Disney World Planning Challenges: Tough-to-Get Reservations—From FastPass+ to Dining

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Sign. Photo by Katie McNair
Photo by Katie McNair

Even with lots of research, some aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation are—let’s just say—resistant to planning. In fact, they can seem like downright mysteries to first-time vacationers and expert Disney World planners alike. A major challenge when planning a Disney World vacation is successfully reserving tough-to-get experiences that become available for booking at unpredictable times initially, book up extremely quickly, or both. Although there is no surefire way to snag these reservations, there are some ways to improve your chances.

First, though, it can be helpful for you to have a bit of background on the experiences that have given or are currently giving planners the most difficulty.

Hard-to-Get Reservations

Photo by Sarah Graffam
Photo by Sarah Graffam

Currently topping the list of difficult-to-get reservations are FastPass+ reservations for Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. In addition, obtaining reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurant can be a real challenge.

Experiences that have proven difficult for guests to book in the past and that can still present a challenge in some cases include FastPass+ for popular rides like Epcot’s Soarin’ and Test Track as well as Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, FastPass+ for parades and nighttime shows, FastPass+ for shows at special events such as Star Wars Weekends, reservations for the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package, reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party, and, the original most-difficult-to-get reservation, dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant.

How Hard Is It, Really?

For some of the more popular FastPass+ attractions that have been in the parks for a while, such as Soarin’, Test Track, and Toy Story Mania, you will generally find wide availability when they become available at the 60-day and 30-day marks when FastPass+ opens for Disney resort guests and off-site guests, respectively. Availability is usually decent even much closer than those times. The biggest consideration is that if you book late in the game, there may not be a lot of choices in terms of times.

Trying to get a lunch table at Be Our Guest can be downright Beastly...unless you know the restaurant's latest policies. (photos by Seth Kubersky)
Entrance to Be Our Guest Restaurant (Photo by Seth Kubersky)

FastPass+ reservations for parades and nighttime shows tend to disappear more quickly, particularly those in Magic Kingdom, so you probably want to grab these when your FastPass+ window opens. However, the real difficulty comes with the FastPass+ reservations that can be unavailable even when you try to reserve them as soon as your FastPass+ window opens. These experiences, both of which are new to the parks since the debut of FastPass+, are Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Magic Kingdom’s Meet Anna and Elsa continues to be the real juggernaut, with guests often finding no availability immediately when their FastPass+ window opens. (Hint: If you want a FastPass+ to meet Anna and Elsa, make it your first priority when you go online on the day your FastPass+ window opens, keeping in mind that you may be more likely to find availability toward the end of your trip.) For much of the time, Seven Dwarfs is available when the FastPass+ window opens, but availability can disappear fast depending on when you are visiting; also, available times for FastPass+ for this attraction can quickly become limited.

Dinner reservations for Be Our Guest Restaurant can also be gone at the 180-day mark when dining reservations are released. (Hint: Guests staying at Disney resorts can book dining reservations at 180 days prior to check-in plus have the advantage of booking dining for up to 10 days of their trip. For this reason, you may have more luck finding availability toward the end of your stay. So when you go online or call, you should make your Be Our Guest dining reservation first.) In the past, Cinderella’s Royal Table was the most coveted dining reservation in Disney World. Although Be Our Guest has reduced some of the demand at Cinderella’s Royal Table, if you have a specific date and time in mind, it’s best to make this reservation a priority.

A Wrench in the Works—Unpredictable Availability

Frozen Sing Along - Elsa and Anna, photo credit Kylene Hamulak
Frozen Sing-Along (Photo by Kylene Hamulak)

A pattern for Disney World when releasing reservations for special events and new experiences is that not only do these reservations go fast, but they are generally released with unpredictable timing.

For the first few months of FastPass+, the timing of when FastPass+ became available for parades and nighttime shows was unpredictable, sometimes appearing a few weeks before and sometimes just a day or two before. The same was true for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall when they first became FastPass+ options. And previous to that, it was months before the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party became available for booking at the 180-day mark, with guests who had all of their other dining reservations set left to wonder when they could finalize their plans.

For more information on day-of FastPass+ availability, check out Steve Bloom’s analysis of what we’ve observed since June.

If you can’t score a dinner reservation at Be Our Guest, there is an option for FastPass+ reservations for lunch (only available to Disney resort guests); however, again, the timing of their availability has been unpredictable. Another recent example is FastPass+ for Disney Hollywood Studios’ Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, which was suddenly extended, with FastPass+ for more dates showing up on Disney’s website. Also recently announced is that a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa will be added back at the Norway pavilion; this may be another scenario when the availability of FastPass+ is initially unpredictable.

