Though Advance Dining Reservations are a near necessity at Walt Disney World, you can eat quite well at Disneyland without needing to make too many dining plans ahead of time. Certainly there are exceptions (which I’ll cover later) but for the most part, you can walk up and dine at Disneyland whenever the mood strikes. This is not to say there isn’t a certain amount of planning or even an occasional wait but I’ll teach you how to work around that!
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Disneyland Resort Dining Options
There are several different dining options at the Disneyland Resort. For variety, I like my visits to the Park to be a mix of these through the day.
Table service is at a more leisurely pace. Cafe Orleans, Wine Country Trattoria, Storytellers Cafe and Carnation Cafe are some of the places where you can sit and be served by wait staff. Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) is suggested but not always necessary.
As a frequent Disneyland vacationer, I only book reservations for table service in advance for weekends or very busy times of the year (like summer or holidays). Blue Bayou Restaurant is the exception, as this restaurant doesn’t often have walk-up availability. So if you have your heart set on dining inside the Pirates of the Caribbean, making an ADR is best.
Quick service is where you will order at a counter and be given your food, then choose your seating area. Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta, Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, French Market Restaurant and the Golden Horseshoe are all examples of quick service dining areas.
Nibble on the go? There are plenty of places to grab a snack. The Bengal Barbecue, Corn Dog Castle, Cozy Cone Motel and many of the snack carts that serve fresh fruits & cold drinks are examples of quick snack spots.
Character Dining – You’ll be able to eat while being greeted at your table by your favorite characters! We love this because we enjoy a delicious meal and are still able to get autographs & photos with characters as they come to your table. You should definitely book ADR for all Character Dining.
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Advantages of ADR –
- Plans made ahead of time so there are no concerns about when or where you’ll eat while in the Park.
- Guaranteed seating at popular restaurants without fear of being turned away.
- No worries about long waits for a table; Yes, you may still have a short wait even with an ADR but it shouldn’t be terribly long.
- The ability to let Cast members know upfront when booking ADR over the phone if anyone in your family has a food allergy or special dietary request
Advantages of Walk-Up Dining –
- No need to plan in advance where you’ll be eating, you can decide on a whim.
- More flexibility.
- Counter service restaurants (that don’t accept ADR) are often less expensive than table service & Character Dining (that do accept ADR)
- Faster service at counter service & snack carts when compared to lengthy table service & Character Dining meals
Which Restaurants Accept ADR and Which Do Not?
In a nutshell, you can book ADR for most full service locations and all character dining experiences.
When you’re ready to book your reservations, head to the Disneyland website. Here you are able to not only view restaurant details and individual menus, you can also book ADR with the click of a button and entry of a credit card number to hold the reservation.
A simple search of your preferred date and time (along with the size of your group) will reveal available slots for each restaurant around that time. If no ADR are available at that date or approximate time, the restaurant will show up under the section “no availability”.
“But I have to eat waterside at Blue Bayou!!”
If you simply must eat at a particular table service restaurant during your trip, booking the ADR is a must. Walk-up dining is very rarely available at popular locations like Blue Bayou Restaurant, Carthay Circle, Ariel’s Grotto or Goofy’s Kitchen. You might get lucky (especially if you are a small party of 2) but these are locations you should certainly get ADR for ahead of your vacation.
Tips for Walk-up Dining with Minimal Wait
Eat at “off-times” – Lunch between 11 and noon and dinner between 5-6pm is your usual? Well, those are probably the most popular times for everyone else in the Park too.
Try dining 60 to 90 minutes before or after these times for better luck with walk-up dining. Choose snacks wisely so you can stave off the hungry beast until restaurant seating is better available.
Split up – Maximize your time at counter or quick service dining by having one adult take all the orders and another adult grab condiments and find a table.
Enlist the help of one of your older children (or a willing Cast Member) to help you carry trays of drinks & food back to the table. So much better than everyone standing in line together and then wandering around searching for an open table.
Eat and walk – If you’d rather optimize your Park time and simply eat while in queue or while walking between attractions, consider purchasing food that can easily be eaten while walking.
Note that some queues will not allow food once you enter the building (but eating in outside lines is okay). There are always trash cans placed through the lines to discard trash.
Try Downtown Disney District – Hop aboard the Monorail and get your bites in Downtown Disney instead of inside the Park. There are a variety of tastes available to satisfy everyone in your group. Full-service restaurants include Tortilla Jo’s, Catal Restaurant, La Brea Bakery Cafe, Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria, Rainforest Cafe, ESPN Zone and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen.
Just want something fast? Earl of Sandwich offers excellent sandwiches (naturally). Several of the full-service restaurants also have windows for quick serve meals. Grab a slice of pizza or a salad at Napolini. Jazz Kitchen Express offers popcorn shrimp, jambalaya and other New Orleans-style favorites. Yummy Mexican food from Taqueria at Tortilla Jo’s is served quickly alongside aquas frescas & beer. La Brea Bakery Express is a great place to fill up for brunch.
Nibble poolside – The Disneyland Resort pool areas offer food, though some hotels may be seasonal. I’ve yet to see The Sand Bar at Paradise Pier open, despite having visited on a weekend in late spring so check with the front desk first.
White Water Snacks at Disney’s Grand Californian offers hearty dishes like breakfast burritos, chicken nachos and veggie burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’ve enjoyed Tangaroa Terrace on our visits to the Disneyland Hotel pool (also open for three meals), including shrimp tacos and flatbread.
Leave the area – Yes, there are local restaurants within walking distance of the Disneyland front gates that you could dine at instead of eating in the Park. Denny’s, Mimi’s and even McDonald’s line Harbor Blvd and if you have the energy for a 10-15 minute walk, these are definitely an option (though they are probably just as busy as the restaurants in the Park since they are frequented by hotel guests as well). But you might save a few dollars eating off-site.