Every single day, bright and early at 7 am, US EST, thousands of men and women are about to celebrate the 180th day till their vacation by going into complete and utter panic over the release of Advance Dining Reservations.
You would be excused for thinking this was a gross exaggeration given the grand scheme of the Disney experience and there being no shortage of food establishments to choose from. But you would still be wrong.
For plenty of people, getting that perfectly timed slot for the elusive Cinderella’s Royal Table reservation can make or destroy their entire holiday schedule. Crazy? Sure, but when you unpack half the things that we, as a Disney-loving collective, obsess over, crazy ain’t exactly something we are too phased by. If it is on our to-do list and it doesn’t get done, Houston, we have a problem.
There is, however, a different result on the table (no pun intended) for those of us who choose an alternative way of doing things. I’m talking about those mischievous rascals throwing caution to the wind and deciding not to make any reservations at all. I am a firm believer in letting the day take you where you are meant to go and, therefore, have chosen on many of our trips not to make a single dining reservation.
Here is where I am going to encourage you to do the same. I’m going to run down the list of a few reasons why giving ADRs a miss can save your holiday.
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Less stress before you go
At 180-days out, you managed to focus your psychic powers on where you wanted to eat and when. Now, you are about to lock in FastPasses (now Lightning Lane) to time slots you probably aren’t that happy with anyway, trying to do this while working around the confines of your previously concocted dining schedule is a nightmare.
One would be far better off allocating any available brain damage to the 60-day countdown period where the FastPass gods may smile down on you or smite you into Flight of Passage expulsion. You will need it as those first few moments of that 7 am start feels more like 3-5 fries being thrown out into a crowd of starving seagulls.
Give yourself a better chance of catching one of those fries by having the freedom to take anything that looks good and not having to worry that it will conflict with the two-hour window surrounding your dining reservations.
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Not being tied down to an inflexible schedule
You’ve locked in your reservations early and then compromised on less-than-perfect FastPass options, but with FP lines growing well and truly past their allocated areas, there is no guarantee you will be able to fit it all in.
There is nothing worse than spending your time in the parks stressed and continuously looking at your watch while trying to traverse across the premises ticking off all the plans you had to make six months ago. Skipping the ADR’s allows you to work around your FastPasses, making the most of your time and being less worried that you won’t make to the next stop on time.
It also allows you to eat when you are actually hungry or when best suits your group. You can focus on using the My Disney Experience app to avoid long attraction lines, scout out quick service table availability or any of the other factors we juggle in the parks.
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Save the money
Disney dining at a table service level can be far from cheap, and aside from a handful of the top-notch restaurants, that money isn’t being spent on the quality of the food. Most of what we love about Disney dining comes from the atmosphere and the decor that surrounds us. Most quick service dining locations can provide you with a similar sense of ambiance without the price tag of set menus or expensive entrees. Not to mention saving the 15 – 20% tip that you will add to your bill when dining at a table service restaurant.
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Enjoy more park time
Advance Dining Reservations take up a huge amount of your available park time, especially if you have booked more than one per day. Most establishments recommend you arrive 15 minutes prior to your reservation time, from there you will need to wait until the party currently at your allocated table vacate their dining experience. This could be on time or it could leave you hangry in the waiting area.
You are basically making a reservation to wait in line for your reservation to be ready. If you are visiting on a day when service is slow, be prepared to soak up a good 90 – 120 minutes of your day on this experience. That is a decent chunk of your park time.
Looking for an alternative to table service that still feels a bit special? Make your own tapas! Send everyone in your group on a quest for different classic Disney snacks or quick service items and cut everything into small pieces, so everyone tries a little bit of everything. It is a great way to try lots of different things that you would never commit to by yourself.
Even if you are eating at a quick-service location, do away with the notion that everyone gets their own single meal and get a bunch of different things to share. What could be better than absorbing all that Disney atmosphere out in the parks while nibbling on the best Disney has to offer? It’s quick, cheap and fun, what more could you want?
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Now, to save myself the hate mail, I am going to tell you that some dining experiences are absolutely amazing and if you want them, find a way to make it happen. Most of those epic life-changing meals are going to be found in the resorts rather than in the parks themselves which affords you the opportunity to arrange them on your gap days when not visiting the parks for a calmer and more relaxed visit.
I’m sure there are many of you reading these words with an angry mob mentality of shock and disgust as if it were a scene from Christmas with the Kranks. I can feel a handful of you there just waiting to pounce on exactly why every ADR is important. But unlike Krank, frosty isn’t coming out of my basement in the end. I won’t be regretting my decision at the last moment. In fact, you will recognize me as the one whimsically skipping from cart to cart, not rushed for time or spending huge amounts of money on a dining experience I don’t need.
So please, share with me your advanced dining reservation experiences, the highs, and the lows. But next time you are in the parks, if you can, give it a try my way before you spend your entire next paycheck on a lunch at Disney.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.