Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You have that perfect Walt Disney World dining reservation booked. Your touring plans have you arriving at your dining destination with military-like precision. However, you find out that you have either over-planned and are there with bags of time to spare or drastically under-planned and aren’t sure that you’ll make your reservation on time.
So how does Disney Dining handle the early birds or latecomers? Here’s the skinny on not being punctual for your meal:
What happens if I arrive early for my dining reservation? Historically, Cast Members at Walt Disney World restaurants have been pretty good when it comes to accommodating diners arriving before their allotted time. However, the official stance is that guests may not be accommodated if they arrive any earlier than 15 minutes before their designated arrival time. Those arriving earlier, especially during peak periods may be asked to return once they have hit that 15 minutes window to officially check-in.
I am a notorious early-bird and I find that early arrival at a Disney restaurant is typically not likely to get me anything other than longer wait times. For instance, on a recent visit, I showed up 20 minutes early to my character dining lunch. Not only was I told that I couldn’t check-in until nearer the time but I wasn’t seated until 20 minutes after my reservation time which meant in total a 40-minute wait for my family!
I find the only exception to the arriving- early rule is when it comes to early morning ADR’s. I had an 8:20 am dining reservation at Be Our Guest on my last visit and was seated as soon as I arrived at a little after 8:00am. This makes sense considering that the restaurants are still filling up rather than already being at capacity and running behind. Though I’m sure it can and does happen, guests shouldn’t count on the same level of accommodation during peak dining times.
What happens if I’m running behind schedule?
Similar to arriving early. Disney will hold your table for any reservation up until 15 minutes after your scheduled dining time. At this point, the restaurant reserves the right to re-allocate the table to another visitor with no guarantee that you will be able to take advantage of the reservation.
How can I make sure I’m not late for my reservation? There are two possible answers to this question. The first is to only book in dining reservations that you know will work for your family. If you aren’t morning people then an 8am dining reservation at Magic Kingdom may not be the best idea. My Disney Experience makes it easy to make and change reservations as many times as you like (up until 24 hours before you are dining) so if you don’t see a dining reservation working for your family, change it to something that will.
The second and probably most common reason people are late for dining reservations is that they just don’t give themselves enough time to get there. If you are traversing the park to get to your restaurant, give yourself at least 30 minutes to get there and check in. If you are leaving your resort to go to another resort or theme park to dine, then you should give yourself at least an hour. For early morning reservations, I tell clients to leave themselves an even larger window as morning transportation can often be sporadic and may not show up when scheduled.
So what should I do if I know we are going to be late? Show-up anyway. Even if you’ll be more than 15 minutes late, check in to the restaurant and see if they are able to accommodate you. The Cast Members may still offer you a table though you may have to wait a bit until one becomes available.
Another reason that it is good to show up to your restaurant is that a credit card was used to hold your reservation. Though Disney does not charge a “Late Fee” if you are running behind, they do charge a “No Show Fee” of $10 for every person in your party if you fail to turn up at all and if you fail to cancel. Arriving late means that you may still be able to enjoy your meal or at least avoid the extra fees.
What happens if I need to cancel my reservation? If you know you just aren’t going to make it, or if you need to cancel a reservation at the last-minute, the best thing to do is to get in touch with Disney as soon as possible and let them know. They will either be able to cancel the reservation for you or offer you additional times that may make it more convenient for you to get to. To make a cancellation either phone Disney at 407-WDW-DINE (though guests should know that this is the central dining line and can get very busy) or at 407-WDW-CNCL. Cancellations will not incur a fee if made by 11.59pm the day before your dining experience. If you are at the parks an alternative may be to stop by any table service restaurant front desk to make the cancellation in person or again to cancel your reservation directly using the My Disney Experience app.
What about reservations that I’ve already pre-paid for? Some locations require that you pay in advance like Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show or Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. In these instances it is important that you cancel at least 24 hours in advance otherwise the full amount of your dinner may be charged.
What about restaurants that aren’t owned/operated by Disney? If you arrive early or late for reservations that you booked through Disney’s Dining Reservations system, the same rules will apply. Often times though, these restaurants will have their own dedicated phone lines so it may be beneficial to call them directly to see if early/late arrivals can be accommodated. This would apply to places like Rainforest Cafe, TRex or other select locations at Disney Springs.
We want every Disney dining experience to go as seamless as possible. That’s why it pays to know whether a ravenous appetite can be accommodated an hour before your dining reservation or whether there’ll still be a place for you should you show up 20 minutes late to your character dining breakfast. With a bit of an understanding of what you should do if you find yourself running a little bit too early or a bit behind schedule, you are able to eliminate a few of the “what-ifs” during your visit to the Mouse.
If you find tips like this helpful, why not consider working with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner? As an agent with MickeyTravels I can help you find your perfect package, book dining and Fastpass reservations and will even be on-call should something come up while you are on holiday. Best of all my services are absolutely FREE. Get in touch at 1.800.801.4025 at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow along on Facebook.
Image copyright Disney.
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