Eating Your Way Around the World During #RWA17
From my experience at the RWA Annual Conference, I know my fellow friends in romance-land love both quick-eats when on the run as well as fine dining. At #RWA17, you’ll be on vacation, away from your routine and responsibilities, so why not treat yourself to a nice meal, sinful dessert, or order an over-the-top drink?
Fortunately, we are all in luck because dining at Walt Disney World Resort is an event all in itself. With over 80 sit-down restaurants and a diverse range of quick service and food booths, there are countless options to satisfy any palate. In this post, I’ll stick to chatting about food as it’s a more timely topic. [Edit: I covered drinks in this post on Free Time Fun.]
Disney has a great FAQ that gives you an overview of dining at Walt Disney World. While there are a variety of restaurants and quick service establishments that range from moderate to more expensive in price, remember you’ll be at a vacation destination and plan accordingly. I’ll provide some tips on how to stretch your dollars.
Dining at Disney does require some advance planning, especially if you want to experience the more popular establishments. Guess who’s here to help you? Me! So let’s get to it.
Why Do I Need to Make ADRs?
For many visitors to Walt Disney World, dining is just as important as scoring that all-important FastPass+ to a popular attraction. Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) at hard-to-get restaurants are coveted, and planners know that to score these reservations, it’s helpful to be ready to snag them as soon as they become available.
In addition, with so many people attending the Annual Conference (along with regular vacation guests), it will be difficult to dine in the conference hotel’s sit-down restaurants without an ADR. There’s no harm in booking some restaurants and canceling later if need be.
What Restaurants Should I Make an ADR for?
ADRs are solely for “Table Service” restaurants (think traditional sit-down/buffet dining with a server). “Quick Service Dining” (counter order type establishments) do not take ADRs with the exception of Be Our Guest at lunchtime.
This site describes the restaurants that are typically the most difficult to score an ADR and suggests alternative locations should you have no luck. Hard-to-get reservations include those restaurants with character greetings, amazing food, and over-the-top theming. Breakfast reservations within the Parks that occur prior to park opening are extremely desirable. While others will be waiting at the entrance to get into the Park, you’ll already have a head start.
If you’re planning to dine at a restaurant within a Park, you must have ticket entry. For example, say you want to dine at the beautiful San Angel Inn Restaurante at the Mexico Pavilion, you must have a ticket to Epcot as well.
There are five Table Service restaurants at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin (“Swolphin”) in which you can make ADRs: Fresh Mediterranean Market, Garden Grove, Il Mulino, Shula’s Steak House, and Todd English’s bluezoo.
Tip: Disney strongly recommends arriving 15 minutes prior to your ADR time. If you are late, you risk losing your reservation and being charged as a no-show. Ensure ample time to arrive at the restaurant.
But How Do I Know Where I’ll Want to Dine Months From Now?
That’s a valid question. Most people don’t know what they want for dinner until their stomach grumbles. You might also be thinking that by making ADRs so far in advance, it’ll take away from having a more spontaneous conference experience. Before you get frustrated with Disney, please read this entire post. I’ll share tips on how to get reservations at the last minute.
For those of you who will be exploring the Disney Parks outside the conference, planning your trip in advance will help reduce your time waiting in line and make for a more enjoyable, stress-free experience. By choosing which Park (or Parks) to visit on a particular day, you can then decide where you’d like to dine. When I go over FastPass+ reservations in the near future, I will discuss the art of picking and avoiding certain Parks during your stay. But for those who want to dive in early so they can make dining reservations later this month, I’d suggest reviewing the crowd calendars (some are not available just yet or require a fee) at easywdw.com, Undercover Tourist, Kenny the Pirate, and TouringPlans.com. Also, refer to Walt Disney World’s travel agent operating calendar to learn about each Park’s’ hours, show times, and Extra Magic Hours. Park hours are subject to change between now and then.
When Can I Start Making ADRs?
Now! The window to make an ADR starts 180 days before your resort check in. That means if you anticipate you’ll be checking in on July 25th, your window opened January 27th. To figure out when your window opens, you can utilize this handy calculator tool.
