Advanced Dining Reservations vs. Mobile Ordering
When you’re at Walt Disney World, you’re going to eat. A LOT. While planning your trip, you may wonder how you should approach your meals. Would you rather plan a lot or be a bit spontaneous? Disney has you covered either way. Let’s take a look at how. Here’s a comparison of booking Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) vs. Mobile Ordering.
What Are Advanced Dining Reservations?
Walt Disney World is the most popular entertainment complex on the planet. Four of the most trafficked theme parks all reside here. With hundreds of thousands of vacationers each day, the management of the Most Magical Place on Earth is complicated. Disney is never quite sure how many people will show up, especially at restaurants.
To give park planners a better idea of throughput, Disney introduced Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs). These are restaurant reservations that guarantee the holder a table at a given time. In other words, you can book your favorite Disney eateries well ahead of time. The scheduling window for your ADRs is 180 days prior to the start of your vacation.
Pros of Advanced Dining Reservations
The pros outweigh the cons on both Advanced Dining Reservations and Mobile Ordering. Both services are efficient and customer-focused. Let’s take a quick look at the advantages.
Guaranteed Tables at Disney’s Best Restaurants
The advantage of ADRs is simple. You have a guaranteed table at your favorite Disney restaurants. Without an ADR, well, you’ll face the same fate that I did. During the planning phase of my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, I ran up against a marathon weekend. Hotels were largely booked, even though it was almost four months ahead of time.
As for my favorite restaurants, ha! My attempts to book my preferred spots were comically doomed to fail. We had no chance at Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table. We had so little luck with our booking that we ate counter service meals much more often than usual.
Less Time Waiting in Line
One of the misconceptions about ADRs is that you’ll walk into the restaurant and get seated immediately. This almost never happens at Walt Disney World, no matter where you eat. When you book an ADR, however, you acquire “front-of-line” access, which means that you’ll get seated ahead of any walk-up diners.
It’s a more efficient dining experience. Most of the time, you’ll have a table in less than 15 minutes, even at the most crowded Disney restaurants.
Segments Park Days Nicely
What I’ve discovered over the years is that ADRs help me plan my park days better. When I know where I’ll be for lunch and dinner, I have an easier time selecting the activities surrounding the meals. I’ll remember to avoid stomach-churning attractions right after I eat, and I can book FastPasses based on where I’ll be right before/afterward.
ADRs require more decision-making in advance, but they take the decision-making out of the time I spend in the parks. Since it’s more intense at the park, this is a welcome exchange for me.
Cons of Advanced Dining Reservations
The main drawbacks of skipping ADRs are tangible and intangible. One is opportunity cost, while another is actual cost, at least if you forget to cancel. And then there’s the fly in the ointment for the spontaneous. Let’s take a quick look at the cons.
The inarguable disadvantage of skipping ADRs is that you’ll get shut out of your favorite restaurants. While the Walt Disney World campus has literally hundreds of places to eat, people tend toward the same locations. Many of the top 25 restaurants sell out weeks if not months in advance, especially at peak hours. When you don’t book ADRs, you’re choosing not to dine at ‘Ohana or Be Our Guest or Akershus or…you get the point.
Some people like to plan. Others are naturally spontaneous and prefer to treat every vacation as an adventure. The latter category of people won’t like ADRs. For many of the restaurants I just mentioned, you’ll need to book 180 days in advance or, at the very least, soon afterward to guarantee a table. If you’re like me and don’t know what you’re having for dinner, planning a meal for six months from now borders on psychotic.
Potential Cancellation Fees
Without some skin in the game, nobody would ever worry about canceling an ADR. They just wouldn’t show up for the meal. Disney knows this, and it explains why they introduced a penalty for guests who book ADRs but don’t eat at the restaurant.
When you skip your ADR, you’re billed $10 per person in the party, which adds up quickly for families. You certainly don’t want to pay $50 for skipping a meal for a party of five. As long as you cancel more than 48 hours before your ADR, you won’t get billed, but it’s an important sticking point to remember.
What Is Mobile Ordering?
