The universe of Walt Disney World dining is a vast and complex network of cultures, shows and even the chance to dine with Disney characters. Choosing your dining options can be as critical a part of your Disney World vacation planning experience as deciding where you will stay and which attractions you’ll visit.
To help you on your way, we’ve created this complete guide to Disney World dining, with links to articles that provide even more in-depth information on the most critical subjects.
Table of contents
- What Are My Walt Disney World Dining Options?
- Are Disney World Restaurants Taking any Special Precautions Due to COVID-19?
- What Is a Walt Disney World Dining Character Meal?
- Can I Get a Walt Disney World Dining Reservation?
- What Are My Choices for Snacking at Disney World?
- What Is the Disney Dining Plan, and Do I Need It?
- How Do I Save Money on Walt Disney World Dining?
- Can Disney Accommodate Food Allergies?
- Experiencing the Magic of Walt Disney World Dining
What Are My Walt Disney World Dining Options?
Table Service Dining
When looking for a place to eat at Disney World, you won’t have to search far. You’ll find a variety of restaurants within each of the 4 theme parks as well as all Disney resorts.
Restaurants fall into one of three categories. Table-service restaurants offer more upscale dining, in most cases, with a higher level of service. Plan to be seated at a table by your host or hostess and then served by wait staff. It’s a leisurely dining experience, lasting up to an hour or more.
Some table service restaurants offer special shows or experiences. For example, Biergarten located in the Germany pavilion at EPCOT, transports you far from Orlando right into the midst of Oktoberfest, through elaborate theming and regular performances.
Other restaurants exist solely for the purpose of offering entertainment. Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show (temporarily unavailable due to COVID) welcomes guests to dine with a Polynesian family, who then provide traditional island entertainment.
In a similar manner, some table-service restaurants allow you to dine with Disney characters. One of our breakfast favorites, Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, let’s you visit with Winne the Pooh and friends over pancakes and waffles. Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary resorts is a festive party with the mouse and all his friends, just to name a few.
While character dining was largely suspended throughout 2020, we’ve seen a partial return in 2021. Tusker House featuring Donald Duck and friends has reopened along with the aforementioned Chef Mickey’s restaurants.
While table-service dining invites guests to enjoy a leisurely meal, quick-service restaurants are designed to get you back to your magical activities faster. While these restaurants come in a variety of sizes, offering different food choices, you should plan on largely serving yourself as you would at any fast-food restaurant.
One modern marvel that will keep you moving on your way is mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app. This well-appointed tool allows you and your party to peruse the menu at any quick-service dining location and place an order from anywhere within the park.
We usually take care of ordering while standing in line for an attraction. Then, when we’re ready to eat, all we have to do is walk up to the restaurant, reopen the app and tap a button to let the staff know we have arrived.
Once the restaurant knows that you are there and waiting, they will start making your food, so there is no need to worry about your entrees getting cold. Best of all, there is no standing in line waiting to order, of for your food to be ready. Just grab a table and wait for the notification to pop up on your phone.
Carts and Kiosks
Why order a meal when a simple snack will suffice? From churros to turkey legs, Mickey ice cream sandwiches and popcorn, you’ll find a large variety of snack options awaiting your dining pleasure at the 4 theme parks.
Some are available through small stand-alone locations, such as Storybook Treats in the Magic Kingdom. This outlet features a smattering of ice cream snacks and assorted fountain beverages.
In fact, menus are limited to grab and go items like these at most locations, and seating is limited or non-existent, so plan to eat on the go.
This is particularly true when ordering from one of the carts or kiosks, around the parks. These can change locations, so you’ll need to approach snacking with a bit of a free spirit and a look at the park map.
Are Disney World Restaurants Taking any Special Precautions Due to COVID-19?
Disney parks have taken a number of precautions to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including requiring guests to wear masks when entering Walt Disney World dining locations and while waiting for food. Guests may remove masks while sitting down and eating.
Currently, masks are required at all indoor locations, including dining venues. However, Disney World aligns its policies with those of the CDC, so mask mandates have changed over the past year and a half and will likely continue to do so.
One thing that is important to note, is that guests may only remove masks within a restaurant once they are seated at their table and actively eating. Guests may not remove masks while indoors if they are walking, even if they are actively eating while doing so.
What Is a Walt Disney World Dining Character Meal?
