Advance Dining Reservations - Advanced Tips!

I had a few crafting posts scheduled for this week, but instead I wanted to share with you the story of my ADRs while the experience was fresh. 

For those of you unfamiliar, ADRs are "Advanced Dining Reservations". Disney World restaurants begin taking ADRs 180 days in advance. I wrote a bit about the different steps in trip planning earlier in my Trip Planning 101 post. The big disclaimer to that post is that I'm not saying this strategy is right for everyone--- I'm definitely a type A over planner, and the level of obsessive pre-planning would probably drive some folks bananas. I know there are lots of families that like to be very flexible and un-scheduled on their vacations. I'm just not one of those people. I like to know what I'm doing, when I'm doing it, and ensure that everyone gets to do as much of their "wish list" as possible. So, with that caveat, I'd like to share with you my "secrets" for getting every dining reservations on our wish list. 

In 2013 we planned a trip for 9 people for 9 days to Walt Disney World. Because our group was going in many different directions throughout the day, we wanted to schedule meals so we hand two points per day when we all came together to enjoy each other's company. That meant 18 dining reservations (which really ended up being closer to 30 when all was said and done) at some of the "exclusive" and hard-to-get restaurants like Belle's Castle and Cinderella's Castle. 

For our upcoming trip in 2015, planning started several months ago. As Disney Vacation Club Members (since 2011), we can take advantage of the member booking window for our home resort 10 months in advance. We made our initial reservations for Bay Lake Towers (our home resort), then at the 7 month window transferred that reservation for The Beach Club. I can't tell you HOW EXCITED I am to be staying at the Beach Club! Our trip has three portions: the first 5 days we will be visiting Disney parks and staying at the Beach Club, then we will be moving for 2 days to Cabana Bay, Universal Studio's new hotel, and visiting the new Harry Potter theme parks!  Then, we will be returning to Disney for 3 days and staying at Bay Lake Tower. In hindsight, I wish I had changed the final portion of our trip to the Floridian at the 7 month booking window--- the thought didn't occur to me until a few weeks past 7 months and by then the Floridian was all booked up. We've never stayed at the Floridian and would have loved to add that experience to this trip, but we'll just have to save that for the next adventure (hello 2017!)  :-)  All I can say is that I guess I was just sooooo focused/anxious about booking the Beach Club that I wasn't thinking about anything else! 

Once we had secured the Beach Club, I set about gathering everyone's wish lists together. This trip is for just 5, which makes is somewhat simpler than our last trip (though we are staying in 2 rooms at both Beach Club and BLT, which means that, on top of the separate reservations for Cabana Bay, I am juggling 5 separate hotel reservations!)  The girls' wish lists are loaded with princess-themed meals and activities, all of which really require advance planning. I had to institute a strict maximum number of costumes that they could bring with them because, if Viola had her way, she would be bringing all her dress up costumes and changing outfits for every character meet & greet!

I follow Kenny the Pirate's blog and as soon as the crowd calendar / park hours schedule came out for the dates of our trip, I got busy laying out our family touring plan. When the girls were very little and we were lugging bottles and diapers and two strollers, we scheduled to be in the same park for full days to reduce the hassle of buses and transportation. Now that they're a bit bigger, we're going to try to follow the advice to avoid the park with the EMH (Extra Magic Hours) and then park-hop back for the exclusive park time at the end of the night to avoid the higher crowds at the EMH park during the day. This is our first time park-hopping in a while, so I'll let you know how it goes. It has certainly made planning dining reservations a bit more difficult! 

I'm pleased to say that our ADR 180-day booking window was yesterday and that I was able to get every single thing on our wish list. Here's how I did it:


HOW TO GET EVERY RESERVATION! :-)


STEP 1:  MAKE A PLAN

As I already described above and on my Trip Planning 101 post, you need to make your trip plan in advance. I had this done at least a week in advance of the ADR date. Our plan went through several revisions as I got feedback from the rest of the family. We tried to imagine how the days would go, what risks might happen. We researched travel options between parks to make sure that our expectations were reasonable when making reservations for the same day at two different locations. One goal for this trip is to spend more time at the hotel pool (we tend to "go commando", that is spending all day every day in the parks. On our last two trips we spent precious little time in the pools and always regretted that after we'd left. On this trip we are staying at the Beach Club for the purpose of being able to swim at Stormalong Bay! while the kids are still little. (Squee!) So, I wanted to make our plans such that we were "forcing" ourselves to go back to the hotel for some meals, hoping that this would "make" us take time to swim. We'll see if this strategy works!) We also made the decision that, now that we are DVC members, that we wanted to focus on exploring the hotel we are staying at more than hopping between hotels. So, for instance, though Narcosee's was at the top of my husband's wish list, we removed it and researched restaurants like of the Flying Fish and the Yachtsman Steakhouse, hotels at or near the hotel where we are staying. On a future trip when we have the opportunity to stay at the Floridian we will be sure to focus on the Floridian's restaurants! Taking extra magic hours and expected crowd levels into anticipation, I laid out the following trip plan: 

Oh, by the way, here's a little extra tip: Because you are able to make your ADRs ten days out from your check-in date, you have the greatest booking advantage on the days at the end of your trip. So, if it works into your plans, try to schedule the hardest to get meals/experiences for the end of your trip. 


