How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 4

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Dining & Special Events

Our last part of this series was about putting together a schedule and I know that wasn’t very exciting. But now that we are to part 4, it is time to talk about dining and special events at both resorts, and how to make choices and reservations. Disneyland and Disney World operate differently on dining, as well as many other things, so I will separate information by parks.

Disneyland

For dining, there are three different kinds of dining for Disney: Table-Serve, Quick-Serve and Character Dining. Table-serve restaurants are sit-down restaurants that accept advanced reservations. They are usually more expensive than quick serves. Quick-serve restaurants are where you order at a counter and either wait for your food at the window or it is brought to your table, but you do not have a waiter/waitress. These locations also include the food courts at some hotel locations (Disney World only). Character Dining are special meals that include meet & greets with specific characters, either for a special photo op or at your table. These are also more expensive and accept advanced reservations.

Character Dining

Goofys

Goofy’s Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel

At Disneyland, there are five character dining experiences:

  • Ariel’s Grotto at California Adventure that includes a Princess celebration
  • Disney’s PCH Grill breakfast at the Pacific Pier hotel with Mickey and friends
  • Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel with Goofy and various characters
  • Plaza Inn for breakfast at Disneyland with Minnie & Friends
  • Storyteller’s Cafe breakfast at the Grand Californian with Chip and Dale

These dining experiences accept advance reservations which we highly recommend, otherwise you will be waiting for quite awhile for a table. The most popular are Ariel’s Grotto and Goofy’s Kitchen. But if you make reservations well in advance, you should be able to get the day and time you are seeking.

Table Serve Restaurants

Carnation

Carnation Cafe on Main Street at Disneyland

Disneyland has limited options for table serves besides character dining, and some locations are not suited toward young children. The Preschoolears website has reviews and information on dining. You can also view some menus on the Disneyland website as well as AllEars.net. Here are the choices for table-serves:

  • Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue
  • Blue Bayou
  • Cafe Orleans
  • Carnation Cafe
  • Carthay Circle
  • Wine Country Trattoria
  • Resort Dining:
    • Napa Rose
    • Steakhouse 55

There are additional table serve restaurants at Downtown Disney but most cater to the adult crowd more than kids, except Rainforest Cafe. Most require reservations but you have to make those reservations with the restaurant directly and not through Disney. When you call the Disneyland Dining reservations number, they can provide you with the direct number for any of these restaurants for which you are trying to make reservations.

Carthay Circle Restaurant at California Adventure

Carthay Circle Restaurant at California Adventure

Quick-Serve Restaurants

There are many choices for quick-serve restaurants at both parks and most have fare that kids will enjoy. To look at reviews and information for each, visit the Preschoolears website. It is best to pick out some of your favorites before you arrive so you don’t waste time at the parks trying to figure out where to eat.

Disneyland Dining Plan and Ways to Save

Disneyland does offer a dining plan, but when compared with simply using cash, it doesn’t save you more than a couple dollars. And it only gives you vouchers for meals instead of using cash. The Disneyland Dining Plan is not something that we recommend. A better way to save money at the parks with dining is to bring your own snacks and water. Disney will allow you to bring your own cooler (soft-sided) so you can save quite a bit bringing munchies for the kids, which will also keep hunger meltdowns at bay. If you have an Annual Passport or are a DVC member, you can receive a discount on dining throughout the resort, just be sure to ask at each location what discounts they accept.

Special Events and Dining at Disneyland

Halloween Party at Disneyland

Halloween Party at Disneyland

In addition to the character and table serves, there are special events and dining experiences that will require advanced reservations. Keep in mind that some experiences will take quite a bit of time so factor that into your schedule (i.e. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can take over an hour)

  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Pirates League
  • Studio 365 (Downtown Disney)
  • Fantasmic Dessert package
  • World of Color Dining Package (lunch or dinner)
  • World of Color Picnic Package (lunch or dinner)
  • Halloween & Holiday Party Tickets
  • Limited Time Magic events (for 2013 only)
  • Tours
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland

How to Make Reservations

If you now know what you would like to do and where you want to eat, it is time to make reservations. Reservations at Disneyland can be made 60 days in advance. Disneyland only makes reservations by phone and the number is (714) 781-3463. The phone number for making reservations for special events and experiences is (714) 781-7895. One draw back with Disneyland is there are no benefits for those planning to stay on property when making reservations. When making reservations, try to be flexible with time as you may have to go earlier or later than you had planned. Make sure you have your room reservation number if you are staying on property so they can link your reservations to your room. And write down all confirmation numbers and bring them with you. When making reservations, confirm what the time cut-off is for arrival, in case you are running late. There is a grace period for most restaurants but not all. Ariel’s Grotto in particular does meals by seating times, so a late arrival there may mean that you won’t be seated.