Getting A Leg Up

Given Disney’s track record, it seems inevitable that there will be new experiences requiring reservations that present the same types of challenges. When Star Wars Weekends arrives in spring again, will we be wondering when and if FastPass+ will be available for shows and if this will finally be the year when FastPass is available in advance for character meet and greets? I wonder how Disney will handle FastPass+ for attractions when Avatar Land debuts at Animal Kingdom or for the Frozen attraction recently announced for the Norway pavilion in Epcot.

So, if you aren’t able to book experiences when they first become available or you find yourself playing a guessing game about timing of availability, what can you do? Although there is no way around the fact that it can take some legwork to snag a coveted reservation, planners in the know have several options:

  • Check the My Disney Experience website or call Disney on a regular basis to see if bookings have opened for FastPass+ experiences or dining experiences. It is fairly easy to hop on My Disney Experience a couple of times a day (when the website is behaving). By phone, try calling at different times during the day when it is convenient for you and simply hang up if the hold time is too long. You may find hold times to be shorter either when the phone lines first open at 7:00 AM or in the late afternoon or evening, but this can vary. In any case, don’t give up! As people finalize their plans, you may find that there are cancellations in the last few weeks before your trip or even at the 24-hour mark.
  • Consider past patterns. Before Disney finally began releasing reservations for the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party at 180 days, they were known to be generally released at the 30 to 60 day mark. Currently, FastPass+ for the Be Our Guest lunch for Disney resort guests appears to become available at 27 days, though it’s anyone’s guess when and if that will change.
  • Keep up with tweets from the many Disney World news sources and enthusiasts on Twitter or follow them on Facebook. A tweet recently alerted me that park hours and entertainment schedules had been updated for November to February. This may be a clue that Disney has released more FastPass+ or dining reservations with the additional hours.
  • Take advantage of Disney internet forums. How do you find information about past patterns, coordinate with otherst_logo on dining cancellations, or be one of the first to know when reservations open up for specific experiences? Search the web for “Disney forums” and you will find multiple websites where experienced Disney World enthusiasts are sharing their knowledge. In fact, TouringPlans.com’s own Forum is an excellent resource.
  • Be flexible! If you can’t get a reservation for an experience on the exact day or at the exact time you want but another time is available, it may be important enough to you to adjust your plans.
  • Check FastPass+ availability on Disney’s website on both your computer and on the My Disney Experience app. There have been reports that they can show different availability. When making your initial FastPass+ reservations, it is best to be on a computer.
  • If you reach the happy day that you will actually visit the parks but still don’t have that desired FastPass+ or dining reservation, there is still hope. Disney has been handing out paper return time tickets for Meet Anna and Elsa and Be Our Guest lunch. Also, if you visit a restaurant such as Be Our Guest at park opening, there may be some openings for dinner.

Obtaining reservations for the most popular experiences at Disney World can seem like a nearly herculean task. I hope some of the tips here make it easier for you to book your most wished for Disney World experiences. Please share your knowledge if you have other tips that could help others face the challenge of obtaining the World’s most coveted reservations.

Sarah Graffam

Sarah gets that giddy feeling when walking down Main Street, U.S.A. (and sometimes in her own living room just thinking about her next trip to Disney World). She is a Disney Vacation Club member and has been a professional writer and editor since 1990. Other favorite places she has traveled include Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, England, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, Kenya, Tanzania, and Disneyland.

26 thoughts on “Disney World Planning Challenges: Tough-to-Get Reservations—From FastPass+ to Dining

  • September 17, 2014 at 11:29 am
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    It’s extremely frustrating when you spend thousands of dollars on a Disney vacation that you are shut out of almost everything FastPass if you don’t book outside of a 60 day time period. We did a last minute trip this summer during one of the less busy end of August weeks and had to wait in LONG lines for almost everything. Previously we have gone during Spring Break weeks and never spent more than 20 minutes in a line with the old FastPass system and were even able to ride high demand rides multiple times. Disney needs to re-think how this is serving their customer because we will not be back until they do.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm
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    I am getting apprehensive about returning to Disney World.
    We stay off site. Will we be able to enjoy a Disney trip without the ability
    to pre order fastpasses? We like headliners and would not wait
    in 1hour plus lines.

    Reply
    • September 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm
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      As long as you purchase your tickets ahead of time and link them to a My Disney Experience account, off-site guests can make FastPass+ reservations at 30 days in advance, when availability is still pretty good for most attractions. It can be a bit daunting at first, but TouringPlans.com has lots of help: http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/fastpass.