STEP 2: ASSESS DIFFICULTY 

The hardest restaurants to "get" are the signature dining locations and the character meals. But there are some restaurants within that elite list that are just impossible to get. These include: 

  • Cinderella's Royal Table (Cinderella's Castle)
  • Be Our Guest Restaurant (Belle's Castle)
  • The California Grill 
  • Hoop De Doo Review 
  • Mickey's Backyard BBQ 
  • Chef Mickey's
  • La Cellier
  • Victoria and Alberts 
  • Fireworks Viewing Locations (Rose and Crown, California Grill, Tomorrowland Terrace, etc.)

As a side note, I soooooo wanted to book La Cellier for this trip, but I was overruled in favor of other Epcot dining experiences. Le sigh. I guess it will have to wait until 2017. :-(

Alright, so here's what I do: Anything in my plan that's on that list above gets a 1. All other character dining or signature dining gets a 2. Everything else gets a 3. Remember, this isn't about how much YOU want to go to the restaurant OR where it falls in your trip, but rather how hard it is to book.  Then, I sort the list by the priority ranking. Easy, right? You'll notice that there are very fancy meals that aren't on the priority 1 list, like Ohana or the Perfectly Princess Tea Party---- though these are really awesome experiences, they don't book up like Cinderella's Castle does, so even if they're high on your to do list they still get a #2.

I put notes next to certain reservations, for instance if the meal HAS to be at a particular time, or if there are alternate dining options that would be OK, to minimize the amount of thinking on my feet that I have to do at 6AM. If what I want is booked up, I can check out the alternates and snag one of those real quick so I'm not completely out of luck.

A note about duplicate reservations: Disney's system is set up to kick out reservations for two restaurants at the same time. They did this because people were booking a couple restaurants so that they'd have choices the day of. This is great but if you're in a situation like I was in 2013 where you are making reservations for a large group of people, you might wind up needing to make two dinners for the same time slot. (For instance, the first night of our stay my family wanted to eat at TREX and my cousins' family wanted to eat at Ohana, so we planned to go our separate ways, but because we were staying in a suite with 1 reservation # it made making those reservations really hard. What we found was that the reservations have to be about an hour apart--- so you can schedule a dinner reservation for 5pm and another for 6, but you can't schedule two dinners for 5 pm.  Make sense?  On this trip we have a few duplicate situations where we are going our separate ways but because we are staying in two separate rooms I just made sure to identify the duplicates and divide them between my mom and I (so her dinner is under her hotel reservation and my dinner is under mine). 


STEP 3: DIVIDE AND CONQUER AND PREPARE

How many adults are in your group?  Divide the list up by that many. In my case, there is myself, my mom, and my husband. Each person gets a #1, then we divide up the #2s and #3s.  If there are competing 1's and 2's I will at this point put them in sub-order of what we want to do most.

Each person making reservations needs to have their own Disney.com account (login/password). Before reservation day I make sure that each person logs in and practices making a reservation--- you can cancel it right afterwards--- to make sure we are all aware of what the steps and process are, and to pre-fill in the credit card information. This saves crucial time the morning when you're trying to get those priority 1 reservations. 

My list of ADR assignments

My list of ADR assignments

My Mom's list of ADR assignments

My Mom's list of ADR assignments

Here's another little tip I discovered this time around: in the Disney website there is a "wish list" function. If you add the restaurants you will be making reservations at to this wish list it acts as a quick links when you are making the reservations, shaving crucial seconds off your booking time. You laugh, but those seconds can make the difference between getting Cinderella's Castle AND Belle's Castle or just Cinderella's Castle---- seriously! 


STEP 4: EARLY, EARLY MORNING / PRELOAD YOUR MVP!

I am not a morning person. I mean, I am really REALLY not a morning person. I'm something more like this... 

But on coronation day.... I mean, ADR day I am up at 5:30 AM. I splash water on my face, I do some jumping jacks, gargle some black coffee, and then pre-load my MVP reservation. That is my #1 priority 1 reservation. For us, this was Belle's Castle, Cinderella's Castle, and California Grill.  

But wait, you say, that's THREE #1s!  Right you are sir.  (Refer to Step 3). 

