I'm not so sure. I've made reservations. We've had numerous Character meals. It's nice. I'm just not convinced that its critical to a great Disney vacation. Next time we go to Walt Disney World I plan to go without any advanced dining reservations (ADRs). If I decide we want to eat somewhere specific I may call in a day or two before --or even just a few hours before --since walk up tables are notoriously hard to get at most Disney restaurants.
|Crowd level mid-week Magic Kingdom, first week of June|
Here is my experiment with Dining Reservations in the Spring of 2013.
- Split larger groups - a family of 4 becomes two groups of 2. Let them know when you arrive that you want to sit together. Disney meals that include photo packages (CRT, Akershus) will provide one package to each party of 4 or less. Booking as two parties means you get 2 photo packages!
- Use your phone to get a last minute reservation using the My Disney Experience app.
Disney charges a per person cancellation fee for Character and Signature Dining reservations that are not cancelled within 24 hours.That means that while Kona Cafe may not have a last minute table available Ohana might. The fee is typically $10 per person so if a party needs to cancel they will typically do it a day or two before - prime time for you to snap up a reservation.
It used to be that "the" reservation to get was Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT). It seems easier now. This may be because CRT requires 2 table service credits for anyone on the dining plan. It is also competing with the new Be Our Guest Restaurant. Be Our Guest was the one restaurant where I had trouble finding an opening. I scored a reservation for a party of 4 at 8:50PM just 2 days in advance.
There are only 14 restaurants with Character meals that I'm aware of. These seem to book up earlier than other restaurants.
90 days out:
I searched for mid-week dinner reservations for a party of 4 around 5:00 PM, with no particular restaurant in mind for the first week of June (not a low or high season) 6/3/2013 dinner
- 88 available choices including
- Character dining such as
- Cinderella's Royal Table
- The Crystal Palace and
- Hoop de Doo Musical Review
- Signature dining experiences including
- Coral Reef
- Le Cellier
- Victoria & Albert's
60 days out:
I found 86 restaurants with availability based on the same search I used at 90 days. There were still tables available for prime spots like the Fantasmic Dinner, Victoria & Albert's, Hoop De Doo, even Cinderella's Royal Table (at 9:20 PM).
I searched midweek for a Character breakfast. I found reservations for a party of 4 at most of the main restaurants. If I reduced the party size to 2 I was even able to get reservations at Cinderella's Royal Table at the most desired time -- before park opening! That means we could have been first in line for almost any ride. I chickened out because I didn't want to put down the almost $90 non-refundable payment.
Turns out that was a big mistake! While a credit card is needed to guarantee your table it won't be charged when you make your reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table. ONLY if you are a no show or cancel within less than 24 will it be charged the ten dollars per person. When you get to the meal you can pay with dining credits, another credit card, the same credit card, or cash. However, even guests on the Disney Dining Plan need to have a credit card on file to hold a table at this popular restaurant.
30 days out:
Still 85 restaurants with available dinner seating -seven within the Magic Kingdom. There were still character meals available including an early dinner at the Crystal Palace or a late dinner with the princesses at Akershus. Fantasmic dinner packages were available as were fine dining options such as Jiko, Monsier Paul, Hollywood Brown Derby, Narcoosees and Victoria & Albert's.
Mid-week character breakfast options for a party of 4 included Supercalifragilstic Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, Mickey & Friends at Cape May Cafe and Disney Junior friends at Hollywood & Vine - before park opening so you could be inside the park before rope drop! Can you say "first ones to ride Toy Story Mania"?
My opinion based on this admittedly informal research:
If you desperately want to eat at Cinderella's Royal Table or Be Our Guest, by all means put WDW-DINE on speed dial 180 days out and call, call, call until you get the table of your dreams. Another almost impossible reservation to get is the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party - call 180 days out if this is a MUST for you.
If you aren't as specific in your dining desires you can definitely let it slide.
Princess character meals seem to book up faster than other character meals. If your little darling wants to dine with the princesses I'd suggest making reservations at least 60 days out.
I'll follow up with day before & day of reservation results.