The Disney Dining Plan is something we purchase for each of our Disney vacations. We like the ease of pre-paying for our meals (with the exception of tips). Once we get to Disney I don’t have to worry about which entrée I pick or if I should save money by not ordering a drink with my meal.
By using the dining plan, I know I’ve already paid for it, so if I want steak every night, I can order it! The dining plan allows me to enjoy my vacation much like I would an all-inclusive, without worry of nickel and diming every mealtime decision. I’ve included some of my tips below to make the most of the dining plan.
We have only utilized the regular dining plan, however, many of the tips can be adapted for the other dining plans.
1) Do your research – preferably prior to the 180 day mark.
I am a major planner. Before we select our restaurants, I always calculate the out of pocket cost versus the dining plan cost. For 2017, the Disney Dining Plan costs $69.35 per day. I want to make sure that I’m going to spend at least that, otherwise we would lose money on purchasing the dining plan. I do NOT want to lose money. The Walt Disney World Website has menus posted for all its restaurants. I use these menus to make a rough calculation of what my out of pocket costs would be. See the picture below for a sample of my planning. Once you’ve picked the place, make sure to get your reservations 180 days out.
2) Don’t use table service credits for breakfast
This tip may seem like a no brainer, but if you are looking to maximize your dining credits, dinner is the most expensive sit down meal. For example the Garden Grill at Epcot is $34.08 for breakfast and $47.93 for lunch or dinner. While the breakfast is fantastic, if you are looking to maximize meal credits, use those table service credits for dinner.
3) Be Our Guest Breakfast = great counter service credit
At $24 per entrée plus a drink, you’re really going to maximize your credits by eating breakfast at Be Our Guest. We like to make a late breakfast reservation (after 10am) and then we can use snack credits for lunch. Though the hearty Feast A La Gaston or the Assorted Cured Meats and Cheese could feel like a light lunch! The Master’s Cupcake (aka the grey stuff) is available at breakfast in case you want to spend a snack credit!
4) Buffets and family style meals are pricy and are great table service credits
Before you start judging me on the buffet thing, hear me out. Outside of the Disney bubble or a cruise ship I cannot remember the last time I have eaten at a buffet. Not all Disney buffets are created equal, but Boma’s dinner buffet is one of my favorite meals on property even though it’s a buffet. Otherwise, we prefer family style meals such as O’Hana and the Garden Grill.
5) Make sure to book restaurants with food your family will enjoy
I cannot stress enough, look at the restaurant menus ahead of time to make sure that there is something for everyone. While I love Boma, my father is not an adventurous eater and when he travels with us, we don’t eat at Boma. When I was pregnant, the smell of seafood induced instant “morning” sickness so we didn’t eat at the Coral Reef Restaurant. Don’t pick your meals based solely on the dining plan value.
6) Use snack credits carefully
Don’t wait until the last day to use all of your snack credits. Make sure to use them along the course of your trip. We like to use snack credits to get breakfast. One of our favorite discoveries on our most recent trip was the Strawberry Smoothie at each of the Starbucks locations within the parks. We had these for breakfast several mornings of the trip. Other snacks we love: the Croissant Doughnut at the Refreshment Post in Epcot – warm, flaky and fried to cinnamon crispy perfection, it makes a great breakfast! You can’t go wrong with a cinnamon roll from Gaston’s Tavern in the Magic Kingdom or any of the baked goods at Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie.
7) Take advantage of festivals at Epcot
Food and Wine, Flower and Garden, Holidays Around the World and now the new Festival of the Arts all bring food booths to Epcot. Many of these booths offer food items that count as snack credits on the dining plan. When we’ve attended during a festival, we often select a day to wander from place to place using snack credits for a fun lunch! If you find a booth you really like, you can trade 1 counter service credit for 3 snack credits. You do have to make this trade at the same place, you can’t split them between multiple booths. The festivals can offer you the opportunity to try delicious items for snack credits.
8) Desperate to use snack credits at the end of your trip – head to Epcot
9) Watch your receipts and keep track of your credits
Accidents happen. Sometimes meal credits get messed up. This happened to us, we were charged 3 credits instead of 2 at a table service restaurant. We weren’t paying attention, and had no idea because we don’t keep receipts. However, on our last night we got to our final meal and didn’t have the credits to cover it. The waiter was so nice, he explained how to get it fixed and while he put a temporary charge on our magic band, he confidently assured us guest services could fix the problem. Sure enough, we got to guest services at our hotel (where we were also dining) and our meal credits were remedied, and the meal charges were removed. Don’t let this happen to you, watch your receipts!
[Editor’s note – Disney recently made an update to the My Disney Experience app that allows you to more easily track Disney Dining Plan credits.]
10) Get Adventurous!
The meal plan is a great way to try new experiences! Always wanted to try Moroccan food but never had a chance? Lunch at the Tangerine Café is a great way to experience it (you should, their food is FANTASTIC) with ease. On our next trip we’re taking my father to Teppan Edo, he’s never eaten hibachi and because we’re on the dining plan, he’s willing to try it. I’ve eaten more adventurous items because they are options on the dining plan and I don’t worry about cost when I use it. Octopus at Tiffins, Squid Ink pasta at Flying Fish, and pretty much anything at Boma!
Our family finds that the Disney Dining Plan works for us. We find that it simplifies our vacation, allows us to pre-pay for our meals and try restaurants that we may not ordinarily. With a little prep work, you can get reservations for meals that will delight your entire travel party! Dining at Disney is an adventure and enhances your already magical vacation!
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