The ADR window begins at 6AM EST each day for the web/app and 7AM EST for reservations made over the phone. *You do not need a conference resort reservation to make ADRs 180 days (or less) out.*
Keep in mind, if you are staying at the Swolphin or are not a guest at a Disney-operated resort, you can make reservations for each day of your stay, one day at a time starting 180 days in advance. Therefore, if you check in at the Swolphin or a friend’s condo on July 25th, but aren’t looking for a restaurant until Friday, July 28th, you’ll have to wait until January 30th to make that reservation.
However, if you are staying at a Disney-operated resort, you can make reservations starting at 180 days and up to 10 day of your stay from the first day your ADR window opens. For example, if you check into Disney’s BoardWalk Inn on July 25th, you will be able to make reservations starting January 27th for your entire stay (so long as it’s not over ten days).
How Do I Make an ADR?
There are 3 ways to make an ADR: the Walt Disney World website, My Disney Experience app, and by telephone (call 407-WDW-DINE from 7AM-10PM EST). You will need a credit card to secure the reservation. When figuring out how many people you have in your party, you must account for babies/children. Even though an infant will not be dining on a rib eye steak, Disney needs to account for infants in your party to determine table arrangements and be in compliance with fire code regulations.
I find the website and app to be the easiest because you can search for reservations at any time of day once your ADR window has opened. It also takes longer to make a reservation over the phone.
When making your reservations, start with the most sought after restaurants first such as Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, Victoria & Albert’s, and character meals. Some restaurants do not allow you to make reservations for large parties via the web or app. You might have to call the restaurant directly. Call the Disney Dining line (407-WDW-DINE) to get the direct number to make a group reservation for the restaurant you desire. (Those planning group dinners during the conference should reserve early!)
Tip: Scoring a reservation to Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table (two of the hardest reservations to get) is not easy. But here’s how to increase your chance! Be ready when your window opens. Fire up your computer or phone and be sure you are logged in right before 6AM. Sometimes you might have to log out and re-log in again after 6AM passes for it to trigger the reservation window. If you encounter issues on these platforms, call the phone line at 7AM. If you are set on a particular restaurant, allow yourself some flexibility in your schedule so you can try for different times or days. You will have a better chance of getting the reservation if you book it toward the end of your trip as the window to make reservations will be open to fewer people at that time.
What if I Don’t Want to Make ADRs?
That’s fine, and you’ll still have plenty of options should you decide against making ADRs. Trust me, you won’t go hungry. Not at Disney.
As mentioned above, Quick Service Dining establishments are located throughout the Parks and Resorts at Walt Disney World. There are several places to eat at the Swolphin (conference resort) that do not require dining reservations. The Swolphin site describes dining options at the resort. You can also take a short stroll over to Disney’s BoardWalk where you’ll find quick and delicious eats in addition to some naughty treats. Here’s a list of recommended restaurants that one can typically be seated at without a reservation.
Another great dining option is to take Disney’s free bus transportation to Disney Springs. There’s so much to do there, you can make a great day/night out of it. All the Table Service restaurants are available to make ADR reservations. However, some of the restaurants at Disney Springs do not list all their available tables via the Disney site and app. Check out Open Table to see if they have additional reservation times available.
What if I am Reading this Blog Post After My “180 Day Window” Opens or I’m Unable to Get the Restaurant I Want?
Fear not for there’s still a chance to make reservations, even at Disney’s most popular restaurants. Persistence is key. With people canceling their ADRs (especially in the final days leading up to your desired date), there’s a chance to claim one as yours. That’s why having the My Disney Experience app on your phone will be your best friend especially during your stay. (The app is useful for a variety of reasons, not just for dining.)
You can also see if a restaurant is accepting walk-ups by checking in at the desk. Some restaurants might have availability, but be prepared to wait. You might have more luck if you try for a table during off-peak hours (before/after the lunch and dinner rush).
Tip! Say you have your heart set on dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table for breakfast, but you just can’t seem to get that elusive reservation. You probably don’t want to spend every day searching for an opening because you have that next great book to write or sell. That’s where the TouringPlans.com free Reservation Finder swoops in to save the day like your leading hero. Plug in a restaurant, date/time, and size of your party, and the Reservation Finder will start searching for you. While it will not make the reservation for you, should an opening pop up, it will generate a text alert to your phone. As soon as you see the alert, log into the Walt Disney World website or My Disney Experience app. Assuming you’re fast, you should be able to secure the reservation. You can have up to two reservation searches going at once. I’ve used this helpful tool a few times with amazing success.
