Pros and Cons of Advanced Dining Reservations
I know that you’re excited about your next big Disney trip. You’ve added a countdown app to your phone so that you can see how many days away you are from your dream vacation. Once you’re at the 180-day mark, you should start thinking about your meals, at least some. Something you’ll have to decide is whether to schedule your dining plans in advance. Here are the pros and cons of Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs).
The pros of Advanced Dining Reservations fall into three main categories. Let’s quickly evaluate each one.
Certain reservations at Walt Disney World are difficult to get. Due to the overriding quality of the food and restaurant’s atmosphere, these places are constantly booked. Since Disney faces a physical limit to how many guests they can serve in an enclosed space, they just can’t add any more people. Cast members are aware of this problem and frequently express frustration that they have to send some potential customers away. There’s just not room.
MickeyBlog previously posted a few suggestions for substitute restaurants when your first choice is booked. Some of them like Akershus are superior to their more storied siblings in my opinion, but that’s not the point. The reality of Walt Disney World is that with 100,000 daily park visitors, you’re facing a lot of competition for the best tables.
With an ADR, you KNOW you will get to eat at your favorite place(s). With a confirmation in hand, nothing can stop you from the meal you’ve spent several months fantasizing about. Whether you’re looking forward to a character meal or special cuisine or a place with a fireworks view, you’ll get your wish with an ADR. It’s a sort of security blanket.
All three of the pros are similar ideas of a kind. All of these thought processes lead to the same eventuality. Out of the three, planning is the most controversial, which is why I’ll touch on it as a con, too.
When you have a few ADRs scheduled, you’ll discover that you have a much easier time setting an itinerary. You’ll know EXACTLY where you’ll be at a certain time on the day in question. With that information, you will know which parks or attractions are close to your location. You’ll identify them as the ones to target just before or after your ADR.
As an example, when you’re eating at Jungle Skipper Canteen, you should plan to ride at Magic Kingdom around that time, especially the attractions in Adventureland. Similarly, Be Our Guest is perfect before or after a few rides at New Fantasyland, particularly Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid.
At Epcot, the aforementioned Akershus is the ultimate partner to a Frozen Ever After Fastpass since they’re at the same spot. Many ADRs go a long way in helping you decide a direction for your Disney day, which saves you from dreaded analysis paralysis.
I’m emphatic on the point that unnecessary waiting at Disney parks is an unforgivable rookie mistake. You should always be thinking about the next thing that you do to avoid wasted time. You’ve spent a lot of money on a Disney vacation. You should maximize your time as much as possible to get the most out of your trip.
When you don’t have ADRs, you’ll have to wait at Table Service restaurants. This situation is unavoidable. In fact, you won’t even be able to eat at a lot of the best places like Be Our Guest and Chef Mickey’s. They’ll be totally booked and unable to seat you on many occasions.
With an ADR, you will have a precise time when your seating window opens. Now, you should understand that you won’t always get seated immediately. Sometimes, it could take 10-20 minutes, but you generally know the time that your meal will start. As long as you show up at the restaurant at the time of your ADR, you won’t waste time needlessly waiting.
Also, you should understand that Disney rarely seats people early for ADRs. So, don’t arrive 20 minutes early, thinking that you will get a table immediately. Instead, aim for the exact time of your ADR. It’s the sweet spot for minimizing wait-time at a Disney restaurant.
Some of the cons of Advanced Dining Reservations are obvious. Others are ones you may not have considered or even know about.
Must Book Early
Do you know what you’ll be doing six months from now? Does anybody? The problem with the 180-day window for ADRs is that you have to plan for something that will take place half a year from now. It requires a lot of anticipation far ahead of time. A lot of people don’t even decide where they’re going on vacation until a few weeks ahead of time.
With ADRs, you must lock into a Disney trip more than 180 days in advance and then book several meals around this time. Even if you don’t book right when the window opens, you’ll still need to book many lunches and dinners a few months prior to your trip. It’s an aggravation for many people. Some guests love to plan trips, but others find the idea frustrating.
Booking an ADR is totally free. There’s nothing stopping anybody from doing it. To prevent weirdos from booking lots of fake reservations, Disney’s set up a system to guarantee the authenticity of the ADRs.
When you book an ADR, you must provide a valid credit card. Disney stores this information on file as a preventive measure. Should you fail to cancel an unwanted ADR one day prior to arrival, you’ll be charged $10 per person on the reservation. This charge only happens when you don’t show up for your ADR and don’t cancel in advance. It’s an aggravation, though.
Some guests worry that they’ll either forget to show up or have something happen that causes them to miss the meal. In such scenarios, Disney may waive the fee, but it’s entirely up to them. So, the potential cancellation fee is an added level of stress during a vacation. The last thing anybody wants is to spend $10 or more for a meal they never even ate!
ADRS Are Table Service Only
I’m going to cover multiple cons in one catch-all final section. They’re all summed up as issues pertaining to Table Service restaurants. The main one is that you limit your flexibility when you book an ADR. As previously discussed, you know where you’ll be at a set time. Well, a lot of people don’t want that.
Many guests prefer a more carefree day at the parks, one where they go wherever they want whenever they want. It’s an understandable desire for liberty that’s just not possible with an ADR. You’re already booked, and you will be charged if you don’t show up for your meal. So, you’re going to eat at the place where you have an ADR. It dictates a portion of park time. That’s less than ideal to some Disney travelers.
The other timing element that’s problematic is the meal itself. When you eat at a Table Service restaurant, you’re generally going to spend at least 45 minutes eating. This time is in addition to any waiting you must do prior to getting seated. A good rule of thumb is to allow 75-90 minutes for a Table Service meal. Should you get out sooner than that, you’ve done well, especially at the busiest places.
The problem is that you can’t control the pace. You’re reliant on the host/hostess to seat you, your server to facilitate the meal, and the kitchen staff to prepare the food correctly in a timely manner. Any missteps will delay you a bit. When you book an ADR, you’re explicitly choosing a longer meal experience.
Finally, Mobile Ordering isn’t available at any Table Service meals at the time of publication. Hopefully, Disney corrects this longstanding oversight at some point soon. Until they do, however, you must pick between the comfort of a sit-down meal in a lovely restaurant or the convenience of ordering your food ahead of time on your phone. The latter scenario assures you of getting the meal that you want the way that you want as quickly as possible. The former scenario is lovely, too. It’s just slower.
On a personal level, I’m a devout user of ADRs. To wit, I’m a bit freaked out that a couple of my preferred restaurants haven’t had openings yet for an upcoming trip. I’m reduced to checking every day in hopes that a table opens. Otherwise, I’ll miss out on some of my favorite places during this trip.
I fully understand why some people eschew ADRs, though. All of the criticisms here are not just valid. They’re ones that each Mickey Traveler should carefully consider while planning a vacation.