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.
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.
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
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 others 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.