Disney dining frustrations

Update 10/14: a bunch of availability has opened up at Hollywood & Vine between 12/7-12/11 if anyone else is looking ! Have at it !

This is my first time being truly frustrated booking Disney dining reservations. After years of booking our reservations 180 days out and nabbing every hard-to-get reservation we wanted, plus two Covid era trips in the books now with multiple character dining reservations, I can now say I have completely failed at getting the character dining we wanted for our December trip.

Booking dining is increasingly challenging as crowds continue to increase, but capacity remains limited inside restaurants (which I appreciate), and numerous restaurants remain closed. What frustrates me is that there are still only 3 character dining options, so they get grabbed super quickly by everyone with kids. Topolinos continues to be the only character breakfast (although Chef Mickeys is bringing back characters on December 16th, 5 days after we leave Disney, which breaks my heart because I was very optimistic more character dining options would open by our travel dates and this announcement really stomped out my optimism). Garden Grill and Hollywood & Vine are the only two character dining options for lunch and dinner (although the Beast makes small appearances at Be Our Guest, but that isn’t worth the price tag and fancy food for our simple tastes, and I’ve heard mixed reports on whether Cinderella makes consistent appearances at her Royal Table currently… so I don’t count those 2 as true Character Dining experiences, but you may).

With the limited options available, I was hoping to get two breakfasts at Topolinos, one lunch at Garden Grill, and two dinners at Hollywood & Vine during our 8 night stay in December. I was able to get a dinner at Garden Grill on our first day, and breakfast at Topolinos on our very last day, but that is it. Absolutely no Hollywood & Vine availability for the whole week (for a party of 3!). Considering these meals are the only guaranteed character interactions during the whole trip, this is oddly heart breaking for me right now (lol, this is an emotional year). My kiddo is really counting on seeing “Santa Goofy” at Hollywood & Vine, and I feel like a massive failure.

Here’s where I got semi “screwed over” by the perfect storm of coronavirus changes.

First, everyone should know by now that dining reservations can be made 60 days prior to travel now, instead of 180 days. Fine, that shouldn’t really matter. A-ok in my book.

However, we are doing a split-stay with our first three nights at Bay Lake Tower and our last five nights at Beach Club. Normally, DVC Member Services is kind enough to link these reservations in a manner so that you can book all of your dining as though this is one reservation (ie at 60 days out from the first nights in Bay Lake, we should have been able to book the full week of dining). However, there is a new policy in place for Member Services to not perform this reservation linking due to “reduced capacity” aka staffing issues and high call volume. That’s a bunch of BS. The cast member I spoke to said that she knew how to do it, but was not allowed to. That is infuriating. She wasted more time talking to me in my frustration than it would have taken to just link the reservation! This doesn’t reduce call volume, since everyone will still call in expecting the same service they’ve gotten in the past, just to be disappointed. Completely frustrating covid-related policy change by DVC.

So as a result, I was only able to book four days of dining on our first booking day, then I had to wait another four days to try to book for the rest of our stay. By then, I was booking as though we were checking in on a Sunday at Beach Club, meaning everyone checking in on Saturday was able to book dining for their whole week the day prior to us.

Given that there are only two true character lunch and dinner options, with only one being in the super busy Hollywood Studios, this explains why Hollywood & Vine was unavailable for our whole stay when I logged in at 6am. Totally crappy.

My advice for people in our situation: 1. Don’t do split stays and 2. Don’t be too discouraged at this point, we all know a ton of people will be cancelling trips in upcoming weeks, just like they have over the prior months, as covid continues to wreak havoc on everyone’s travel plans. Plus in the days immediately prior to travel, dining opens up more than ever. People change dining plans last minute as they mess around with their plans while they are in Disney, so even if you arrive in Disney without the reservations you hoped for, don’t give up checking the app!

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: After calling into Disney Dining this morning to have them check the whole week for any availability at Hollywood & Vine, the very helpful cast member informed me that for some reason Garden Grill and Hollywood & Vine are actually completely “blocked out” for most dates of our stay, so they are expecting new availability to be released imminently, but they have no idea when. She confirmed that the reservations are not all booked (actually barely any are booked she said), but for some reason Disney has blocked the reservations at those restaurants while they figure something out (who knows what they are up to at any given moment with all the moving pieces they are dealing with). She said to keep checking, because she expects when the availability is released, the reservations will go quickly (for the reasons explained above). So there is hope!