What if I Need to Cancel an ADR?
If you wish to cancel your reservation, it must be done no later than the day before or you’ll be charged $10/per person. However, if some members in your party show up for the reservation, you will not be charged for those who couldn’t make it.
By requiring a credit card to secure reservations, it helps prevent people from hoarding ADRs. People still do it, but not as much as in the past. For those hoarding, they will start canceling their ADRs in the weeks before their trip or while at Walt Disney World. That’s why I recommend checking for reservations up to the very last minute. You never know what might become available!
Do I Need Reservations for Things Other than Dining?
Aside from dining, there are special events, shows, tours, and experiences that require reservations. Some of these reservations can be made 180 days in advance, while others have different booking timeframes. I suggest checking out this neat site which will help you make sense of the various timeframes and experiences available to you. This site will also spell out which reservations (including dining) require full payment in advance rather than a simple credit card hold.
What if I’m Looking to Save Money?
Dining at Walt Disney World can get expensive. Fortunately, there are many options to satisfy each budget. Rooms at Swolphin and Disney-operated resorts have mini refrigerators so you can stock up on breakfast items, snacks, and drinks. There’s are grocery stores not too far outside Walt Disney World. For those looking to have groceries delivered, here are some options.
I save for my Disney trips by pre-buying discounted Disney Gift Cards. Refer to my previous post on how to do this. By purchasing ahead of time (and at a discount, too), I can save enough to not have to worry about a potentially hefty credit card bill at the end of my stay. Disney Gift Cards can be used at all Disney-operated resorts, theme and water parks, and at Disney Springs. You can also use them to purchase Disney Park tickets in advance. Gift cards can pay for meals (including gratuity), just ensure you have enough on the card to cover it all. IMPORTANT: As Swolphin is not a Disney-operated resort, you will not be able to use your Disney Gift Cards at the conference resort.
When reviewing menus, you’ll find many establishments (especially buffets) are cheaper at lunch than dinner. By making your big meal at lunchtime, you can save yourself a few bucks. Consider spreading out the fancier table service meals over the course of your stay. As I said earlier, there are many quick service establishments at Swolphin as well as in walking distance to Disney’s BoardWalk.
For more money saving tips, check out Mousesavers.com.
Tip: When using Disney Gift Cards, create an account at the Disney Gift Card Website. This Disney site helps you track your gift cards and balances. You can also transfer multiple cards to just one or two cards to make tracking more manageable. On a previous trip, I’d mistakenly left my Disney Gift Card at a restaurant at Epcot. About a half hour later, I received a call from the restaurant alerting me, but I was already at the other end of the park. Instead of dragging my tired feet back to the restaurant, I simply logged into the Disney Gift Card Website and transferred the balance of that gift card to a different one, rendering the one left behind as useless. For that reason, I recommend having more than one Disney Gift Card with you should you lose a card.
What’s the Disney Dining Plan?
If you are staying at Swolphin, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) will not be available to you. But if this is not the case, keep on reading as the DDP plan might be of interest to you. The DDP is available to:
- Those using or renting points from the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) as described in my previous post about lodging. For those renting points from a DVC owner, simply ask them to add on the plan. You will have to work out payment with the owner. (If staying at a DVC and using the DDP, you can still purchase discounted conference Park tickets.)
- Those who are booked at a Disney-operated resort who are buying a package that includes tickets. Attendees who plan to purchase discounted conference Park tickets (which are significantly cheaper) or already have Annual Passes are not eligible for the DDP.
If you meet these eligibility factors and are curious to learn more about the DDP, click here.
What Restaurants Do You Recommend?
As a Florida resident, I’ve been fortunate to visit Walt Disney World several times. Still, I’ve barely touched the service when it comes to dining at all the restaurants onsite. That won’t stop me from offering up some recommendations.
Magic Kingdom Park
Be Our Guest: While it’s fun to meet the Beast (he only appears at dinner), you can experience this amazing restaurant during lunch and save a lot of money. During lunch, it offers a quick service meal, but ADRs are required. This restaurant is so popular that walk-ups are nearly impossible.