      Reply
    • September 17, 2014 at 12:32 pm
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      I am staying off-site, and if you pre-purchase tickets, and link them to your MyDisneyExperience account, you can make FastPass+ reservations beginning at 30 days out. In fact, I’ve been staying up late these last few days to make my reservations as the windows open.

      For the most part, I’ve been able to get FastPasses, with the exceptions noted in the article. We’re going to the Magic Kingdom twice, and I haven’t seen the Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa available at all. (My daughter will just have to get her Frozen princess fix at the Frozen Sing-Along, which seemed to have FP+ available the day I’m going). Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Enchanted Tales with Belle only had slots available on one of my 2 Magic Kingdom days.

      It seemed like other headliners had passes available, but not necessarily at the times that I wanted. I had to grab what I could and rework my Touring Plans to work with what I could get. Overall, the situation seems much worse at Magic Kingdom than the other parks.

      Reply
  • September 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm
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    We have annual passes and are day-trippers most of the time. Generally, we do not make plans more than a week out. The only thing I have ever had trouble grabbing in FP+ was Seven Dwarfs Mine. We’ve done FP+ for the parade, fireworks, all the Mountains, Toy Story Midway Mania, etc. We’ve been to the parks at least once a month since March so we’ve hit just about every crowd level.

    I’m pleased with the new system. I’m a chronic planner, and it works out well for me. If you are someone who likes to be spontaneous, I can see where you might not care for it though…

    Reply
  • September 17, 2014 at 4:41 pm
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    I’ve been trying to make dinner reservations for our trip, which begins in 185 days, but online or by phone I’m told I have to wait to 180 days. How do you access reservations at 190 days, please?

    Reply
    • September 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm
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      It’s not 190 days, it’s 180 +10, meaning that at your 180 day mark 7am eastern, you can book up to 10 days worth of reservations through your trip, however your start date is still 180. This is an advantage over off-site who book 180 days only, meaning they are booking one day at a time.

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    • September 17, 2014 at 4:59 pm
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      Thanks for your great explanation Amy! Disney allows resort guests to make reservations at 180 days for up to 10 days after the check-in date. So if you were to check in on October 1, at your 180-day mark, you could make reservations for 10 days after that. This way, resort guests can make dining reservations for their entire stay at once. That is why you may find more availability for a restaurant like Be Our Guest toward the end of your stay. Resort guests checking in before you have already had access to dates during your stay.

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      • September 17, 2014 at 5:03 pm
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        Thank you both – that makes perfect sense!

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    • September 17, 2014 at 10:44 pm
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      Jennifer,
      You can book 190 out only if you have already booked a resort reservation. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  • September 17, 2014 at 8:51 pm
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    Great info in this article. I was very lucky to get all of our dinner reservations quite easily with the exception of Be Our Guest. After several days of repeatedly going online and re-trying for our dates, I scored not one, but two dinner reservations for Be Our Guest! So don’t give up when it says there’s no availability!! One question I have is we will have a split resort stay (Port Orleans Riverside, Wilderness Lodge, Saratoga Springs)with 10 day park hopper tickets we purchased separately (not a package) – will I still be able to make my FastPass+ reservations at the 60 day window for all 10 days?

    Reply
    • September 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm
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      I am so glad you found the information in the article useful! And congratulations on your Be Our Guest reservations. Persistence can definitely pay off. And more good news – you will be able to make your FastPass+ reservations for your entire stay. Once your booking window opens based on the date of your first room reservation, you will be able to make FastPass+ reservations for the length of your park tickets. Just make sure your tickets are linked to your My Disney Experience account.

      Reply
  • September 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm
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    Thank you so much for answering my question Sarah!

    Reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 12:25 am
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    So what if for a 3-day visit you were to make a room-only resort reservation for 7 nights? Would you be able to link pre-purchased tickets to your MyDisneyExperience and then schedule your Fastpass Plus for 3 days at the end of that resort reservation? What would happen to those Fastpass Plus reservations if you then changed your 7 night resort reservation to only the 3 nights you’re actually visiting the parks? If those Fastpass Plus reservations don’t get wiped out, could this black-hat technique give a vacationer the advantage of access to the Fastpass Plus reservation system 4 days sooner than the rest of the guests visiting on those 3 dates? (Hope that makes sense)

    Reply
    • September 18, 2014 at 8:58 am
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      Speaking completely from anecdotal evidence, I think you could do this. I am not sure, though, how much of an advantage you would get by moving your window up by just 4 days for FastPass+. There will already be some guests who have had access to those dates, and I think it would only make a difference for Meet Anna and Elsa (and possibly Dwarfs if you want a really specific day/time).

