the introduction of the free dining plan, but it really seems to be turning around. We've had some EXCELLENT meals on recent trips.

    Since we have to plan our DVC usage so far in advance, it's no big deal to make dining reservations 180 days out. We make a list of places we'd like to eat, we always look for one or two places where we've never eaten before, and then we go online and set everything up. Since we always travel in the off-peak season, we can usually make changes or additions to our reservations much closer to the trip. Aside from a handful of restaurants (Be Our Guest, Le Cellier), most restaurants have plenty of available tables a month or two out, if you're willing to be a little flexible about your dining time.


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    Quote Originally Posted by davidgra View Post
    ...we're never feeling the need to "maximize" a day in any particular park. We're not concerned about missing something in order to dine. We don't use dining plans and we don't eat at more than one table-service restaurant per day....With dinner reservations, we don't worry about which park we start the day in; we just head to the park where our reservation is in the late afternoon....And, yes, the quality of dining did drop noticeably after the introduction of the free dining plan, but it really seems to be turning around. We've had some EXCELLENT meals on recent trips....we always look for one or two places where we've never eaten before, and then we go online and set everything up.
    Wow - we are identical on our observations and vacation dining habits!
    Dan
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    Good comments all and I can't disagree. I will, however, offer two observations that may impact ADRs and schedules:

    1. I also get park hours early and plan using them. On our upcoming trip, I learned with 7 days to go that the hours had changed - in some cases significantly. MK was due to close at 9:00. now it's 1:00 AM (not EMH night). AK hours extended on several nights. DHS is closing early one night for a private event. You can see how these might wreak havoc with a dining schedule.

    2. We also park hop freely - hit a park in the morning, break and hit a different park in the evening is our standard M.O. The restaurant we choose to have dinner will typically dictate which evening park we will visit. As I mentioned, the wrench here is when you learn tonight may be your only chance to catch Wishes (or MSEP or...) and your ADR is in a different park.

    Steve

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    And as I said, at that time you just have to decide what you want to do more - keep your existing dining rez or change plans and go to the MK, and just get dinner where you can. Yeah, it can be an adjustment, one that would be a lot easier if you could book dining on the same day. But that's not the World we have today . . .

    Dan
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  26. #25

    Not having done a trip in a couple years (and being a notorious off-peak traveler) I haven't had as many issues with the advance booking. That being said, I understand the problem and the fact that it has much to do with the dining plan- people who probably would have eaten at the Electric Umbrella to save money for dinner are now eating at Le Cellier. I suppose Disney doesn't mind this, since the restaurant stays full but it's harder on the traveler.

    What I think Disney should do is open it's reservations on a rolling schedule. Let's say (for ease of argument) that there is seating for 250 people at Le Cellier. 125 of those seats should be opened at 180 days, another 75 seats opened at 90 days, and the last 50 seats opened at 30 days. Also, Disney should have an app (it very well might and I'm just not aware of it) that lists all available tables open in the World. You wake up in the morning, decide you're going to Epcot and then open the app and see if there are tables available. Make the information easily accessible and let people work out what htey want to do.

    That being said, the way I've approached my trips before was to make my dining reservations first. Then I work backwards as to what I want to do that day. If I know that I have a reservation at Narcosee on Thursday at 7:30, that means I have to be at the Floridian at around 7:15, which means I need to be on a monorail or a bus in time to get me there. Before that, I don't necessarily have anything locked in- so if I'm in the kingdom, that's easy- I can walk there, or if I'm tired, hop the monorail. If I'm in Epcot, it means I need to start doing my monorail ride over at 6:30 to the TTC to transfer to the resort loop. If I'm in the studios, then I need to catch a bus at 6:30 to the Flordian. Outside of my dinner, the rest of my day is still relatively spontaneous.

    The bigger threat to spontaneous traveling is if I can book my fast trips in advance- then I'm just checking off a list- be at Space Mountain at 9:30, be at Pirates at 10:45, etc... I can live with the dining thing, but let me roam the parks in peace...


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