Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disney World Part 2: ADRs and Dining

Tonga Toast at the Kona Café
We spent 8 days at Disney and Disney's diverse dining options made planning some great meals a high priority. We like to eat out and Disney has so much to choose from, so it was a little overwhelming at the beginning, but I realized quickly that getting restaurant reservations lined up was the first big part of planning a Disney vacation.

You can pay for meals out of pocket or use a dining plan, which allows you to pay upfront for credits you apply to meals onsite. There are five tiers of dining plan and we chose the Deluxe Dining Plan (really the middle tier) which offers 3 dining credits plus 2 snack credits per day. Everyone warned me that this was more food than we could eat, and yes, they were right, and yes we'd do it again. For us it took away the anxiety of worrying about prices every time we sat down.

Disney table-service restaurants can be hard to book and you need to make your reservations (ADRs or Advance Dining Reservations) as soon as you can, ideally six months to the day before your arrival. To prepare, I used my guides, my internet research and some TripAdvisor reviews to pick our restaurants, then I made two lists:
  • one list showing where we would eat breakfast, lunch (on some days) and dinner each day, and
  • a list of meals in the order that we would book them online through My Disney Experience.
I chose restaurants roughly around where we would be each day. When we planned to go to Animal Kingdom, for example, I booked something easy to reach from that park. And so on. Coordinating dining with park plans means less running around- and that makes a difference!

My Disney Experience is the portal through which you plan your Disney vacation. You can do hotel, restaurants, FastPasses, special events and more.

Everyone said to book the most popular reservations as soon as you log on, and book them as far out in your trip as you can. So if you want to go to Be Our Guest for dinner, let's say, book it first but make the reservation for the last day of your trip. Do this because when you go online exactly 180 days from your arrival date (your ADR date), you can book dining for your entire trip, and the days at the end of your trip are going to be available to fewer people than those at the beginning.

The night before our ADR date we opened up a bunch of browser windows to My Disney Experience. We got up at 5:30 am the next morning, had a light breakfast and coffee and got down to business on two laptops simultaneously at 6am sharp.

Fire performer at the Spirit of Aloha Luau at the Polynesian Resort
Twenty minutes later we had all of our desired dining reservations.

I realize not everyone will take this kind of approach, but it worked for us. Among the reservations we got were
  • Chef Mickey breakfast for our first day; Akershus, Ohana and 1900 Park Fare later,
  • Tusker House for lunch on our Animal Kingdom day,
  • Spirit of Aloha dinner show on our last night,
  • Be Our Guest for dinner. We were able to book BoG for breakfast when it became available for our dates later in the early fall.
  • Jiko, Narcoossee's and Flying Fish for dinner.
Except for Tusker House and Tony's Town Square on our first day, we did not book lunches in advance. We both agreed that would be too much and wanted to be able to wing it a little in the parks. We were able to walk into Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom on our park-hopping day, which was pretty great, and had a nice variety of meals during the week. We also tended to book breakfasts early and dinners late, to minimize rushing around.

Try the Grey Stuff- It's Delicious! It's offered for dessert at Be Our Guest.
Overall I thought the Dining Plan was a good deal for us. Nothing is going to be cheap at Disney and the menu prices are outrageous generally, so having most of the food paid for up front was nice. The only thing I would do differently is try to use more of the snack credits. We did use some at the end for treats to take home and I am still enjoying those, I have to say.

The nicest meals I had were at Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian and Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We ate at Narcoossee's on our first night and it was lovely to dress up a little and have delicious seafood in a Nantucket-style classy-casual place. Then we just got on the monorail and did a nighttime run around the Magic Kingdom. What could be better?

Next week- the travel binder.