      Reply
      • September 18, 2014 at 10:54 am
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        Yeah, it’s probably more hassle than it’s worth, but for a Friday, Saturday, Sunday only visit I might give it a try to increase the odds just a little for those two attractions you mention. Thanks for the insight.

        Reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 8:46 am
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    Great article. Not so easy for us UK guests to be phoning daily to check when things will become available, however!

    Reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 9:49 am
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    What time can you get on the site to make Fastpass+ reservations on your 60 day-out date? Is it 7 am as for ADRs or midnight? From what I have read here, it probably doesn’t really matter a few hours but I just wondered when the window opens and couldn’t find any info about this on the wdw site. Hoping to get Anna and Elsa for our daughter (as the boys in the family will not go for hours in line for princesses!!) Thanks.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2014 at 10:09 am
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      FastPass+ reservations open at midnight. And, unfortunately, for Meet Anna and Elsa it can make a difference if you wait to reserve until morning. In fact, for Anna and Elsa, make this reservation first and you may want to consider beginning with checking on your last day of your vacation. Just grab it if you see it; you can try to move it to a different time on that day later if needed.

      Reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 11:30 am
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    Have a trip coming this November. I got on to MDE right at my 60 day window at midnight and went directly to my last day available to try and book Anna and Elsa. To my surprise A & E and all the parades and fireworks were booked solid at Magic Kingdom for the length of my trip! A & E was the ONLY fastpass+ I cared about. As a DVC member I emailed DVC member services and they referred me to their member satisfaction team. It took a week to get a response. Which I appreciated because it was by phone. Now one thing I recommend not doing is accusing Disney of holding back FP+ reservations from Resort guests. This point was driven home by the cast member repeating a few times that Disney does not hold back FP+ reservations. I was told that there was just that many people staying longer on site then me. So I had to hang my head like in Arrested Development and listen to the sad Charlie Brown music. And of course I got there is nothing I can do, but just keep trying. Oh well here is hoping the wait time is going to be under 300 mins!

    Reply
    • September 18, 2014 at 12:00 pm
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      Wow! Thanks for sharing Mike. It sounds like they can’t add back the Norway meet and greet for Anna and Elsa fast enough!

      Reply
    • September 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm
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      We’re also DVC (newbies) and going the first week of December. Crowds will be fairly low, but I’m also concerned about 7DMT and Anna and Elsa. I’ve been frustrated with the whole A and E situation since it started. I don’t know why Disney didn’t just leave the meet and greet in Norway and simply add Fairytale Hall, when they made the change in the first place. Grrrr…. Anyway, I hope luck is on my side when my 60-day opens in 12 days…but who’s counting?! ;o)

      Reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm
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    On the ”180 days + 10” thing. Coming from the UK we will be there for 14 nights. When can we first book those final 3 (or is it 4) day’s.

    Say we arrive June 1st. Our return day would be June 15th. Assume 180 days before is January 1st, so we could book June 1st through June 10th (or is it through June 11th?). When could we book 11th, 12th, 13th,14th and (morning of) 15th? Does June 11th become available on January 2nd? Or January 11th? Etc.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2014 at 5:22 pm
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      Hi Jason. As a Disney resort guest, you can call at the 180-day mark to make reservations for meals on the first day of your trip and also for meals on the following 9 days. So, for example, if you are arriving on June 1, at the 180-day mark, you can make dining reservations for June 1 to June 10. Then the next day, you can call and book day 11, the following day you can book day 12, etc.

      Reply
      • September 18, 2014 at 5:40 pm
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        Very helpful, thanks.

        Reply
  • September 20, 2014 at 10:35 pm
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    I went in May and used FastPass+ to absolutely amazing effect, but the key to it for me was to NOT plan far in advance. In fact, I found it worked best when I was changing my FastPasses daily. I actually ended up going around the parks with my iPhone in hand (set to the My Disney Experience app), changing things around on the fly, and managing to do things (like change FastPasses because my five year old was peckish for Buzz instead of Big Thunder, right before Big Thunder’s return time, or walking into Epcot at 5:00 pm on arrival day knowing we were going to get on Test Track before dinner) that weren’t even possible in the previous FastPass incarnation.
    This system is definitely designed to be used daily. It’s a lot more agile and mobile and flexible than restaurant reservations – I think people need to go with the flow more and see what it has to offer rather than trying to book everything solid two months before you leave.

    Reply

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