As you plan your trip, you may wonder if you should book table service meals- and if so, how many? Here are some things to keep in mind when booking your table service meals!
A table service meal is much more of a time commitment than a quick service meal. You typically spend at least an hour at a table service meal, though they can run up to two hours depending on characters, how much you eat, how quickly you eat, etc. If this is your first trip, a short trip or you have a lot you must do, table service meals may not be the best fit for you. They won’t be nearly as much fun if you spend the whole time checking the time.
Wait Times: At a quick service, you wait in line to order, wait to get your food, and boom out you go. At a table service, you have to wait to get into your reservation (which can be very quick or a significant wait (20 minutes or more, depending on if they are backed up). If your reservation is at 5:30pm, you probably aren’t going to show up at 5:30pm on the dot- chances are you’ll show up a little early, or find yourself loitering because you don’t have time to do other things before making it to your reservation. If you are eating in a different location- ie, leaving your resort to head to Magic Kingdom for a special meal, you have to factor in significant travel times. Disney recommends leaving 2 hours to get to your reservation if using Disney transportation.
Advanced Booking: It used to be 180 days in advance that you had to book very popular table service meals, and some day it may be that way again. Right now, you can book 60 days in advance. Meaning if you wanted a buffet two months ago, but on the day of the park you’re just not hungry, you are kind of out of luck. You have a lot less flexibility when something has to be booked in advance, rather than walking by and saying “oh, that place looks good, let’s just eat there.”
Cost: Table services are expensive. Whereas you may spend $15 a person on your quick service meal, your table service can cost up to $60 each- if not more. How much do I really need to say about that significant cost difference? Definitely check your menus ahead of time so you don’t sit down to a hugely expensive meal, when you could have had a nice table service at one of the lower price points (though still, much more than that quick burger). Don’t forget that breakfast is often your cheaper table service meal, which can be a great way to get the experience without paying quite as much. Also keep in mind, you can not share plates (unless a child is under 3) at a buffet, though you can share a quick service meal with any family member, at any time.
Quality of Food: Table service quickly has a variety of food beyond the usual and it’s often a better quality. That being said, I’ve had better quick service nachos at Pecos Bill’s than my entire meal at The Diamond Horseshoe, which was much more expensive. Some are also all you can eat buffets, offering you the opportunity to try many exotic offerings, or eat your weight in seafood. Don’t worry picky eaters, buffets that offer lots of excellent American dishes as well.
Amount of Food: Playing in on the quality, you’re going to get more food at a table service than you will at a quick service and if you are on the dining plan, you may find yourself getting even more than usual to use up your entitlements. If you don’t typically eat very much, or you would rather have one meal in a day and then snack, keep this in mind as you plan! Can you really eat at a buffet twice a day, every day? If not, then why pay the big bucks?
Special Experiences: Characters, friends. You can meet a ton of characters while eating, from princesses at Akershus to the Pooh gang at Crystal Palace. This is a great way to see your must have favorite characters without waiting in the hot sun, or hours long lines. Still though, it’ll cost ya! Some table services, like Be Our Guest, may only offer a single (location exclusive) character to meet, but you do so in a beautiful castle with three gorgeous rooms themed after Beast’s Castle. It’s such an experience! Coral Reef in Epcot has you eating in view of huge walls that are aquariums- where else can you eat as you watch a shark swim lazily by? The theming of many of the table service options are so unique and lovely.
In the case of meeting characters, like the Princesses at Akershus, you may end up spending a little extra time at your dining reservation- but you’re also going to meet five or six princesses. If the Princess Fairytale Hall waits in Magic Kingdom are only 30 minutes per side, it will still take you an hour to meet four Princesses. Definitely factor this in to the value of your table service meal!
Resting: Another benefit of table service meals comes in the form of rest! If you know you’re going to spend at least an hour sitting, soak up that air conditioning! This is a great time to take a nice rest, rehydrate, eat good food and just chill. I also like to take a moment to recheck our game plan. Is there anything we haven’t done that we really want to? How is everyone feeling? It gives us an opportunity to really connect because we can’t rush to eat and then head back out to the sun. I love to take this time to ask my daughter “What has been your favorite part of today so far? What is something interesting you’ve seen?” It’s a “forced” opportunity to bond and enjoy each other as we enjoy vacation, rather than getting caught up in the rushing around. It makes a huge difference for attitudes too- we rarely have meltdowns (either adult or child) when we’ve had a nice table service meal to relax us.
There are a lot of things to consider when planning your table service meals, but if you keep these things in mind, you’ll make the right decision for your family and your Disney budget!