Disney’s Dining Plan for First Timers

Disney's dining plan for first timers

Disney’s dining plan – something that I think is useful in some way, shape, or form to nearly every family who travels to Disney. There are a few exceptions to every rule, but truly without any of Disney’s dining plans, how are you going to eat? 

What are these exceptions? Family members with extremely limited diets due to medical restrictions (i.e. need to cook my own meals or else…) and potentially those that are staying in a 1 or 2 bedroom villas and have the ability to truly cook their own food. Disney fits the mold of everything else. Have picky eaters? No problem – Disney totally understands picky kids and adults, so there’s something for everyone if you know where to look (and we can plan together to find the best option for your crew). I think I’ve truly dealt with it all. Food allergies? Again, no problem! Disney has equipped kitchens (even with buffet style meals) to help accommodate all sorts of allergies. Even if there are multiple allergies or truly limited options, a chef will come to your table and get a sense of what you or your family member can eat and make sure it’s prepared in a safe, allergy free manner. I’ve been truly impressed with all Disney has done for guests with allergies (going beyond the simple gluten and peanuts!)

First, how does the dining plan work?

Each guest receives credits for their length of stay (breakdown below) – you cannot pick and choose dates or people in a room to have a dining plan. It’s all or nothing.  Guests age 3-9 will receive child credits while guests 10+ will receive adult credits. Your tiny guests under age 3 will be free, but will have to share from another guest’s plate. If you are choosing a buffet style meal, he or she may have a plate of food at no cost (because truly that’s what sharing is at a buffet!)

Your credits are issued to you at the time of check in and can be used in any way, shape, or form you wish. If you’d like to use all of your snack credits in one day (say during Food & Wine Festival in the fall), you may do so. If you choose to add 2 table service dining credits together to use toward a dinner show or Cinderella’s Table and then just eat quick service the following day, that’s perfectly ok as well! There’s no “per day” usage requirements, so the plan truly is flexible. The only “rule”, I have is USE ALL OF  YOUR CREDITS!!

In addition to your credits, each of your guests age 3+ will receive a refillable mug which can be used at any of Disney’s resorts (not inside the theme parks – but still useful to bring 1 to split soft drinks or use as a water cup). The refill stations at the resort include Coca Cola products, blue PowerAde, Coffee, Iced Tea, water, and hot chocolate. There’s a mug rinse sink as well but we bring a small container of dish soap because coffee followed by diet coke does not taste very good!

Next, what Disney dining plan is for you (since we’ve established, that it’s for almost everybody!)

  • Quick Service Dining Plan – This plan offers guests 2 quick service credits plus 1 snack credit per person per night of pecosbillstay. This is a good option for families that aren’t interested in sitting down to meals or those with extremely picky palates (especially if the picky palates are over age 10 as there are less options to choose at sit down meals for the “big” kids). While you receive 2 meals per day, there are ways to stretch your credits to feed yourselves for a full day – sharing a breakfast and lunch quick service is a good start (or using your snack at breakfast time and bringing a few snacks from home at the park). There are several options inside the theme parks that have very large portion sizes which can be shared between 2 adults.
  • Disney Dining Plan – This plan offers guests with 1 table service credit, 1 quick service credit, and 1 snack credit per person per night of stay. This plan is best for those that want a taste of some of the 80+ table service restaurants but don’t want to sit down to most (or every) meal. You have the option to couple your table service credits together for dinner shows or signature dining (the best of the best in steak and seafood). You can also redeem your table service credits for character dining. For families with at least 1 child under the age of 10 and interested in at least 2 character dining experiences, this is truly worth its while. I know it seems like a bit out of pocket expense, but it’s difficult to only spend $20 per day on a child’s food in the absence of a dining plan. Plus, a dinner at Chef Mickey’s is over $40 per adult and a dinner at Ohana (which is one of our favorites) is just under $100 for a party of 2 adults. Knowing WHERE to dine is how to make this well worth its while, and doing the math on paper with what is included in your plan, makes true dollars and cents!
  • Deluxe Dining Plan – If you need 3 meals each day, or you are a family that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this is the plan for you! If you’ve got any “foodies”, this is also the plan for you. This plan offers 3 meal credits per day (and can be used in a mix of quick service and table service at your preference). You also receive 2 snack credits per person per night of stay. Those that feel most successful with this plan often plan 2 table service meals and use snack and quick service meals to “fill in”. Lunch and dinner on this plan come with an appetizer, entree, and dessert per person so it’s a lot of food but a great way to try new things and great for the adventurous people (or great for those that want a ton of character dining)! I’d never shy anyone away from deluxe dining, but would hesitate to schedule every single dining credit ahead of time (as many people end up cancelling a few along the way because they are just too full to eat 3 full meals per day – at least in my family that’s how it goes!)
  • Platinum Dining Plan – This plan is for families who want to PLAY and DINE! You receive all of the accompaniments of the deluxe dining plan plus additional water sports and activities. This plan is less about the park time and more about everything else and is most geared toward adults and older children. You cannot use this dining plan under any promotional rates, but it’s a great way to do some of the lesser known Disney experiences if you’re not a “theme park” person! 

