Being the romantic that I am, I decided to propose to my wife on her birthday in front of Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom (another tale for, perhaps, another post). She, of course, said yes, and we decided to celebrate the occasion by dining at a restaurant that very much peaked her interest, Teppan Edo in the Japan pavilion. A smile on my face, I very confidently walked up to the hostess station at Teppan Edo and said, “Table for two, please.” When advised that I had no reservation, the hostess looked blankly at me for a second and said, “Sorry, we are booked.” Dazed, I staggered back to my new fiancée. Booked? This was Walt Disney World—the vacation capital of the world. Who would think to make dinner reservations? And so we moved on, one by one, to each World Showcase pavilion, each time rebuffed and embarrassed by my ignorance. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we found a place for dinner. So, to celebrate the birthday of my future wife and future mother of my children—not to mention our pending nuptials—we dined at…the Liberty Inn. To those who don’t know, the Liberty Inn is the quick service burger place in the American pavilion.
Now, I’ve come a long way in the near decade since that day. I know the importance of an advanced dining reservation, sometimes making them on the day they become available (180 days prior). But what if you are like I was? Blissfully unaware such issues exist. Or perhaps you enjoy flying by the seat of your pants and refuse to be locked down to a dining commitment. Well, fear not. Here are some dining options that are typically always available on little or no notice.
Character Dining – Think you need to book a character meal months in advance? Not always. For breakfast, Cape May Café at the Beach Club Resort is typically always open and has an excellent spread, not to mention character favorites like Minnie, Donald, and Goofy. Also, Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios is usually available, though the buffet is not as robust as at Cape May Café. It features characters from Disney Junior, such as Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, and Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
Dinner is a little more difficult, however, 1900 Park Fare, which features a fairly good buffet and the characters from Cinderella is usually open at some point. Also, The Garden Grove (not to be confused with the Garden Grill) is another option. Located in the Swan Hotel, it is a good buffet (a bit small, but excellent food) and features Pluto and Goofy. A note on the Garden Grove –the Swan does charge for parking, so if looking to avoid a parking fee, try parking at the Boardwalk Resort. This usually is not a problem unless the resort is busy or near capacity. You can also make it an Epcot day and walk to dinner via the Epcot entrance/exit near the UK in World Showcase.
Buffets – Maybe you are in the mood for a buffet or family style meal. A good one that always seem to be open is Biergarten in the Epcot Germany Pavilion, which is only open for dinner and, obviously, serves German food. Trail’s End is another excellent buffet that always seems to have an open table. Located in Fort Wilderness, it serves an excellent variety of BBQ dishes. Trail’s End serves both a dinner and breakfast buffet. We have eaten at Trail’s End a lot over the years and I can honestly say I have never made a reservation for breakfast, and only made one for dinner if we are camping during the holidays or spring break. Even then I have never seen anyone turned away.
Fine Dining/Signature Dining – Last minute doesn’t mean burgers and dogs like it did in my case. The Grand Floridian has two excellent options that usually have tables. Sorry, Victoria and Albert’s is generally booked, but give Citricos or Narcoossee’s a try. Citricos has more of a Mediterranean menu, while Narcoossee’s is more seafood oriented, but both are good and accessible. Looking for a good steak? Try Yachtsman Steakhouse in the Yacht Club Resort. Rarely is it booked solid, and the steaks are on par with Le Cellier, in my opinion.
As you can see, a lack of planning doesn’t have to mean quick service. If Be Our Guest or California Grill are booked, don’t fret. Hop on the My Disney Experience app and I promise there will be viable substitutes available.
John is a crime novelist who resides on Florida’s Treasure Coast, a mere hour and forty-five minute drive to the Happiest Place on Earth. He loves exploring the world outside of the parks (within the arches, of course), and his passion for Fort Wilderness Campground caused him to start the Fort Wilderness Blog. Simply put, Walt Disney World is where everything is as it should be—and that is why he loves it. John can be found on Twitter (@Ftwildernessguy), via his Fort Wilderness Blog Facebook page and his websites: Fort Wilderness Blog and Florida Crime Novelist John Scanlan.