Theme Park Foodie: Start planning your holiday dining now


By Ashley Nichols

I know, I know. Halloween has just ended. 

Nonetheless, the holiday season is quickly approaching and as much as I dislike “Christmas creep”, now is the time to start thinking seriously about your vacation dining plans.

Although dining at Central Florida’s theme parks is a quick-service breeze, the finer dining options may be harder to come by during the busy season. Many families want to enjoy at least one special dinner during their holiday vacation, and reservations for table service restaurants and dining experiences fill quickly.

 So let’s talk winter break dining reservations!

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World parks are, by far, the most challenging when it comes to dining reservations. Despite the incredible amount of table-service dining the parks offer, popular restaurants seem to be booked night after night during the busy season. Here are a few tips for making Disney dining reservations:

Be flexible.
If you can’t eat at Be Our Guest for dinner (if you don’t have a reservation by now, you likely won’t be able to), go for the quick-service lunch! If your favorite restaurant isn’t available, be willing to give something new a try. Or, if you find a reservation but it’s at an inconvenient time, seriously consider taking it anyway. Vacations are the best time to break routine!

Try, try again!
In 2012, Disney implemented a new dining reservation policy that requires a card credit guarantee. This means that if people have dining reservations and their plans change or they can’t make it for the specified time, they must cancel 24 hours before the reservation or be charged a $10 fee per person. That means that reservations may open up as the vacation season approaches. Take the time to check for reservations at your favorite, booked restaurant at least once a day; you may just be able to snag a last minute spot.

Consider a resort restaurant.
Although many guests feel pressure to dine inside the parks, a number of dining options found at the resorts can be the perfect choice for a special holiday dinner. We recently checked reservations for a few of the nicer dining locations and found that many of Disney property’s finest restaurants still have availability during the busy holiday season. The Flying Fish at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Citrico’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa all had some holiday-time availability at the time of this article’s writing.

Reservations Resources:
• Walt Disney World Dining Website: disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations/dining
• Reservations Number: (407) 939-3463

SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration is one of the best holiday events in Central Floridaand offers a delicious array of limited-time menu items. Last year, many of the quick service restaurants offered a holiday entrée for the event. The park’s table service restaurant, Sharks Underwater Grill, also served a menu of holiday fare. We expect those trends to continue this year. SeaWorld also offers a dining experience for the Christmas Celebration, Santa’s Fireside Feast. There is plenty of delicious holiday food to go around no matter what your budget, but if you’re hoping to enjoy a dining experience be sure to book a reservation soon.

Reservations are required for the following dining experiences:
Santa’s Fireside Feast
Location: SeaFire Inn
Time: 5:30 p.m. on select dates in November, December

Cost: Adults $29.99, Children (ages 2-9) $19.99

• Dine with Shamu
Time: 6 p.m. daily
Cost: Adults $29.99, Children $19.99
NOTE: Children eat free with the purchase of an adult reservation through Dec. 24. Prices for this dining experience increase from Dec. 25 – 30.

Reservations recommended for the following restaurants:
Sharks Underwater Grill

Hours: Lunch and Dinner daily
Price Range: From $25 – $35/person
NOTE: You may need to call to make reservations; it seems that the website does not offer online booking for this restaurant. In the past reservations have only been accepted in the park, but when I called the reservation line I was told that reservations are now available.

Reservations Resources:
• SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment: (888) 800-5447
• SeaWorld Orlando Website: seaworldparks.com/seaworld-orlando/dine-and-shop/dining

Universal Orlando

Universal offers a more modest holiday celebration, including a Grinchmas show and décor and a concert by Mannheim Steamroller, but the parks become very crowded during the weeks between Christmas and New Year’s. My best piece of advice when attempting to make reservations at Universal over the phone is to remain patient and be persistent. Be sure to know exactly what you want when you call, and if someone tells you they are not currently accepting reservations, call at least once more to reconfirm. It is also important to note that reservations for the in-park restaurants at Universal Studios can be found online at OpenTable.com.

Reservations are required for the following dining experiences:

Universal’s Superstar Character Breakfast

Location: Cafe La Bamba

Time: 9 to 11 a.m.

Price: Adults $26.99, Children $10.99

Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience

Location: Lombard’s Seafood Grille Deck

Time: 4 to 7:45 p.m. (Dates and Times subject to change)

Price: Adults $44.99, Children $12.99

Reservations are suggested for the following restaurants:

Lombard’s Seafood Grille
Location: Universal Studios
Hours: Lunch and Dinner daily

Price Range: From $15-$25/person


Location: Islands of Adventure

Hours: Lunch daily (hours may be extended during the holiday season)

Price Range: From $10-$18/person

Reservations Resources:

• Universal Studios Reservation Lines: (407) 224-7554 and (407) 224-3613
• Islands of Adventure Reservations Desk: (407) 224-4012
• CityWalk Guest Services: 407-224-3663
• Online reservations for many Universal restaurants can also be made at OpenTable.com

Busch Gardens
This will be a very special holiday season for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, as it will be the inaugural year of their new Christmas Town celebration. According to the Busch Gardens website, “Christmas Town will transform Busch Gardens Tampa Bay into a holiday wonderland of wintery surprises and all things Christmas.” Because this will be the event’s opening year, reservations for the park’s newest dining experience may go quickly.

Mrs. Claus’ Family Feast

Time: 6 p.m. during Christmas Town event
Cost: Adults $20.00, Children (3-9) $14.00
Attendees to the feast also receive front of the line access to “Santa’s House” and “Let It Snow.”

Reservations Resources:
• SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Call Center: (888) 800-5447
• Busch Gardens Website: seaworldparks.com/en/ChristmasTownFL/Mrs-Claus

Ashley Nichols is the editor of Theme Park Foodie, a blog that highlights dining and cuisine opportunities at theme parks throughout the United States with a focus on Central Florida. Her interest in the amusement industry’s food offerings began in 2010 when she served as a seasonal team member at an Orlando-area theme park and was repeatedly asked for referrals to the park’s best restaurants or dining options. Follow her on Twitter @ThemeParkFoodie.


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