Several of Walt Disney World’s best dining experiences are those that feature characters, such as Micky Mouse, Donald Duck or Cinderella. Character meals offer guests the opportunity to dine while visiting with their favorite Disney pals, but the experience is no longer the same as it used to be.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, characters would walk around the restaurant and visit each table. They would pose for pictures with guests, sign autographs and even play pranks.
During one character breakfast at the Beach Club’s Cape May years ago, Goofy spotted my young daughter in her Red Sox t-shirt. He took her by the hand and led her across the room to introduce her to a boy of similar age wearing a Yankees shirt. More recently, Donald flirted shamelessly with the women in our party, earning him quite a rebuke from Daisy.
You’re likely to have a different experience when enjoying character dining today. To maintain a safer environment for guests and characters alike, Disney has implemented new protocols. Characters are not currently stopping at tables to interact with guests or pose for photos. They do, however, move about the room several times an hour, providing you the opportunity to see them, wave, and take a selfie from afar.
We hope that character meals will someday return to their former glory, but until then, you may want to seriously consider whether the cost of the table service meal is worth the limited experience or if you’d be better of expending that portion of your Disney World budget on something else.
Can I Get a Walt Disney World Dining Reservation?
While Disney does offer you the chance to book a dining time in advance, it is not a hard and fast reservation. Instead, you’ll be booking a place in line. Here is how an Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) works.
If you are a Disney resort guest, you may begin making ADRs 60 days before the start of your trip. Simply log into the Disney World website, hover over things to do in the top navigation, and select make reservations under dining in the drop-down menu.
You’ll be asked to select your restaurant and date. From there, you will be provided a list of available times. Select the timeslot that is closest to your preference and finalize the booking process. You will also have the opportunity to link guests on your My Disney Experience account so that the reservation shows up in their plans, and to record food allergies.
On the day of your reservation, you are asked to arrive ten to fifteen minutes before the start of your reservation window. Upon your arrival, you can check in through the My Disney Experience app or with the cast members at the podium.
Once you check in, you are placed in line for the next available table fitting your party size. Generally, the wait is no more than ten minutes, though we have had to wait up until thirty minutes when we traveled with a larger party.
You may be wondering why you’d want to go through the hassle of making a reservation if a table won’t be ready and waiting upon your arrival. The answer is pretty simple. Without an ADR, you won’t be able to get seating at many restaurants.
Some more popular locations, such as Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom, fully book up with advanced dining reservations, leaving no room for walk up diners.
If you decide you want to visit a certain table-service venue and haven’t made an ADR, don’t give up hope. You can check for immediate or upcoming availability through the My Disney Experience app or by checking with a cast member at the location. Some less visited restaurants may have availability or a cancelation may provide an opening.
For more detailed information on ADRs, including steps for booking, you can visit our article covering the World of Advanced Dining Reservations.
What Are My Choices for Snacking at Disney World?
As indicated above, the universe of Walt Disney World dining offers a plethora of snacking options. We tend to favor the Disney traditions, such as Dole Whip and Dole Whip floats. A Dole Whip consists of orange or pineapple soft serve, while the float includes a healthy dose of pineapple juice over any flavor Dole Whip or vanilla ice cream.
We’re also known for a pretty healthy popcorn addiction that seems to only get fed while at Disney World. Some popcorn cart cast members have even come to recognize us, and we have several empty take-home containers to prove our passion.
Mickey ice cream sandwiches are another must-do on our list as is a nice cold LeFou’s brew from Gaston’s Tavern. We always pair it with a few of his barge-sized cinnamon rolls to share.
The nice thing about some snacks at Disney World is that they can easily fill in for a meal. If you doubt our assessment, take a look at the size of the turkey legs peddled at the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, or stop by Yak and Yeti café when in Animal Kingdom for some fried rice.
Speaking of EPCOT, this is where snacking becomes a cultural experience, particularly if you are visiting around the holidays or during the Food and Wine festival. Special food options are available at each country in the World Showcase during these events that you won’t always find at other times of the year. Each are loosely based on the cultural traditions of the lands.
Needless to say, if you’re looking for a snack at Disney World, you’re likely to find something that fits your appetite.
What Is the Disney Dining Plan, and Do I Need It?
Over a decade ago, Disney announced the Disney Dining Plan to ready vacationers. This special enhancement to the Disney World vacation experience was meant to simplify dining for the average traveler by prepackaging meals into a single price point.