If you are particularly ambitious you could hypothetically set up two laptops side by side and log them both into one Disney account to speed up the process even further. I experimented with this yesterday and found that I could be logged in simultaneously and could make reservations from both machines but I could not hit "submit" on both machines simultaneously. As long as I alternated when I was hitting the submit button, I was able to load up the next restaurant and search for a ADR time as I was finalizing the previous reservation on the first reservation. The Dining reservation site has some weird lag and load times, and the process of finding your restaurant, logging your desired date and time, and finalizing the ADR can take up to two minutes per reservation. As I already said above, getting or missing a high priority ADR can come down to seconds. 

Once I've made the ADR, I log the time I was able to get and the confirmation number in my spreadsheet. Once I'm all done I go back and see if there are any reservations that are too far apart from my target time and I'll go back into the system and try to adjust it to get it closer to where I wanted. An example of that is the reservation we just made for "Fantasmic Dining" at Mama Melrose'. We wanted a dinner time (5:00ish) but the only reservation I could get was 3:45, so I took that but then afterwards I went back in and tried to move it later, but I didn't want to waste time fussing over one reservation when I still had a big long wish list to get through. 


STEP 5: 7AM SPEAK TO A PERSON / EVENTS

I understand that not everyone can/wants to make reservations online, and I respect that. But making online reservations does give you an advantage. I've seen for myself reservations that were available at 6:00 online are no longer available by 7:00 when the phone lines open up. I try to get everything I possibly can within the 6:00-7:00 window, and then at 7:00 I'll call up the phone lines and get those last tricky reservations and the Events reservations.

When calling at 7:00, the advice I've read is that you should start calling at 6:55 and keep hitting redial until it goes through because they might actually open at 6:59 or whatever. (IMO, this just means your clock is fast). Another good tip that's worked for me is that when you reach the recording and it asks whether you are in the Orlando area, to go ahead and say you are. This lets you bypass some scripted marketing stuff and gets you to a customer service rep a few minutes faster. Remember what I said about seconds?  Try WHOLE MINUTES!  This tip could make the difference between getting right into a rep or waiting a long, long time on hold.

Events (like the Pirates League and Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique) can't be booked online and so these have to wait until 7:00 when the phone lines open up. Something to keep in mind: if you call Disney Dining they can only help you with making Dining reservations, but if you call the Event number they can do BOTH events and dining, so you should call them if you need to make both types of reservation, otherwise you're going to have to sit on hold twice (once for dining then once for events). Booking the Events at 7:00 after making the dining reservations at 6:00 online worked well for me since several of the experiences we want are tied to meals, i.e. we wanted to time the BBBoutique makeover for only a few hours before dinner, and certainly if we hadn't been able to book the dinner at the castle we wouldn't have wanted to book the Boutique, etc.

The experiences tend to take longer because they have to read through all the details and gather payment and attendee ages, etc. for each event.  


THE END?

I'm happy to report that other than the unfortunate time for dinner at Mama Melrose's we were able to get everything on our wish list at the times that we wanted by following the above steps. The entire process took about three hours, however--- I was up at 5:30 and wrapped up with the experiences cast member at around 8:30.

But what if you weren't able to get everything you wanted? There are a few reservations that we'll have to keep calling about--- they're not making reservations for Cinderella's Castle yet because of the refurbishment, and they don't have the schedule for the Pirate and Pals Fireworks Cruise, so this is where persistence comes in. If you have one or two important reservations that you weren't able to get you should keep calling, at least weekly if not daily. You don't need to call at 6am, but make sure you are calling regularly (even and especially right up to the day before and the day of your desired ADR) because people do cancel reservations all the time! 

I wait until AFTER the 180 day mark, once the reservations are set, to add up how many Table Services we need and to make a decision about which dining plan we'll get (if any). Looks like we'll be doing the Deluxe Dining again this trip.

So, what reservations did we get? Feast your eyes on the coming feasting.... ;-) 

  • TREX
  • California Grill (timed for fireworks!)
  • Flying Fish
  • Akershus
  • Mama Melrose' (fantasmic package)
  • Sci-Fi Diner
  • Hollywood & Vine
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse
  • Biergarten
  • Be Our Guest Restaurant (Belle's Castle) 
  • The Plaza
  • Cape May Cafe
  • California Grill 
  • Liberty Tree Tavern
  • Chef de France
  • Coral Reef
  • Tony's Town Square
  • Crystal Palace
  • 1900 Park Faire (Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner)
  • Tusker House
  • Yak & Yeti Restaurant
  • Tomorrowland Terrace (fireworks viewing and dessert party)
  • Chef Mickey
  • O'hana
  • Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique
  • Pirate's League
  • Kid's Pirate Cruise (Albatross Voyage sailing from the Yacht Club)

I tried to be as thorough in this process description as I could be, but it's definitely possible I might have missed something. Do you have a tip you'd like to share? Please do so in the comments below! And best of luck to all of you making your Disney Dining Dreams come true! :-)