What do my credits include? 

Disney’s dining credits are not just an entree, it’s much more!

Under the quick service plan & the Disney dining plan, your table service and quick service meals include an entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person. At some locations, you can get an “upgraded” beverage besides lemonade, iced tea, or coke products. If you choose breakfast for any of your credits, you will not receive a dessert (just entree and beverage). 

Under the deluxe and platinum dining plans, you receive an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage per person at lunch and dinner. Breakfast again does not include a dessert and on this plan; no appetizer either!

Any table service credit can be exchanged for a buffet meal which includes “all you can eat” and at least one beverage (as big fans of a few breakfast locations, you can get coffee and their delightful POG juice) which are both included. If you want coffee with your dessert, ask your sever if you can do coffee as your beverage and just order water with your meal or if the restaurant will allow both. 

Quick service credits are much more than just burgers and fries. You can find BBQ ribs, lobster roll, fish and chips, tacos, stir IMG_4418fry, and much more if you know where to look! For the picky eaters, you are able to find the basics, but try to go beyond it if you can because there are truly some unique and tasty options around Walt Disney World!

Snack credits are a really relative term. A snack can be a piece of fresh fruit, a pre-packaged drink like juice, milk or bottled water, but can also be used for caramel apples, gourmet cookies and cupcakes, pastries, and sometimes real “food” during Flower & Garden and Food & Wine Festival in Epcot. We can make a day out of snack credits and be completely full without every touching a quick service or table service credits during these events. You can receive sampler platters of tacos, sandwiches, and more under the “cost” of a snack credit. It’s truly a great value with some items holding an out of pocket cost of $6 or more!

But we’re not dessert eaters…

For the non-dessert eaters of the world like my brother in law (seriously, I don’t get it), there is an option for you. You can exchange your dessert portion of quick service or table service credits for something that is a snack credit. These are easy to ascertain at quick service dining locations as they are labeled, but please ask your cast member if you can sub in a cup of soup or a salad at your table service meals in lieu of dessert. This is NEW for 2016, and something I’m really excited about so the non-dessert eaters of the world are not just stocking up on bottled water!

How do I keep track of all of this?

Disney makes it easy and you have a few ways to track your dining credits – after you use a credit, the bottom of your receipt will show your remaining credits in that category (and the cashier will often verbally tell you the amount as well). If you are trying to get an overall view of the details, stop by your resort’s concierge desk and ask for a printout. It will give you an up to the moment review of all of your remaining credits for your trip and if you feel like something is incorrect, you may ask for a more detailed review of what has been used where!

I truly hope this makes you more comfortable with Disney’s dining plan. It’s a money saver and advantageous for about 99% of families! I hope it’s something you’ll consider for your next vacation.

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Interested in experiencing either a Disney World vacation in 2016?  Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

 

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40 of the Best Walt Disney World Dining tips!

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There is so much available for your Disney World vacation and even so many information on my blog alone! Today, I’m dedicating information to Disney dining tips. These are tips that can be seen in the 200+ posts both Dawn and I have compiled over the last 2+ years. This is the most up to date information I have available to you and I’m confident these tips will help you on your Disney World adventure!

In no particular order…
1. Research, research, research! The more you know, the better your trip!

