Yes I Did make Disney Dining Reservations at 180 Days from my Maternity Ward Hospital Bed

The one thing that seems to surprise people the most when researching or planning their Disney World Vacation is that a) you need reservations – I mean come on, it’s a theme park and b) that people make reservations for dining 6 months in advance – who knows where they want to eat 180 days from now.

Disney’s current reservation system does allow for dining reservations to be made 180 days in advance. A few years ago they switched their system to 90 days, but switched back in a relatively short period of time.

Does this mean that you should start to panic if you are travelling to WDW in less than 180 days and have not yet made any reservations? The short answer is No. It is quite possible to go to WDW with few or no reservations and have a great time, but like most things Disney a little bit of pre planning can go a long way in maximizing your fun and your dollar.

Characters

One of the favorite activities of many kids (and adults) is seeing the characters and collecting autographs. The line up to see characters can often be as long if not longer than many rides (I once lined up with my daughter for over an hour to see the fairies). Disney offers a number of character dining experiences where 3-4 characters will come right to your table to sign autographs and photo opportunities. These character dining opportunities are very popular and this is one area where I would recommend getting reservations as soon as possible.

Dining Plan

Disney offers a variety of dining plans. We have both purchased the plan and have received it free as part of the promotion. The regular dining plan and the deluxe dining plan provide credits for daily sit down meals so if purchasing the dining plan (or getting it for free) it is best to make reservations

Early Entry into the park

Want to avoid the crowds at Rope drop. Schedule a breakfast inside the park before the park actually opens. One of our favorites is to have breakfast at the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom at 8am when the park opens at 9:00am. At 9:00am not only are we done breakfast and are in the park, but since Tusker House is situated in the Africa section of the park we are ready to jump on all the rides before everyone else makes it there.

Hidden treasures

Did you know that reservations at Askerhus and Cinderella’s Royal table come with a photo package? This is particularly a great deal at Askerhus since when using the dining plan the meal is only 1 Table Service Credit.

Advance Dining Reservation Tips

Book reservations at 180 Days if possible. You will get the best selection of dining times and restaurant availability.

If you don’t get the restaurant you want check back frequently. Cancellations happen daily and don’t forget to check the day before or day of since many restaurants require 24 hour notice to avoid a cancellation charge on your credit card.

Not sure how to figure out where you are going to want to eat every day. Start by looking at the park hours and plan which park to visit each day. Then plan your reservations around where you will be.

The Great On Site, Off Site Debate

Many seasoned Walt Disney travellers fall into one of two categories: On Site or Off Site. On site travellers will boast about the benefits of staying at a Walt Disney World Hotel such as extra magic hours, free transportation and being “right in the magic”. Off site travellers will talk about the value of off site hotels, full kitchens and an opportunity to visit restaurants and stores outside of Walt Disney World.

For the most part my family has been an onsite family. We enjoy being able to arrive at Orlando Airport and be swept away by Disney to the Happiest Place on Earth. We are happy to use Disney’s Dining plan to eat all of our meals on site and to remain on Disney Property until it is time to leave for the airport.

There are also many benefits to staying off site. For the price we pay to stay at a Deluxe resort another family could rent a larger room or suite off site visit the Disney parks every other day and stay twice as long for roughly the same price and since they make many of their meals in the full kitchen provided in their condo staying a second week doesn’t increase their food costs.

So which is best?

Like many things with Disney it is really up to you and your family. For me vacationing means not having to do many of the chores and responsibilities of home so I prefer to eat at restaurants during my vacation rather than cooking my own meals.

When we travel to Disney World we enjoy immersing ourselves in the magic for 7-8 days and are happy to remain on property that entire time. We enjoy allowing Disney to transport us everywhere we need to go, we take advantage of the extra magic hours and planning restaurants for our meals can be part of the fun.

Last year we had our first opportunity to travel to Disney with our vehicle which opened our eyes to many of the experiences staying off site has to offer. While we were staying on site at All Star Music, we were not visiting the parks every day so for the first time we ventured outside the gates of Walt Disney World. Here is what we found.

Starbucks – Now this point will be moot by summer 2013 when the First Starbucks will open at WDW, but travelling off site gave us the opportunity to experience coffee other than the Nescafe slug that WDW tries to pass off as coffee.

Some of the hotels outside of WDW are beautiful. Last year was the first time in 5 visits that we had ventured off property and we were pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful many of the offsite resorts are and how close they are to the WDW gates.

Parking at WDW is not that bad. We decided to take our van to the Magic Kingdom rather than waiting for Disney Transportation. Having never parked at the Magic Kingdom we were pleasantly surprised at how easy the process was.

This year we are again traveling to Orlando and are staying 6 nights before our Disney Cruise. Given our experiences last year we have decided to stay off site for the first time ever.

Comparison of on site/ off site by price – Late August 2013

OnsitePop Century $100 per night

  • Standard room – 2 double beds
  • 3 pools
  • Food court
  • Free parking
  • Free Wifi
  • Fridge in room
  • No resort fee
  • Transportation included to all WDW parks

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Caribe Royale – $97 per night

  • 2 Queen bed suite with separate bedrooms
  • Pool with waterfall and slide
  • Gym
  • 3 restaurants
  • Fridge and microwave in room
  • Free parking
  • No resort fees
  • WIFI available, but fee applies
  • Transportation available, but best to use your own car

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This is a comparison of 2 hotels prices approximately the same price – one inside Disney World and one just outside of Disney Property. It is no means an exhaustive comparison of onsite vs. offsite.

Take a Deep breath . . . It’s the Happiest Place on Earth

Maybe you have decided to take a family vacation to Disney World, maybe your are considering it, but are already overwhelmed by the thought. Planning for a successful Disney World vacation can take some effort, but it can also be one of the best family vacations out there.

Sure you can book a hotel and show up in Orlando and do Disney. You will ride the same rides see the characters and watch the fireworks so why bother with all the pre planning which can start 6 months + before you leave? Disney World is a huge Travel and Entertainment complex. There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 24 hotels and approximately 139 restauarnts. Taking the time to plan your trip in advance allows you not just to go to Disney World, but to truly plan a memoriable vacation experience for your entire family. If your idea of a vacation includes 5 start dining and a luxurious hotel – Disney can do that. More interested in a budget hotel and quick on the go food – Disney can do that too. Most people fall somewhere in between and with the right planning (and the right help) you can creat a customized vacation to fit your needs.

The most important thing is to take a deep breath and take planning one step at a time. While you wouldn’t expect to see everything Disney has to offer in a single day you can’t expect to plan for Disney in a single day.  You can certainly plan a marathon to get the planning done and out of the way, but why would you when planning can be part of the fun. This blog series will take a look at the main components of planning a Disney Vacation one step at a time everything from when to go, where to stay and where to eat.