What’s the most difficult to get reservation on Disney property? It changes all the time and I think what we’re seeing now is an interesting reflection of some changes Disney has made in the last year. Old favorites now have availability, whereas new restaurants or just restaurants that are perceived as a better deal, are packed.
It used to be that Le Cellier, the steakhouse located in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion, was the most highly coveted dining reservation there was in Walt Disney World. You could almost guarantee that every seat would be taken by noon at the 180-day mark, which is the first day you can make your advanced dining reservations (ADRs). Since there was no policy in place to penalize guests who made reservations and didn’t show up, those reservations rarely opened once they were filled. You could try for a walk up, but it was still pretty much impossible to get in without a good six months of prior planning. That changed when Le Cellier went from one table-service credit to two and, to a lesser extent, when Disney added a penalty for no-shows.
The no-show penalty has been great for both guests and Disney. In the past, Disney restaurants experienced up to 30% now shows on any given day. This is really hard on the kitchen and servers. Guests would either make multiple reservations for each meal because they didn’t know where they would be each day or they would simply not show up because they were tired or otherwise occupied. Now, most restaurants impose a one-day cancellation penalty or you’ll incur a $10 charge per person. As someone who makes dining reservations several days a week, I can’t tell you how much this has improved availability
Another shift we’ve seen is the huge gain in popularity of Ohana for dinner. It’s always been a top 10 restaurant, but when Le Cellier went to two credits for lunch and dinner, you could immediately feel the shift as families chose the better deal, just one table-service credit as opposed to two. It’s getting harder and harder to book Ohana because of this.
Finally, Be Our Guest, Disney’s newest table-service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s recent Fantasyland expansion, has proven to be a huge success. It’s impossible to book, even 180-days out plus 10 days (which is the added booking window Disney gives on-site guests). But it’s not just the popularity. A lot of Disney restaurants serve two or even three daily meals. That’s a lot of guests served over the course of a day. Be Our Guest only has one table-service meal, which is dinner. So even though the restaurant holds a lot of guests, you’re still limited by having just one table-service seating.
So, what are the most difficult to get restaurants? Here’s my top five;
5. Cinderella’s Royal Table
4. Chef Mickey’s
3. Le Cellier
1. Be Our Guest
Le Cellier is still hugely popular, but you no longer need to book it the moment dining opens at 180 days. Same with Cinderella’s Royal Table and to a lesser extent, Chef Mickey’s. I would suggest booking close to, if not on, the 180 day mark, but you’ll likely find openings for all of these three for the first week of availability even if you don’t get your ideal time. The real source of stress here is Ohana and Be Our Guest. You’re going to need to make your dining reservations when it opens up at 180 days–that 7:00 a.m. eastern! These will go fast.
I guess it’s only fair to tell you what, in my experience, are the easiest restaurants to book. The thing about these restaurants is that they’re often better experiences than the top five choices I listed above and I think part of that reason is that they’re not as busy. For example, you’d do better at Akershus in Epcot, both in regard to food and character interaction, than at Cinderella’s Royal Table. A lot of Disney World vets know this already, but newbies are more likely to head over to CRT because they want to meet the princesses and eat in the castle, but the experience at Akershus is very similar for half the price. Actually, I think it’s better. Same with Tusker House. You’ll meet the same characters as you would at Chef Mickey’s, but the food is lightyears better and I’ve always found the character interaction less rushed. Finally, you’ll notice that none of the more “grown up” signature restaurants are on hard-to-get list. They’re some of the best dining choices in Disney World, but people shy away because of the cost. Next time you’re making ADRs, think about adding a two-credit meal. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
When it comes right down to it, those guests who make their ADRs at the 180 mark are ahead of the game, but don’t despair if you don’t plan your trips that far out in advance. Instead, look for alternatives and if your heart is set on one of those impossible to get ADRs, wait until the day before you want to dine. The new system is forcing people to cancel reservations rather than simply forgetting about them. This means that your dream restaurant might just open up at the last minute.