2. If cost is an issue, know when the best deals are and try and find a set of travel dates that have dining or package promotions to help you save a few dollars. Be flexible in resorts to be included in the promotional rates!

3. STAY ON PROPERTY! It’s the only way you can a dining plan which can save you up to 15% on food costs!

4. Think about using a travel agent. We know how to get the best discounts, when discounts come out, and are actively looking to save you time and money! Plus, we are FREE to work with!!!

5. Think about your budget. Now think about adding about 20% more to it to make it a more reasonable number for Disney. You can definitely do Disney on the cheap, but if you’re thinking about cost the whole time, it makes it less fun for the adults!

6. Look into the dining plan and what it includes. See if it’s for you (or how you can get it for free!)

7. Make sure Disney knows about any celebrations during your stay! You’ll get a few freebies and some recognition as well. At dining locations, you may receive a free dessert to celebrate!

8. Children under 3 are free in Disney. If you’re thinking about a vacation before or after your child turns 3, you’ll likely save at least $300 if you go when they’re 2! This includes dining! It’s HUGE in terms of cost savings, especially if you are thinking about dining at any character locations!

9. Similarly, Disney considers 10 year olds Disney adults. That means there’s a price break between 9 and 10. Park tickets don’t make a huge difference, but dining does!

10. Plan for a day off. Disney can get exhausting. Make sure you take a break during your trip. It’s a great day to get in a long meal outside of a park like a dinner show, signature dining, or a leisurely character breakfast!

11. Plan at least one table service dinner. Even if you’re not on the dining plan, it’s a good experience!

12. Try new food! You’re on vacation. Don’t be afraid to book a unique restaurant or menu item (especially on the dining plan!)

13. Ask your server for suggestions. They’ll give you a good opinion or at least tell you the most popular menu items.

14. Save room for dessert! There’s some awesome options on all the menus.

15. Don’t be afraid to book dining at a resort. While it takes a bit longer in terms of transportation,
some of the best dining locations are outside of the theme parks! PLUS, you don’t need a park ticket!

16. Bring snacks to the park. You can also bring your own water bottles. Anything except glass and alcohol is allowed into the parks! If you have a place to store it or are fine carrying it, you’ll save a ton of money!

17. Share meals. Share meals! Seriously. For quick service/counter service meals, start with one meal for every 2 people. You can always go back and get another or one or get a snack to share. Don’t throw away the expensive food!!! Look at appetizers and meals to share for table service meals. If you made a reservation and you’re not that hungry, don’t be afraid to share a meal. The only place you can’t share are buffet meals. Via Napoli does not allow sharing on the dining plan, but you can share if paying out of pocket.

18. Even if you’re not using a dining plan, purchase at last one refillable mug. You  may share (just be aware that with the chips inside the mugs, you can only refill every few minutes). It’s still a worthwhile way to save money for soda and coffee drinkers!

19. Bring your refillable mugs to the parks! While you can’t officially refill them, it’s a great way to share one of the large fountain drinks from counter service meals. You can also fill them with water from the water fountains or ask for some free ice water at any counter service (a word of warning that Orlando water doesn’t taste the greatest!)

20. Download the My Disney Experience app to your smart phone. If you’re looking for a last minute dining reservation, keep checking while you’re in line for attractions. People tend to cancel some big ticket items 1-2 days before the experience so they don’t get charged the cancellation/no show fee. We’ve gotten some great reservations on short notice!

21. Use pre-park opening reservations to your advantage! Most character breakfasts inside the park allow you to enter the park up to an hour early so you can enjoy your character time without missing the best park time (as the first 3 hours before the park opens are the best in terms of crowds)

22. Take a break for lunch outside the park! Whether it’s quick service or a sit down meal, it’s nice to be out of the hustle and  bustle for an hour or two!

23. Be aware of Extra Magic Hours. Late hours at Epcot offer you additional dining options and early hours will take away your pre-park opening dining reservations! 

24. Fall brings some early park closures to the general public for special events. Check the park hours on Disney’s website for days that close early due to special events. Disney did offer the opportunity to book dining during these special events with a party ticket in 2015!

25. Make your dining reservations as soon as possible. This has become extremely competitive in the last 2-3 years. Resort guests can make reservations 180 days in advance (this is for your entire vacation, not just one day). If you don’t have a resort reservation, you can make reservations 180 days in advance (but you’ll have to do it each day).

