You are the type of planner who gets up in the dark 180 days before their vacation to make Disney World Advance Dining reservations. You’ve never had a problem getting a reservation at Le Cellier or Cinderella’s Royal Table. I used to be like that. These days I’ve taken to planning short trips on short notice. Recently I’ve booked a couple of trips with less than a week to plan. What would you do about dining on a short notice trip? Would you eat all counter service meals? That is certainly an option. You can look into the Quick Service Dining Plan if it fits the way you want to eat. It gives you two counter service meals per day and includes a snack and a refillable mug. The QSDP is $34.99 per adult per night! Wow! That sounds like a lot of money to eat cheeseburgers doesn’t it?
Typically counter service is not the way I eat, although I do love a good cheeseburger. I actually like to sit down for at least two, if not three meals a day. How on earth can I make reservations for two meals a day just a week before my trip? I know a secret and I’m going to share it with you. It’s not a back door into the reservation system. It’s a list of restaurants, many of which are some of my favorites, that almost never fill to capacity in advance. The easiest way to get to this list is to go to the Walt Disney World website dining reservation portal. Run a search to see what dining establishments have openings for dinner TOMORROW! Don’t worry! You don’t actually have to do the leg work, I did it for you! Would you believe that 57 different restaurants have availability for dinner tomorrow? Yup that’s right! There are only 17 restaurants that take reservations that didn’t have openings and some of those are closed for refurbishment. This is not going to be the case all the time, what do you do when it’s spring break time and you don’t have dinner reservations in advance?
Here’s my secret list of restaurants that almost always have last minute reservations. Almost all of the Signature restaurants have seatings available on short notice. These restaurants are more expensive and less child friendly so they tend not to fill up as quickly. The exceptions are Cinderella’s Royal Table, California Grill, and Le Cellier. My favorites for short notice Signature meals are Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge and Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
They both have outstanding cuisine that represents the food from the region the hotel represents. Artist Point features Pacific Northwest cuisine and Jiko is African and has the best wine list on property! I just love South African wines and Jiko has the largest collection found outside of South Africa. We’ve also been able to walk up to Flying Fish and get seated. If you don’t have children with you, most of the Signature Restaurants also have bars that serve the full menu. Flying Fish is one of those and Narcoossee’s is another.
My other secret is that there is a set of resort restaurants that almost always have availability.
The first that comes to mind is The Turf Club at Saratoga Springs. The chef is innovative and the menu changes frequently as he tries different combinations and presentations. The back patio overlooking the golf course is so relaxing. It’s my hidden gem and it is never busy. The other two that are on my short list are Olivia’s at Old Key West and The Grand Floridian Cafe at the Grand Floridian. Olivia’s is a little bit out of the way to the casual traveler, but they serve a great breakfast and you can take the boat over from Downtown Disney. Or even walk the trail from Saratoga Springs. As for the Grand Floridian Cafe. The Grand is home to so many restaurants that the casual GFC is overlooked in favor of character dining at 1900 Park Fair or Signature Dining at one of the three Signature restaurants on property. Why would anyone bother going to the GFC when they have all those other options? Two reasons: they waited until the last minute to make reservations and second the GFC serves a hamburger that has butter poached LOBSTER on it. Talk about surf and turf! Yum!
Wait. What? You want to eat in the parks and you’re only a few days away from your trip or worse, you’re already in The World. It is actually possible. I’ll tell you all about those restaurants in the next installment!