Available in three separate tiers, the Disney Dining plan allows you to pay a flat per-person rate per day. In exchange, you’ll get two meals and two snacks. Since many of the snacks could really fill in for meals, the plan can be stretched to include 3 meals a day with some advanced planning.
For a detailed description of the three dining tiers, including associated benefits and costs, you can read our Disney dining plan article. Just keep in mind that the dining plan is currently suspended due to COVID-19 operational disruptions.
Over the years, a fascination has developed for the Disney Dining plan, centered mostly on promotions that offer free dining. While eating for free at Disney sounds like a can’t-lose proposition, taking advantage of free dining comes at the cost of other discounts which could prove to be more advantageous in the long run.
If free dining returns and you’re wondering whether a free dining promotion will benefit you, take a look at our complete free dining article to better understand the pros and cons and to determine what’s best for your budget.
How Do I Save Money on Walt Disney World Dining?
In the absence of the free dining promotion, you may be wondering how to save money on Walt Disney World dining. Fortunately, we have a number of tips to help shave your costs:
- Research Disney World dining menus and pricing online. Then select the most cost-friendly restaurants that meet your tastes and budget.
- Consider bringing items from home or purchasing upon your arrival. Simply buying your own water bottles and taking them to the park can save you a bundle.
- Pack your own snacks from home or stop by a grocery store when you arrive and stock up.
- Also, consider eating breakfast in your room with food you brought from home or purchased at a local store. We have brought instant oatmeal and made it using the microwave in the room or by heating water in the coffee maker. Since most rooms also include a mini fridge, cereal and milk is another option.
- Did you know that a simple cup of coffee could cost you $4 or more at your resort or in the parks? Consider getting your caffeine fix in your room while everyone is getting ready. Most Disney Resorts provide a coffee maker.
- Opt for quick-service meals over those served at a table-service restaurant. You could save half or more off the cost of a single meal.
- Consider swapping a snack for a meal. As mentioned previously, some snacks are large enough to satisfy a modest appetite, especially if you’ve eaten at other restaurants during the day.
- If you’re a Disney Chase Visa Cardholder, you can save 10 percent at select Disney World restaurants. To take advantage of this perk, be sure to know which restaurants are covered and remind the wait staff when you pay your bill. Likewise, Florida residents
- Tables in Wonderland is another program that could save you money on Disney World dining. If you are a Florida resident, an annual passholder or a member of the Disney Vacation Club, you can save up to 20 percent for yourself and up to 9 guests by joining this program.
- Consider eating offsite. Thanks to the convenience of ridesharing, it’s now easy to sneak away and enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. There are plenty to choose from in the area surrounding Disney World, and many will be far cheaper than eating at a park or your resort.
- Choose breakfast or lunch over dinner. When dining at a Disney World table-service restaurant, prices for dinner can be higher than those set for other meals, so opting to enjoy the restaurant earlier in the day could save you quite a bit.
Can Disney Accommodate Food Allergies?
Disney World works extremely well with people who suffer from food allergies. We know from experience that Disney World seamlessly handles allergies to gluten, tree nuts and mangos.
Quick-service restaurants and most table-service venues will offer a special allergy menu to order from. Be sure to alert the cast member taking your order that you want the allergy option. This will alert the kitchen to provide your meal in a separate allergy-free area.
When dining at table-service restaurants, be certain to note any allergies when you make your Advanced Dining Reservation and then remind your server again on arrival. If the location does not offer an allergy menu, the chef will come out and personally discuss your options according to your particular allergy.
Experiencing the Magic of Walt Disney World Dining
Dining at a Disney World restaurant can be one of the most magical moments of your vacation. We’ll never forget watching the nightly fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle from our table at O’hana’s (Polynesian Resort) or special character moments. During our last visit to the Garden Grill, it was a treat to watch Pluto chase chipmunks Chip and Dale in true sport dog fashion.
We’ll certainly never forget the bad jokes from our waiter at the Skipper Canteen or finding members of our wait staff who once lived in some of the places that we did. Striking a connection and discovering all we had in common created special experiences during our trip.
We recommend that everyone plan to splurge on at least one table-service meal during their trip. If you are only doing one, we recommend that you make it with your favorite characters.
If you take the chance to explore all that Walt Disney World dining has to offer, you’re sure to come away with some magical experiences of your own.