People get stuck at parks… weather issues, busses, monorails, tons of reasons you could not make it etc.
But to tell you the truth, we just walk on in to the reservation area in the Contemporary and we’ve never been turned away.
Maybe we’re just lucky.
You WERE just lucky!
On the other hand, there is a difference between a no show and a late arrival.
There’s also a difference between a no show and a late cancellation due to an emergency. In fact, in the case of an actual emergency, I would simply dispute the charge with Disney and with your credit card company.
I’d be fairly certain that in the case of last minute extenuating circumstances you could get Cali Grill’s manager to waive the charge.
A great example of circumstances beyond everyone’s control was a late reopening after overnight repaving of Seven Seas Lagoon Drive in December.
This seemingly minor issue snowballed into a major transport snafu for every single bus heading to or from the Magic Kingdom to the point that it was taking guests two hours to get to the MK directly from any bus resort and the only other option was to take the bus to Epcot and then monorail to TTC and on to MK.
And this was during a morning EMH no less! (I got a bunch of “yellow” fast passes from Disney Transport management as compensation).
As for your simply walking up, well…
We had 9:30 reservations on my wife’s birthday a couple years back. Fireworks were at 10 that night.
There were so many people waiting for tables to open up (and we all had reservations) that guests were forced to sit on the floors and to top that off, we weren’t even seated until 10:25!
And this boned us in the end because we were forced to take a taxi back to our hotel instead of being able to get a bus at the MK because we didn’t finish our meal until 12:30 and the buses stopped at midnight.