Disney Dining 101 – Everything You Need to Know
You’re going to Walt Disney World for the time in a while! Fantastic! I’m confident you’ll have a wonderful trip.
However, much has changed with the food options at Walt Disney World. So, let’s quickly run through the basics in what I’m calling Disney Dining 101.
The Types of Restaurants
On the Walt Disney World campus, you’ll discover more than 200 restaurants.
Disney owns and operates some of them. However, it also has approved some third-party restaurants, especially at Disney Springs.
Disney divides all these eateries into two categories.
You’ll find the less expensive meals at Quick Service restaurants. Think of these places as somewhere between fast food and fast-casual dining.
Like restaurant chains in those industries, the food quality varies depending on where you go.
These fans expressed frustration that Disney didn’t reopen their favorite establishments.
Conversely, you won’t find many people willing to die on the hill that Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café delivers an unforgettable dining experience. It’s…fine.
I’m throwing out examples at Magic Kingdom, the place where you’re most likely to dine at a park so that you’ll have a baseline about what to expect.
Then again, you may possess a better palate and prefer better meals. You’ll find these opportunities at Table Service restaurants.
Think of the worst of these eateries as O’Charley’s or Outback Steakhouse.
The better places represent a foodie’s dream. At Magic Kingdom alone, you can dine at Be Our Guest, Skipper Canteen, or Cinderella’s Royal Table.
The food will cost more because you’re sitting down for a meal at one of Disney’s best restaurants. You’ll usually get what you pay for, though.
The Locations of Restaurants
I’m using Magic Kingdom as an example, but that’s only a small part of the bigger picture.
All four Walt Disney World theme parks host at least a dozen dining options.
These range from small counter-service kiosks to elaborately themed buildings.
Also, Disney operates two water parks and two entertainment districts that also feature many restaurants.
The place you’re most likely to visit primarily for dining is Disney Springs.
This giant entertainment complex hosts a movie theater, bowling alley, Cirque du Soleil show, and much more…plus all the restaurants you could want.
Somehow, that’s not all, though. The Disney resort where you stay will also offer at least one Quick Service dining option.
Upscale Disney resorts generally host multiple Quick Service AND Table Service restaurants.
So, on hectic days, you can wait until you get back to your resort to enjoy a good meal if that’s your desire.
How to Order and Pay
Here’s something significant about Disney restaurants. In 2017, some eateries introduced Mobile Ordering as an option.
This move seemed innocuous at the time. It was a way to reduce the crowds at Quick Service ordering stations.
Then, the pandemic occurred, and Mobile Ordering suddenly switched to the most significant technology at the parks.
To wit, Disney changed many of its restaurants to Mobile Ordering as the only option.
For you, that’s a positive. You don’t have to stand in line or have someone else touch your credit card here. You’ll pay through the app.
Disney will bill your credit card on file or charge the meal to your hotel folio.
Most Table Service restaurants work the way you’d expect. You ask the server for your bill, and they bring it to you.
However, Disney has also introduced Table Service to Go at a few places. It works just like Mobile Ordering, only with Table Service eateries.
How to Get a Table
Okay, here’s something important. The most popular restaurants at Walt Disney World book quickly.
You may think I’m exaggerating here. So, let me speak from experience. Before the pandemic, Disney accepted Advanced Dining Reservations 180 days out.
In other words, you could book a table at a restaurant SIX MONTHS before your visit. Believe it or not, several popular establishments would book at 180 days.
In fact, because many guests stay at Disney for several days, some places would already be fully booked before their 180-day window even opened!
Disney has recently switched to a 60-day window for Advanced Dining Reservations. So, 60 days before your trip, you can and should book some tables.
Otherwise, you’ll discover that the hottest new places like Space 220 and Steakhouse 71 are unavailable on your visiting dates. That would be tragic.
What’s a Character Meal?
I think you can suss out the vocabulary here. A character meal involves a Disney restaurant where characters come to your table and put on a show.
Due to current health concerns, you won’t physically touch the cast members, a policy that will change once the pandemic ends.
People loooove hugging Mickey & Minnie Mouse and their friends, but it’s unsafe right now.
Still, character meals remain entertaining because costumed cast members will act like your Disney favorites.
They’ll dress as Chip and Dale or Goofy or Grumpy the Dwarf. Then, they’ll perform just for you!
Some of my favorite Disney memories involve character meals, and I highly recommend them.
You should know that most restaurants with character meals generally charge more because, well, people like me happily pay more for these experiences.
What’s Family Style Service?
Okay, buffet meals are back at Walt Disney World. Before that, Disney leaned heavily on family-style service as its Plan B.
What’s family-style? Honestly, it’s a lot like buffets, only a server brings all the food to your table.
You don’t get to pick and choose the way you would at a salad bar. Instead, giant plants/skillets of food will appear out of thin air. It’s…pretty good.
Even before the pandemic, ‘Ohana had famously offered family-style service. And I would argue that’s why people are so passionate about the place.
What’s better than noodles? A complete stranger setting a giant plate of noodles down right in front of you!
Frankly, family-style service will spoil you. So, if you learn that a restaurant offers family-style, you should eat there.
What’s the Disney Dining Plan?
Hoo boy. This one’s an uncomfortable topic.
Historically, Disney has sold a dining plan package for some resort stays. You’d pay a set price and receive a series of entitlements.
Depending on which package you had, you could exchange these entitlements for a Quick Service meal or even a Table Service meal.
Disney even went so far as to offer a free Disney dining plan as an enticement. These packages always sold quality due to their tremendous value.
Alas, Disney hasn’t offered any dining plans during the pandemic. However, the company has indicated that dining plans WILL return in 2022.
When that happens, you can and should speak to an authorized Disney Vacation Planner like one of the experts at MickeyTravels.
Their services are free to you, and they can hook you up with the best dining plan to fit your traveling party’s needs.