When it comes to visiting a Disney theme park, eating plays a big role in your trip. Whether you need a small snack, a quick lunch, or a full dinner where you can sit down and take a break, or grab a drink at the end of the night, Disney parks have it all!
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Visiting Disney for the first time can be a scary prospect food wise. Going in, you don’t know what’s good, what’s not, will your kids eat it, etc. What is the best way to navigate your hangry feelings?
To get started, Disney offers several types of dining: food carts, quick service and table service are the main dining options.
Food carts are small food stations that offer 1 or more snack items. Most of the food carts offer popcorn, Mickey Ice Cream Bars, pretzels or other small food items. Some items are found all over the parks in similar carts while some carts offer something unique. There are also some food shops that contain similar food items, but it’s a built storefront rather than just a cart. Snacks cost anywhere from $2-$15.
So how do I order from a food cart or snack stand? Most carts are walk up orders. They’re usually not crowded, so you can order pay and grab your food pretty quick. Snack stands can either be walk up or mobile order.
Quick service restaurants are where you can go to get a full meal quickly, similar to standard fast food restaurants at home. Most quick service restaurants will have full meal options, kids meal options, or individual ala carte items. Most quick service meals will cost between $5-$10 for kids meals and $10-$25 for adult meals.
So how do you order quick service food? Since the pandemic reopening, this has mostly been done through mobile order, using your phone to select your food items and pay. You can place an order at any time for a time later in the day. Most restaurants will have immediate return times, but if you’re wanting to plan ahead while on the bus to the park, you can choose a different return time. Some quick service restaurants will allow you to enter the restaurant line and order the old fashioned way as well.
When you use mobile order, you’ll see your order under the My Day tab inside of Genie. You can click the I’m Here button anytime after your order window is available. You can also click the button while on your way so it’s ready when you arrive.
Table Service restaurants are your full service restaurants where you’re seated and a server comes to your table. Disney offers 3 levels of Table Service restaurants which includes a basic table service, character dining table service, and signature dining table service.
The basic table service is just going to be a standard sit down restaurant, similar to Applebee’s, but Disneyfied. Most Disney table service restaurants have dedicated chefs to ensure the food served is top notch. So many table service restaurants have excellent dishes, though some are notoriously lackluster. Meals in these restaurants are typically $20-$40.
The character dining table service meals are similar to the standard table service restaurants, but with character! Some of the character dining restaurants have unique menus, which are typically fantastic! Most character meals allow you to “meet” 4 to 5 characters. Pre-pandemic, the characters came up to your table for pictures, hugs, and fun shenanigans. Currently, the characters come to about 10 feet from your table and kids can stand about 6 feet in front of them to get their picture. Character dinners are usually in the $35-$50 range for Breakfast and $50-$75 range for lunch and dinner.
The Signature dining experience is going to be the really high end restaurants. This will be like a country club type restaurant. Some include a dress code. Those restaurants include Jiko, Flying Fish Cafe, California Grill, Citricos and Narcoossee’s, Yachtsman Steakhouse, and Victoria & Albert’s. These restaurants are going to be $50-$100 for lunch and dinner.
So how do I get into a table service restaurant? Disney offers Advanced Dining Reservations, or ADRs for short. Dining Reservations are required for most table service restaurants, though you can occasionally add your name to a walk up wait list. To book a dining reservation, you can go into the Disney app or Disney website for the location you’re visiting. At Disney World, if staying on property, you can book reservations at 60 days before your check in for your complete stay. If staying off property or going to Disneyland, you can book 60 days from the day you want to reserve.
So do I need dining reservations? That really depends on how your family likes to eat. For me, it’s a good way to sit down and relax for an hour to an hour and a half. Some would rather grab a quick snack and go wait in the next ride line while they eat. There’s no wrong way. But, if you think you’ll like that late after break to sit down and eat a big meal, dining reservations are the way to go. Also some restaurants fill up really quick, especially at Disney World. Several restaurants fill up so quick, you’re lucky if you can get them on day 5 or 6 of a trip, at 65 or 66 days out. Offsite guests have a difficult time with these reservations. Disneyland, on the other hand, keeps everyone on the same playing field, so it’s a bit easier to get the hard to get reservations.
To create a reservation, open your Disney app, Click the + sign at the bottom, the select guest count, date and time or meal service. You’ll see a list of available restaurants within 2 hours before and after of the time you selected. You can click the name of the restaurant and view menu to see what type of food is offered at the locations. When you’re ready, select a time in the blue oval. You’ll then be shown a confirmation with date, time and guest count. You’ll be asked to reserve your place with a credit card (No shows are charged a $10/person fee). If everything looks correct, check the agreement box and click Book Now.
So how do I add my name to the walk up wait list? There are two main ways to join the walk up wait list. The first, and where the name comes from, is to walk up to the host stand and request a walk up reservation. The second option, which is the easier option, is to do it from the app. This is similar to getting an advanced dining reservation, but select today’s date and click Now. You do have to be near the restaurant, typically inside the theme park or hotel where the restaurant is located to join. As you can see in my screenshot, I was not close enough.
An estimated wait time is shown before you join so you can decide based on that if it’s worth it to you. Once you’re on the list, you should receive a text or push notification to let you know your table is ready.
So what other Disney dining options are available? Disney has different dining packages available for different occasions. Magic Kingdom and Epcot offer Fireworks dining packages, Epcot also offers festival dining packages, where for a fixed price amount, you order an appetizer, entree and dessert and get a reserved spot to whichever event is happening at the time. There are fireworks cruises available and rooftop fireworks viewing at the contemporary. Also, when Fantasmic returns, Hollywood Studios will probably offer a dining package as they had done previously. Disneyland also has some entertainment dining packages available, however I’m not sure if they’re currently available.
So where are Disney restaurants located? Restaurants are located all over the theme parks. The best way to find them is using the park specific app. All Disney resort hotels also have at least 1 restaurant. The value resorts have a single quick service restaurant. Moderate hotels typically have at least one quick service and one table service restaurant. Deluxe hotels typically have at least one quick and one table service, but some have multiple of each. All hotels also have a food stand for a grab and go option. Also, Disneyland’s Downtown Disney and Walt Disney Worlds Disney Springs, each resorts shopping district (outdoor mall) has numerous dining options.
So can I bring my own food to the parks? Yes, actually you can. If you’d like to save money and bring in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips or other snack items, you can definitely do so. There are many places where you can grab a picnic table and sit down and eat. You can also eat and walk. Or just find a wall to sit on, as long as you don’t have to climb the wall. Disney has strict no climbing rules in place. Please be sure to inform your kids to not climb the structures at the Disney parks.
So are there other non Disney dining options? Yes, especially at Disneyland. You can head across Harbor St and find several non Disney restaurants at reasonable rates. At Disney World, it’s a bit more difficult, but if you have a car or can Uber, there are many restaurants available nearby or throughout Orlando.
If you’re ready to start exploring a Walt Disney World or Disneyland family vacation, I recommend checking out Undercover Tourist for your ticket options. I’ve already used them twice, once at Disneyland and once at Disney World and will plan to continue comparing their prices with other sites, however I usually come back to UT because they have the best deals and their instructions make it easy to add your tickets to the Disney apps.