I think I could do nothing else but eat at Disneyland and be a pretty happy camper. The hard part is, how do you choose what/where to eat? Even harder, how do you choose where you want to eat 60 days before you get there? We’re here to help, with Disneyland Dining Tips!
I can describe how we eat at Disneyland in one word: constantly. Are you hungry yet? You will be when we’re done here!
The “Code,” which is more like “Guidelines”
A typical day for us includes one meal in our hotel room (we have groceries delivered), a counter service meal, a table service meal, and plenty of snacks (both brought in and purchased in the park). The one rule is to never get to the point at which my kids (or my husband … or myself) get so hungry that we get crabby. The most important Disney food advice I have ever received came from our Cruise Director on the Disney Dream: “If you see it, eat it!”
Disneyland Dining Tips: Snacks
You’re welcome to bring food into the parks (but not knives, glass, hard coolers or alcohol). We often bring yogurt tubes, crackers, fruit leather, granola bars, nuts, and other easily portable food. We always bring water bottles. We’ve found that hunger frequently makes itself known while we’re in a long line, so we keep our snacks in the backpack with us when waiting for rides.
There are also a lot of snacks in the parks and Downtown Disney that we love. Our kids adore the packs of Mickey lollipops that look like balloons, and they’re great in a line (keep that wrapper – you can re-wrap an unfinished one and save it for later). My personal favorite is Dole Whip Floats, at the Enchanted Tiki Room. If the line outside looks insane, and it often does, head into the Tiki Room queue. There’s another line for Dole Whips on that side, and it’s usually much shorter. Grabbing a churro or some popcorn always makes the wait for a parade or fireworks go by faster. There are healthy snacks too, like fresh fruit or veggies and hummus at some of the food carts. Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland has yummy skewers that work as a snack or can be a meal all on their own!
Disneyland Dining Tips: Quick Service
Also called counter service, these are locations in the park where you walk up, pick your meal, and select your own table. These often feature burgers, pizza, or chicken, but there are some more unique options as well. If you’re looking for a great view, try the Cove Bar in Disney California Adventure!
Other favorite quick service options are Pacific Wharf (DCA), Hungry Bear (DL), Paradise Garden Grill (DCA), French Market (DL), Flo’s and the Cozy Cones (DCA) and Plaza Inn (DL). There’s no shortage of options if you don’t have a reservation for table service, so don’t go hungry!
Disneyland Dining Tips: Table Service Restaurants
This is the most complicated part of dining at Disneyland. There are over 100 reservation-accepting restaurants around the Disneyland Resort – that includes Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, the Disney Resort Hotels and Downtown Disney. Reservations are available 60 days in advance. To make reservations, you have three options: calling Disneyland Dining (714.781.3463), using the Disneyland Website or using the Disneyland App (free for your smart phone and insanely useful). My personal preferences are to use: the dining website to make reservations while at home; and the app to manage them in the park if I need to. The Cast Members on the phone are great, but the wait to talk to someone is often long.
The website offers the ability to narrow your search range to types of restaurants, park/location, price range, food type, and even Guest ratings and which locations offer discounts to Annual Passholders. You can also search across many locations for a very specific time, or a single location for any time in a day. Here’s an example of a search for breakfast. On the site you can keep scrolling down the list and see all available locations for breakfast that day. Clicking on one of the “Reserve a table at” time buttons will ask you to log in and walk you through finishing the reservation. The website is easy to follow, includes menus, and has the option to note dietary restrictions when making a reservation.
So, do I have to have reservations?
Do you always need a reservation to eat at table service locations? Nope. It’s fairly easy to eat in Downtown Disney without one, although you may wait for a while. You can always walk up to any location and ask about availability and wait time. There are some times when a reservation is really a must though:
- Large Parties: We often travel with 12 or more people. While we split up a lot during the day, we like being able to meet and eat together. If we want to do this at a table service location we always have a reservation. It’s nearly impossible to walk up with a large group without one.
- Character Dining: These experiences are extremely popular, and fairly limited (compared to Walt Disney World). In the parks you only have two choices—Ariel’s Grotto to meet the princesses in Disney California Adventure, or Plaza Inn in Disneyland with Minnie and a group of her friends. Further limiting, Plaza Inn only has characters at breakfast and Ariel’s Grotto has breakfast and lunch. At the hotels, you have three character dining options – Surf’s Up with Mickey (Paradise Pier Hotel), breakfast at Storyteller’s Café (Grand Californian Hotel) or Goofy’s Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel). Anyone can dine at these locations, not just hotel Guests. We often opt to use one of these on a day that we aren’t going into the parks such as dinner on the day we arrive or breakfast before we head home. When you’re picking character dining, keep in mind which characters you’re interested in, and what type of food works for your group. Some are buffets, some use a menu, some offer both. But no matter which location you choose, you’ll absolutely need a reservation.
- Popular Locations: Upscale dining, like Napa Rose (Grand Californian Hotel), Carthay Circle (DCA) and the Blue Bayou (DL) almost always require a reservation. Carnation Café (DL) isn’t fancy, but it’s extremely popular and often has a line of an hour or more if you don’t have a reservation. If your heart is set on a particular dining experience, make a reservation!
A reservation will require a credit card to hold your table – you will only be charged if you don’t give 24 hours’ notice to cancel. You can cancel online, by phone, on the app or in person at the parks. We aim for one reservation each day, often a late lunch or early dinner since we love to snack our way around the parks. Table service is a slower pace than counter service meals, and it’s a nice break from our usual “walk till you drop” mode of operation.
Disneyland Dining Tips: Extra Special Eats
There are some special dining experiences that combine entertainment with your meal. Dining packages are available for Frozen – Live at the Hyperion, the Main Street Electrical Parade, and World of Color. There’s also a special dessert party for the World of Color that is amazing, and includes prime viewing for the show while you enjoy your treats! All of these experiences require reservations as well.
There’s something for everyone to love when it comes to food at Disneyland. Do some homework before you go, make a few reservations, and have fun exploring all the options! Good thing we walk off most of the calories, right? Enjoy, and share your favorites so I can try them on my next trip!