 

26. If you’re booking inside 180 days from your arrival, consider adding park hopper tickets to your package – it will allow you to flexibility to come and go as you please and open up additional options to find dining reservations you may not have been able to grab!

27. Explore the new dining options in Disney Springs. It seems like new options open up every IMG_8759couple of weeks. There are some amazing signature dining options and more on the way! I can’t wait to try them!

28. Don’t try and do too much. Don’t plan every second of every day. 3 Dining reservations every single day of a 6-7 day trip is probably too much!

29. Really enjoy each country of World Showcase in Epcot. They are really interesting and intricate. Try snacking around the world and sharing different things from each country!

30. Watch Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from different vantage points while dining – California Grill, Ohana, Narcoosees!

31. Be cautious before booking a dining reservation the night you arrive. Flights get delayed, things happen.

32. Try a character meal! Even if you are dining as adults, it’s fun to watch kids faces light up.

33. Eat at off peak times. You’ll definitely be able to tell peak lunch and dinner times by the amount the crowds dwindle. If you can take advantage of that, you’ll get more for your time.

34. Stop and enjoy the cupcakes.

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35. Disney buses run until the last guest is out of the parks. You won’t get left behind! So if you book the last dining reservation before the park closes, you’ll still be allowed to dine and have a way to to get back home!

36. Eat a decent breakfast. Even if you plan on enjoying some food at the parks, don’t go on an empty stomach and then get lost in running from ride to ride. Whether that’s a scheduled meal inside the park or grabbing food at your resort, fill your belly!

37. Pack some simple breakfast foods in your luggage. Pop Tarts and granola bars are easy grab and go things to get you to the parks early!

38. Think about club level service. Breakfast, snacks, hot and cold appetizers, happy hour drinks for adults, desserts, and after dinner cordials. It won’t be all of your meals, but we were able to keep full throughout our stay. They will fill your water bottles for free too. We LOVE club level service!!

39. Enjoy Club Cool in Epcot. Get a free beverage and try the different flavors of Coke around the world!

40. Think about a dinner show! Disney has 3 on property and they’ll all really fun! Two credits on the dining plan or a decent out of pocket charge, but it’s a great way to take a nice long break!

Whew! Did I forget anything important?

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box!

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box!

Ready to get started planning your 2016 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Top 10 Disney World Table Service Restaurants when paying out of pocket

 

It’s no secret that Disney World is expensive and if you don’t choose Disney’s dining plan, you may get sticker shock at the cost of food. While you can survive on quick service meals, snacks, and purchasing food from a nearby grocery store, I always suggest at least one table service meal to enjoy the full magic of Disney World!

If you’re looking to save money, here are the top X Table service restaurants when paying out of pocket. This takes into account portion size, the ability to share a meal, and overall cost.

