There is that moment in every Disney World trip when you smell something delicious that you can’t resist. Like the delectable smell of waffle cones drifting down Main Street USA from the Plaza Ice Cream Palace or the slow roasted smoky goodness of a turkey leg in Frontierland. With what seems like a million food and dining options, including Table-service, Quick-service, snacks and kiosks, it can be confusing to get both the best food and bang for your buck.
The first time we went to Disney World was almost ten years ago, and I spent weeks, and I really mean weeks researching and assembling the perfect Disney dining strategy. This meant looking through the dining plans, restaurant reviews, and planning what park we would be in and where we would eat that day.
It was a lot of work.
This led to a trip I always describe as DELICIOUS because we spent so much of the time eating. Now subsequent trips and a summer in Disney has led to an expert knowledge of the best way to make the most of your dining experience, no matter your budget, or method you choose.
Dining Plan or Bust?
If you are staying at a Disney Parks Resort in Disney World, there are so many dining plans that you can add to your Magic Your Way package. These are an easy way to get a lot of worth out of your precious dollars. In general, with a “dining plan” you choose your option which includes various combinations of meal types and snacks. Each person in your party, adults (over 10) and children (3-9, who must eat off the kid’s menu when available), will pay a designated amount each day and have a certain number of credits for the trip.
Once you add dining, you use your magic band to pay for your food and they subtract food credits.
What Do They include?
Depending on the dining plan you choose you will get a certain amount of meal allocations that include:
Table Service Credits: 1 non-alcoholic beverage, 1 entrée and 1 dessert (only lunch/dinner) per person OR one complete buffet OR one ‘character dining’ experience (not cinderalla’s table though)
For 2 table service credits you can: Eat at Cinderella’s table, a Signature Dining Experience or a dinner show!
Quick-service credits: 1 entrée or complete combo, 1 non-alcoholic beverage
Snacks: there are so many options for snacks, but you can use each credit for things such as an ice cream, dole whip, 20oz bottle of coke…etc.
You also get a resort refillable mug! Which you can refill in your resort as much as you want. Yay for unlimited sweet tea while you suntan on the pool deck.
Now it’s time to choose a plan! This is completely a personal decision and will be based on how much you want to eat and how much you of a focus food is to your trip.
The “Compromisingly Perfect” Plan
Otherwise know as the Disney Dining Plan. This is the typical plan because it gives you the freedom to eat at both quick service and table service restaurants and not spend all your time running from restaurant to restaurant.
Each night of your stay you get:
1 Table Service Meal
1 Quick Service Meal
Why it’s perfect: Your table service meal is usually huge! So you can eat a later breakfast and an early dinner supplemented by the snacks. This gives you the opportunity to eat only two meals. Therefore, giving you more time to experience attractions while stilling getting that Disney dining experience!
Price: From $67 USD per adult per night
How to get your money’s worth: There is a sure-fire way to stretch your money on this plan; it is to to eat at a buffet breakfast and use your table service credit, then to eat a lighter quick service meal for dinner, or vice versa. For example, if you eat at a buffet breakfast at Akershus (princess dining) in Epcot for breakfast (without the plan cost: $60) and have dinner at La Cantina de San Angel where you could get Tacos De Barbacos ($12.95), a jarrito ($3.50) and churros ($4.25). Without having a dining plan your cost would be $80.70 for just your meals! With 2 snacks, you can save upwards of $20 a day per person on the dining plan! For a group of 4 over 7 days, that’s a savings of $560 on your food!
The “Budget Friendly” Plan:
Alternatively known as the Quick-Service Dining Plan. A perfect plan to tap your magic band, get your food and go.
Each night of your stay you get:
2 quick service meals
Why we love it: You get your food FAST at quick service restaurants, obviously! This leaves you more time to explore and experience the parks. It is also the budget friendly dining option. You don’t have to worry about missing dining reservations or having to wait to eat until your allocated time, you can eat when you want and where you want.
Price: From $46 USD per adult per night
Getting your money’s worth: A typical quick service meal runs about $20, with snacks running at $5 a piece. So you’ll only save a few dollars a day. However, if you are there for a longer vacation and have more people, those dollars ADD up quick.
The “High-Risk High-Reward” Plan:
Oh, the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan… Remember that vacation I mentioned earlier that I said was delicious? This was why!
Each night of your stay you get:
3 meals- You can choose quick-service or table-service! In addition, each person gets an appetizer at their table service meals.
Why we love it: This plan really gives you so much freedom to eat wherever you want. You can combine 2 meals and eat at a signature or see a dinner show. You can eat 3 full meals a day. You can have 2 meals during your day at the park and have a midnight quick service meals. The possibilities are endless.
Price: From $105 USD per person per night
Getting your money’s worth: If you eat at 3 character buffets a day, each of which range from $40- $60, you will be full and saving so much money. Our favourite way to get your money’s worth on this plan is to have a buffet character breakfast, say Donald’s Dining Safari at Tusker House Restaurant in Animal Kingdom ($40) followed by a signature dinner. For a signature dinner you could eat at California Grill ($90). It’s the best way to eat the best food for the least money.
So What To Choose?
Food is an important part of any holiday and without it you have a lot ‘hangry’ people in your party. At the end of the day it really comes down to budget and how much emphasis you want to put on food.
Whether you choose a dining plan or not, a lot of the table service restaurants will fill the best reservation times 180 days in advance when reservations open. Reservations need to be meticulously planned so you don’t spend all your time running around the parks and resorts trying to get to the restaurant. Some restaurants require a credit card number to hold your spot, but they wont charge it unless you no-show.
Another thing to note is that the gratuities aren’t included in the dining plan price. So for every table-service meal you still have to pay the 15%- 18% tip.
Is also not included in the Disney dining plan!