Disneyland Dining Tips

  1. Priority Seating – reservations at Disneyland are different than in the rest of the world. It is really only “priority seating” which means you will be waiting a bit even if you arrive at the right time.
  2. Menus Online – as mentioned before, it is a good idea to look at kid’s menus online before your vacation so you make sure there will be something for your kiddos to eat, especially if you have a picky eater.
  3. Dining early, which most kids enjoy anyway, will help avoid heavy crowds at meals and will also help avoid kid’s hunger meltdowns
  4. Germs – remember to have hand-wipes and Purell to clean up before you eat. And if it is a buffet, wipe those hands after you touched ten different serving spoons!
  5. Table Entertainment – For table serves, bring some entertainment for the kids at the table, especially for toddlers and preschoolers. Some sit-down meals can go slow and this may buy you a few extra minutes of sit-down time.

Disney World

Disney World offers many choices of dining, at both parks and resorts. Again, the same terms apply for types of dining: table-serve, quick-serve and character dining. Disney World also has dinner shows. One of the biggest differences between Disneyland and Disney World is the dining plans.

Dining Plans

disneydiningplansnackcredit

Disney Dining Plan symbol for snack credits

There are 5 dining plans, and the Premium and Platinum plans include additional experiences and perks than the three basic dining plans. Dining plans are based on nights of stay, i.e. if you are staying 8 nights, you will have 8 days of meal credits. Unused snack and meal credits can be used anytime during your stay, so if by your last day, you have 5 snack credits to use, you can use them anywhere, even for treats to bring home. Children under the age of 3 cannot be added to the Dining Plans because they consider them to eat for “free”. It is free when you visit a buffet, but in all other cases, they will either have to eat off your plate or you will have to order them a meal and pay for it out of pocket. There are some great Power Packs that include yogurt, crackers and string cheese and I like those for toddlers. Not all quick-serve locations offer them. Also, most reservations require either a credit card at time of reservation or confirmation of a dining plan. Some also require a credit card in case of no-shows – they will charge a $10 fee per person if you don’t show up. Any restaurant that is a signature restaurant will require two table serve credits on the three basic plans.

Character Dining

1900 Park Fare breakfast at Grand Floridian at WDW

1900 Park Fare breakfast at Grand Floridian at WDW

There are ten character dining choices at Disney World, in both parks and resorts. Keep in mind that these dining experiences can take longer than other meals, so factor that into your schedule.

  • 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian hotel – hosted by Mary Poppins and friends (B)
  • Akershus Royal Banquet in the Norway pavilion at Epcot – hosted by Princess Aurora and other princesses (B,L,D)
  • Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club Resort – hosted by Mickey & friends (B)
  • Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort – hosted by Mickey & friends (B,L,D)
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom – hosted by Cinderella and other princesses (B,L,D)
  • Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom – hosted by Winnie the Pooh & friends (B,L,D)
  • Garden Grill at Future World in Epcot – hosted by Chip & Dale (D) **Dining Plan not accepted
  • Garden Grove at the Swan Resort – hosted by Goofy (B,D)
  • Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios – hosted by Disney Junior characters (B,L)
  • ‘Ohana’s at the Polynesian resort – hosted by Lilo and Stitch (B)
  • Tusker House at Animal Kingdom – hosted by Donald and Friends (B,L)
Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom

Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom

All character dining experiences are geared for families which makes a more relaxed atmosphere. Cinderella’s Royal Table is a signature dining experience so it requires two dining credits on the dining plan.

Table-Serve and Quick-Serve Restaurants

There is a huge selection of table and quick-serve restaurants at Disney World. And you will find many choices at the parks, resorts and Downtown Disney. There is also dining at the two water parks. On preschoolears.com we have reviewed most of the dining locations and give descriptions and tips for them. You can also visit the Disney World website for menus and descriptions. Table-serve restaurants accept advanced reservations and we highly recommend making those at the 180 day window. With the popularity of the dining plans, most guests at the parks are eating at table-serves, so reservations can be hard to come by if you wait. For quick-serve restaurants, we recommend making choices before you arrive so you have a plan and don’t waste time choosing where to eat.

Resort Dining vs Park Dining

With over 20 hotels and resorts at Disney World, there are a lot of unique and amazing dining options outside the parks. Not all options are “kid-friendly” though so looking at menus online is helpful. Also, not all dining outside the parks is included on the dining plan. When making these reservations, keep travel time in mind. Buses do not travel from resort to resort, so if you want to have a character breakfast at a different hotel than the one you are staying at, you will need to take at least two busses to get there or travel by monorail. This traveling can take a lot of time. But don’t rule out dining at resorts because some of the best dining experiences are outside the parks!

Special Events and Dining

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

There are some fantastic special events and dining at the world, but they all require reservations. Here is a list of all the many adventures to choose from:

Dining:

  • Candlelight Processional Lunch or Dinner Package (seasonal)
  • Fantasmic! Dinner Package at Hollywood & Vine or Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness
  • Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness
  • Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Grand Floridian
  • Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort
  • Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom
Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street at Magic Kingdom

Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street at Magic Kingdom

Experiences:

  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Downtown Disney or Magic Kingdom
  • Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney (Hot Air Balloon)
  • Chip & Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-Long
  • Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street at Magic Kingdom
  • La Nouba (Cirque du Soleil) at Downtown Disney
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (seasonal)
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (seasonal)
  • Pirate Adventure Cruise at Grand Floridian, Caribbean Beach Resort, or Yacht & Beach Club
  • Pirate & Pals Fireworks Voyage at the Contemporary Resort
  • Pirates League in Magic Kingdom
  • Tours (there are many, many tours and some have age restrictions)

For reservations for tours, call (407) 939-8687. You can also visit the Disney World website for more details on each event or dining experience. For reservations for special events and experiences, call (407) 939-7529. You can also visit any guest relations for making reservations once you are at the parks.

