June 2, 2024, 3:19 PM ·

Here is another “Hot Take Debate” for you. Proposed: Walt Disney World should eliminate all in-park advance dining reservations.

You want to eat at one of Disney’s many table service restaurants? Then head to the host stand when the park opens and sign up for a dining time. First come, first dibs.Yes, that means that you might lose out on a short wait time for popular rides because you rushed to book a restaurant first. But that’s fair, because those other guests who prioritized rides over meals now will have to deal with maybe not getting into the restaurant they wanted.I remember when EPCOT opened, and people really would queue up with Guest Relations to make dining reservations at rope drop instead of rushing to go on the park’s rides. When I worked in the Magic Kingdom, a significant number of guests rushing into Frontierland in the morning were not heading to Big Thunder but to the Diamond Horseshoe, to claim one of the very limited number of spots to that old musical dinner-theater show. So this system has worked in the past. It ended because Disney gave into trying to let guests “have it all” on their vacation rather than forcing them to make choices. If you can book your dining in advance, then you can rope drop the big rides without having to give up a chance at the meal you want.

But all Disney really did here is create a second rope drop. That now happens months in advance, when the booking window opens and fans rush online to snag reservation times before they’re gone. There’s no trade-off anymore, like there was when you had to give up a shot at an empty ride queue to try for a desired lunch or dinner time. So more people now give it a go on dining reservations, making them even harder to get.ADRs have created a cascade of frustrations for many Disney visitors. So why does Disney continue with them? Because it has created an enormous revenue opportunity for the company.Walt Disney World gives its on-site hotel customers an additional 30-day-plus head start in booking dining reservations over day guests. That has helped Disney to fill its highly priced hotel rooms, as fans have learned that a hotel reservation gives them better odds at booking the reservations they want. Disney Dining Plans add to the availability problem, too. People with full-service dining plans need to book tables to use their plans to get their value, adding to demand. All this has created a huge third-party aftermarket in peddling access to Walt Disney World dining reservations.It doesn’t have to be this way. As you might be able to infer, I am not a fan of all the various ways that parks have concocted to allow visitors access to rides, shows and restaurants without having to wait in old-fashioned queues. Lots of people want to do things in the park with limited capacities. Forcing guests to make choices about what to line up for – and not allowing them an end-run around those choices – is the fairest way to help ensure that people get to do what they most want.Otherwise, we end up with a miserable system where people with the most money get to do whatever they want – by buying Genie+, Individual Lightning Lanes, Extra Magic hours, and third-party restaurant booking services – while everyone else has to fight to navigate systems made more complex by the need to support all these extra income opportunities for the resort.Disney World could preserve an advantage for its hotel guests by allowing them to book restaurant times during their 30-minute early theme park entry. But they would have to choose to do that instead of getting into ride queues. That should still provide day guests a shot at prime reservations, too. What do you think? Is Walt Disney World’s advance reservation system for in-park restaurants fair? Is it working for you? Should Disney keep it, ditch it, or change it? Let’s hear your thoughts on this debate, in the comments.To keep up to date with more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider’s weekly newsletter. And to help support Theme Park Insider while saving money on discounted theme park tickets, please follow the ticket icon links on our Theme Park visitors guides.

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