Other great table service restaurants include Liberty Tree Tavern (the Ooey Gooey Toffee Cake pictured above is to die for), The Plaza Restaurant (reasonably-priced and accepts walk-ups!), and Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom’s newest restaurant with hilarious servers and a unique menu)
For quick service: I’m a fan of Columbia Harbor House and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: In the Norway Pavillion you can meet so many princesses while dining on a delicious feast. The salad buffet that comes with your entrée at lunch or dinner is a meal in itself.
Via Napoli Ristorante: While the Italy Pavillion has two great restaurants, I love Via Napoli for its more reasonable menu. Their pizzas and salads are delizioso!
Best bets for accepting walk-ups: Biergarten Restaurant, Nine Dragons Restaurant, and Spice Road Table.
For quick service: Enjoy amazing fish and chips at Yorkshire County Fish Shop and excellent dishes at Sunshine Seasons. All the Pavillions have quick service or food stands. Epcot is the place for food, so don’t stress if you do not have an ADR.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Tiffins: I have not actually eaten at this new signature restaurant, but my friends tell me the food is amazing.
Tusker House: This is a buffet character meal with unique and savory items.
For quick services: Flame Tree Barbecue and Harambe Market
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
50’s Prime Time Café: You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The shakes are awesome, but be sure to eat all your veggies before dessert!
For quick service: PizzeRizzo. A Muppets-themed pizza joint. What’s not to like?
Morimoto Asia: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto recently opened up a restaurant in the newly re-imagined (and renamed), Disney Springs. I ate here recently, and it did not disappoint. The sushi and drinks are delightful, but if you come for only one dish, make it the Morimoto “Buri-Bop.” It’s a Korean-style yellow-tail rice bowl that will make you want to lick the pot. But don’t! The pot is served at your table at a whopping 450 degrees. Be sure to make an ADR for Morimoto Asia.
There are so many places here to dine that you will probably have success here as a walk-up. Many new restaurants have opened in the past year or two at Disney Springs. I really enjoy Raglan Road for the live Irish dancing. There are several quick service establishments, too. Whatever you do, save room for chocolates at The Ganachery, cupcakes at Sprinkles, and ice cream at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. All diets can be resumed after #RWA17!
Walt Disney World Resort Hotels
The hotel resorts at Disney are worth a visit. It’s fun to explore the lobby and grounds and many house amazing restaurants. Here are a list of my faves as well as bucket list places. Many are very popular, so be sure to secure an ADR.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa has one of the top-rated restaurants in the world, Victoria & Albert’s (AAA Five Diamond Award Recipient). Other signature meals include Narccoosee’s and Cítricos. I love 1900 Park Fare for its wonderful character breakfast.
Artist Point – signature dining at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Beaches & Cream Soda Shop – ice cream sundaes worth ruining diets for at Disney’s Beach Club Resort
California Grill – time your dinner reservation for the Wishes! Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom and you will have both an insane meal and view from this rooftop restaurant at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn has Flying Fish (fresh fish and seafood) and Trattoria al Forno (excellent Italian)
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue – a dinner show/hootenanny like no other at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort (pre-purchase tickets)
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has Kona Cafe (you haven’t lived until you’ve had the Tonga Toast for breakfast) and ‘Ohana (an insanely popular dinner spot with endless food)
All three restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village: Boma – Flavors of Africa, Jiko – The Cooking Place, and Sanaa
For those of you who’ve been to Walt Disney World, what’s your favorite restaurant or must-have dish? Please share below in the comments section.
The Bottom Line
The window to book your ADRs is coming fast. Restaurants will fill up as time grows closer. There’s no harm in making ADRs (keeping in mind Disney’s cancellation policy), so you’ll already have some reservations in place. If you want to wait until closer to the conference, you’ll still have opportunities to make ADRs because people frequently cancel and change their reservations. For those who want to be free and not tied down to a schedule, there’s plenty of places to eat at Swolphin or nearby that won’t require an ADR.
Future posts will explore fun suggestions on how to fill up your free time and nights while at the Annual Conference and how to utilize Disney’s website and apps for securing FastPass+ reservations.
Any questions/comments can be posted below, and I’ll get back to you.
Visit here if you’ve missed other topics in this planning guide. There, you’ll find a calendar to help you keep track of key dates. Be sure to also heck out my Pinterest Board which complements this planning guide.
This unofficial guide is not associated with Romance Writers of America®. I am not receiving any compensation or gifts for these blog posts.
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