Making Reservations

Disney World’s reservation system can be accessed by phone or online. To access the reservation system online, visit the Walt Disney World website. The phone number for reservations is (407) 939-3463. Keep in mind the time change if you live far away from Florida. Also, have your room confirmation number so all reservations can be linked to your room. Remember that guests staying at WDW resorts are allowed to make reservations 180 days out from arrival plus the following 10 days. So if you are going for a week long trip, then at 180 days out from your arrival, you can book all of your dining for the trip on that one day. This is an advantage to those staying on site and is one of the differences between Disney World and Disneyland dining reservations. Also, be sure to write down all confirmation numbers and bring them on your vacation. The two most popular reservations right now are Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table, so if your planing to dine at either of these, they should be booked first thing in the morning at your 180 day window.

MagicBands

If you are staying at a resort on property, you will probably be issued a MagicBand. This new technology is slowly rolling out at Disney World throughout 2014. The MagicBands are electronic bracelets for each member of your family, that have your park passes, hotel key, dining plan and reservations programmed onto them so all you have to do at kiosks throughout the parks is swipe your band. To add your dining reservations to your MagicBands, you need to log into My Disney Experience online. This website and app allow you to organize and enter all your reservations and needed information for your trip.

Ways to Save

The dining plans can save you money, if you opt for using them. Dining plans do not include gratuity, so keep that in mind as well. An 18% gratuity is automatically added to any party of 6 or more. They will also make traveling easier as you won’t be dealing with credit cards and cash as much. Another option for saving money is purchasing the Tables in Wonderland card which will give you discounts at over 100 restaurants at the resort. This card is only available for Annual Passholders, DVC members or Florida residents though. But if you are a frequent visitor, this could save you money on dining. As always, bringing your own water bottles and snacks will help save money. If you are staying at a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette, or in a DVC villa, this will allow you to have some breakfasts or lunches in your room and save on dining.

Dining Tips

Preschoolears has a lot of tips and advice on traveling with young kiddos to the parks, but here are a few tips to help:

  1. Be early – make reservations when your 180 day window opens, to make sure you are able to get what you want. Reservations disappear quickly.
  2. Waiting – “reservation” actually means “priority seating” so expect a little wait even if you arrive on time
  3. Menus – check out kids menus before you arrive at the parks so you know what restaurant will offer things your kids will eat.
  4. Add extra time – all dining experiences take lots of time, especially character dining. So keep this in mind when making your schedule and don’t expect it to go quickly
  5. Snacks – If you are planning to bring snacks into the park, pack some ziplock or reusable snack bags in your suitcase so you have a way of bring some crackers without bringing the whole box. Also, bring a small soft-sided cooler to pack your snacks in, which Disney allows you to bring inside the parks. No glass bottles allowed except for baby food.

Grocery Delivery at Both Parks

Our family always has groceries delivered when we are at Disney, which allows us to have snacks and fresh fruit on hand at all times. At Disneyland, the closest delivery grocery store in Vons. It helps to have a Vons card to get discounts, and they periodically run free delivery deals. You can place your order very easily on their website. For Disney World, the two grocery delivery companies are Garden Grocer and WeGoShop. Garden Grocers has a website you can place your order through, and WeGo is actually a delivery service that you give them your list and they go shopping for you.

All delivery places will have a minimum order amount required for delivery and also charge a delivery fee. We recently used Garden Grocers and they also charged us a fuel fee. All will deliver to whatever resort you are staying at and will give you a delivery window they will arrive. If groceries arrive when you are not there, Disney will keep your groceries in a refrigerator until the bell hop can deliver them to your room. The only time Disney will NOT accept groceries for you is if there is alcohol in the order – you will need to be present and meet the delivery staff for these orders.

Before you place your order, confirm what you will have in your room (i.e. fridge). DVC villas have either a kitchenette or a full kitchen. The kitchenette has a fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Full kitchens have the same plus a stove. All are stocked with dishes and silverware. A lot of the resorts now also provide a mini refrigerator in the rooms at no cost, which can be a plus for those ordering milk or other items that need to remain cold.


I hope this post has answered a lot of questions for dining reservations and special events, or at least can point you in the right direction. Once you have made the fun choices of where to eat or what to do, put those reservations into your organized plan. The schedule is important so you can see where you will be on a certain day, and plan your dining around that. The less running around will save you time and also keep your kids from getting worn out. Also keep in mind that young kids don’t eat as much as adults, so you may want to do less table-serves.

Our last post in this series will be all about final arrangements, packing and having fun! If you missed the other parts in this series, here is a link to each:

Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World
Part 2: When, Where and How
Part 3: Making a Schedule
Park 5: The Final Details

Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

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