In recent years, digital ordering has grown in popularity at technologically advanced restaurants. Many popular fast food chains have introduced some version of mobile ordering. This process lets hungry people pull out their smartphones, order a precise meal, and pay for it all via mobile service. Then, they can either pick up their food or have it delivered.
In 2017, Disney brought Mobile Ordering to its theme parks. Park visitors simply pull up the My Disney Experience app, choose a restaurant, pick their food, and submit the order. When the person is ready for their meal, they notify the restaurant via a button press in the app. Then, they walk to a special Mobile Ordering section and pick up their food. It’s seamless, user-friendly technology that dramatically reduces the stress of order food at Walt Disney World.
Pros of Mobile Ordering
Mobile ordering isn’t as arcane as Advanced Dining Reservations. You don’t need to conceptualize a day at Walt Disney World as much to understand the pros and cons here. You may have even used some form of mobile ordering in your hometown. You already understand the mechanics of it.
This is the depth and breadth of the conversation. When you choose Mobile Ordering, you’re maximizing your park time. You’re likely standing in line at an attraction. Since you’re not doing anything else, you might as well whip out your phone and order your next meal, right?
Mobile Ordering is simple and straightforward. You can order anytime; however, Disney won’t prepare your food until you signal that you’re ready. You have complete control of what you get and when you get it. Given the sometimes chaotic nature of a park visit, it’s a rare and appreciated ability.
You wouldn’t save much time with Mobile Ordering if you still had to wait in line, right? Well, Disney thought of everything with their service. When you use Mobile Ordering, you can skip the line entirely. You’ll walk up to a special section of the restaurant reserved just for customers like you.
This Mobile Ordering station is where you’ll find your food waiting for you when you arrive. Who doesn’t love skipping the line at Disney? It doesn’t even matter what the line is. I’ll take the moral victory whenever I can get it.
Cons of Mobile Ordering
During the earliest days of Mobile Ordering, some criticisms existed. You couldn’t use the Disney Dining Plan, as an example, and only a handful of restaurants participated. The former is no longer true, and the latter is much less of an issue.
No Table Service Restaurants
The most significant remaining sticking point of Mobile Ordering is an understandable one. This service is intended for counter service restaurants, places where you grab your food and go. Disney has yet to implement a similar structure for Table Service meals.
You may wonder why you’d even want Mobile Ordering at sit-down meals. The answer is, once again, efficiency. Theoretically, you could order a high-quality meal for your entire traveling party before you ever arrive at the restaurant. Your server would know what you want and start preparations the moment that you sit down, saving valuable park time.
To date, Disney hasn’t seen the value of this premise. They’ve kept Mobile Ordering exclusive to Quick Service restaurants. And they’ve even maintained some selectivity with those…
Not Available at Most Resort Restaurants
When the Centertown Market expansion at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort opened, Disney did something new. They added Mobile Ordering at the restaurant, making it the first resort eatery to have this service available. This decision is quite frustrating as resorts are the ultimate grab-and-go meals.
You can order something and then either take it back to your room or pack it to eat on your way to the park. Mobile Ordering frankly should be available at Quick Service restaurants at Disney resorts. It’s a huge oversight that will hopefully get corrected soon.
Choosing between Advanced Dining Reservations and Mobile Ordering
Ultimately, smart travelers will employ both. Presuming that you want the best possible Disney experience, you’ll want to book a series of ADRs for the finest restaurants onsite. Without ADRs, you’re all but certain to get shut out of the best places, the ones that Disney fanatics know to reserve at first opportunity.
You don’t want to book Table Service restaurants exclusively during your trip, though. You’ll overeat and feel bloated on some rides, which can lead to…unpleasantness. Sometimes, a quick burger and fries are what you need. In those instances, Mobile Ordering is the perfect medium to get the food that you want at your pace.
To a larger point, the formula here is simple. Planners and fans of sit-down meals should favor Advanced Dining Reservations. The impulsive and uninhibited should lean toward Mobile Ordering since it’s better for spontaneous park days. Fans of counter service restaurants should pick Mobile Ordering, too. Its efficiency just can’t be beaten.