Trying to book a table at Be Our Guest and other popular Walt Disney World restaurants can be a beastly experience.
Reservations go fast, so snagging one requires heavy doses of persistence and planning.
Some frustrated visitors have begun turning to online middlemen for help. One site is even selling the dining reservations — making them, then transferring them for a fee.
Services such as Disney Dining Buddy, Disney Dining Scout and WDW Table Finder notify visitors of slots that become available. They charge anywhere from $1 to $8 apiece for a search.
The alert systems have attracted many happy customers. But Disney fans are less charmed by a new site called DiS Dining Agent that goes even further. It makes restaurant reservations under assumed identities, then transfers them to customers for $15.
Guests who have had trouble finding reservations are angry that someone would hoard them to sell.
“It just infuriates me,” said Anna Skamarakas, a New Jersey teacher and a “Disney Parks Moms” panelist chosen by the resort to give other tourists advice on a Disney-sponsored site.
“They are doing something to circumnavigate the system, which isn’t fair to the rest of us who are trying to play by the rules.”
Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said in an email that “we are currently reviewing the situation involving third party website dining services. Disney has no affiliation with these third-party services which can interfere with the guest experience we strive to create.”
DiS Dining Agent went live a few weeks ago, according to its Twitter feed. The system works like this:
Specific reservations are listed on the site — say, a table for five at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for 8:20 p.m. Dec. 11.
Diners select a guaranteed reservation, add it to a cart and check out. In return, they receive a confirmation number and the fictional name that was used to book the table — information used to check in at the restaurant. They also get access to an email account used to book the reservation.
For a smaller fee, between $6 and $10, DiS Dining Agent will simply cancel its reservation in exchange for letting you know exactly when that happens, to give you a better chance of grabbing it before someone else.
The site’s owner would not comment for this article.
Unlike DiS Dining Agent, other services such as Disney Dining Buddy simply perform computer searches for specific openings and alert diners to them. Customers then quickly go online or call to lock in their times.
“We have no interest in abusing the system,” said Disney Dining Buddy founder Mark Downs, who started his site last year.
Happy customers include Susan Hollis of Callaway, Md. She tried the service after buying tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, then discovered she couldn’t get into a sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that night. Using Disney Dining Buddy, she found a table for five at The Plaza Restaurant.
“It worked great for us,”
said Hollis, 57, The $8 she paid was worth it, she said, “just to know we can go in with peace of mind and have something reserved.”
Some Disney restaurants are so much in demand that people are at their computer keyboards at 6 a.m. exactly 180 days in advance, ready to pounce when seats first become available. The most sought-after eateries include Be Our Guest, the “Beauty and the Beast”-themed French restaurant that opened as part of the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion.
Kristy Ouellette, a Disney-focused travel agency owner who uses the alert services, said she discovered the sites during the past year as it has become more difficult to find openings.
“It’s been this fever pitch,” she said.
Ouellette said it appears visitors have begun making multiple reservations months before so they can have options, then canceling unused ones just a few days before. Disney charges $10 per person for no-shows who give less than a day’s notice.
Industry watchers say other factors have contributed, too. The Disney Dining Plan package for hotel guests, for example, commits them to a certain number of sit-down meals. So visitors lock in choices early to make sure they get what they paid for, said Robert Niles, editor and publisher of ThemeParkInsider.com.
The new businesses are “essentially exploiting an overly complex system,” Niles said.
Disney already generally forbids guests to make reservations within two hours of each other. Niles suggested Disney could also limit the number of reservations per person and require valid tickets to book restaurants inside the theme parks. The resort could also simply maintain a waiting list, giving people available spots on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.
“Disney created a market here of a lot of very frustrated guests who are trying to get into restaurants and are not able to do it,” he said. “Good entrepreneurs have found a way to serve that market.”