  1. 50s Prime Time Café. Located in Hollywood Studios, it boasts some of the largest portion sizes in all of Disney World and is one of my top two choices for meal sharing. At least two entrees on their menu can be shared between 2 adults with no problem!
  2. Via Napoli. In my husband’s top 5 Disney restaurants overall (and probably up there in mine as well), Via Napoli can be found in the Italy Pavilion in World Showcase. An individual pizza can be shared between two adults, however that’s not allowed on Disney’s dining plan. Their pasta dishes are also large enough to share if you augment it with an appetizer or dessert, but they’re so yummy you may not want to! This is my other top choice for shareable meals at Disney restaurants. Lunch and dinner menus here are the same, so go anytime although my favorite time is around 3:30 (last lunch seating and it’s a perfect way to start our evening at Epcot).
  3. Rainforest Café. Located in both Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney, this location has decently priced entrees and a fun atmosphere for kids and kids at heart!
  4. Beaches & Cream. A lesser known option in Beach Club resort (between Epcot and Hollywood Studios). It’s a nice little break from the theme parks. This small diner only seats about 30 people, but the food is good, better than average burgers. Stay for some ice cream or make ice cream your main meal.
  5. Liberty Tree Tavern. This is only for lunch as their menus are drastically different. This is one of the lowest price table service meals in Magic Kingdom and the food is good. Many families have Liberty Tree Tavern as a must do for every vacation. Save room for the Ooey Gooey Toffee Café for dessert. It’s amazing!
  6. Boma. This amazing buffet meal is better than your standard buffet food. You can find this bustling restaurant in Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s definitely a bit of a hike for anyone not staying in that vicinity, but it’s a great and filling option on a day off from the parks or on a day you are at Animal boma-flavors-of-africaKingdom. Reservations are rarely hard to come by and both breakfast and dinner provide some interesting and different food from the standard buffet style meals. It’s a must try at least once! We can’t wait to go back from breakfast and dinner next time!
  7. Tusker House. Another great option in Animal Kingdom. Breakfast and lunch are character meals, but not as expensive as many others on property. Lunch and dinner food is very similar, so you’ll get the most value out of lunch!
  8. San Angel Inn. A beautiful table service restaurant in the Mexico Pavilion on Epcot. A family of 4 can share an appetizer or two and then 1-2 entrees at lunch. Lunch and dinner menus are different, so be aware of your options!
  9. Trails End. A little bit off the beaten path at Fort Wilderness, it’s easily the cheapest buffet meal on Disney property. Breakfast is a delicious option and it’s usually not that busy! You’ll likely be able to get in without a reservation.
  10. Kona Café. Breakfast and lunch menus are fairly inexpensive. As 2 adults, we can get breakfast for around $30 and be full until late lunch or early dinnertime. Dinner becomes a bit more pricy, so check the menus before you book.

A few other things to think about:

  • Don’t be afraid to share a few appetizers or share an entrée. At some locations it’s encouraged!
  • Check the menus. Some restaurants have different lunch and dinner menus, but that often means a price break at lunch as well. As long as your preferred meal is there, book a late lunch and be full the rest of the night!
  • Do character meals for breakfast. While this can cut into some of your park time, you’ll save more money (many of them run until 11 am, so it’s more like brunch!)

Interested in a restaurant not on this list? Book it! Enjoy yourself and eat what you really want! When you get to the restaurant of your choice and you’re not very hungry, you can just order an appetizer or dessert and head out.

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

More Disney World Dining Tips and Tricks

 

Well from what my blog is telling me, Disney World Tips and Tricks seems to be the most important things to viewers on Pinterest and reader suggestions. Adding to the previous dining tips & tricks, here is a continuing list of dining suggestions. Whether you are taking advantage of the Disney Dining Plan or not, these should be useful on your next trip!

  1. Seasoned veterans know that it’s most ideal to book dining 180 day in advance. Most first timers don’t book their trip that far in advance. It’s good to know some alternatives to the most popular meals. There are some great dining options at the resorts surrounding the parks. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your home resort!
  2. When on the Dining Plan, don’t be afraid to tell your server that you’re new to the dining plan and would like some guidance. They are there to help and not mislead you in any way!
  3. Water is free at any Disney quick service restaurant. This is especially popular in the summer months. No need to order anything. A cast member can give you a plastic cup with ice water for no charge.
  4. Book a late morning reservation for breakfast and save money on meals – this is more pertinent to those not on the dining plan.(bring a snack so you’re not starving).
  5. Along the same lines, snacks can be meals! If you plan correctly, a well timed cupcake can suffice as breakfast (hey, it’s vacation!)
  6. Only pay for the food you want. This was lightly touched on in a previous post, but I figured I would expand: Only want a hamburger, ask for no cheese. Don’t want fries or chips? Ask for just the burger or sandwich. it will cost a lot less as well!
  7. Plan for food cost, even if you aren’t planning table service meals! Check out AllEars.net for accurate food costs for both quick service and table service restaurants.
  8. If characters are a must in your trip, find out where you can see them in the parks. If dining with a character is not important, then set up a FastPass when possible!
  9. Adults, don’t be afraid to order off the kids quick service menu (if not on the Disney Dining Plan).
  10. Learn about the Disney World Must Eat Snacks and decide which ones you would like to try. My short list:
  • Dole Whip Floats (Aloha Isle – Magic Kingdom)
  • Zebra Domes (Animal Kingdom & Animal Kingdom Lodge)
  • Specialty Cupcakes (various locations)
  • School Bread (Norway Pavilion – Epcot)

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Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!) I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!